Grimm’s Fairy Tales were first published on December 20th 1812. To mark the 200th anniversary of the publication the BBC ran a series on the tales which examined them from various angles – as expressions of nationalism and psychological states, feminist interpretations and so on. The tales have mutated in all sorts of ways – bowdlerised for children’s editions, cutified by Walt Disney, rewritten by Angela Carter.
When I was child I had a big format picture book of them which had been published in 1966. The tales still contained cruelty which would be thought unsuitable for children today e.g the wicked queen in Snow White being forced to dance in red hot iron shoes until she was dead, Cinderella’s sisters cutting off their toes and heels to fit into the glass slipper and the wood-cutter opening up the wolf’s belly to rescue Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother, then sowing it up again with stones. Also Rapunzel had twins before she was married.
My favourite story was, and is, The Youth Who could Not Shiver. The Youth in it has heard of people shivering with fear in graveyards and other creepy places, but has never felt it for himself. So he goes about the world saying continually “Oh, if I could but shiver”. People get him to sit under a gallows where seven hanged men are swinging, or to watch three nights in a heavily haunted castle. .
“When midnight came, a ringing and a rattling noise was heard, gentle at first and louder and louder by degrees; then there was a pause, and presently with a loud outcry half a man’s body came down the chimney and fell at his feet. “Holloa,” he exclaimed; “only half a man answered that ringing; that is too little.” Then the ringing began afresh, and a roaring and howling was heard, and the other half fell down. “Wait a bit,” said he; “I will poke up the fire first.”
When he had done so and looked round again, the two pieces had joined themselves together, and an ugly man was sitting in his place. “I did not bargain for that,” said the youth; “the bench is mine.” The man tried to push him away, but the youth would not let him, and giving him a violent push sat himself down in his old place. Presently more men fell down the chimney, one after the other, who brought nine thigh-bones and two skulls, which they set up, and then they began to play at ninepins.
At this the youth wished also to play, so he asked whether he might join them. “Yes, if you have money!” “Money enough,” he replied, “but your balls are not quite round”; so saying he took up the skulls, and, placing them on his lathe, turned them round.
“Ah, now you will roll well,” said he. “Holloa! now we will go at it merrily.” So he played with them and lost some of his money, but as it struck twelve everything disappeared. Then he lay down and went to sleep quietly.
On the morrow the King came for news, and asked him how he had fared this time. “I have been playing ninepins,” he replied, “and lost a couple of dollars.” “Have you not shivered?” “No! I have enjoyed myself very much; but I wish some one would teach me that!”‘
This tale is comic, and I do wish some film company would turn it into a spoof horror movie. The Youth is a really attractive figure, being so fearless and matter of fact when confronted by supernatural terrors. The ending is good too. The Youth wins the Princess, of course, but she and her chambermaid finally get him to shiver by natural instead of supernatural means.
However, I was put out to find out in the series that that the Nazis picked up Grimm’s tales for propaganda purposes e.g. by giving the wood-cutter in Red Riding Hood a Nazi armband. The Youth Who Could not Shiver was a Nazi favourite. Of course they missed the point of the story, which they turned into Nazi uplift.
“Paul Diehl’s 1935 adaptation of this story . . . was one of a range of silent short films made for the Reichstelle für den Unterrichtsfilm (State Office for Educational Films) and widely shown in German schools. The scene of the night in the castle, though it follows Grimm closely in parts, shows clearly this altered ideological orientation. The youth, now given the name Hans, is swift and violent in his dispatch of a variety of grotesque creatures. He skewers one on a fork and holds it over a flame. He fastens a cat in a vice, cuts its head off, and tosses it into the moat. Unlike the written text, in which the youth feels sorry for a dead body and tries to warm it up, Diehl presents him as pitiless. Since the film has no sound-track, teachers could talk over it and impose an interpretation: children were taught that the action in the film symbolized the necessity for German fearlessness in stamping out enemies of the state (Jews, gays, Gypsies, non-Aryans). In 1937 the film was given a gold medal by the government department for which it was made. Nine years later, however, a Unesco commission, charged with the task of de-Nazifying the teachers and materials that were to be employed in post-war German schools, came to a different verdict: ‘Though there is nothing that is specifically subversive in this film, there is much that is typically Nazi in outlook, with its approbation of killing and force, coupled with callousness.’ The film was therefore suppressed, and is today little known, despite the technical proficiency of its animation.”
Among all their other barbarities, the Nazis had no sense of humour and no idea how to read.