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Dossier thématique

Multiple Levels of Meaning: Three Current German Picturebook Versions of Fairytales by the Brothers Grimm

Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer

Résumé

This chapter focuses on three German picturebook versions of fairytales by the Brothers Grimm which were published in the 21st century. A short introduction provides an overview on the reception and illustration of the Grimms’ fairytales in Germany in the 19th and 20th centuries. Against this background, this contribution demonstrates that the selected picturebooks use different artistic techniques and styles in order to carve out the hidden potential of the original fairytale versions, thus adding new levels of meaning. Sybille Schenker’s Rotkäppchen (2014) uses the silhouette technique to point to the issues of disguise and deception, while Susanne Janssen’s Hänsel und Gretel (2007) applies collages of photos and acrylic painting to stress the difference between reality and imagination. Finally, Jonas Lauströer’s colored pencil drawings in Von dem Fischer und seiner Frau (2013) highlight an ecological perspective, as they call attention to environmental pollution caused by human greed and carelessness.

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Introduction: Illustrations of the Grimms’ Fairytales in Germany until the End of the Twentieth Century

  • 1 See Heinz Rölleke, Die Märchen der Brüder Grimm, Stuttgart, Reclam, 2004; Hans-Jörg Uther, Handbuch (...)

1The fairytales by the Brothers Grimm are undisputedly regarded as a pivotal part of international cultural heritage, with translations in almost all world languages and popular media transformations such as film adaptations, theatre plays, comics, graphic novels, and computer games. The first German editions of the Grimms' tales (1812-1815) had no illustrations, with the exception of two small drawings by Ludwig Emil Grimm, a younger brother of the collectors, for the frontispiece and half-title in the second edition of 1815. An enlarged version with 170 texts, encompassing fairytales, legends, droll stories, and fables, appeared in 1819-1822 without any further illustrations. A so-called “small edition” with selected tales and 25 copperplate engravings by Ludwig Emil Grimm was pushed onto the market in 1825 in order to attract a broader audience.1

  • 2 On the reception of Bechstein, see Ruth Bottigheimer, “Ludwig Bechstein’s Fairy Tales: Nineteenth C (...)
  • 3 This movement established at the turn of the twentieth century propagated progressive ideas on the (...)
  • 4 See Jack Zipes, The Brothers Grimm: From Enchanted Forests to the Modern World, New York, Routledge (...)

2Despite the recognition of the Grimms’ collective fervor among contemporaries, the fairytale collection Deutsches Märchenbuch (German Fairytale Book, 1845) by Ludwig Bechstein dominated the German book market until the beginning of the twentieth century. The pre-industrial setting of Bechstein’s fairytales with an emphasis on petty-bourgeois virtues, such as diligence, obedience and decency, and the 175 wood engravings by Ludwig Richter appealed to the popular taste of that time.2 In the second half of the nineteenth century, the wood engravings by Ludwig Richter (many of Richter’s illustrations were taken from the Bechstein edition) and the copperplate engravings by Moritz von Schwind contributed to the belated recognition of the Grimms' fairy tales. It was not until pedagogues and literary critics of the reform educational circle of “Jugendschriftenbewegung” (Youth Literary Movement)3 praised the authenticity and popularity of the Children’s and Household Tales that this collection surpassed the success of the Bechstein collection.4

  • 5 On the impact of the Grimms on fairytale collections in Europe and beyond, see Bettina Kümmerling-M (...)

3Against all odds, almost immediately after the first translations of the Grimms’ fairytales came out in the first half of the nineteenth century, they experienced greater success and impact beyond the German borders, as they inspired amateurs and academics in Europe and even beyond to collect orally transmitted folktales in order to preserve them for future generations.5 Moreover, with the exception of Ludwig Richter and Moritz von Schwind, the most precious and famous illustrated editions of the Grimms’ fairytales in the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century were created by non-German artists, such as George Cruikshank, Kai Nielsen and Arthur Rackham, to name but a few.

  • 6 There is ample research on this matter, as picturebook research emerged as a specific branch of chi (...)
  • 7 On fairytale adaptations of picturebooks, see Vanessa Joosen, “Picturebooks as Adaptations of Fairy (...)

4Although some German artists, such as Heinrich Lefler and Heinrich Vogler, designed lavishly painted illustrated editions inspired by Art Nouveau in the first decades of the twentieth century, artistically demanding fairytale editions seem to be a quite belated phenomenon on the German book market. From the 1960s, renowned artists, such as Werner Klemke, Nikolaus Heidelbach and Henriette Sauvant, contributed high-quality illustrations to fairytale collections or single fairytales. At the same time, a shift in relation to the appreciation of images is clearly discernible. The editions of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are illustrated editions in the sense that the texts take up more space and the pictures mostly serve decorative or illustrative functions. The tendency to publish and create picturebook versions of individual fairytales increased in the second half of the twentieth century and instigated a change due to this artform. Picturebooks are typically characterized by a balance between text and pictures on the one hand, and a rather complicated relationship between these two modes on the other.6 Quite often, text and pictures complement each other, adding a new note or nuance of meaning to the original Grimm version. In other cases, the illustrations may even draw attention to something that goes against the meaning of the text. In turn, some current picturebook versions of the Grimms’ tales point to potentially hidden meanings of the original text or subvert the text in order to emphasize its ambiguous character and openness towards novel interpretations.7

5In this regard, the following chapter analyzes the multifarious artistic strategies and multiple levels of meaning in three contemporary picturebooks: Rotkäppchen (Little Red Riding Hood, 2014) with illustrations by Sybille Schenker, Hänsel und Gretel (Hansel and Gretel, 2007), illustrated by Susanne Janssen, and Von dem Fischer und seiner Frau (The Fisherman and His Wife, 2013), with illustrations by Jonas Lauströer. A close analysis will reveal that the picturebook artists used the Grimms’ fairytales to emphasize their topicality which comes to the fore in an intricate text-picture relationship.

