Book Report: The Harvard Classics: Folk-Lore and Fable by Aesop, the Brothers Grimm, and Hans Christian Andersen

Book coverI’ve been reading this book to my son(s) over the course of the last two or three years. It’s a 368 page book, so cut me a little slack. Also note that we did the book in fits and starts, where we read a bunch of Aesop together, both boys and I, at the outset, but once we got into the relatively bloody Grimm brothers, we held off a bit. Eventually, the older boy wanted to hear the stories more than his younger brother did.

At any rate, we’re through it now. I’m not going to go into great detail because it’s been three years, and I’ve forgotten any of the lessons of Aesop’s that I might have learned. I will sum up some thoughts on each:

  • Aesop’s fables are good for children. They have a message in them, and their fanciful use of animals will make the children pay attention.
  • The Brothers Grimm are pretty bloody. There’s a lot of chopping getting done and bodily harm, but most of the stories have a redemptive element if not a Christian message. Famous Grimm stories include “Rapunzel”, “Hansel and Gretel”, “Cinderella”, “Little Red-Cap”, “Little Snow White”, “Rumplestiltskin”, and “The Golden Goose”. When Disney got a hold of them, the films had more survivors than the stories. Which is the same complaint I had about Disney’s Hamlet. Also, the brothers reuse elements of their stories, so if you read the whole kit and kaboodle at once, you’ll feel a sense of deja vu.
  • Hans Christian Andersen has a reputation about being child friendly, but his stories are about as bloody as the brothers Grimms’, and they often don’t end on a note of redemption. Instead, some like “The Emperor’s New Clothes” just kind of end abruptly, while others end like “The Shadow” end with a nominal protagonist losing in the end. Hans Christian Andersen is not unlike a children’s Stieg Larsson. Famous HCA stories include the aforementioned “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, “The Little Mermaid” (which does not probably end like the Disney film), “The Ugly Duckling”, and the source for at least one Kate Bush song (which does not end the same way as the song or its video).


All in all, a good collection. Now we’re going to read the Harvard Classics Arabian Nights, and three years’ hence when we finish that, the lad(s) should be ready for Plato and Aristotle.

Books mentioned in this review:

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