I have a collection of Grimm’s Fairy Tales that I’ve owned for as long as I can remember, possibly even since birth. It was published in 1973, a year before I was born, and it seems like the type of book my eccentric dad or one of his eccentric friends would have thought was really funny to gift to a baby due to all the cannibalism and cutting off of body parts, etc.
Anyway, I’m fairly certain I read the whole thing as a child, but apparently it didn’t scar me for life because I didn’t remember much except for the fact that they were sort of bloody and brutal. Since I’m currently plotting a fairy tale retelling (The Selfish Giant), I decided to go back and read some other original fairy tales to get more of a flavor of those stories. Thus, I picked up my copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
Most of us already know that these stories are very different from the Disney versions, but I had forgotten just how different they were, and there were a few things that struck me as amusing (in a sick sort of way—my dad would be proud).
Things I Learned About Fairy Tales by Reading Grimm’s:
Grimm’s Fairy Tales weren’t the originals.
Okay, so I actually learned this while writing this post, not while reading, but I thought it was worth mentioning. I always thought that the Grimm’s versions of these fairy tales were the “originals”—or at least the earliest written versions of the tales in a book. Not true. Apparently the Grimm’s Brothers didn’t write their versions till the late 19th century, a lot later than I realized. Sleeping Beauty, for instance, was written in Mother Goose Tales in the late 17th century (that’s more in line with when I thought Grimm’s were written), and the earliest written version was done by Giambattista Basile, who published a book called The Tale of Tales in 1634.
True love’s kiss never helped anyone.
- In The Frog Prince, the princess never kisses the frog at all. She’s forced to bring him to her bed by her father, who insists that she keep her promise to the frog (who got her golden ball out of the water for her). She’s so disgusted by the idea of having him in her bed, she violently throws him against the wall. And he turns into a prince. And they get married and live happily ever after. Yay? (MORAL: If you’re looking for a prince, instead of kissing him, throw him against a wall and see what happens.)
- In Sleeping Beauty, the princess’s adapted curse was that she would sleep for 100 years. The prince who “rescued” her just happened to get there when the 100 years was up, and the thorny brambles simply moved out of his way so he could get to her. Technically, he did kiss her, but there seems to be no indication that that’s what woke her up. It states pretty clearly that her hundred years were up, and she was going to wake up anyway.
- In Snow White, after she was poisoned, Snow was a really pretty corpse and she wasn’t decomposing or anything, so the dwarves put her in a glass coffin so they could keep looking at her, even after she was dead. When the prince came by, he wanted to be able to stare at her corpse all the time too, so the dwarves agreed to let him take her to his palace. While they were traveling, she got jostled and the piece of poison apple flew out of her mouth and she woke up. So romantic!
Lots of fairy tale characters are cannibals
- We all know about the witch from Hansel and Grethel. Apparently kids were her candy.
- The robber bridegroom didn’t want to marry his true love, he wanted to eat her. And a marriage proposal was apparently the most convenient way to accomplish that.
- After the evil stepmom in The Almond Tree kills her stepson, she apparently decides the best way to hide the evidence is by feeding him to his dad (he was very tasty).
- I’m pretty sure there were more—these are just the ones I remember off-hand.
The good guys usually win. Depending on how you define “good guys.”
- If you live a good life, you will be able to get revenge on those who do you harm by killing them in some strange slow way, like making them dance with hot iron shoes till they die.
- Being nice to talking animals will get you far in life. But apparently it’s fine to sacrifice your non-talking (for some reason?) horse to the talking baby birds by chopping him up and feeding him to them. You will be richly rewarded for your generosity. ‘Cause apparently horses are soulless while baby birds are not?
- If you’re nice to little troll men in the woods, they will help you steal golden stuff from people so that you can eventually marry a princess. So, apparently sharing your food is a high virtue, but not stealing is just like a tiny little rule you should ignore.
Speaking of princesses, if you are one, expect to marry whoever can complete some random task.
- Quests to win a princess are usually quite random.
- If you are a princess, you will most likely have to marry a man you hate because he accomplishes a random task and neither you nor your dad will be able to get out of it.
- But don’t worry because apparently once you get married to that guy you hate, it all turns out great. You always live happily ever after.
And now, indeed, there lacked nothing to their happiness as long as they lived.
Even though the Grimm’s versions of these fairy tales are pretty weird and bleak, I’m hooked. I got a giant book of them from the library (The Annotated Brothers Grimm), since my personal copy only had nineteen of the stories. I also picked up a thick book of Hans Christian Anderson Fairy Tales, and now I want to get Mother Goose and maybe a translation of that 1600’s Italian dude’s book, if I can find it. 🙂
So, here’s wishing that each and every one of you meet your frog prince (or princess), throw him against a wall, and live happily ever after!
Have you read any of the original(ish) fairy tales? What did you learn? I want to know!
This post has been linked up to the 2019 Book Blog Discussion Challenge.