The Brothers Grimm: 5 Little Known Facts About Their Lives

With the birthday of Wilhelm Grimm, the younger brother of Jacob Grimm, of the iconic Brothers Grimm just over the horizon, here are a few interesting facts about the pair and their work!

Book Culture On This Day

When we hear “The Brothers Grimm” it’s natural that the first thing we think about is the fairy tales and their many Disney adaptations that have filled multiple generations of childhood with entertainment; but what about the story’s origins and the brothers themselves? From Snow White to Little Red Riding Hood, their stories are engrained in our pop culture. As familiar as they are though, do we really know these stories all so well? And what don’t we know about the brothers who put them on the page? In honor of Wilhelm Grimm’s birthday on February 24th, 1786, here are a few little-known facts about Wilhelm and his brother Jacob’s work and lives.

1. They Didn’t Start Out With Fairy Tales

Long before they became known for their collection of stories, the brothers were professional philologists and linguists, and spent a large portion of their lives researching and collecting folklore from the Germanic regions. Jacob himself even had a linguistics law named after him that dramatically changed how scholars thought of the Germanic language. Their studies involved folklore, folk poetry, and mythology, as well as their other linguistic work at universities. Additionally, the brothers undertook a project to write a massive German dictionary that would take up several volumes of content. Unfortunately, they only completed it up to the letter F before both brothers passed. By the time later scholars finished the dictionary, it came to a total of thirty-two volumes.

2. There Were Other Grimm’s in the Family

While we typically only hear about Wilhelm and Jacob because of their famous fairy tales, they actually had quite a few siblings. Despite never hearing about them, Jacob and Wilhelm were the oldest of five brothers and one sister.

3. They Didn’t Write the Stories, They Collected Them


Having their names printed in large, bolded “Grimm’s” on the covers of their story collections leaves no question as to why some would think the stories were written creations of the brothers, but this is not the case. While their name may be on the books, the source of the material came primarily from an oral tradition of storytelling that far predates the brothers themselves. While they may not have come up with the stories, popularizing them in print helped to make them renowned even to this day. By interviewing and collecting stories from others, the brothers bound the roughly 200 stories in a single volume, the Nursery and Household Tales.

4. Anti-Semitism in the Stories

Of all the stories collected by the Grimms, it’s no surprise coming from nineteenth-century Germany that at least a few of them would be blatantly anti-Semitic in their content. Of the ones that contained Jewish characters, a story titled “The Jew Among Thorns” is just about as bad as you can imagine.

In the tale, the Jewish character is forced to dance in a thorn bush and is called slurs until he offers to pay his abuser for release. In the end, the Jewish character is executed in the place of his abuser as he apparently stole the money he paid for his release. As for his attacker, he is released in his place. Of course, other stories in the collection aren’t completely free from such anti-Semitism either, but this one, in particular, is definitely one of the worst.

5. The Stories Primarily Came From Women

Given the nature of oral storytelling coming primarily from women at the time, it makes sense that the Grimm’s stories would have been told to them by women storytellers. One of the most prolific storytellers to provide the Grimms with their tales was Dortchen Wild. With roughly forty stories told to the Grimms just by one woman, Dortchen brought some of the most famous tales including “The Frog King,” “The Elves and the Shoemaker,” and “Hansel and Gretel.” After being involved with the Grimms for many years of sharing stories, Dortchen would also marry Wilhelm Grimm.


With the trip through the Grimm’s history finished, the stories don’t have to end here. If you’re looking for more stories from the Brothers Grimm, you can find them here!