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Banned Books Week: The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales
Once upon a time, in a land far away, there was controversy surrounding The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales. The time was in fact the early 1990s, and the places were California and Arizona. In 1990, a California school district pulled an illustrated edition of Little Red Riding Hood by Trina Schart Hyman (originally called Little Red-Cap in the Brothers Grimm 1812 version) from a first-grade recommended reading list. The assistant Superintendent of Instruction at the Linwood E. Howe elementary school in Culver City, CA ordered the ban on the Caldecott-medaled book for it's depiction of Little Red carrying a basket of food and a bottle of wine through the woods to her grandmother. In 1993, a committee of parents, teachers, and administrators in Kyrene, Arizona raised objections to The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales, due to its "excessive violence, negative portrayals of female characters, and anti-Semitic references," and lobbied to have the book restricted to sixth through eighth grade classrooms.
The stories and moral lessons contained in fairy tales are often anything but—children are devoured, thrown into ovens, imprisoned unjustly, and seduced by wolves. Murder, violence, and abuse by adults appear commonplace throughout the tales of Brothers Grimm. Two scholarly assessments of the Grimm's Tales explore these darker themes in-depth. Grimm's Bad Girls and Bold Boys: The Moral and Social Vision of the 'Tales,' by Ruth B. Bottingheimer of SUNY Stonybrook skewers the Grimm's over the tendency towards gender bias and anti-Semitism in the Tales. In The Hard Facts of the Grimm's Fairy Tales, Maria Tatar of Harvard University takes a more psychological approach on the Tales, and discusses what fairy tales can teach us about our subconscious wishes and dreams.
Ironically enough, Tales author Jakob Grimm found himself in the unwelcome position of being appointed public censor in his hometown of Hesse, Germany in the 1820s, although by standards of the day he was considered a lax and sympathetic one. Even Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia came to the defense of the Brothers Grimm, during a trial about a piece of legislation that would ban the sale of violent video games. He said to the attorney representing the state of California “Some of the Grimm's Tales are quite grim. Are you going to ban them too?”