Grimm's Fairy Tales: A Look at Dark Stories for Children
by Christopher Peruzzi
There are some fairy tales that are just not meant for kids. I know that sounds like some kind of an oxymoron but it's completely true.
Over the last few weeks, I found myself having to do some serious research into some of the more obscure folk tales in order to gather some source material on a zombie short story (The Undead Rose, part of the Once Upon An Apocalypse anthology) based on some of the more popular fairy tales we know.
As I was working with zombies, I wanted to look for something that was whimsical yet innocently disturbing. There had to be some elements that could, using some creative imagination, produce blood, cannibalism, and the waking of the undead.
I didn't have to look far.
I vaguely recalled that some of the most horrific stories ever told came from Grimm's Fairy Tales. Most people don't think that because they've gotten the scrubbed up Disney version of most of them. For example, Disney made these three movies - Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella. We, as children, had seen these movies and know that the princess falls prey to some evil sorceress or stepmother and is eventually rescued by a prince charming. And while these elements are consistent with their uncensored original stories, the original stories are so much more disturbing.
Let's begin with...
Do you think the classic fairy tales are appropriate for today's children?
There's been a resurgence in Snow White's popularity over the last year. With the release of Mirror, MIrror and with the upcoming release of Snow White and The Huntsman, audiences are discovering that our beloved tales are a trifle twisted.
Let's forget our childhood and dismiss named dwarves like Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Grumpy, Sneezy, Doc, and Dopey as the Disney made products that they are. Let's think of them more like Gimli, Thorin, and Dwalin from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. That would probably be a little more appropriate. And let's forget that Snow White is this character that wanders into the woods singing about upcoming princes and reduce her to a child-like teenager who's just old enough have started puberty.
Let's start there.
Here's the real story. A queen who wished for a daughter with skin as white as snow and hair as black as night gives birth to such a daughter and is so happy she dies immediately. The king remarries a woman who is so vain she asks her magic mirror every day if she's the most beautiful woman in the land. The mirror truthfully tells her that she is - until the baby, Snow White, reaches the age of TEN. The queen declares that the child must die.
So, she asks a huntsman to take the princess out into the woods and for him to cut out her LUNGS and LIVER. The huntsman takes Snow White to the woods and just can't do it. He murders a pig instead and gives those to the queen WHO EATS THEM.
Snow White, a ten year old that's been left to forage on her own in a dark forest, finds an empty house with small furniture and an already cooked dinner. The house belongs to a bunch of dwarf miners who take pity on the girl and grow to love her. The next day they all go back to work in the mines and warn Snow White to not open the door for anyone as her stepmother will be looking for her.
The mirror finks on Snow White, telling the queen where she is and that she's still alive. The queen disguises herself as an old woman and goes to the dwarves' house. Snow White greets to the old woman (queen) and accepts her gift of a poisoned comb. Snow White uses the comb and she falls down dead. The dwarves come home and find her, remove the comb, and she comes back to life.
The queen, thinking she's killed Snow White, checks the mirror again and finds out that Snow White has survived. The queen tries an apple this time and uses the same old woman disguise to give Snow White an apple. Snow White asks the queen to bite the apple first. The queen bites from "the white side" and Snow White then accepts the apple, eats it, and dies (again).
This time the queen returns to the castle and asks the mirror again. The mirror tells the queen that she's the fairest in the land again. The dwarves come back home and find Snow White dead (again) and put her in a glass coffin for a couple of years. A prince sees her and finds her so beautiful that he falls in love with the dead Snow White. He wants to bring the corpse back home with him (TO LOVE?). On the way to his castle, the dead Snow White has the poison apple bit shaken from her mouth and returns to life.
The prince is overjoyed and marries her. The evil queen is invited to the wedding. In anticipation of the evil queen's arrival, a pair of red hot shoes are waiting for her. She's told to PUT THEM ON AND DANCE UNTIL SHE DIES.
So, we have cannibalism, necrophilia, murder, and torture. Good entertainment for a child.
But not as bad as...
The original title of Cinderella is Aschenputtel which I think is the German translation for "woman who has ashes on her face."
This is another case when a mother dies and the father makes a poor marriage choice. In this story the stepsisters are not hideous as they are portrayed in the Disney film, but they are attractive as well. The step mother is still a bit of a rotten person, though. However, there is no "Bippity, boppity, boo" or fairy godmother.
The story goes that Cinderella's mother, who is the wife of a wealthy man, is dying and tells her that so long as she lives a virtuous life that she'll be watching her from heaven. And she dies.
The father marries what can only be described as one of the most cruel and heartless women on the planet. He sits idly by when his new wife's daughters (who are also cruel and heartless) make HIS OWN DAUGHTER clean out the fireplace. Then, because it amused them, the sisters would throw their food on the floor to have Cinderella clean it. When she was done, they'd do it again.
The father plans to go into town to buy things for the daughters. One stepsister wants a gold necklace, the other wants a silk dress. Cinderella wants the first twig to fall from a tree to touch his hat. The father brings the twig back to Cinderella. She plants the twig over her mother's grave and waters it with her tears until it becomes a huge tree. Cinderella would visit the tree three times a day and cry. A dove would fly to her and Cinderella would say, "Mother, things have been so miserable since you died." (The dove being the mother, I guess.)