A Game of Disguise and Deception: Little Red Riding Hood

  • 8 Sandra Beckett, Recycling Red Riding Hood, New York, Routledge, 2002.
  • 9 Deception is closely related with the concept of lying, see James Edwin Mahon, “The Definition of L (...)

6Little Red Riding Hood is – according to Sandra Beckett8 – the fairytale which has most attracted authors and illustrators. Considering the vast number of adaptations, retellings, parodies and transformations, the task to develop novel interpretations of this well-known fairytale represents a challenge for picturebook artists. The German illustrator Sybille Schenker took up this challenge as she introduces a game of disguise and deception by means of a specific artistic technique.9

Figure 1: Cover of Rotkäppchen, with a text by the Brothers Grimm and illustrated by Sybille Schenker. Bargteheide, Minedition, Michael Neugebauer Verlag, 2014. Reprinted with the permission of Michael Neugebauer Edition.

  • 10 Brüder Grimm, Rotkäppchen, Sybille Schenker (ill.), Bargteheide, Minedition, Michael Neugebauer Ver (...)

7The cover of her picturebook Rotkäppchen (Little Red Riding Hood, 2014)10 is quite unusual due to its rather dark color scheme and abstract design (Figure 1). The predominant color is black; only the binding on the spine and the name of the main protagonist shows the color red as a reference to the name of the main character. On closer consideration, it is apparent that the letters of the title, “Rotkäppchen”, are cut out. A red background with tiny white dots reminiscent of stars or flowers shines through the holes. At the bottom left, a black flower is printed on the black cover sheet. The same flower, then printed in red, reappears on several spreads, whose red color seems to flow into the first capital letter of the text printed on the same page.

Figure 2: Spread of Rotkäppchen, with a text by the Brothers Grimm and illustrated by Sybille Schenker. Bargteheide, Minedition, Michael Neugebauer Verlag, 2014. Reprinted with the permission of Michael Neugebauer Edition.

8The cut-out letters on the cover belong to the silhouette technique which is used throughout the book. When opening the first doublespread, the fairytale text is printed on the left page, while the right page shows Red Riding Hood with a red cape and red stockings, holding a tiny flower in her clasped hands (Figure 2). Although we are shown a front view of the girl, she has turned her gaze towards the right, looking at someone or something outside of the picture. Her body contours consist of black carton with cutout pieces. The empty spaces are filled with different materials including colored paper, checkered wrapping paper, and cardboard. The same applies to the setting that shows a silhouette with vines, birds, a butterfly, and mushrooms. The cutout holes offer a glimpse of another setting, presumably a wood with trees and flowers. Nevertheless, the viewer cannot see everything, since Red Riding Hood’s body, the mushrooms, and the butterfly cover significant parts of the translucent forest setting.

Figure 3: Doublespread of Rotkäppchen, with a text by the Brothers Grimm and illustrated by Sybille Schenker. Bargteheide, Minedition, Michael Neugebauer Verlag, 2014. Reprinted with the permission of Michael Neugebauer Edition.

9When turning the page, the illustration of the forest comes to the fore, though covered by silk paper. The illustration shines through the silk paper, showing Red Riding Hood, who is turning her back to the viewer (Figure 3). She is holding a basket in her left hand and a huge flower in her right hand. The viewer catches sight of the wolf, who is placed in the right margin. While he is staring attentively at the girl, she does not notice the animal and focuses instead on the flowers on the ground. When removing the silk paper, the whole scenery comes into full view. The text of the first doublespread, however, is now partly hidden by the turned silhouette illustration, but some letters and words can still be recognized. The ensuing text is printed on the back page of the silhouette illustration. Interestingly, this text does not match with the image, as it refers to the conversation between Red Riding Hood and her mother before the girl leaves home in order to visit her grandmother. Hence, the illustration anticipates the story, since it visualizes an event which is only told later in the text.

10This description already indicates that Schenker has used the silhouette technique to convey a potential meaning of the fairytale which is closely connected to the issue of concealing one’s own intentions. The silhouette technique has an old tradition as it was prominent in the nineteenth century, when silhouette illustrations embellished children’s books and illustrated books addressed to adult readers. In contrast to Schenker’s usage, these nineteenth century illustrations usually consisted of silhouettes only, set against a unicolored, often white background. The pages in these old books never had cutouts, calling the viewer’s attention instead to the contours of the figures, objects, and settings rather than the background.

  • 11 Due to a bombing attack on Berlin during the Second World War, the original and the negative copies (...)
  • 12 In this regard, scholars point to the several effects that distinguish Reiniger’s film: the inclusi (...)

11The idea to place silhouettes against multi-colored backgrounds and to use cutouts to embellish the artistic effects puts us in mind of another medium: the silhouette film as an early form of animated film. A pioneer in this genre is the German artist Lotte Reiniger (1899-1981), who in 1926 created an animated film using the silhouette technique: Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Ahmed (The Adventures of Prince Ahmed).11 The film story is a mixture of tales known from the collection The Arabian Nights. Reiniger reproduced the exotic and oriental atmosphere in the 250,000 individual silhouette images, which laid the basis for the silent film (Figure 4). The film had a total length of 66 minutes, including 120 inserts. The renowned avant-garde film director Walter Ruttmann created the multi-colored backgrounds and the abstract form compositions, while the plate camera developed by Bertold Bartosch generated a spatial effect. Apart from being the first still preserved full-length animation film, Reiniger’s masterpiece is nowadays regarded as a crucial contribution to early avant-garde films.12

Figure 4: Screenshot of Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Ahmed (1926), animation film created by Lotte Reiniger.

