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Introduction: The Legacy of the Grimms’ Tales in Picturebook Versions of the Twenty-First Century

Vanessa Joosen et Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer

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The editors would like to thank Lauren Ottaviani for her assistance in copy-editing the articles in this issue. In addition, they want to acknowledge the financial and logistic support that helped them to co-organize the symposium from which this themed issue stems. This support was provided by the International Youth Library in Munich, the Märchen-Stiftung Walter Kahn, the University of Tübingen and the University of Antwerp.

  • 1 Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, German Popular Stories, translated from the Kinder and Haus Märchen collec (...)

1Over two centuries after the Brothers Grimm started their work on Die Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales, 1812‒1815), their fairy tales have not lost their appeal to readers, authors and, as the contributors in this special issue explore, illustrators. The history of illustrated editions of the Grimms’ tales did not start in Germany – the first German edition had no illustrations, while the second edition of 1815 had just two small drawings by Ludwig Emil Grimm, a younger brother of Jakob and Wilhelm, on the frontispiece and half title. The history of illustrating the Grimms’ tales started instead in the United Kingdom, when George Cruikshank created numerous copper etchings for the first English translation entitled German Popular Stories (1823‒1826).1 His illustrations showed the potential of pictures to draw readers into the stories and add layers of meaning to them. This famously inspired the Brothers Grimm to publish smaller, illustrated versions of their collection. While they initially planned to publish a German edition with Cruikshank’s illustrations, they eventually convinced Ludwig Emil Grimm to create 25 copper engravings for a “smaller” edition with selected tales that saw the light of day in 1825. Although they hoped to attract a broader audience, it was to little avail, as it was the Cruikshank edition that especially contributed to the tales’ popularity as children’s literature. Transnational exchanges thus contributed to the popularity of illustrations in the Grimms’ fairy tales from the very start, and have remained a constant throughout its history.

  • 2 On the Grimms’ editions in the United Kingdom in the nineteenth century, see Jennifer Schacker, Nat (...)
  • 3 Regina Freyberger, Märchenbilder–Bildermärchen: Illustrationen zu Grimms Märchen 1819–1945, Oberhau (...)

2A wealth of British illustrators, such as Richard Doyle, Arthur Hughes, Walter Crane, Arthur Rackham and Mervyn Peake, followed in Cruikshank’s footsteps in the second half of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century.2 Their illustrations appeared in lavishly and richly stocked editions which are now rare collectibles. In Germany, however, the wood engravings by Ludwig Richter and the copper engravings by Moritz von Schwind contributed to a retrospective recognition of the Grimms’ tales in the second half of the nineteenth century.3 At the same time, the individual tales had been revised time and time again in order to adjust them to a prospective child audience.

  • 4 The critical reception of the Grimms’ tales is discussed in Donald Haase, The Reception of Grimms’ (...)
  • 5 George Bodmer, “Arthur Hughes, Walter Crane, and Maurice Sendak: The Picture as Literary Fairy Tale (...)

3Despite translations into other European languages that were commissioned as early as the nineteenth century, the international success story of the Grimms’ tales only took off in the twentieth century.4 Apart from splendid gift books with ornate illustrations successively produced by Crane, Rackham and Kay Nielsen, artists increasingly turned toward smaller formats and editions, thus paving the way for picturebook versions of individual fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm. This tendency notwithstanding, renowned artists and graphic designers still felt compelled to create high-quality illustrations for fairy-tale collections.5 The list of names is impressive and encompasses prominent representatives of international book illustration, such as Michael Foreman, Nikolaus Heidelbach, Werner Klemke, Anton Pieck, Maurice Sendak, Jiri Trnka and Lisbeth Zwerger, to name but a few.

  • 6 See, for instance, Joyce Irene Whalley, “The Development of Illustrated Texts and Picture Books”, i (...)
  • 7 These different types of text-picture-relationships are explained in: Maria Nikolajeva, Carole Scot (...)
  • 8 See David Lewis, Reading Contemporary Picturebooks. Picturing Text, London, RoutledgeFalmer, 2001.

