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Disability, Deformity, and Disease in the Grimms' Fairy Tales

Ann Schmiesing

Fairy-Tale Studies, Folklore, Literary Criticism and Theory, Cultural Studies

Published: November 2014
ISBN: 9780814338414
Pages: 240 Size: 6 x 9
Illustrations: 3 b&w illus.
Published: November 2014
ISBN: 9780814338421
Pages: 240 Size: EPUB
Illustrations: 3 b&w illus.

Although dozens of disabled characters appear in the Grimms' Children's and Household Tales, the issue of disability in their collection has remained largely unexplored by scholars. In Disability, Deformity, and Disease in the Grimms' Fairy Tales, author Ann Schmiesing analyzes various representations of disability in the tales and also shows how the Grimms' editing (or "prostheticizing") of their tales over seven editions significantly influenced portrayals of disability and related manifestations of physical difference, both in many individual tales and in the collection overall.

Schmiesing begins by exploring instabilities in the Grimms' conception of the fairy tale as a healthy and robust genre that has nevertheless been damaged and needs to be restored to its organic state. In chapter 2, she extends this argument by examining tales such as "The Three Army Surgeons" and "Brother Lustig" that problematize, against the backdrop of war, characters' efforts to restore wholeness to the impaired or diseased body. She goes on in chapter 3 to study the gendering of disability in the Grimms' tales with particular emphasis on the Grimms' editing of "The Maiden Without Hands" and "The Frog King or Iron Henry." In chapter 4, Schmiesing considers contradictions in portrayals of characters such as Hans My Hedgehog and the Donkey as both cripple and "supercripple"—a figure who miraculously "overcomes" his disability and triumphs despite social stigma. Schmiesing examines in chapter 5 tales in which no magical erasure of disability occurs, but in which protagonists are depicted figuratively "overcoming" disability by means of other personal abilities or traits.

The Grimms described the fairy tale using metaphors of able-bodiedness and wholeness and espoused a Romantic view of their editorial process as organic restoration. Disability, Deformity, and Disease in the Grimms' Fairy Tales shows, however, the extent to which the Grimms' personal experience of disability and illness impacted the tales and reveals the many disability-related amendments that exist within them. Readers interested in fairy-tales studies and disability studies will appreciate this careful reading of the Grimms' tales.

Ann Schmiesing is associate professor of German and Scandinavian literature at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She is the author of Norway’s Christiania Theatre, 1827–1867: From Danish Showhouse to National Stage.

Schmiesing successfully merges disability studies with fairy-tale studies and has produced a book that is relevant for students and scholars in both disciplines. Her combination of careful close readings of the tales with reflections on the Grimms’ social and personal context is convincing and opens up new avenues for thinking about the content and the editorial process of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen. It has certainly given me a fresh perspective on certain fairy tales, and Schmiesing argues convincingly and in a sophisticated way about the social and narrative construction of disability in the tales.

– Vanessa Joosen, author of Critical and Creative Perspectives on Fairy Tales (Wayne State University Press, 2011) and co-editor of Grimms’ Tales around the Globe: The Dynamics of Their International Reception (Wayne State University Press, 2014)

In Disability, Deformity, and Disease in the Grimms’ Fairy Tales, Schmiesing locates the entire question of disability and prosthesis in a fascinating socio-historical context that enriches our understanding of the Grimms’ tales in profound ways. It’s as if someone had deftly rotated the critical kaleidoscope of the last decade to create a completely new picture of the cultural stakes in the Grimms’ tales. A breakthrough work of fairy-tale scholarship.

– Maria Tatar, John L. Loeb Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures at Harvard University and author of The Annotated Brothers Grimm

Ann Schmiesing’s Disability, Deformity, and Disease in the Grimms’ Fairy Tales forges a path into an area of fairy-tale studies that has been largely neglected.

– Kirsten Mollegaard, Folklore

Schmiesing’s book is an excellent contribution to folk and fairytale scholarship and provides a new way to view classic tales.

– Natalie Kononenko, Folklorica

Makes use of fascinating analytical frames such as that of "narrative prosthesis," or the idea that in many narratives, the whole plot hinges around "fixing" the disability.

– Jeana Jorgensen, Foxy Folklorist