  • 13 On the complicated relationship between children’s literature and the avant-garde, see Elina Druker (...)
  • 14 On nostalgia in children’s literature, see Elisabeth Wesseling (ed.), Reinventing Childhood Nostalg (...)

12What makes this movie so exceptional is the sophisticated use of the silhouette technique in relation to the depiction of the characters and the settings. Moreover, the background is made up of multiple layers of colored sandwich papers and glass plates with engravings, thus achieving an impression of depth. Evidently, Schenker refers to this avant-garde film tradition, combining the picturebook medium with the early history of animated film. This is a clear statement, as the picturebook can then be interpreted in the light of avant-garde tendencies13 rather than classifying Schenker’s version as an artwork inspired just by a feeling of nostalgia.14

13The idea to use the silhouette technique in order to hide something which can only be unveiled by turning the pages determines Schenker’s picturebook from the first to the final doublespread, as the reader is left in a state of uncertainty. When looking at certain illustrations, such as the image that shows the wolf in disguise with glasses and bonnets, vis-à-vis Red Riding Hood, the reader may initially presume that this doublespread uses the silhouette technique in the same manner as in the beginning spread, that is by using semi-transparent paper. Quite on the contrary, the silhouettes and contours of the figures here are painted and not cut out (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Doublespread of Rotkäppchen, with a text by the Brothers Grimm and illustrated by Sybille Schenker. Bargteheide, Minedition, Michael Neugebauer Verlag, 2014. Reprinted with the permission of Michael Neugebauer Edition.

14This juxtaposition of cut-out illustrations and painted illustrations that resemble cut-out illustrations is the application of a technique which is known as trompe l’oeil. Trompe l’oeil deceives the viewer because a painting or illustration pretends to represent something which does not hold true on closer consideration. The reader of Schenker’s picturebook, after having looked at the first two doublespreads, may assume that the following spreads function in the same way. As soon as the reader discovers that her expectations have not come true, she may be alerted to the utilization of the silhouette technique. Moreover, the method of partly disclosing information via the cut-outs demands a careful contemplation of the single illustrations.

Figure 6: Doublespread of Rotkäppchen, with a text by the Brothers Grimm and illustrated by Sybille Schenker. Bargteheide, Minedition, Michael Neugebauer Verlag, 2014. Reprinted with the permission of Michael Neugebauer Edition.

15A case in point are the penultimate and final spreads. The penultimate spread shows the grandmother’s hut on the left-hand page and the forest surrounding the hut on the right-hand page (Figure 6). On closer consideration, the big belly of the wolf is visible in the cut-out window. On a first glance, this can also be interpreted as a black shadow. Since the previous page showed the wolf snoring in bed, an attentive viewer is able to discern that the black mass represents the wolf’s body. The cut-out silhouette of trees on the right page mostly covers the hunter and his dog. The hunter’s gaze is turned towards the hut as if he is carefully watching or listening; he most probably heard the wolf’s snoring, since he does not have a full view of the scenery inside the hut. Through this strategy, the viewer takes on the hunter’s viewpoint and ascertains that the hunter is looking for clues in order to find out the reasons for his unusual perception.

16The final spread continues this game of disguise. A green silhouette page whose design – flowers, mushrooms and butterflies – echoes the silhouette design of the first spread covers the image behind: grandmother and Little Red Riding Hood are sitting at the table, drinking coffee and having a nice time together. The right page, however, shows the hunter carrying the dead wolf on his back, while the words “Ende” (the end) are printed beneath his feet (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Doublespread of Rotkäppchen, with a text by the Brothers Grimm and illustrated by Sybille Schenker. Bargteheide, Minedition, Michael Neugebauer Verlag, 2014. Reprinted with the permission of Michael Neugebauer Edition.

17Hence, by turning page after page, the figures and the settings are gradually unveiled. This playful character is reminiscent of a hide-and-seek game, where the reader must search for hidden things and meanings. In addition, the mixture of “real” cut-out silhouettes and feigned, yet painted silhouettes irritates the reader, since she has to verify the specific character of every single illustration. Seen in this light, the illustrations participate in the act of deceiving the reader in the same manner as the wolf deceives Red Riding Hood and her grandmother. He leads Red Riding Hood astray in the woods, outwits the grandmother by disguising his rough voice, and tricks the girl by dressing up like her grandmother. However, as the respective visuals demonstrate, an attentive viewer is able to see through the deceptive actions of the wolf, as the silhouette illustrations always show parts of the wolf’s real appearance and facial expression.

18Seen in this light, Schenker has found a surprising way of using the material qualities of the book that make the game of deception also part of its form. Using the alternation between cut-out silhouettes and painted silhouettes, the insertion of silk paper and colored paper with cut-out ornaments that diffuse or cover parts of the subsequent image, and the obvious mismatch between text and image, this picturebook initiates a hide-and-seek game that draws the reader’s attention to the (partly) hidden figures and objects which either anticipate forthcoming events or refer back to past events.

The Relationship between Reality and Imagination: Hänsel und Gretel

  • 15 Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, Hänsel und Gretel, Susanne Janssen (ill.), Rostock, Hinstorff, 2007.
  • 16 Collage is closely related to avant-garde tendencies of the 1920s and 1930s and emerged in pictureb (...)
  • 17 See Beatriz Hoster Cabo, María José Lobato Suero, and Alberto Manuel Ruiz Campos, “Interpictorialit (...)

