The Catholic University of America

Nov. 14, 2012

Brothers Grimm Exhibit Celebrates Fantasy


The "Grimms’ Fairy Tales in their European Context” exhibit in the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the Brothers Grimm’s first publication, a collection of folk tales called Children’s and Household Tales published in 1812. This fall, students delved into the works of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm with a course offered by the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, “Grimms’ Fairy Tales in their European Context.”

This week through Friday, Nov. 16, the class presents an exhibit in the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center Atrium of eight posters depicting key elements of the Grimms’ fairy tales and their influence in today’s world.

Each poster features a picture of a 19th-century illustration from one of the Grimms’ collections representing a particular literary element of their stories surrounded by images of modern-day examples. The collection was loaned to the class by the Goethe Institut in Washington, D.C., an organization dedicated to promoting German culture and intercultural exchange.

“The posters are colorful illustrations focusing on the tales’ specific critical aspects such as character archetypes and important motifs and symbols. The Grimms’ context is then compared to modern stories from today’s popular culture which also share international fame, including titles such as Harry Potter and Star Wars,” said Amanda Sheffer, clinical assistant professor of German, who teaches the course this fall.

The students, working in groups, chose one of the posters and wrote a description to help exhibit visitors understand what they are seeing. Some of the accompanying descriptions offer suggestions for further reading, some of those written by German-speaking students in the class give translations of the posters, and others provide a personal interpretation of the artwork.

One poster is dedicated to the evil villain archetype. Surrounding the main picture of a dancing Rumpelstiltskin on this poster are photos of villains in modern fiction, such as Darth Vader from the Star Wars films and Gollum from The Lord of the Rings films.

Senior politics major Shawn Brubaker of Ephrata, Pa. worked on the villains poster. He said that the work done in class has given him a critical eye for fairy tales. He chose the villains poster because the Grimms’ villains interested him more than their heroes.

“Heroes are boring. Villains have differences,” he said. “Rumpelstiltskin is a dwarf who likes to eat children. There’s one called the Robber Bridegroom, which is exactly what it sounds like. Then there are evil stepsisters, mother-in-laws… I think there’s a lot more variety with villains.”

Other posters feature themes such as magic, heroes, and heroines in the stories and in the fairy tales of today.

“We all grow up with fairy tales told to us by parents or grandparents and presented in popular films,” Sheffer said. “The bicentennial of the Grimm’s tale collection allows us to reflect on these stories’ lasting significance as we continue to retell the stories today.”



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