The tale of the doctor who defied Death - Iseult Gillespie
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In the form of various deities, death has also been personified throughout world mythology: from Meng Po of Chinese lore to the Inuit goddess of the sea and the underworld, Sedna. Today, this trend continues in contemporary literature.
The German Tale of “Godfather Death” was collected, written down and tater retold in the Brothers Grimm fairytales as “The Godfather”, the English translation can be found here. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were German scholars and cultural research, who travelled around Germany in the nineteenth century writing and adapting folk tales that had been lost or forgotten. Today, these tales are widely told to and known by children and adults, particularly in the United States and Europe – including “Snow White”, “Sleeping Beauty”, and “Cinderella.” You can test your knowledge of the Grimm brothers and their more well-known tales with this fun quiz.
As may be clear from the dark tale of “Godfather Death”, many of the Grimms’ original tales were dark, sinister and violent. Since the publication of their original folktales, the Grimms’ fairy tales have been sanitized or made into more overtly moral tales. You can read more about this editing process in this short article. Then, visit this link for another dive into the dark aspects of fairy tales.
In all their versions, fairytales remain powerful in the collective imagination. To learn more about the evolution of fairytales and how they became so popular, read the Introduction to Jack Zipes’ Grimm Legacies: The Magic Spell of the Grimms’ Folk and Fairytales here. Then, read a preview of Marina Warner’s Once Upon a Time to learn all about the imagery, recurring characters and magic spells that reappear throughout the tales.
In his famous book The Uses of Enchantment, an exploration of why fairy tales matter to our humans, Bruno Bettelheim argued that fairytales are foundational narratives that help us understand everything from ethics and relationships to the patterns of narrative. You can read a preview here, and a useful overview of his arguments here. Bettelheim was particularly interested in the ways that fairytales give us metaphors and narratives which we can use to understand the more inexpressible aspects of life. Under this formula, the tale of Godfather Death might be about the futility of trying to cheat death.
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