4In contrast to picturebooks, these collections devote more space to the text rather than the illustrations. These books usually have an illustration every couple of pages. It is common practice in current academic discourse to make a clear distinction between an illustrated book and a picturebook.6 While the text dominates the illustrations in an illustrated book, a picturebook usually displays a well-considered balance between text and visuals. The relationship between text and illustration in picturebooks differs in manifold respects. Besides symmetrical picturebooks where text and illustration redundantly tell the same narrative, there are picturebooks where text and pictures fill each other’s gaps (“complementary picturebooks”) and picturebooks where text and illustrations seem to contradict each other, as in “ironic picturebooks”.7 Ample studies have investigated the different interactive modes of this multimodal medium to the extent of maintaining that the shift between text and visuals may alter from one doublespread to the next.8

  • 9 Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, New York, Tha (...)
  • 10 See Vanessa Joosen, Critical and Creative Perspectives on Fairy Tales: An Intertextual Dialogue Bet (...)
  • 11 On German illustrated books of the Grimms’ tales, see Heinz Wegehaupt, Illustrationen zu Märchen de (...)

5In the long twentieth century, picturebook makers discovered the huge potential of fairy tales, particularly the tales written by the Grimm Brothers. Due to their universality, the tales offer artists the opportunity to develop their own imaginative space, irrespective of any cultural, social or historical restraints. This increasing interest in the visual power of fairy tales stands in contrast to Bruno Bettelheim’s attitude. In The Uses of Enchantment (1976)9, he argues against illustrations, as they would interfere with the child’s imagination, thus slowing down their imaginative power.10 But this claim did not hamper book illustrators and picturebook makers at all. It is up to the individual illustrator whether they set an individual tale within a historical or contemporary setting, whether they use a naturalistic or more abstract style, or whether they connect a Grimm tale with interpictorial references to other works of art and media formats.11

  • 12 See Sandra Beckett, Recycling Red Riding Hood, New York, Routledge, 2002, and Sandra Beckett, Red R (...)
  • 13 Elaborated studies on the illustrated versions of individual tales are scarce; however, see Rachel (...)
  • 14 On postmodern picturebooks, see Lawrence R. Sipe and Sylvia Pantaleo (eds.), Postmodern Picturebook (...)
  • 15 See on this topic, Vanessa Joosen, “Picturebooks as Adaptations of Fairy Tales”, in Bettina Kümmerl (...)

6Some illustrators recognized these possibilities early on and created their own individualistic versions of popular tales. Innumerable picturebook editions of “Little Red Riding Hood” – seemingly the most popular tale among picturebook makers around the globe12 – and other tales, such as “The Bremen Town Musicians”, “Hansel and Gretel”, “Snow White”, and “Sleeping Beauty”, pay testimony to the international breakthrough of picturebook versions of the Grimms’ tales13. The range of artistic styles used encompasses abstract design, realistic drawings, illustrations inspired by comics or films, visuals that show the impact of vanguard tendencies of the interwar period or pick up neo-avantgarde trends, even photography and caricature. The tendency to create hybrid forms and to deliberately use the qualities of different materials and formats increased with the surge of the postmodern picturebook in the 1980s and 1990s.14 In the same vein, author-illustrators drafted postmodern fairy-tale versions by creating topsy-turvy storylines, adding new segments and plots as well as exchanging gender roles or scrutinizing traditional conceptualizations of class, gender, race and age. These parodic fairy-tale revisions together with sophisticated and often tongue-in-cheek illustrations broadened the existing domain of fairy-tale adaptations and pointed to the potentially inherent critical stances of the traditional tales.15

  • 16 See Sandra Beckett, Crossover Picturebooks. A Genre for All Ages, London, Routledge, 2014.

7A second strand already discernible in the first half of the twentieth century but coming to the fore after the 1970s relates to the phenomenon of “crossover picturebooks”, as Sandra Beckett famously calls it.16 This phenotype addresses a double audience of children and adults, thus transgressing the boundaries between these age groups. This trend enlivens fairy-tale picturebooks, especially because the Grimms’ tales have targeted children and adults from the beginning. Here the long history of the Grimms’ tales and new trends in picturebook making have turned full circle, pinpointing the universal and all-encompassing quality of the fairy-tale collection. Altogether, the tradition of illustrating Grimm’s fairy tales has stretched into the twenty-first century and is still as international as it was in the very beginning. In this special issue, five scholars explore trends in European illustration of the Grimm tales in the twenty-first century. As it turns out, the multiplicity of meaning that fairy tales carry still leaves ample space for contemporary illustrators to exploit. Moreover, the stories collected by the Grimms address timeless themes that are still relevant to the twenty-first century, such as disguise and deception, the relationship between the real and the fantastic, hubris and justice, broken families and child abuse. Taken as a whole, the tales celebrate the power of the imagination and the resilience of disempowered characters. While some illustrators, such as the Austrian Lisbeth Zwerger, use original Grimm texts or faithful translations as the basis for their works, more lose rewritings (e.g., by Philip Pullman) and postmodern revisions (e.g., by Ted van Lieshout) are also common. The Grimms’ tales also have a long tradition of being combined with other genres, which has continued in recent decades, for example in hybrid ABC books that use fairy tales as a key thread.