19The picturebook version of Hänsel und Gretel (Hansel and Gretel, 2007),15 with illustrations by Susanne Janssen, addresses the issue of identity and the relationship between reality and imagination. The illustrations are collages16 of photos and acrylic paintings, which refer to two different domains: the realm of reality and the realm of imagination or dream. The photos show real settings, transposing the beginning of the story into a contemporary fictional world which is represented by a modern cityscape with huge buildings and urban places. The city space is contrasted with the wood as the sphere of the witch, thus juxtaposing the realm of reality and reason (cityscape) and the realm of fantasy and imagination (wood). The dark color scheme and the distorted proportions and perspectives additionally create a surreal atmosphere. Moreover, the images are replete with interpictorial allusions to works of art.17

Figure 8: Front papers of Hänsel und Gretel, with a text by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm and illustrations by Susanne Janssen. Rostock, Hinstorff, 2007. Reprinted with the kind permission of Susanne Janssen.

20When opening the book, the reader firstly sees the front papers that show a cityscape with a building from whose windows hang three pieces of laundry, the white shirt of Hansel, the checkered apron of Gretel, and a white sheet against a red background that symbolizes their stepmother (Figure 8).

  • 18 This incident possibly points to another fairytale by the Grimms: Brüderchen und Schwesterchen (Bro (...)

21The very first page of the book has large black letters printed on white paper with the beginning of the first sentence “In einem großen Wald” (In a big wood). The sentence is not continued on the next spread, which unexpectedly displays an image of a deer heading into the forest. Turning his back to the viewer, the deer is wounded by an arrow which sticks in his flank.18 The image does not show the hunter, whose position could be the same as the position of the reader. This image does not directly refer to the fairytale but could be loosely connected with the fragmentary beginning “In a big wood”, thus opening up a space of unforeseen danger and darkness.

Figure 9: Spread of Hänsel und Gretel, with a text by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm and illustrations by Susanne Janssen. Rostock, Hinstorff, 2007. Reprinted with the kind permission of Susanne Janssen.

  • 19 The original is hosted in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The photo can be seen online (...)

22The ensuing four pages focus again on the fairytale text; the first sentence of the fairytale is printed in large black letters on white paper. On the opposite page, the main protagonists are introduced one after another. The father is almost naked with a frail body, a bald head, and long, thin arms and legs, thus stressing his poverty. On the next doublespread, the mother’s face is shown in profile. Her pale skin, strict look, and the scarf that covers her hair echo Italian Renaissance paintings (Figure 9). The ensuing image depicts the siblings Hansel and Gretel, who look like twins (Figure 10). They are only distinguished by their clothes; otherwise, their body position and facial expression mirror each other. The inspiration for this depiction of the children is a photo by Emmet Gowin, “Nancy, Danville, Virginia”, from 1969.19 Emmet Gowin, a distinctive American artist and photographer, took a photo of his niece Nancy with her eyes shut holding two eggs in her hands. Her writhing arms resemble snakes. Janssen used this enigmatic photo to convey the troubled psychological situation of the siblings.

Figure 10: Doublespread of Hänsel und Gretel, with a text by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm and illustrations by Susanne Janssen. Rostock, Hinstorff, 2007. Reprinted with the kind permission of Susanne Janssen.

23These images serve as indicators for the individual characters’ states of mind. While the father is depicted as a weak person suffering from poverty and hunger, the stepmother seems to be cold and heartless. The children, however, are in a state of innocence, focusing on themselves and their inner feelings. Their emotional condition changes after they are imprisoned by the witch in the wood. Like in the first image, they have closed eyes as if withdrawing into a dream world full of imagination that contradicts the nightmarish atmosphere in the realm of the witch. Noticeably, the red cloth of the witch matches the red apron of the stepmother, thus building a link between both female characters. This is additionally stressed by the mask-like face of the witch that obviously mirrors the pale face of the stepmother (Figure 11).

Figure 11: Doublespread of Hänsel und Gretel, with a text by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm and illustrations by Susanne Janssen. Rostock, Hinstorff, 2007. Reprinted with the kind permission of Susanne Janssen.

24While the similarity between the witch and the stepmother has been highlighted again and again in previous picturebook interpretations of this fairytale, most notably by Anthony Browne, Janssen managed to create a novel interpretation of the siblings. From the beginning, they are depicted as twins, representing a female and male version of the child. What is more, they have open eyes in the first spreads but closed eyes after they have realized the wickedness of the witch. However, the most enigmatic thing happens on the final spread when only one child, still with closed eyes, is visible in the top right-hand corner of the image (Figure 12).

Figure 12: Doublespread of Hänsel und Gretel, with a text by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm and illustrations by Susanne Janssen. Rostock, Hinstorff, 2007. Reprinted with the kind permission of Susanne Janssen.

  • 20 This idea can be linked to Bruno Bettelheim’s interpretation of the fairytale, as he pointed to the (...)

25Does this visual imply that Hansel and Gretel represent two halves of a single person, probably the bad and the good one, or the female and the male part?20 While the text still mentions both children, the visual contradicts the message of the text. On a meta-level, the final spread may be interpreted as a reunion of two realms, the realm of reality and the realm of fantasy or imagination. As the siblings were able to defeat the witch, they have demonstrated that the passivity of the imprisoned Hansel is complemented by the activity of Gretel, who has outsmarted the witch. The final image shows only the child’s bust, without any clothes. Consequently, the reader cannot decide whether the child is female or male.

26However, the center of the image shows two animals, a white duck and a bloody red carp, which may be read as the two poles that govern the storyline, namely the struggle of innocence against evil and wickedness. Quite interestingly, the father of the children is not shown in the concluding image. He does not seem to play a significant role in the children’s development. As a matter of fact, the final image is closely connected to the first one regarding the design of the picture. The lower edge of the first illustration has a crescent-shaped form, as if someone is looking at the scenery using a spyglass. The final illustration, by contrast, has a crescent-shaped form at the upper edge. Putting these two images together, the two crescent shapes complement each other, thus closing a circle.

