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The Grimm Reader: The Classic Tales of the Brothers Grimm

Hosted by Yiyun Li
Began on October 27, 2020

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In 1806, the Napoleonic armies invaded Hesse-Cassel, where Jacob and Wilhelm, the Brothers Grimm were researching for their folk-tale projects in their spare time. Speaking of the turmoil of the time, Wilhelm wrote: “Those days of the collapse of all existing establishments will remain forever before my eyes…. Undoubtedly, the world situation and the necessity to draw into the peacefulness of scholarship contributed to the reawakening of the long-forgotten literature; but not only did we seek something of consolation in the past, our hope, naturally, was that this course of ours would contribute something to the return of a better day.”

As history presents uncertainty and turmoil in more than one form, we invite you to read tales from the Brothers Grimm with A Public Space and Yiyun Li, not merely for consolation, but for the hope of the return of a better day.

Yiyun Li

is the author of nine books, including Tolstoy Together: 85 Days of War and Peace with Yiyun Li; Where Reasons End, which received the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award; the essay collection Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life; and the novels The Vagrants, Must I Go, and The Book of Goose. She is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, Guggenheim Fellowship, and Windham-Campbell Prize, among other honors. A contributing editor to A Public Space, she teaches at Princeton University.

The Brothers Grimm

are Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm (1785–1863) and Wilhelm Carl Grimm (1786–1859). Among the most important German scholars of their time, they are best known for their fairy tales. 

Daily Reading

Day 1

The Frog King, or Iron Heinrich. The Poor Miller’s Boy and the Cat. Mother Trudy.

October 29, 2020 by Yiyun Li

“Once upon a time, when wishes still came true…” The Frog King, or Iron Heinrich
Once upon a time, wishes were coins, with one side saying: will come true. Later, wishes came in the shape of dice, some with six sides, some ten, some sixty. Nowadays wishes are marble balls. Rolled, with wishful thinking.

Day 2

The Wolf and the Seven Little Goats. The Twelve Brothers. The Hand with the Knife.

October 30, 2020 by Yiyun Li

“Twelve coffins were prepared and filled with wood shavings, with a little pillow for each boy to rest his head.” The Twelve Brothers
Once upon a time, a carpenter’s daughter had to sew pillows for coffins. When she felt sad, she thought of the judge whose job was to sentence people to death. At least she put more stiches in a pillow than the number of words he put in a sentence.

Day 3

Little Brother and Little Sister. How Children Played Butcher with Each Other.

October 31, 2020 by Yiyun Li

“They deliberated at length on the matter and had no idea what to do, for they realized that it had all been child’s play.” How Children Played Butcher with Each other

Day 4

The Three Little Men in the Woods. The Brave Little Tailor. Hans Dumm.

November 1, 2020 by Yiyun Li

“Thank goodness that we tailors are fleet-footed.” The Brave Little Tailor
Once upon a time, before any kingdom existed, there lived a diminutive fleet-footed tyrannosauroid. This human-sized dinosaur— ~4ft limb length and 170lb mass—lived as a happy elf among the colossal tyrannosauruses, for as long as they lasted.

Day 5

Mother Holle. The Seven Ravens. The Evil Mother-in-Law.

November 2, 2020 by Yiyun Li

“The little sister took a knife, cut off her little finger, put it into the lock, and presto, it opened up.” The Seven Ravens
Once there was a kingdom of latchkey kids. They understood freedom before they acquired the word, just as nightingales never have to pay for a singing lesson. Sometimes they wandered too far and, lost, their keys no longer opened any lock.

Day 6

The Bremen Town Musicians. The Devil and His Three Golden Hairs. The Children Living in a Time of Famine.

November 3, 2020 by Yiyun Li

“They ran into a cat making a face as long as three days of rain in a row.” The Bremen Town Musicians
A face as long as three days of rain in a row is perfectly long. A face as long as a pandemic or four terrible years wouldn't do even in a fairytale.

Day 7

The Magic Table, The Gold Donkey, and the Club in the Sack. The Elves. The Stubborn Child.

November 4, 2020 by Yiyun Li

“It was plain to see that this animal understood nothing about the art of minting, for not every ass can make money.” The Magic Table, the Gold Donkey, and the Club in the Sack
One feels for the donkeys who have not mastered the art of minting.

Day 8

The Robber Bridegroom. Godfather Death. The Rose.

November 5, 2020 by Yiyun Li

"They forced her to drink some wine, one white, one red, one yellow, and before long her heart burst into two." The Robber Bridegroom
The atrocities of the robbers aside, their heartbreaking recipe is intriguing: mix all three, it's an orange wine.

Day 9

Fircher’s Bird. The Juniper Tree. The six Swans.

November 6, 2020 by Yiyun Li

"My mother, she slew me,
My father, he ate me,
My sister, Marlene,
Gathered my bones,
Tied them in silk, for the juniper tree.
Tweet, tweet, what a fine bird am I."
The Juniper Tree
Is there a more literal and literary tweeter than this boy?

Day 10

Briar Rose. The Golden Bird. The Three Feathers.

November 7, 2020 by Yiyun Li

"The horses and the spotted hounds were lying in the same place...the doves were rooting with their little heads tucked under their wings...the flies were fast asleep on the wall." The Briar Rose
How one would love to know their dreams.

Day 11

Furrypelts. The Singing, Soaring Lark. The Goose Girl.

November 8, 2020 by Yiyun Li

"I have decided to marry my daughter, for she is the living image of my dead wife, and I shall never find another bride like her." Furrypelts
A statement like a kaleidoscope–one doesn't know what to say, except one doesn't want to spin it too much.

Day 12

A Fairy Tale about a Boy Who Left Home to Learn about Fear. The Worn-out Dancing Shoes. Snow White and Rose Red.

November 9, 2020 by Yiyun Li

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