  • 17 On iconographic traditions in fairy-tale illustrations, see Ruth Bottigheimer, “Iconographic Contin (...)

8Regardless of the type of text that accompanies their work, illustrators tread in the footsteps of a long lineage of previous artists, who have established an iconographic tradition when it comes to key figures and scenes, whether it is the tower of animals in “The Bremen Town Musicians” or the choice of Little Red Riding Hood’s headwear.17 When embarking on an artistic project like illustrating the Grimms’ tales, many of them choose to create “iconographic continuities” that are more than imitations or (un)conscious influences: they enter into an intertextual and interpictorial dialogue with this tradition. Moreover, illustrators do not limit their range of references to the fairy-tale tradition alone, but also draw on photography, film, art and advertising.

9In the light of a renewed focus on the materialist aspects of the book, several authors in this special issue focus on the book as an object, including reflections on the type of paper that is used, as in Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer’s analysis of Sybille Schenker’s use of silhouettes, and on the way that visuals are laid out on the page, as Vanessa Joosen does for the cut off illustrations in some of Van Lieshout’s books. What becomes obvious after reading the essays, is that European illustrators have adopted a wide range of techniques that combine older methods, such as pencil drawings, sculptures and silhouettes with photography and collage in artworks that are often abstract and mysterious.

10The diversity of techniques is matched with a range of themes that appear in the illustrations, sometimes provoked by revisions of the tales in the text. Medievalist settings still surface regularly, but the illustrations also address the themes that dominate public debates in the twenty-first century, such as the ecological crisis, heteronormativity and the rights of trans people. Many of the books discussed here would fall under the category of “crossover picturebooks”, appealing to an audience of children and adults.

Overview on the contributions

11Gillian Lathey’s article problematizes the very notion of national perspectives on illustrations of the Grimms, given the highly collaborative and international nature of the book market in the twenty-first century, as well as the proliferation of translations. After taking us back to the beginning of the illustrated history of the Grimms’ tales, with George Cruikshank’s pictures to Edgar Taylor’s German Popular Stories (1823), she highlights four publishing trends in the United Kingdom. While picturebooks based on single tales, often in the form of retellings rather than direct translations, are the most prolific on the British market, fairy-tale collections are still published in substantial numbers as well. The rest of her article focuses on those. Three additional trends become apparent in these: the return to Victorian traditions with expensive re-editions of classic illustrated collections, the combination of classic with new artwork by well-known illustrators in hybrid gift editions, and the global nature of some of the most recent editions, exemplified by the international proliferation of the British author Philip Pullman’s rewritings, Grimm Tales for Young and Old, including an edition with the Australian Shaun Tan’s illustrations. Lathey then continues with an in-depth analysis of this artwork, which consists of photographs of sculptures that show further international entanglements, as they are inspired by Inuit stone carvings and pre-Columbian clay figurines from Canada and Mexico.

12Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer’s chapter takes us back to Germany and considers three picturebooks based on tales by the Brothers Grimm. After introducing the rich history of German illustrations, Kümmerling-Meibauer starts from a discussion of artistic techniques to explore in depth how illustrators add meaning to the Grimms' tales or bring to the fore covert layers of the stories. Sybille Schenker’s Rotkäppchen (2014, Little Red Riding Hood) 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, The Fisherman and His Wife) expose an ecological perspective, as they call attention to environmental pollution caused by human greed and carelessness.

