Fairy Tales from Grimms to Disney

Note: Sample Schedule based on
Spring 2016 at Duke University 

Instructor: Jakob Norberg (

Course Content
Snow White, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel – who created these fairy tales, and to whom were they told? What are they about, and why have they survived to the present day? And what is their hidden, secret meaning? To answer these questions, we will read and interpret several well-known tales from the collection of the Brothers Grimm, but we will also look at how they are told today, for instance in Disney movies. To deepen our understanding of this evolving heritage, we will familiarize ourselves with various interpretive approaches of historians, folklorists, psychologists, and anthropologists.

Course Objectives
The class aims to impart knowledge about the origins, forms, meanings, and uses of the fairy tales as an immensely popular and globally pervasive genre that is both archaic and current. The course strives to provide answers to the following questions:
• Where do the fairy tales come from and how have they been shaped by their history?
• How are fairy tales composed or structured?
• What do they seek to tell us, or what ideas and values do they represent and convey?
• How have they been used (to entertain young and old, socialize children, unify cultures, encourage and console the needy)?

Using fairy tales as a resource, we will also address a series of fundamental questions in the study of literature and culture more generally. For instance:
• What is the structure and function of literary genres in culture?
• What is the value and appeal of beauty?
• What do we find entertaining or pleasing, and why do we (sometimes) enjoy horror?
• Why do we tell stories and what are the benefits, and problems, of storytelling?
• How do media and different modes of transmission shape cultural content?
• How do creative forms of expression work as vehicles of social and political values?
(Note: the course carries the attributes ALP, CCI, and CZ.)

Required Texts
• Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Grimms’ Tales for Young and Old: The Complete Stories. Trans. Ralph Manheim. [All numbers in the course schedule refer to tales in the Gimms’s book.]
• George Eliot. Silas Marner.
• Important note: Excerpts from multiple other texts as well as study questions will be posted on the syllabus page of Sakai weekly.

Course Policies
• Complete the assigned readings before lecture and carefully consider the guiding questions and assignments posted on the Sakai site/course blog.
• Attendance at all lectures is indispensable. Absences will affect the final grade. Always make sure to indicate your presence in class by signing the attendance sheet.
• Use the online short-term illness notification form when absent due to sickness or emergency. Consult the Trinity requirements section on long- and short-term illness and class attendance (
• Turn in all individual assignments/papers on time. They must be typed, double-spaced, and clearly display name and title. Unless the instructor has granted an extension in advance, late assignments will not receive comments or grades.
• Consider not using a laptop/computer in class. Focus your energies on making your contribution to the lively discussion. The course is an ongoing conversation – join in!

Requirements and Evaluation
Careful and critical reading of the assigned materials and active class participation are essential. The final grade will be determined using the following breakdown:
Tests: 30%
Group projects: 15%
Papers: 40%
Final assignment: 15%

Assessment items:
• Tests will test knowledge of facts, concepts/definitions, and scholarly positions/arguments relating to weekly readings. Tests will not be offered at other dates for absent students without valid excuse.
• Projects and papers will be graded according to the following criteria: originality of hypothesis, persuasiveness of supporting arguments, clarity and coherence of reasoning, intelligibility of presentation, and evidence of familiarity with Grimms’ stories/literary fairy tales/fairy tale movies. References to scholarship on fairy tales are required. There will be detailed instructions for both group projects and papers.
• Final assignment will require grasp of factual material presented in the course (plots, names, dates, and terms) as well as critical comprehension of a wide range of interpretive approaches to fairy tales.

Please consult Trinity requirements section on academic integrity and Duke community standard ( for policies relating to plagiarism and professional conduct.

Fairy Tales from Grimms to Disney

Week 1:
Introduction: Course objectives and requirements. Summary.

Week 2:
Initial explorations: Famous fairy tales.
Readings: Ashputtle [Cinderella] (21 in the book). Cinderellas. Modern Cinderella translation. Guiding questions.

