I’m rewatching a VHS cassette – a historical relic from when my daughter was a child – with Walt Disney’s classic “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. Soft family-safe version of the original tale by the german brothers Grimm in which, among other things, the queen eats the heart of a boar that she believes to be Snow White’s. So let’s talk about Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm: scholars, linguists, authors of a dictionary of the German language in 32 volumes which is still today one of the most important etymological dictionaries of that language, but known above all for their impressive collection of fairy tales. Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and many others, owe their fame to the version published in 1812 by the brothers from Hanau near Frankfurt. By the time of the last edition of 1857, the Grimms had collected 211 fairy tales. Warning! nothing to do with the sweetened and happy ending versions we are used to inspite of the brothers self-censoring by changing the vengeful and murderous mothers of traditional tales into stepmothers or witches. And I can assure you that many fairy tales, in the original version, would be unsuitable even for our modern youth.
Little Red Riding Hood for example (not part of the Grim’s tales), existed as an oral fairy tale in various versions, one for all: the wolf makes Little Red Riding Hood undress and eats her after she gets into bed with him. End of the story. No hunter and happy ending.
The eponymous red hood was instead the invention of Charles Perrault (1628 – 1703) who, having lost his job as secretary to Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Louis XIV’s finance minister, decided to spend the long winter evenings creating a new literarary genre: that of the fairy tale. Perrault published in 1697 the “Tales of Mother Goose” with the stories of Cinderella (he invented the famous crystal slipper) Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Tom Thumb, and so on. Perrault had a brother, Claude (1613 – 1688), an architect, known for designing the east facade of the Louvre. Claude had obtained the post by ousting none other than the italian sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598 – 1680), who traveled expressely to Paris in June 1665 at the invitation of the king and then returned to Rome empty-handed. He had been welcomed – we would say at the station, if there had been one – by an emissary of the king: Paul Fréart de Chantelou, collector and patron.
Chantelou showed him around the city and introduced him to the celebrities of the time, keeping an accurate diary of Bernini’s five months in Paris. In the collector’s stable we find Nicolas Poussin (1594 – 1665), a French neoclassical painter, also a resident of Rome, who, being repeatedly invited to return to Paris, will accept only when Chantelou picks him up in person. Received with all honors by Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu, Poussin takes the opportunity to recommend a close friend and Roman roommate of his: Francois Duquesnoy, a depressed and sickly sculptor. “Sure,” replies the king “Tell him to come and establish the royal academy of sculpture in Paris”. Duquesnoy departs for London, but dies along the way. Thanks anyway.
The academy will be founded 5 years later and will be reorganized by that workaholic who was Jean-Baptiste Colbert (the same one who had fired Mother-Goose-Perrault).
Colbert, minister of finance under Louis XIV, is one of those characters whose curriculum requires a volume. In addition to having reorganized and healed the rather exhausted finances of the kingdom, he was Secretary of the Navy, Minister of Commerce, the Colonies and the Royal House, founder of the Academy of Sciences, of the Astronomical Observatory of Paris (erected by Claude Perrault, brother of Mother-Goose etc.), founder of the Gobelins tapestry manufacturers and so on. It was during his tenure that the first privileged companies were founded. Trade agencies promoted to attract private capital to support commercial and colonial initiatives. The state granted them various privileges such as exemption from taxes and the monopoly on trade. Among them, the French East India Company in charge of trade with the Indian Ocean. Similar companies already existed in England and Holland. The oldest was the famous british East India Company which soon led to the ruin of its French counterpart by conquering all possessions in India. The english East India Company was, through wars and complex events, the basis of the future British Empire and its possessions. And here (India) we meet another interesting character. William Jones (1746 – 1794), English, linguist and scholar who, as a teenager spoke Greek, Latin, Persian, Arabic and Chinese and, reportedly, knew thirteen languages well by retirement and twenty-eight others reasonably. After studying law he became an assistant judge at the Supreme Court of Bengal (region now divided between India and Bangladesh). Jones is known today for his observation that Sanskrit (the ancient language of South-East Asia), appears to have a common root with Greek and Latin languages and that it could be be further related to Gothic and the Celtic languages.
The idea of a proto-language at the root of those later called Indo-European languages, launched in Europe the idea of an ancient superior race from which all Europeans descended. The Aryan race which, driven by an irresistible thirst for discovery and knowledge, had arrived in Europe creating the foundations of our civilization. Of course – it was said – the true descendants are tall and blond (like the peoples of the north), certainly not dark skinned people or – God forbid – the Jews.
Jacob Grimm himself, one of the two brothers mentioned above, believed that fairy tales were part of the Aryan tradition. He writes: “… The vocation and courage of these peoples, united by a common origin and destined for the highest peaks, are demonstrated by the fact that European history was made exclusively by them”. Amen.
You have probably guessed who later became an enthusiastic supporter of these theories.
And the theories of Nazism did not have their supporters only in Europe. In the 1930s, the American Fritz Julius Kuhn founded the German American Bund of America, an organization whose official purpose was to promote in the USA a positive vision of Nazi Germany, in reality a sort of Nazi party on American soil. During the Berlin Olympics of ’36, Kuhn managed to meet Hitler for a few minutes, transforming the meeting into a kind of blessing of the Führer for his American activities.
A contemporary writes: “In the years leading up to the conflict, there was a small but avid group of followers of the Nazi party. There were open meetings, anyone could participate … ” and then he goes on to point to a well-known character, a frequent visitor to those meetings (“He’s never absent… ”).
The writer is Art Babbit, a Hollywood designer, and the character he refers to … Walt Disney of course.

Published by szemere2019

Designer, Videomaker e Digital Artist with a Passion for Knowledge and History

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