13Marlene Zöhrer observes a relatively small production of picturebooks based on Grimm’s tales in Austria, which she attributes to the dominance of the German book market and the importance of Lisbeth Zwerger. She offers a close reading of this influential illustrator’s Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten (2006, The Bremen Town Musicians), arguing that Zwerger breaks with the iconographic tradition established by her predecessors by choosing different scenes and constellations. A more radical break can be found in the other two case studies from Austria. Renate Gruber and Linda Wolfsgruber use the Grimms’ and other fairy tales for a playful game of intertextuality in their mixed-media alphabet book es war einmal. Von A bis Zett (2000; Once Upon a Time. From A to Zett). While they may not tread in the steps of historical illustrators of the tale, Zöhrer links them to another trend that has started to become a tradition in its own right: the parodic, metafictional fairy-tale amalgam, as established by, among others, Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes (1982) and Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith’s The Stinky Cheese Man (1992). Zöhrer’s third case study, Prinzessin Hannibal (2017, Princess Hannibal) by Michael Roher, cannot be linked to one specific fairy-tale either, and uses intertextual play and a transgender princess to crucially revise the cis-normative tradition of the fairy tales.

14Marnie Campagnaro explores how Italian fairy tales engage with and revise fairy-tale traditions by focusing on clothing. The hoods, bonnets and clothes in twenty-first-century illustrations to “Little Red Riding Hood” thus serve as a lens through which to interpret femininity in one of the Grimms’ most famous tales. Based on an analysis of twenty picturebooks and illustrated fairy-tale collections published in Italy in the 21st century, Campagnaro’s study displays the diversity in Red Riding Hood’s attire, but she is nevertheless able to highlight some recurrent tendencies. She connects, amongst others, the type of hood to the level of independence that Red Riding Hood displays, stressing that the visibility of the headdress gives it special symbolic significance. Moreover, the colour red carries strong symbolic associations in its own right. Some exceptions notwithstanding, Campagnaro observes a hesitation in most illustrators to exploit the more violent possibilities of this symbolism, with many still opting for a protective or anachronistic attire.

15Finally, Vanessa Joosen focuses on the poems and illustrations of the progressive Dutch artist Ted van Lieshout. As in many collections that draw on fairy tales, Van Lieshout does not limit himself to the Grimms, but makes references to their work as part of a larger fairy-tale scape that also includes tales by Charles Perrault and Hans Christian Andersen. Many of Van Lieshout’s books are characterized by a complex mixture of satire and sensitivity and a never-ending impetus to reinvent himself with different modes and styles. This impetus also marks his approach to the fairy tales, which he illustrates with visual sonnets inspired by the Zero Art movement in one book, and with photographs of dressed up wooden puppets in another. The range in interpictorial connections that he draws is particularly broad, from the early film stills by Edward Muybridge to the shriveling apples in his Snow White retelling that resemble the warning signs on packets of cigarettes. As he explores the possibility and relevance of magic in a twenty-first century, Van Lieshout also leaves out illustrations in strategic moments, which Joosen reads as a hint at the emptiness of a life that is devoid of the imagination.

16Altogether, these five articles strikingly demonstrate the astonishing variety of artistic techniques and styles used by contemporary illustrators from five different countries. Although this selection just provides a glimpse at actual tendencies in picturebook versions of the Grimms’ tales, they exemplarily show that these tales are still popular among illustrators, publishers and the audience. Time and time again, they challenge new interpretations and ignite the picturebook makers’ imagination to find new branches in already well-trodden paths. An international history of the illustrations of the Grimms’ tales around the globe has turned out to be a huge research void that deserves further academic efforts and scholarly collaboration. This special issue might be understood as a first modest step in this direction.

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Notes

1 Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, German Popular Stories, translated from the Kinder and Haus Märchen collected by M.M. Grimm, from the Oral Tradition, trans. Edgar Taylor, illus. George Cruikshank, London, C. Baldwyn, 1823. See Joyce Irene Whalley and Tessa Rose Chester, A History of Children’s Book Illustration, London, John Murray with the Victoria & Albert Museum, 1988, 42 f.

2 On the Grimms’ editions in the United Kingdom in the nineteenth century, see Jennifer Schacker, National Dreams: The Remaking of Fairy Tales in Nineteenth-Century England, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003; Sara Hines, “German Stories/British Illustrations. Production Technologies, Reception, and Visual Dialogue across Illustrations from ‘The Golden Bird’ in the Grimms’ Editions, 1823-1909”, in Vanessa Joosen and Gillian Lathey (eds.), Grimms’ Tales Around the Globe. The Dynamics of Their International Reception, Detroit, Wayne State UP, 2014, p. 219-237.

3 Regina Freyberger, Märchenbilder–Bildermärchen: Illustrationen zu Grimms Märchen 1819–1945, Oberhausen, Athena, 2009 provides a good overview on the history of illustration of the Grimms’ tales in the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century.

