Germanic Mythology and Christian Story in the Grimms' Fairy Tales
Murphy, G. Ronald
GERMANIC MYTHOLOGY AND CHRISTIAN STORYIN THE GRIMMS’ FAIRY TALESPatrick D. Rogers, S.J., M. Div.DLS Chair: G. Ronald Murphy, S.J., Ph.D.ABSTRACTThe lifelong endeavor of collecting and editing fairy tales was, for the Grimm Brothers, a passion that continued to grow and blossom over the course of their lifetimes. For the Grimms, fairy tales were ancient remnants of religious poetry in both the pagan and Christian traditions. Their careful editing of the tales brought forth the religious elements that reflected the transition from pagan stories, with symbols and gods like Odin and Thor, to an assimilation of Christian values and symbols, and, in the case of the tales here studied, the symbols associated primarily with Christian baptism.The historical transition from pagan to Christian belief experienced by the early medieval Germanic peoples can be traced through many literary forms, but are found especially, I maintain, in the fairy tales presented in this thesis. Here, the concepts of fate, time, and death were revealed and brought forth under the exacting and creative editorial hands of the Grimms. These concepts are meaningful for both pagans and Christians, each recognizing the profundity of death as the final human obstacle yet interpreting its role and meaning in the story in vastly different ways.Methodologically I read the Grimms’ tales, especially in the light of Jacob’s Teutonic Mythology, as religious remnants which can be traced diachronicallythrough the obstacles faced by each tale’s protagonist, since the obstacles are mini-revelations that reveal the inner truths of the tales and help the reader understand the tale’s essence and meaning. When examined closely, the Germanic mythological symbols revealed by the tale’s obstacles illuminate the reality of fated death and expose the tension between the threat of annihilation by death for the pagan (at Ragnarok) and the rescue from death for the baptized.This work is an exploration of the ways the Grimms understood the role that mythology played in the development of Germanic fairy tales and how that understanding affected their editorial decisions concerning the inclusion of fate, time, and death in them. The fairy tales explored in this thesis, “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Hansel and Gretel,” and “Godfather Death,” are rooted in the diachronic continuity and lived experience of the Medieval Germanic peoples. The above-mentioned tales were born out of the confluence of pagan mythology and Christian story and reflect the changing form of religious belief from paganism to Christianity while preserving the tales’ Germanic form. At the end, the tales I have chosen to examine express the hope of salvation as told in Germanic fashion. In other words: the fairy tales show the transition to Christianity by, paradoxically, their depiction in pagan-originating images and plotlines.
Embargo Lift Date