The Brother’s Grimm

The Brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm [1780s–1860s] were German academics, linguists, cultural researchers, lexicographers and authors who together specialized in collecting and publishing folklore during the 19th century.

They were among the best-known storytellers of folk tales, and popularized stories such as “Cinderella”,  “The Frog Prince”, “The Goose-Girl”, “Hansel and Gretel”,  “Rapunzel”, “Rumpelstiltskin”, “Sleeping Beauty”, and “Snow White”.

They wrote during a rise of romanticism and in response to trends valuing popular culture in the early 19th century. This revived interest in fairy tales, which had declined since their late-17th century peak and the Grimms rode the crest of this revival with their  collections.

The brothers  began the collection with the purpose of creating a scholarly treatise of traditional stories and of preserving the stories as they had been handed from generation to generation—a practice that was threatened by increased industrialization. According to scholars, some of the tales probably originated in written form during the medieval period  but were modified in the 17th century and again rewritten by the Grimms.

The brothers gained a reputation for collecting tales from peasants and story tellers, although many tales came from middle-class or aristocratic acquaintances. They discovered that versions of tales differed from region to region,

…picking up bits and pieces of local culture and lore, drawing a turn of phrase from a song or another story and fleshing out characters with features taken from the audience witnessing their performance.



It was this appropriation of culture and language with the retelling of the stories that led them to the conviction that a national identity could be found in popular culture from the common folk.

The brothers’ methodology for collecting and preserving folklore became a form of nationalism and “intellectual resistance” to external occupiers, a model to be followed later by writers throughout Europe during periods of oppression.

Their collections have become national and international masterpieces, classics retold in cinema, theatre, art and literature the world over.

A few points can be gathered from this brief summary of the work and significance of the Brothers Grimm.

  1. Folklore, legends and mythical stories have always had a deeper significance than simply being children’s morality tales. Their significance goes deeply into forming a sense of national and personal identity.
  2. The rise of romanticism and the threat of industrialisation created a flourishing interest in local folk lore which endures until today in some form or other. Where spirituality flourishes so does art, narrative, language, story and myth.
  3. When told in the vernacular of a region and with the nuances and influences of the customs and culture of a region, local stories can constitute “intellectual resistance” to outside influences.

frog prince

The enduring popularity of the  Grimm’s Fairy Tales indicates there is much untapped potential in the folklore, myths and legends of every region and language and ethnicity if only we had the persistence of the Grimms to catalogue and retell it.




Michael Ende is best known for his novel “The Never Ending Story” [1979] however, the German author was a prolific writer of fantasy and children’s fiction, selling more than 35 million copies of his works in his lifetime and having them adapted into  films, plays, operas and audio-books .

His fantasy novel Momo [1973], also known as The Grey Gentleman explores themes of modernism and materialism and the power of a young girl to simply give people a most valuable asset, her attention and time.


Set on the outskirts of an unknown Mediterranean city, perhaps in Italy, the story centres around a neighbourhood of simple folk and an orphan, Momo.

Living in the ruins of an amphitheatre, Momo does not know how to read or write, nor does she know her own age. She however has a unique gift for truly listening to people. Momo is considered to be somewhat of an advisor to all the people of the neighbourhood for helping them solve their petty problems by simply listening.

Momo does not say much but her gentle ability to listen to people helps them untangle their problems themselves. Momo’s closest friends are Beppo, the street sweeper and Guido, a tour guide.

momo 3

Into the tranquil world of this community come the Men in Grey, bald men with greyish skin and grey suits who represent the Time Savings Bank. These men indoctrinate the people of this town to the value of ‘saving time’ which requires depositing time in accounts in order to gain interest on it.

Gradually, activities perceived to be time wasting such as socialising, art creation, imaginative playing or even sleeping begin to be replaced by hectic work and stress.

Momo remains immune to the powers of the Men in Grey. As her friends no longer come to her for counsel, she perceives the irony that the more time people save, the less time they have.


Momo is assisted by curious creature called Cassiopeia, a tortoise who communicates with words illuminated on her shell and who has the gift of future-sightedness.  Cassiopeia introduces her to the Administrator of Time,  Professor Secundus Minutus Hora, who grants her one “hour lily”, freezing time for one hour, long enough for Momo to infiltrate the lair of the Men in Grey.

Momo discovers the the Men in Grey are not real humans but are in fact parasites living off the time deposited in their bank by people. The cigars they smoke are made from dried “hour lilies” deposited in the bank for saving and without these cigars, the Men in Grey perish.

It is Momo’s challenge to deprive the Men in Grey of their cigars while simultaneously releasing the trapped “hour lilies” kept in the bank for safe keeping, and return them to the people who have lost them.


Written at the end of modernsim and at the cusp of post-modernism and the flowering of neo-spiritualism, Ende like the Romantics before him, lamented the gradual erasure of the mystical, spiritual or esoteric from human life in favour of utilitarianism, materialism and economic rationalism.

To Michael Ende, children such as Momo are unique symbols of resistance to adult preoccupations such as materialism, work, stress and time saving.

His story is an essay to the magic of friendship, the importance of time, the power of stories, the significance of compassion and the value of the small but pleasant things that make life more worth living.

momo 2

Our unlikely hero is Momo, whose invincibility lies in the fact that her childish imagination can see through the Men in Grey, and her love for her friends leads her to courageously challenge the establishment which would rob them of their most precious asset -time.


What Books Do for the Human Spirit

A theme of Bear Skin is the transformative power of art, narrative, story, poetry and words.

A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another. ~ Rebecca Solnit.

It seems that all throughout history, writers, thinkers, poets and philosophers have marveled at the power and magic of books and stories.

But surpassing all stupendous inventions, what sublimity of mind was his who dreamed of finding means to communicate his deepest thoughts to any other person, though distant by mighty intervals of place and time! Of talking with those who are in India; of speaking to those who are not yet born and will not be born for a thousand or ten thousand years; and with what facility, by the different arrangements of twenty characters upon a page! Let this be the seal of all the admirable inventions of mankind. ~ Galileo Galilei.


For many poor or location bound readers, books form a doorway, a portal to the greatest minds and events of history. For the wealthy and more mobile, books remain challenges to priorities, values and heart orientation.

Some books seem like a key to unfamiliar rooms in one’s own castle…I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us…A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us ~ Franz Kafka.

For science fiction writers, books form curious transportation through time and space.

Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic. ~  Carl Sagan.


For political activists and educators, books are a tool for the liberation and empowerment of the human spirit.

Reading is a way to change our destiny ~  James Baldwin.

For thinkers of all kinds, books create access to great pleasure, even ecstasy.

Reading, is the work of the alert mind, is demanding, and under ideal conditions produces finally a sort of ecstasy. ~ E.B. White 



Through books, humans find freedom, agency and friendships with great thinkers. What better and more cost effective hobby is there in the world?

Homo Ludens with a book is free. At least as free as he’s capable of being. He himself makes up the rules of the game, which are subject only to his own curiosity….. And no other hobby can promise this — to eavesdrop on Montaigne’s arguments or take a quick dip in the Mesozoic. ~Wisława Szymborska.