4 The critical reception of the Grimms’ tales is discussed in Donald Haase, The Reception of Grimms’ Fairy Tales: Response, Reactions, Revisions, Detroit, Wayne State UP, 1993. See also Jack Zipes, The Brothers Grimm: From Enchanted Forests to the Modern World, New York, Routledge, 1988.

5 George Bodmer, “Arthur Hughes, Walter Crane, and Maurice Sendak: The Picture as Literary Fairy Tale”, Marvels & Tales, 17.1, 2003, p. 120-137.

6 See, for instance, Joyce Irene Whalley, “The Development of Illustrated Texts and Picture Books”, in Peter Hunt (ed.), International Companion Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature, 2nd ed., London, Routledge, 2004, p. 318-327; Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer, “Illustration”, in Jack Zipes (ed.), The Oxford Encylopedia of Children’s Literature, vol. 2, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 276-281; Maria Nikolajeva, “Illustration”, in Donald Haase (ed.), The Greenwood Encylopedia of Folktales and Fairy Tales, vol. 2, Westport (CN), Greenwood Press, 2008, p. 468-478; Elizabeth Bird and Junko Yokota, “Picturebooks and Illustrated Books”, in Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer (ed.), The Routledge Companion to Picturebooks, London, Routledge, 2018, p. 281-290.

7 These different types of text-picture-relationships are explained in: Maria Nikolajeva, Carole Scott, How Picturebooks Work, New York, Garland, 2001. As for current trends in picturebook research, see Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer (ed.), The Routledge Companion to Picturebooks, London, Routledge, 2018.

8 See David Lewis, Reading Contemporary Picturebooks. Picturing Text, London, RoutledgeFalmer, 2001.

9 Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, New York, Thames & Hudson, 1976.

10 See Vanessa Joosen, Critical and Creative Perspectives on Fairy Tales: An Intertextual Dialogue Between Fairytale Scholarship and Postmodern Retellings, Detroit, Wayne State University Press, 2011, p. 474.

11 On German illustrated books of the Grimms’ tales, see Heinz Wegehaupt, Illustrationen zu Märchen der Brüder Grimm, Hanau, Dausien, 1988; Helge Weinrebe, Märchen–Bilder–Wirkungen: Zur Wirkung und Rezeptionsgeschichte von illustrierten Märchen der Brüder Grimm nach 1945, Frankfurt am Main, Peter Lang, 1987; Martin Anker, Anke Harms, Claudia Maria Pecher and Juliane Schmidt (eds), Grimms Märchenwelten im Bilderbuch. Beiträge zur Entwicklung des Märchenbuches seit Mitte des 20. Jahrhunderts, Baltmannsweiler, Schneider Verlag Hohengehren, 2015.

12 See Sandra Beckett, Recycling Red Riding Hood, New York, Routledge, 2002, and Sandra Beckett, Red Riding Hood for All Ages: A Fairy-tale Icon in Cross-cultural Contexts, Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 2008.

13 Elaborated studies on the illustrated versions of individual tales are scarce; however, see Rachel Freudenburg, “Illustrating Childhood – ‘Hansel and Gretel’”, Marvels and Tales, 12.2, 1998, p. 263-318, as a notable exception.

14 On postmodern picturebooks, see Lawrence R. Sipe and Sylvia Pantaleo (eds.), Postmodern Picturebooks. Play, Parody, and Self-Referentiality, New York, Routledge, 2008; Cherie Allan, Playing with Picturebooks: Postmodernism and the Postmodernesque, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

15 See on this topic, 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.

16 See Sandra Beckett, Crossover Picturebooks. A Genre for All Ages, London, Routledge, 2014.

17 On iconographic traditions in fairy-tale illustrations, see Ruth Bottigheimer, “Iconographic Continuity in Illustrations of ‘The Goosegirl’”, Children’s Literature, 13, 1985, p. 49-71.

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Vanessa Joosen et Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer, « Introduction: The Legacy of the Grimms’ Tales in Picturebook Versions of the Twenty-First Century », Strenæ [En ligne], 18 | 2021, mis en ligne le 21 juin 2021, consulté le 24 septembre 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/6515 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/strenae.6515

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Auteurs

Vanessa Joosen

University of Antwerp
Department of Literature

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Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer

Universität Tübingen
German Department
Wilhelmstr. 50
72074 Tübingen
Germany

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