Reading my blog, you may have noticed that I am a fan of reading, I am a real bookworm. If you haven’t realised that, you probably can’t read and it’s kinda pointless you’re reading (looking at?) my posts. What you may not know however, is that I studied literature at university. I studied English at the University of Antwerp, combined with European literature, theatre and film. Which meant a lot of (cultural) history in the first year, genres and techniques in the second and some specific periods in the last. So I like to think I know a little of what I’m blogging about here.
Anyways, I chose an elective about children’s literature (and I wrote my term paper on Harry Potter by the way!!) and I really liked the course. I especially loved the time we spent on fairy tales. So I decided to write a blog post about fairytales. And I don’t mean the Disney versions, quite the opposite really. I want to talk about the original stories of the most famous fairytales.
Firstly, let’s start with a definition of the word “fairytale.” According to Thompson, it’s: “a tale of some length involving a succession of motifs or episodes. It moves in an unreal world without definite locality or definite creatures and is filled with the marvelous. In this never-never land, humble heroes kill adversaries, succeed to kingdoms and marry princesses.” But I don’t think I really need to explain what a fairytale is, most of us have grown up with these kinds of stories and we all know and love them. However, what is important to keep in mind is that originally, fairy tales were not meant for children. They were stories about the human condition and usually held warnings about dangerous situations or a moral lesson. They were meant to scare and educate people. They were not entertaining stories you told your children before bed.
Now, let’s get to a few specific fairy tales. I want to start with Snow White: the first animated feature film from Disney from 1937.The original Grimm story was a lot more dark and gruesome than the polished Disney version: the evil queen is actually Snow White’s birth mother and she does not only want Snow’s heart as a proof of her death, she also asked the huntsman to bring back her intestines for the queen to eat. Yes, you read that right, she was a Hannibalesque incestuous cannibal! When she finds out that the Huntsman didn’t kill Snow White, she takes it into her own hands. She gives her a way-too-tight corset (meant to literally choke her to death), then gives her a poisoned comb (meant to kill her while brushing her hair – weird if you as me) but both times Snow White is saved by the dwarves. It’s not until the third try with the poisoned apple that she succeeds.
But wait, it gets worse! Snow White is actually completely physically dead when the Prince leaves with her body and he means to do the nasty to her death body. Yes, necrophilia! But he drops the coffin, which removes the piece of apple stuck in her throat and brings her back alive. And it does not end here! No, the writers still found it too tame and meek. The queen needs to be punished. And how!! She is forced to wear iron shoes that are (literally) scorching hot and made to dance at Snow White’s wedding until she dies. So yeah, that is that. Not something to tell your children before bed, huh?
Next up is Cinderella. The beginning of the story is mostly the same as in the Disney version; the changes are to be found starting from where the prince comes to Cinderella’s house to find the owner of the glass shoe. The evil stepsisters act a lot worse in the original version by the Grimm Brothers: they cut off pieces of their feet to be able to wring their feet into the glass slipper. But the prince notices the blood gushing out and returns them. He ends up with Cinderella and they both live happily ever after. The stepsisters get their eyes pecked out by birds and spend the rest of their lives as blind beggars. Perrault is much more forgiving of them because in his version the stepsisters are married off to members of the court after Cinderella and the prince’s wedding. Not too horrible I think, especially compared to Snow White or Sleeping Beauty.
Last but not least: Sleeping Beauty. You all know that, according to Disney, she is cursed by an evil witch (or just abused and out for revenge as Maleficent wants us to believe) to prick her finger on a spindle and die, but a good witch succeeds in changing the curse so that she will not die but sleep for a 100 years. Now, in the original story, the whole asleep-for-a-100-years is not that intentional. A piece of flax gets caught under her fingernail which pricks her finger and puts her to sleep. Also, there is no prince charming. And that is where it gets really gruesome! A King finds her and is so overcome by her beauty he “has his way with her”. So yes, he basically rapes her while she is still asleep. And she doesn’t wake up. No! It gets way creepier!!
Our sweet little Cinderella gets pregnant because of the “incident” and gives birth to twins. She wakes up when one of the children sucks on her finger and dislodges the piece of flax. So she wakes up as a mother of two because of a rape when she was unconscious … Yikes! Some sources (before the Grimm’s) find a happy ending for her, however, having her marry the King that raped her. But since he was already married, he burns his wife alive … But they justify that by having the wife try to kill and eat the babies first. Perrault’s version is a little cleaner: the rape doesn’t happen and she is woken up by a true love’s kiss. But there is an evil stepmother thrown into the mix who tries to eat the couple’s children (cannibalism again?!) and is killed by being thrown into a pit of vipers.
So after Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, I was just thinking: what is up with these men who (want to) sleep with (near)corpses? Horrible deaths and murders, I get, but cannibalism and necrophilia? Where in the h*ll did that come from? What were people thinking back then?
I think that’s enough gruesomeness for today. I will be back with some more stories that will totally ruin your Disney-childhood experience soon!
Happy reading (insert evil laugh here),