  • 21 On animals as religious symbols in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, see Sigrid and Lothar Dittr (...)

27The three animals, deer, duck, and carp, have a highly symbolic character according to medieval and Christian thinking. The deer represents power and strength; however, he is seriously wounded by the arrow. The duck, on the other hand, stands for love and safety, as the duck helps the children to cross the river. The carp, finally, is a symbol of wealth but also of danger.21 Seen together, the animals point to different aspects in relation to the development of the child characters, referring to their potential emotional and cognitive growth. Still striking are the closed eyes of the single child, as if it remains within the realm of imagination. This observation may point to the surreal and dreamlike atmosphere of the setting, in contrast to the cityscape at the beginning of the narrative.

28Nature, that is the wood, is depicted as a counterpoint to civilization and the city. In the picturebook, nature is represented as a place of safety as well as a place of danger. As the siblings have overcome the perils of the wood and the witch as its main inhabitant, they seem to become one with nature. The endpapers show the same setting as in the front papers, however, with an important difference: only the white shirt and the apron of the siblings are visible as they hang from the balcony. The right window with the red curtains and the white sheet has been cut, probably indicating the death of the stepmother.

29Susanne Janssen has created a rather disturbing version of the fairytale of Hansel and Gretel which addresses issues such as severe poverty and abuse of power which lead to child neglect and brutal behavior. While these topics are already mentioned in the original text, Janssen’s illustrations point to the alarming effects these aspects have on children’s development. The siblings’ closed eyes potentially indicate that the adventures in the wood belong to the children’s dream world. They imagine the encounter with the witch and their rescue in order to escape their miserable living conditions. The dangerous atmosphere that the children experience in nature is further highlighted by the birds that are depicted as machine-like beings, whose bodies consist of metallic industrial items. While the birds are constructed as a collage of photographically created elements, the trees consist of dark masses interspersed with red surfaces that point to danger in general and refer to the witch aka the stepmother. Seen in this light, the last spread – with the duck and carp in the middle and the child with closed eyes in the top right-hand corner – still refers to the world of imagination. The return to the realm of reality is indicated in the end papers with the urban building and the clothes on the line. The scenery suggests that almost nothing has changed. The children still live in precarious conditions; they have no treasures to enable them to escape poverty. The only change that happens in their life is their stepmother’s death. Hence, Janssen’s version of Hansel and Gretel displays a psychological and symbolic depth which demonstrates the validity of this fairytale for our modern times.

Environmental Destruction and Human Greed: Von dem Fischer und seiner Frau

  • 22 There are hardly any single-illustrated versions of this fairytale created by German illustrators. (...)
  • 23 Renate Raecke, Von dem Fischer und seiner Frau, Jonas Lauströer (ill.), Bargteheide, Minedition, Mi (...)

30Von dem Fischer und seiner Frau (The Fisherman and His Wife) is one of the lesser-known fairytales of the Grimms’ collection.22 This tale was handed down by Philipp Otto Runge, and the Grimms included it in the second revised edition of their collection. In cooperation with Renate Raecke, who modernized and adapted the original text, the illustrator Jonas Lauströer created a compelling picturebook in 2013.23

31The first illustration shows the fisherman at the lonely beach near a vessel which has been pulled onto the beach. The sky and the water are a greyish blue with black scratches that indicate a stormy weather. The next illustration displays a close view of the fisherman, who has caught an enormous flounder almost as big as his own body. The following illustration depicts the moment when the fisherman has thrown the wounded flounder back into the sea. The picture shows the dark sea with streams of blood, thus evoking an eerie and even threatening atmosphere.

32The subsequent story unfolds when the fisherman’s wife demands that the fisherman ask the flounder a favor. She wants to live in a house instead of a fisherman’s hut. After the flounder grants this wish, the fisherman’s wife becomes greedy and urges the fisherman to ask the flounder to change the house into a villa. After the fulfilment of this wish, she wants to become a king, then an emperor and a pope. Every time the fisherman meets the flounder, the sea and the environment drastically change. When the fisherman asks for the villa, the flounder lays on the beach, surrounded by garbage, broken wooden planks, and empty bottles. Next time, the sea has turned into a dirty mass with garbage, planks, and bottles floating on the surface. When the fisherman tells the flounder that his wife wants to become an emperor, the sea seems to be toxic, as a barrel containing nuclear waste is floating in the water. The fisherman wears a protective suit, a cap and a mouth protection, as workers in nuclear power stations do (Figure 13). As the wife’s fantasy of omnipotence grows and she forces the fisherman to meet the flounder again because she wants to become a pope, the sea scenery turns into a nightmarish place. The sea and the beach are black masses and cannot be distinguished anymore. The flounder has turned into a shiny white corpse as if the animal is contaminated by nuclear and other toxic materials. The fisherman wears a protective outfit that resembles a diving suit, with an oxygen bottle on his back and a respiratory mask.

Figure 13: Doublespread of Von dem Fischer und seiner Frau, with a text by Renate Raecke and illustrations by Jonas Lauströer. Bargteheide, Minedition, Michael Neugebauer Verlag, 2013. Reprinted with the permission of Michael Neugebauer Edition.

33However, the situation on the beach comes to a head when the fisherman deplores his wife’s wish to become God. In this situation, sea and beach have turned into a dark mass. The red and white streams and the black scratches indicate a heavy storm with the elements in turmoil. The reader is in the position of the fisherman, who is not able to distinguish the border between land and sea anymore. Quite surprisingly, the next and final illustration shows the beach and the fisherman, as in the beginning of the story. Thus, the first and the final illustration mirror each other and frame the inner story. Moreover, they indicate that nothing seems to have happened in between. Although the sea has increasingly turned into a toxic element, the final image returns to the representation of nature as it is shown in the first one. This may be interpreted as the return to the same state, like in a dream, since the fisherman and his wife return to their initial status, living in a hut again.