Week 3:
Initial explorations: Famous fairy tales.
Readings: Snow White (53), Hansel and Gretel (15). Max Lüthi on the style of fairy tales.Guiding questions.

Initial explorations: Famous fairy tales.
Readings: The Frog King (1) and the first Frog King version from 1812, Rumpelstiltskin (55), Brier Rose [Sleeping beauty] (50), Little Red Cap/Little Red Riding Hood (26). Max Lüthi on the style of fairy tales (2). Guiding questions.

Week 4:
Definitions: What is a fairy tale, and what are genres?
Readings: Guiding questions. Genre samples: myth, legend, and fable. Tales from Grimms: Tales 2, 58, 139, 89, 121, 5, 26.

Topics in fairy tales: Heroes and heroines.
Readings: Tales 9, 11, 17, 20, 25, 27, 37, 49, 62. Guiding questions and posting instructions.

Week 5:
Topics in fairy tales: Beauty and splendor.
Readings: Tales 6, 12, 22, 52, 135, 153, 188, 191. Additional readings on beauty. Guiding questions.

Topics in Fairy Tales: Horror and violence.
Readings: Tales 31, 40, 44, 46, 47, 185, Bluebeard. Additional readings on horror. Guiding questions.

Week 6:
Topics in fairy tales: The journey through the forest.
Readings: Tales 65, 108, 136, 169, 199. Guiding questions.
Paper I due (creative)

Topics in fairy tales: Wonder, magic, miracle, enchantment.
Readings: 36, 69, 88, 133, 197. Excerpts from JRR Tolkien and GK Chesterton. Guiding questions.

Week 7:
Historical background: Folklore and cultural identity in the Romantic era.
Readings: Maria Tatar, Folklore and cultural identity. Marina Warner, Voices on the page. List of major works of brothers Grimm. Guiding questions.
Paper II due (scholarly)

Historical background: The brothers Grimm.
Readings: The prefaces to the Grimm collection; Siegfried Neumann, The Brothers Grimm as Collectors and Editors of German Folktales. Guiding questions.

Week 8:
The brothers Grimm and literature for children.
Readings: Tales 3, 4, 24, 29, 43, 78, 79, 117, 200. Statements by JRR Tolkien and Jaqueline Rose.
Preparation for coming sessions: Maria Tatar, Facts and Fantasy: The Art of Reading Fairy Tales. Guiding questions.

Approaches to fairy tales: The culture of storytelling.
Readings: Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy. Guiding questions.

Week 9:
Approaches to fairy tales: Psychoanalytic interpretations.
Readings: Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment. Guiding questions.

Approaches to fairy tales: History and fairy tales.
Readings: Robert Darnton, Peasants Telling Tales. Guiding questions.


Week 10:
Approaches to fairy tales: The fundamental structure of fairy tales.
Readings: Vladimir Propp, The Morphology of the Folktale. Guiding questions.

Approaches to fairy tales: Feminist critiques of fairy tales.
Readings: Karen Rowe, Feminism and Fairy Tales. Guiding questions.
Class meets in Rubenstein Library, West Campus.

Week 11:
Approaches to fairy tales: Fairy tales and copyright.
Readings: Essays by Vladimir Hafstein and others. Guiding questions.

The literary fairy tale: Romantic fairy tales.
Readings: Ludwig Tieck, The Fair Eckbert. Guiding questions.

Week 12:
The literary fairy tale: HC Andersen.
Readings: Tales from The Stories of HC Andersen. Guiding questions.
Paper 3 due (scholarly)

The literary fairy tale: George Eliot.
Readings: Silas Marner. Guiding questions.

Week 13:
Contemporary fairy tales: Anne Sexton, JK Rowling and others.
Readings: Poems, short stories, and modern tales. Guiding questions.

Disney fairy tales: Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937). Guiding questions.

Week 14:
Disney fairy tales: Sleeping Beauty (1959), Maleficent (2014). Guiding questions.

Student presentations.
Group project due

Week 15:
Student presentations. (Last day.)

Final assignment due (at noon).