For the most part, a dry and tedious explication of the evolution and possible purposes of the stories known as Grimms' fairy tales. Seven editions of the tales collected and edited by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm appeared between 1812 and 1857. During that period, the stories were continually being rewritten and revised. Tatar (Germanic Languages/Harvard) describes some of this material and uses it to comment on plot types, character types, and social or moral messages. Translating the prefaces of the First and Second Editions into English (in appendixes), she explains the gradual transformation of the tales--the suppression of explicit sexual scenes and increasing elaboration of details of acts of violence, the transformation of cruel biological mothers into stepmothers, and incestuous fathers into passive or absent fathers--as reactions to the publishing reality that these tales, which had initially been collected as folklore, were fast becoming stories for children. There is some interesting biographical material on the brothers Grimm, and grim they were, as well as scattered commentary on interpretations of the stories by historians, mythologists, and psychoanalytical theorists, leading to Tatar's perception that most interpretations tell us more about the interpreter than the tale. Tatar's approach is definitely different, but just when she seems about to reveal her own insights or draw some conclusion, she darts off to some other aspect of the stories. The effect is frustration. There is the vague suggestion that these tales are really all about revenge, but isolated ideas and comments are simply left lying around, perhaps in hope that some good fairy will come along and glue all the pieces together.