The folk tales collected by the brothers Grimm deal with the most powerful motives of all of us: love, envy, revenge, greed, hunger. All in a few pages. Perhaps that is why they continue to fascinate me long into adulthood.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been reading a recent translation of the stories. For research. Really. My characters would have told stories like these to entertain each other and teach their kids moral truths.

Forget the Disney versions. The punishments for the villains are brutal, and sometimes the villain is moronic enough to pronounce their own sentence, thinking the description of their actions is hypothetical. And there are a few real downers where everyone dies.

The tales have their share of humor, often at the expense of the not-so-bright. The guy or gal who’s nicknamed “Clever” often isn’t. Or they are devious.

Sometimes the damsel in distress is rescued by the prince, but many times the heroine is saving the hero. And she is a heck of a lot more loyal, even when her beloved has forgotten her (usually because he’s been bewitched). As adult, I often find myself on the side of the bride who wants to end a marriage she’s been forced into, even though there’s only one way to do that.

Despite the magic and supernatural, I feel like I know these people sometimes. The guy who chronically complains, even about the way things are done in heaven. The wife who paces around the mill pond where her husband disappeared, sometimes calling his name, sometimes sobbing softly. The hero or heroine who brave all for love.

And those moral lessons hold true today:

  • Your wits are a powerful weapon.
  • Stupidity and greed will make you suffer and might kill you.
  • Treachery and rudeness will come back to bite you.
  • Your kind heart, hard work, fidelity, and courage will always triumph, no matter what other people say.
Illustration for

Illustration for “Snow White and Rose Red,” by Hermann Vogel (public domain image via Wikimedia Commons)