Happily ever after, you say? Not so fast! There are gruesome origins behind many of our best known fairy tales. Cinderella’s stepsisters cut off their toes to fit into the slipper, the Little Mermaid becomes sea foam when her beloved marries another and the prince is blinded in Rapunzel. Not exactly kid stuff!
These original accounts existed in a world where there were no children’s tales and their dark and brutal view of the world reflects that. Justice was not always meted out to the evildoer and truth did not always win. More often in these worlds there was no punishment and the bad guys prevailed. A “Grimm” world indeed.
Those darker accounts carry much more ambiguity than the current versions. Hansel and Gretel evolved out of times of famine and starvation when many families had to make tough choices. Not exactly a fairy tale! Sleeping Beauty wasn’t unmolested while she and her castle slumbered for that hundred years—she was raped and gave birth while sleeping, only to have the flax removed by one of the twins born during that time. I am trying to imagine the night fire around which these stories were told. Brr!
These stories aren’t anything you would want to read to your kids—unless your goal was to give them nightmares. It’s important to understand the truth behind the fairy tale. These unvarnished, ruthless slices of life reflect that reality in a way that the modern day ones cannot. Today’s fairy tales show good and evil in its purest forms with little consideration for what may have driven people in those bygone days. Truth, like life, is rarely simple. Most of it is shaded in grey. These old, original versions where nobody is 100% pure and everyone is trying to survive are ones that linger long in my mind after the more sanitized version is forgotten.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good fairy tale. Bring on Beauty and the Beast with its “tale as old as time.” But let’s not forget that in some versions the Beast has to be near death from heartbreak before his captive, who has been allowed to see her family for one week, relents and returns to him. Both Red Riding Hood and grandmother are eaten by the Wolf. The end. I prefer the modern version but want to embrace the originals for what they meant at that time. They can exist side by side without doing damage to one or the other and teach all of us valuable lessons on both sides of the moral coin.
Even stories like the Princess and the Pea, the fairy tale I based my After the Happily Ever After story “Pea Soup” on, could be said to have at its heart a morality lesson. There are websites that suggest the prince may not have been so passive in his selection of a mate and helped the process along by inserting a larger object that the princess could feel rather than continue to wait for his bride. Doesn’t that seem like more fun than a man who waits around year after year for a princess so frail that she can’t sleep on twenty mattresses because of one eentsy weentsy pea way down at the bottom? I prefer a more active prince myself!
Enjoy the today’s tales but explore their pasts. It’s fascinating. You never know what you’re going to find.
Originally from Brookline, Massachusetts, Claire now lives in Los Angeles. In addition to writing she has an office job she loves, does animal rescue, reads and goes to movies. She loves to hear from fans, so feel free to drop her a line.
Photo source: (c) Eugenio Recuenco