  • 24 The aspect of environment and relationship to nature is discussed in Nathalie op de Beeck, “Environ (...)

34The ecological message is crystal clear. The fisherman’s wife stands for the greed of mankind that destroys nature and the environment.24 As the flounder grants every wish with the exception of the last one, he serves as a mediator between nature or probably even God and mankind as well as a reminder that hubris falls back on the polluter. However, the fairytale does not solely center on the relationship between the fisherman and the flounder, since it also focuses on the relationship between the fisherman and his wife.

Figure 14: Cover of Von dem Fischer und seiner Frau, with a text by Renate Raecke and illustrations by Jonas Lauströer. Bargteheide, Minedition, Michael Neugebauer Verlag, 2013. Reprinted with the permission of Michael Neugebauer Edition.

35The book cover shows both characters sitting together on a bench in front of a house (Figure 14). The fisherman is holding his wife’s hand and looking at her inquisitively. The fisherman’s wife, however, is turning her face in the other direction, on the verge of expressing her dissatisfaction with the house and formulating a new wish. While the fisherman still wears fisherman’s clothes, his wife wears a dress with a lace collar and a hat, thus indicating a new social status. The same image reappears inside the book when the fisherman’s wife asks for a villa.

36In the ensuing pictures, the fisherman and his wife are not shown together anymore. The pages either depict the fisherman or his wife, thereby indicating the imbalance of their social positions – the fisherman always remains a fisherman, as his wife climbs up the social ladder. When the fisherman’s wife becomes queen, the respective illustration shows the fisherman standing on a red carpet that leads to a throne on a pedestal. Surrounded by armed soldiers standing guard, the fisherman submissively approaches the throne, which seems to sparkle with gold. Only the feet of the queen, aka the fisherman’s wife, are discernible, thus emphasizing her high social status and negating the former equality of the two characters. The picture with the fisherman’s wife as empress centers on the woman. She wears a heavy crown and a purple ermine coat. Interestingly enough, her gesture with both arms raised resembles the typical gesture of blessing of the pope, thus anticipating her next wish.

Figure 15: Doublespread of Von dem Fischer und seiner Frau, with a text by Renate Raecke and illustrations by Jonas Lauströer. Bargteheide, Minedition, Michael Neugebauer Verlag, 2013. Reprinted with the permission of Michael Neugebauer Edition.

37The same procedure of anticipation is discernible in the image that shows the fisherman’s wife as a pope. She is clothed like a pope with a tiara and a huge crucifix while raising her right hand in a gesture of blessing. However, she is hardly recognizable, since a halo surrounds her as if she is a saint, thus foreshadowing her wish to become God (Figure 15). Amidst the anonymous crowd whose members bend their heads in order to demonstrate their belief in the Christian Church and their devotion to the pope is the fisherman, who is only discernible because of his suspenders and the fisherman’s cap. The humans on this picture do not have any faces because they turn their backs to the reader, quite similar to the other image with the soldiers on guard. While the soldiers at the end of the row are fully depicted, the heads of the soldiers nearer to the fisherman are cut off by the picture’s frame. Like the worshipping crowd surrounding the pope, the soldiers represent anonymized people who have to obey the rules of the queen. One may wonder whether the behavior of the people towards the king and the pope mirrors the fisherman’s behavior toward his wife. He does not resist his wife’s egoistic wishes, although they become increasingly selfish, even mad. He is so weak that he obeys at once despite his recurring complaints when he meets the flounder. Seen in this light, this fairytale edition points to the close relation between ecological, social, and political issues. So, the book’s message can be summarized in this way: those who always obey and follow the commands of their superiors contribute to the destruction of the environment and the empowerment of the mighty.

Conclusion

  • 25 These different levels of meaning pose a challenge for adult mediators, since a mere read-aloud ses (...)
  • 26 See Sandra Beckett, Crossover Picturebooks. A Genre for All Ages, New York, Routledge, 2012.

38The three picturebooks by Schenker, Janssen, and Lauströer show that the Grimms’ fairytales are still attractive for contemporary illustrators and artists. Although they use different artistic techniques and apply different narrative and aesthetic strategies, the three illustrators aim at carving out the multiple layers of meaning that are inherent in the fairytales.25 The breadth of their artistic skills and knowledge is impressive, as they intermingle interpictorial references and different artistic techniques – whether silhouette technique, collage, watercolor illustration, or acrylic painting – in order to testify the timeless nature of the Grimms’ tales. In this regard, the three picturebooks can be classified as “crossover picturebooks”. They transgress borders in different respects, thus addressing a crossover audience, which encompasses all age groups.26

  • 27 On the relationship between radical attitudes and children’s literature, see Kimberley Reynolds, Le (...)

39It is remarkable that two artists, Sybille Schenker and Susanne Janssen, recollect traditional art forms that have a close connection to avant-garde tendencies of the 1920s and 1930s. By doing this, they indicate that the radical ideas of the avant-garde movements are still relevant today and that they may survive in contemporary picturebook design. The radicality of the picturebooks is obvious as they combine aesthetical radicalism – references to avant-garde techniques – with political and social radicalism in relation to the topics of deception; the imbalance between reality and reason; fantasy and imagination; abuse of power; and environmental pollution.27 These topics are key in our present time, considering the current political, societal and ecological debates all over the globe. At first glance, fairytales seem to be superfluous and old-fashioned, but this impression is deceptive. On closer consideration, they reveal an astounding ambiguity, as the three picturebooks by Janssen, Lauströer and Schenker impressively demonstrate.

