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The Debunker: Which Fairy Tales Did the Brothers Grimm Write?

by Ken Jennings

Are you out of school for the summer, or do you have kids that are? Educators worry that lots of their students lose reading skills during the summer, when kids are enjoying their three months of "no more pencils, no more books." But good news! We've brought in Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings for a little summer reading program of our own. It turns out that a lot of the things we think we know about our favorite children's books are pure fiction.

The Debunker: Which Fairy Tales Did the Brothers Grimm Write?

Their names are synonymous with children's folk tales, from "Rapunzel" to "Snow White" to "Hansel and Gretel." It doesn't hurt that their surname suggests the surprisingly dark and macabre mood of many of these stories. They're literally grim. That's some good branding, right there.

The Debunker

Without the best-selling 19th-century story collections of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, the landscape of traditional fairy tales would look very different indeed. But, unlike their contemporary Hans Christian Andersen, the Brothers Grimm didn't write a single one of their fairy tales. They were editors, compiling popular European folk tales that had circulated for centuries into a single collection.

So "Cinderella," "Sleeping Beauty," "Rumpelstiltskin," "The Frog Prince"…the Brothers Grimm had nothing to do with them. How did they collect these tales? Much has been made of their intrepid work combing the countryside for colorful peasant storytellers, but in fact, the Grimms did the bulk of their work at home, inviting friends, relatives, and other middle-class folks to stop by and tell stories while they took notes. Almost all the subjects were literate, many were young, and most were women. The most lasting editorial work done by the Brothers Grimm was what they left out. In later editions, they gradually stripped a lot of the sex and violence out of these narratives, turning earthy old folk tales into safe bedtime stories for middle-class children.

Here's what I'm saying: if your social media feed is just a series of jokes and memes "borrowed" from other tellers, the Brothers Grimm would say you have nothing to feel ashamed of.

Quick Quiz: Grimm is one of the many islands of what German city, which can boast more bridges than any other city in the world?

Ken Jennings is the author of eleven books, most recently his Junior Genius Guides, Because I Said So!, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at or on Twitter as @KenJennings.