Anna Piotti '16

Der Froschkönig: Drama, Poetry, Fairy Tales

Once upon a time, my honors project was just a wealth of questions: What actually is a Grimms fairy tale? Why do we know them? Why do we care about them? Why do I know certain ones, but not the hundreds of others that I know exist in that really big book? What worked with Little Red Riding Hood? What didn’t work with those hundreds of others that remain unknown?

Luckily, I focused this onslaught early on. I analyzed Walter Hasnenclever’s 1931 play Der Froschkönig, examined a selection of 30 poems that all alluded to the Frog Prince, and designed my own anthropologic research on the contemporary relationship with Grimms’ fairy tales. This research was funded by the Grua/O’Connell Fund and allowed me to conduct surveys with 41 students. I interviewed Americans and travelled to the Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz to interview Germans.

These undertakings helped me understand, that the beloved fairy tale genre brings with it a unique trait, which enables its tales to be condensed into simpler structural elements and symbols. The poison apple is Snow White. The glass slipper is Cinderella. Authors, playwrights, advertisers and others need only insert these shortcuts into their narratives, and they instantly put their own narrative and the fairy tale in dialogue. Sometimes allusions to the fairy tale can transform a narrative into a vehicle for broad political, social, and economic critique. Other times, there might be no intention of adapting the fairy tale; yet the interplay between their narrative and the communal knowledge of fairy tale (which I called “collective memory”) and the ensuing expectations associated with fairy tales still creates a richer, multivalent piece.

The faculty of the German Department provided me this amazing opportunity to spend countless hours working with material that I love. Their constant support was integral in this endeavor. I look forward to taking what I have learned in these past nine months and applying it to my ensuing future.