The king announces that he's going to have a ball. So the stepsisters want Cinderella to make them pretty. Cinderella asks her step mother if she can go, and the stepmother (to shut her up) agrees but only if she can pick up a whole bunch of lentil beans THAT SHE THROWS IN FRONT OF HER from the ashes in TWO HOURS. Cinderella asks the doves to do it and they do. She brings the beans back to her stepmother who tells her that she STILL CAN'T GO BECAUSE SHE HAS NO DRESS.
She cries and the doves bring her a dress of silver and gold - with two golden slippers (not glass). She goes to the ball and the prince falls for her immediately, dancing with Cinderella all night. The prince at the end of the night wants to have her driven home. Rather than reveal her identity, she runs off. The prince sees her go to her yard and asks CINDERELLA'S FATHER if the beautiful woman he saw was her.
Rather than be discovered and have this torturous existence end, she hides and covers her face with ash. The birds take her dress and slippers and hide them. The prince sees Cinderella and does not recognize her. The prince throws another ball. Cinderella comes back home with the prince, but at the last second climbs a pear tree in the yard. The father comes out, cuts down the pear tree - but Cinderella is no longer there. The prince goes into the house and can't recognize her again. There's a third ball, the same thing happens, except this time, Cinderella loses one of her GOLD slippers.
(Now to the fun part)
The prince shows up at the house and puts the gold slipper on the first stepsister. The stepsister goes to a back room with the stepmother and tries on the slipper. It is too small her toe is too big. The stepmother tells her daughter to CUT OFF HER TOE because when she's queen she'll never need to walk anywhere. She then hacks it off, stifles the pain and shows the prince. As they are going back to the castle the doves sing, "She's just a fraud. She's not your bride. She hacked off her toe to fit inside." The prince brings her back.
He then tries the same thing with the other stepsister. The same thing happens except she has to HACK OFF PART OF HER HEEL. Again, the doves blow her cover and the prince goes back.
This time he goes to Cinderella and makes her try on the slipper. It fits. He takes her back to the castle to marry her. At the wedding the doves fly at the stepsisters and CLAW OUT THEIR EYES.
Nice, huh. I'd loved to have heard that one as a child before bed. So remember kids, the next time you have a golden opportunity to escape with royalty to change your life, do anything you can to avoid it and go back to your life of hell where you can be humiliated and live in unnecessary abject poverty.
Lastly, we have...
The original title of this story was called Briar Rose. We call it Sleeping Beauty.
Personally, I thought the Disney version was just cooler. There was the knight and the sword, and the sorceress who turns into a dragon. It was awesome. The original story, not so much.
The story goes like this. One day a king and a queen lamented that they wanted a child. As the queen was bathing A FROG TOLD HER that she'd have a lovely baby girl. And we know that when frogs talk, their prophesy is inevitable.
So the queen had a baby girl. In their joy, they remembered that the kingdom had thirteen wise women. And because they had a shortage of plates they only invited twelve.
Okay, Here's some advice - if you ever have the opportunity to snub a powerful witch or sorceress, don't. They invited the twelve nice wise women and snubbed the nasty thirteenth. The first eleven wise women gave the child things like beauty, poise, knowledge, and virtue. The thirteenth wise woman who wasn't invited burst in on the dinner and cursed the child with a prophesy about her pricking her finger on a sewing needle AND DYING on her fifteenth birthday. The queen begged the last wise woman to undo her sister's spell. As she couldn't she said that the child would sleep for a hundred years.
The king was angered and had all of the sewing wheels destroyed. And yet, on her fifteenth birthday, the child found an old woman spinning a sewing wheel and she just had to prick her finger on it. She AND THE WHOLE KINGDOM fell asleep for a hundred years.
In that time, briars grew all around the castle and people outside of it heard that if they could awaken the princess, they could marry her. However, everyone who tried WAS KILLED IN THE BRIARS.
An old man who knew the story told a young prince about the legend of the sleeping beauty. As it happened to be the 100th anniversary of the day that the princess pricked her finger, the prince was able to go past the briars, walk into the castle, and wake everyone up with a kiss to sleeping beauty.
It's kind of pointless, really. The only lesson to be learned is: "Don't get witches ticked at you." Other than that we learn that briars can be fatal and that when a frog talks, listen.
Grimms Fairy Tales on Amazon
For those of you who need that extra bit of graphic novel in your fairy tales - this big book of Grimm's adaptations is just awesome. I recommend it highly.
The Grimms version of The Briar Rose isn't even the worst one. The Italians had to one up the Grimms brothers when it came to making kids stories crazy cruel and unnecessarily nightmarish. The Italian version has a bit of date rape, serial necrophilia, cannibalism, and extra marital affairs with sleeping princesses.
Giambattista Basile wrote a version of Sleeping Beauty called Sun, Moon, and Talia... and let me tell you, it's kinda f#@$ed up.
In this version, Talia is the daughter of a great lord who had his astrologers run a prophesy on her. The astrologers came back saying that his daughter was in great danger as a piece of flax would bring her harm. The lord then forbade any kind of flax, hemp, or other material from coming into the village as a precaution.