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Notes

1 See Heinz Rölleke, Die Märchen der Brüder Grimm, Stuttgart, Reclam, 2004; Hans-Jörg Uther, Handbuch zu den Kinder- und Hausmärchen der Brüder Grimm, Berlin, de Gruyter, 2008.

2 On the reception of Bechstein, see Ruth Bottigheimer, “Ludwig Bechstein’s Fairy Tales: Nineteenth Century Bestseller and Bürgerlichkeit”, Internationales Archiv für Sozialgeschichte der Literatur, 15(2), 1990, p. 55-88.

3 This movement established at the turn of the twentieth century propagated progressive ideas on the aesthetic and pedagogical impact of children’s literature. The chief representative was Heinrich Wolgast, a former teacher and founder of the influential periodical Jugendschriften-Warte (1893-1933). Emphasis was laid on the aesthetic quality of both texts and illustrations, as the review articles and critical essays in this periodical testify.

4 See Jack Zipes, The Brothers Grimm: From Enchanted Forests to the Modern World, New York, Routledge, 1988.

5 On the impact of the Grimms on fairytale collections in Europe and beyond, see Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer, “Romantic Images of Childhood in Romantic Children’s Literature”, in Gerald Gillespie, Manfred Engel, and Bernard Dieterle (eds.), Romantic Prose Fiction, Amsterdam, John Benjamins, 2008, p. 183-203.

6 There is ample research on this matter, as picturebook research emerged as a specific branch of children’s literature since the 1990s, see Maria Nikolajeva and Carole Scott, How Picturebooks Work, New York, Garland, 2001; David Lewis, Reading Contemporary Picturebooks: Picturing Text, London, RoutledgeFalmer, 2001; and Teresa Colomer, Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer and Cecilia Silva-Díaz (eds.), New Directions in Picturebook Research, New York, Routledge, 2010.

7 On fairytale adaptations of picturebooks, see Vanessa Joosen, “Picturebooks as Adaptations of Fairy Tales”, in Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer (ed.), The Routledge Companion to Picturebooks, New York, Routledge, 2018, p. 473-484.

8 Sandra Beckett, Recycling Red Riding Hood, New York, Routledge, 2002.

9 Deception is closely related with the concept of lying, see James Edwin Mahon, “The Definition of Lying and Deception”, in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2008. http://plato.stanford.edu (last accessed November 14, 2019); on lying in children’s literature, see Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer, “Lying and the Arts”, in Jörg Meibauer (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Lying, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2019, p. 533-548.

10 Brüder Grimm, Rotkäppchen, Sybille Schenker (ill.), Bargteheide, Minedition, Michael Neugebauer Verlag, 2014.

11 Due to a bombing attack on Berlin during the Second World War, the original and the negative copies of this film were destroyed. Scholars and critics therefore deplored the total loss of this important animation film. By chance, a copy with English subtitles was discovered in a British archive in the 1990s, leading to a reconstruction of the German original which premiered at the Berlinale in 1999.

12 In this regard, scholars point to the several effects that distinguish Reiniger’s film: the inclusion of abstract form elements, the perfect combination of animation and music, and the usage of new film techniques that anticipated the stop motion technique and the multi-plane camera. See Alfred Happ, Lotte Reiniger: Schöpferin einer neuen Silhouettenkunst, Tübingen, Universitätsstadt Tübingen, 2004; and Annika Schoemann, Der deutsche Animationsfilm: Von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart 1909-2001, Sankt Augustin, Gardez!, 2003.

13 On the complicated relationship between children’s literature and the avant-garde, see Elina Druker and Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer (eds.), Children’s Literature and the Avant-Garde, Amsterdam, John Benjamins, 2015.

14 On nostalgia in children’s literature, see Elisabeth Wesseling (ed.), Reinventing Childhood Nostalgia: Books, Toys and Contemporary Media Culture, New York, Routledge, 2017.

15 Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, Hänsel und Gretel, Susanne Janssen (ill.), Rostock, Hinstorff, 2007.

16 Collage is closely related to avant-garde tendencies of the 1920s and 1930s and emerged in picturebooks of the same era; see Elina Druker, “Collage and Montage in Picturebooks”, in B. Kümmerling-Meibauer (ed.), The Routledge Companion to Picturebooks, op. cit., p. 49-58.

17 See Beatriz Hoster Cabo, María José Lobato Suero, and Alberto Manuel Ruiz Campos, “Interpictoriality in Picturebooks”, in B. Kümmerling-Meibauer (ed.), The Routledge Companion to Picturebooks, op. cit., p. 91-102.

18 This incident possibly points to another fairytale by the Grimms: Brüderchen und Schwesterchen (Brother and Sister), in which the siblings meet a wounded deer in the woods.

19 The original is hosted in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The photo can be seen online at: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/46763 [last accessed November 13, 2019].

20 This idea can be linked to Bruno Bettelheim’s interpretation of the fairytale, as he pointed to the link between the stepmother and the witch as well as to the two siblings as two aspects of the same child. See Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment, London, Thames & Hudson, 1976. Bettelheim influenced several illustrators in the 1980s and 1990s. Although his ideas have often been discredited, it is interesting that he continues to inspire fairytale illustrations in the 21st century. On the impact of Bettelheim on Anthony Browne’s picturebook Hansel and Gretel (London, Walker Books, 1981), see Vanessa Joosen, Critical and Creative Perspectives on Fairy Tales: An Intertextual Dialogue between Fairy-Tale Scholarship and Postmodern Retellings, Detroit, Wayne State University Press, 2011.

21 On animals as religious symbols in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, see Sigrid and Lothar Dittrich, Lexikon der Tiersymbole: Tiere als Sinnbilder in der Malerei des 14.-17. Jahrhunderts, Petersberg, Imhof, 2005.

