Fairy's Don't Have Tales! Part One: two popular fairytales exposed
Did you ever read a fairy tale to your kids and think: something is amiss?
I have, it happens sometimes. Especially after many, many re-readings; things just start to intrude, like a bush in the yard that needs hedging. And then when you go to hedge that bush, you realize it's actually a bigfoot.
Fairytales are often rich, multilayered stories that are honed and polished over hundreds of years. But all that honing and polishing makes one wonder: what is really going on this story? What was someone else’s perception of this incident?
Often times, after cracking off the candy-coating we find a story that isn't as inspiring or moving, but is a lot more probable. This reminds us of the power of presentation and perception. About how things can be spun this way and that way, losing all semblance to truth, but people will believe it if you make it interesting enough. Storytelling is more about how you tell the story then what the story is about. People want to believe, you just have to make it palatable.
What follows are two such tales chosen from hundreds of prospects. The first demonstrates the real possibility that the heroes are actually villians, which is usually stature based wholly on point-of-view. The second demonstrates that sometimes the main character has no redeeming traits, yet is still treated and regarded as a hero. Since these stories influence our development in regarding and interacting with the world it is fascinating that what we understood clearly as children could become so unclear and different through wisdom.
Hansel and Gretel
One of the most glaring examples of a story that can mean the opposite of the popular version just by considering the facts differently is Hansel and Gretel as told by the Grimm Brothers.
Hansel and Gretel is the story of two young siblings that are abandoned by their parents and then threatened by a cannibal in the forest who lured them there with a house made of confections. It is told in 3rd person, but predominantly from the sensibilities of the children. The point-of-view of the "witch" or step-mother may have been quite different. Here is another version of the story, just as possible and even more so, with a little poetic license to keep the flavor fresh and the content amusing:
The Real Story
A long time ago, there once was a poor family who lived in a rural area near the Black Forest of Germany. The Father was a woodcutter, which was a polite way to say he was unemployed and he had an axe. The Mother was a gentle soul who did not have a disciplinary bone in her waif-like body. There were two children, a boy named Hansel and a girl named Gretel, who were so naughty that they drove their mother to a premature death. Their father, one of the best woodcutters who ever lived and breathed, was fortunate enough to have another woman fall in love with him and he persuaded her to marry him. This woman was no push-over. She was a brilliant disciplinarian and kind teacher. Hansel and Gretel could not have hated her more.
After Hansel and Gretel realized they could not just torment their step-mother into submission, they decided to deal with her in the time-honored German way which meant to call her a Jew, kill her, and take all her belongings for themselves. After recovering from being poisoned again, their stepmother discussed alternatives with her husband about what to do with the two Aryan children. Since both Hansel and Gretel were so destructive and disagreeable, they had been banished from the nearby villages so that sending them away to a school or church was impossible. Neither of them had any relatives or connections that would be helpful to a solution. They did not have money enough to hire anyone or build proper "behavior-improving" devices. They decided it would be best if the woodcutter traveled with his children to a village deep within the black forest where the people were known for their piety and compassion and then leave them there. So that's what he did.
Their father told them that he was going to a woodcutter’s conference and they should come with him since no one there knew who they were and it would be like the devils playground for them. They were very excited. They set up their camp outside the village and their Father told them he'd be back later, but if he didn't come back for some crazy reason, they should ration carefully the two-week food supply, try not to burn the tents or cots, and seek help in the village.
Late that night, Hansel and Gretel were getting suspicious. Luckily, Gretel had stabbed her Fathers horse in the stomach (for laughs) before he left, so they followed the blood trail by the light of the moon. But all that led to was a dead horse.
After thoroughly beating that dead horse, Hansel remembered that on the trip here he was bored so he took to throwing different supplies off the wagon. Just for fun. They decided to follow that trail, but soon it became clear that all those great supplies had been looted by some villains.
Hansel and Gretel were in a real pickle, but they didn't fret. After all, the world was their oyster.
Not too much later they were vandalizing someone's home when they got caught. The woman who caught them didn't have a husband anymore, so she was clearly a witch. In order to repay the extensive damages, the witch put them to work doing chores. Naturally, Hansel and Gretel were dissatisfied with this arrangement so they called her a Jew, shoved her in a wood-burning furnace and locked the door behind her.
A few days later when friends and family came a-calling on the witch’s (whose name was actually Dolores Pennyapple and she was a confectionery legend in Bavaria) birthday they found Hansel and Gretel living it up and no Dolores Pennyapple to speak of. When they demanded answers Hansel and Gretel made up the story that so many have propagated since: that Miss Pennyapple wanted to eat them and they were forced to stand their ground. Since their story was not only ridiculous, but easily disproved in dozens of obvious ways*, the children were put on boat and sent adrift. They eventually landed in Australia were no one even noticed that they were jerks, they fit right in.
*see "Exposing the Falsehoods of Fairytales and Folklore" by Trimey Watts
One fairy tale that doesn't need to be told from another point of view in order to expose it is the story "Tinderbox" by Hans Christian Anderson. This story has some of the most memorable images in all of Fairytaledom but it doesn't get much attention. Maybe that is because it is essentially the tale of a soldier that gets rewarded beyond imagination by doing nothing good ever except for starring in a Hans Christian Anderson story.
A soldier is walking through a forest one day when he comes across a woman who is old and unattractive, so obviously a witch. She offers the soldier a sweet little deal: she will give him all the riches he could carry if he retrieves her beloved tinderbox from within a tree. He agrees, goes down in the tree, encounters three dogs (dogs with teacup-big eyes, dog with millwheel-big eyes, and round-towers-of-Copenhagen-big eyes dog), fills his pockets and boots with treasure, gets the tinderbox, and returns. Even though the witch has made him rich he is curious about why she wants some dumb ol'tinderbox when there's all that treasure. The witch won't tell him why so he says "very well" and cuts her head off. Wow. Guess it could be the post-traumatic stress syndrome, he is a soldier after all. Even still: what a dick.
So the soldier goes to town where he spends his wealth frivolously with no thought of tomorrow. He parties hard, tips moderately, and before long he is penniless and alone with only a candle and a tinderbox that he stole from a witch whose head fell off. His party friends want nothing to do with him because since he ran out of money he's turned into such a mooch (You've changed man.).
He goes to light the candle with the tinderbox and the dogs with the severe optical deformities show up and offer to fetch him whatever his heart desires. He of course chooses wealth because, well, he likes to party. Once he gets it he goes out and does EXACTLY THE SAME THING WITH EXACTLY THE SAME PEOPLE! Why learn when you can drink slippery nipples out of the navel of a dwarf prostitutes while munching on a gold sandwich?
One day he sees the princess and thinks, "why not?". He has the dog fetch her and he spends nights with her. He gets caught and is being put to death when he is granted the last request of smoking a bowl. When he strikes the tinderbox the dogs come and rip the king and queen, along with all the councilors and judges, to shreds. "Protect the honor of your daughter will you?! Uphold the law, you bastards!? Not on MY watch!!"
Then the people all cheer and make the soldier their king. The princess, once more of a cat person, becomes his queen and decides even if she doesn’t like dogs, she could at least respect them.
Everything works out.
Since the underlying moral of this story is, "Do whatever you want, kill whoever, show no gratitude, learn nothing from your mistakes, and everything will work out great for you." It is not really the sentiment you want dancing in your children’s heads when they're going beddie-bye.
Fun Fairytale Quiz!
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