We all see where this is going.
An old woman comes into the kingdom with a spinning wheel and Talia touches it and gets some of the flax caught under her fingernail. She falls dead upon the floor. The lord takes his vengeance and yadda, yadda, yadda, torture, pain, banishment for the wandering old woman and her party. At the same time, he keeps his dead daughter in a mansion (not buried like other dead people) and closed the doors to it forever.
Meanwhile, the king, while falconing loses his falcon. This king (and as he was never given a name, we'll call him King Buck) goes looking for his bird and comes to the mansion. He goes in through one of the windows and while he doesn't find his bird, he finds the enchanted Talia unconscious on the bed. Well King Buck, he is just taken with the beauty of dead or sleeping princesses because that's what really gets fairy tale royalty going. King Buck thinks "I gotta hit some of that" and HAS HIS WAY WITH THE SLEEPING TALIA.
The king finishes up, leaves the mansion, and goes back to his castle where he doesn't really think about Talia much... meaning "at all". Meanwhile Talia is indeed pregnant and nine months later fairies help Talia give UNCONSCIOUS BIRTH TO TWINS (because the fae healthcare system is really top notch).
The babies were looking to breast feed but somehow got to Talia's finger first and sucked out the flax from the nail. Talia wakes up. Now this is where we take a huge detour from reality and find that she immediately falls in love with the children. And while this is quite romantic, I believe the first reaction should be "Where am I and whose kids are these?" However, Talia brings the twins to her own breasts and instinctively starts feeding them.
As it is a year later, King Buck decides that hunting season would not be complete without some sleeping warm tail. When he goes into the house this time, he finds Talia with her twins. King Buck now falls deeply in love with Talia and confesses that he is the father (once again, we have to wonder where reality over being date raped here is and why Talia isn't full of horror). Buck and Talia name the children "Sun" and "Moon".
The king tells Talia that he has to go back to the kingdom to take care of kingdom things... forgetting to mention that HIS WIFE, THE QUEEN, is still there.
He gets home and continually babbles about Talia, Sun, and Moon. So much so that the queen secretly orders to have the two children brought to her castle's cook and have them PREPARED FOR DINNER because what's a fairy tale without a little bit of wanton CANNIBALISM.
I should also mention to those of you who are married and are having a fling on the side that talking about your new lover and the children you've just fathered really doesn't work well with your current spouse.
In fact, it's a terrible idea.
The cook can't kill the kids and has two lambs prepared for dinner instead - which is good enough to fool the queen. The queen feeds the faux children to the king enjoying, in her mind, that the king is eating his own kids. However, the cook, unbeknownst (a word I rarely get to use) to the queen brings the children home to his house so his wife could care for them.
The queen is not done yet.
Now the queen wants to kill Talia and sends for her. Talia leaves believing the Buck has sent for her. The queen greets her and tells her that she is a cursed bitch for taking her husband. When Talia tries to explain that "Hey, I was asleep when your husband raped me" she dismisses it because no one should sleep with embalming make up on.
The queen wants to punish Talia by throwing her in the fire. Talia begs that she not burn her in her clothes so the queen allows her to do so because she likes her clothes. While Talia is doing her striptease, she screams as she removes each article of clothes from her body. When she gets to the last bit she screams her loudest and that's when Buck comes home and saves her.
The queen tells Buck that he ate his own kids. He has the queen killed and demands that the cook also be killed. When the cook is brought before him he tells Buck that the kids are safe with his wife.
And they all live demented ever after.
I don't even know where to start on this one. We all know that Buck likes to f#$%. He cheats on his wife with warm good looking cadavers but when kids get involved everything somehow is okay. Meanwhile the wife is actually being faithful when her husband's cadaver twins come to the house. Not for nothing, if I were the queen, I'd be a bit pissed too.
A Shameless Plug
Once Upon an Apocalypse is a collection of adapted fairy tales with zombies and the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Sometimes, it's not a happily ever after story. Introduction by Jonathan Maberry.
Fairy Tale Quiz
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What can I say? This explains how harsh behavior in older adults can be blamed on the type of bedtime fiction they were given as children.
Who in their right mind would ever read these uncensored tales to a child? Not me. I'd sooner read them the transcript of Night of the Living Dead. The three stories I've recounted are mild compared to some of the others. They not only have tales of cannibalism, incest, torture, talking animals, the devil, and the anthropomorphic Death, but also have stories of GOD JUST SCREWING WITH PEOPLE.
It's enough to make you go mad.
While it can be argued that lessons taught about virtue and wickedness have a place and that there is a definite comeuppance on the evil doer, we all know that in reality that it's just not true. If it were, anyone who profited from the market crash of 2008 who may have been directly or indirectly responsible would have immediate karmic punishment by choking on their next meal of escargot or crashing their Lear jet into the Atlantic instead of them selling short and profiting insanely from this country's loss.
The justice taught in these books is nothing more than a pipe dream and wishful thinking that in some cases help the reader of this story sleep rather than the actual child listening to it.
© 2012 Christopher Peruzzi