22 There are hardly any single-illustrated versions of this fairytale created by German illustrators. A potential reason for the disinterest in editing separate editions could be the misogynic character of the fairytale.

23 Renate Raecke, Von dem Fischer und seiner Frau, Jonas Lauströer (ill.), Bargteheide, Minedition, Michael Neugebauer Verlag, 2013.

24 The aspect of environment and relationship to nature is discussed in Nathalie op de Beeck, “Environmental Picture Books: Cultivating Conservationists”, in Naomi Hamer, Perry Nodelman, and Mavis Reimer (eds.), More Words about Pictures: Current Research on Picture Books and Verbal/Visual Texts for Young People, New York, Routledge, 2017, p. 116-126.

25 These different levels of meaning pose a challenge for adult mediators, since a mere read-aloud session cannot fully capture the sophisticated text-picture relationship and demands other reading strategies which rely on an interaction between children and adults; see Åse Marie Ommundsen, Gunnar Haaland, and Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer (eds.), Exploring Challenging Picturebooks in Education, New York, Routledge, 2021.

26 See Sandra Beckett, Crossover Picturebooks. A Genre for All Ages, New York, Routledge, 2012.

27 On the relationship between radical attitudes and children’s literature, see Kimberley Reynolds, Left Out: The Forgotten Tradition of Radical Publishing for Children in Britain 1910-1949, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2016.

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Table des illustrations

Légende Figure 1: Cover of Rotkäppchen, with a text by the Brothers Grimm and illustrated by Sybille Schenker. Bargteheide, Minedition, Michael Neugebauer Verlag, 2014. Reprinted with the permission of Michael Neugebauer Edition.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/6509/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 14k
Légende Figure 2: Spread of Rotkäppchen, with a text by the Brothers Grimm and illustrated by Sybille Schenker. Bargteheide, Minedition, Michael Neugebauer Verlag, 2014. Reprinted with the permission of Michael Neugebauer Edition.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/6509/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 146k
Légende Figure 3: Doublespread of Rotkäppchen, with a text by the Brothers Grimm and illustrated by Sybille Schenker. Bargteheide, Minedition, Michael Neugebauer Verlag, 2014. Reprinted with the permission of Michael Neugebauer Edition.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/6509/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 155k
Légende Figure 4: Screenshot of Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Ahmed (1926), animation film created by Lotte Reiniger.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/6509/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 164k
Légende Figure 5: Doublespread of Rotkäppchen, with a text by the Brothers Grimm and illustrated by Sybille Schenker. Bargteheide, Minedition, Michael Neugebauer Verlag, 2014. Reprinted with the permission of Michael Neugebauer Edition.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/6509/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 27k
Légende Figure 6: Doublespread of Rotkäppchen, with a text by the Brothers Grimm and illustrated by Sybille Schenker. Bargteheide, Minedition, Michael Neugebauer Verlag, 2014. Reprinted with the permission of Michael Neugebauer Edition.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/6509/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 205k
Légende Figure 7: Doublespread of Rotkäppchen, with a text by the Brothers Grimm and illustrated by Sybille Schenker. Bargteheide, Minedition, Michael Neugebauer Verlag, 2014. Reprinted with the permission of Michael Neugebauer Edition.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/6509/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 162k
Légende Figure 8: Front papers of Hänsel und Gretel, with a text by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm and illustrations by Susanne Janssen. Rostock, Hinstorff, 2007. Reprinted with the kind permission of Susanne Janssen.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/6509/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 186k
Légende Figure 9: Spread of Hänsel und Gretel, with a text by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm and illustrations by Susanne Janssen. Rostock, Hinstorff, 2007. Reprinted with the kind permission of Susanne Janssen.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/6509/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 15k
Légende Figure 10: Doublespread of Hänsel und Gretel, with a text by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm and illustrations by Susanne Janssen. Rostock, Hinstorff, 2007. Reprinted with the kind permission of Susanne Janssen.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/6509/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 170k
Légende Figure 11: Doublespread of Hänsel und Gretel, with a text by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm and illustrations by Susanne Janssen. Rostock, Hinstorff, 2007. Reprinted with the kind permission of Susanne Janssen.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/6509/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 182k
Légende Figure 12: Doublespread of Hänsel und Gretel, with a text by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm and illustrations by Susanne Janssen. Rostock, Hinstorff, 2007. Reprinted with the kind permission of Susanne Janssen.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/6509/img-12.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 180k
Légende Figure 13: Doublespread of Von dem Fischer und seiner Frau, with a text by Renate Raecke and illustrations by Jonas Lauströer. Bargteheide, Minedition, Michael Neugebauer Verlag, 2013. Reprinted with the permission of Michael Neugebauer Edition.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/6509/img-13.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 98k
Légende Figure 14: Cover of Von dem Fischer und seiner Frau, with a text by Renate Raecke and illustrations by Jonas Lauströer. Bargteheide, Minedition, Michael Neugebauer Verlag, 2013. Reprinted with the permission of Michael Neugebauer Edition.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/6509/img-14.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 46k
Légende Figure 15: Doublespread of Von dem Fischer und seiner Frau, with a text by Renate Raecke and illustrations by Jonas Lauströer. Bargteheide, Minedition, Michael Neugebauer Verlag, 2013. Reprinted with the permission of Michael Neugebauer Edition.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/6509/img-15.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 115k
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Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer, « Multiple Levels of Meaning: Three Current German Picturebook Versions of Fairytales by the Brothers Grimm », Strenæ [En ligne], 18 | 2021, mis en ligne le 21 juin 2021, consulté le 24 septembre 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/6509 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/strenae.6509

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Auteur

Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer

Universität Tübingen
German Department
Wilhelmstr. 50
72074 Tübingen
Germany

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