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Rated R Fairytales

Updated on April 18, 2016

What Do You Think?

Do you think fairy tales are for children or adults?

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Not Suitable for Children

If fairy tales were made as they were written by the Brothers Grimm, they would likely get an R rating.
If fairy tales were made as they were written by the Brothers Grimm, they would likely get an R rating.


If a survey was given about the intended audience for fairytales, the vast majority of participants would respond that fairytales are for children. Perhaps that is true today, however, that has not always been the case. Fairytales in some of their truest and most original forms surely would not obtain a “G” rating. As Maria Tatar points out in her essay, “Sex and Violence: The Hard Core of Fairy Tales”, these tales were not initially intended for the ears of children, but rather for adults. In fact, the first edition of the Grimm’s collection was meant for the highly educated as a scholarly endeavor (Tatar 370). Her essay gives clear examples of the tales before and after the Grimm Brothers got a hold of them along with valid thoughts and ideas about their alterations, but her essay faults in that it excludes fairy tales by all other authors, making her great points about fairy tales being intended for adults weaker than they could have been; furthermore, a comparison between appropriate alterations then and now would have furthered her ideas and taken them to the next level.

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

These guys look pretty tame considering how "maturely" they wrote
These guys look pretty tame considering how "maturely" they wrote

Gory, Bloody, Violence

In the genesis of her essay, Tatar points out just how violent fairytales really are, mentioning all of the child-eating, daughter-murdering and man-slaying plots in the various tales by the Grimm Brothers (Tatar 364). Surely, no one would willingly read these kinds of tales to their children, and that is precisely because they were not written nor told for the sake of children. These tales were originally told and later written for the entertainment of adults. The first version of the Grimm’s collection, although peculiarly titled Nursery and Household Tales, giving the impression that the contents would be family friendly, was meant for adults, specifically scholarly adults. Thus, the tales were written as true to their origins as possible. Even the unpolished folk jargon was left largely unchanged. Despite the slightly misleading title, their book did relatively well. However, there were significant criticisms; mainly, that the tales were unsuitable for children given the title of the work suggested otherwise. Thus, due to the success as well as the criticisms, the second edition was born. This is the edition that really changed the fate of fairy tales. Wilhelm Grimm specifically took it upon himself to make the tales family friendly by editing out any elicitation of sexual ideas and anything else that may not be appropriate for children, making the second edition almost solely for children (Tatar 364-373).

Everything But Sex

As Tatar successfully notes, the Grimm Brothers took out anything and everything even slightly sexual, while highlighting and increasing the amount of violence in their tales (Tatar 365-367). One example not mentioned in Tatar’s essay is that of “Little Red Cap”. In versions that pre-date the Grimm’s, the little girl is either ordered to strip or simply decides to strip before getting in bed with “grandmother” (Tatar 10, 13). However, in the Brothers Grimm version the girl, Little Red Cap, never strips and is not even invited into grandmother’s bed. The Grimm’s further edit this story by doing what they love: adding violence. Previous versions simply had the wolf eat grandmother as well as the little girl in Perrault’s version and that was that, but that was not good enough for the Brothers Grimm! In their version two people getting eaten just was not enough, so they added the Huntsman for some additional violence, killing off the wolf in the end. The wolf still has a decently violent death from falling off of a roof and drowning in the alternate ending even without the extra character (Tatar 13-16).

Other Authors

Tatar makes a great argument about the original audiences of fairytales, but she failed to strengthen her essay by providing further examples from various other authors such as Joseph Jacobs and Charles Perrault, both of whom have tales full of sex and violence. In “Donkeyskin” by Perrault, incest plays a large role as Donkeyskin’s father wishes to marry her after her mother’s untimely death (Tatar 109-11). Interestingly enough, while Perrault’s tales were full of sex and violence, they were actually meant for children even as uncensored as they were. Of course, they were not meant just for youth, but for their parents as well. Perrault’s “Bluebeard” and Jacobs’ “Mr. Fox” are both rather violent tales that are comparable to the Brothers Grimm tales, “Robber Bridegroom” and “Fitcher’s Bird”. All of these tales are widely violent and disturbing, full of murder, bloody, chopped-up dead bodies and serial killers. Perrault’s “Bluebeard” is even the leader of this group, as he was the first to record such a gruesome story, yet he was unmentioned by Tatar in her essay focusing on the violence of fairy tales.

Disney vs. Brothers Grimm

Even though her essay would have benefited from including the works of Perrault and Jacobs, her analysis of the Grimm Brothers and their alterations is solid and interesting. However, her ideas can be taken even further by comparing the nature of the Grimm alterations to the nature of Disney alterations and what that could elicit about both audiences and cultures. Of course, as previously mentioned, the Brothers Grimm edited their stories to be less sexual and more violent. Disney, on the other hand, seems to have edited their stories in the opposite way. Disney movies cut out a lot of the classic Grimm violence, but add more and more sexual innuendo. For example, Disney’s Cinderella leaves out the violent ending where the stepsisters get their eyes pecked out by birds, while Disney’s Aladdin adds sexuality with the overall character of Jasmine. The difference in the nature of their alterations tells a lot about their different ideas and cultures. Anything sexual was unacceptable to the Grimms and seemed like a taboo topic even for adults, but violence was acceptable and almost praised. Tatar points out that this is likely because, “The facts of life seemed to have been more disturbing to the Grimms than the harsh realities of everyday life” (Tatar 370). Contrastingly, Disney, in their alterations of the tales to be child-friendly, seem to find sexuality to be more and more acceptable while violence is generally unacceptable. However, only generally unacceptable because Disney continues to make their films more and more violent at the same time that they become more sexual.

Cycle of Audiences

These changes in Disney films may be the result of an attempted shift of the target audience, just as the changes the Grimms made were due to their new target audience. Again, they seem to be inversely related. While the Grimms meant to make their stories more child-friendly, Disney seems to be making their films more adult-friendly. There seems to be a cycle of audiences when it comes to fairytales. They started as adult entertainment and then transformed their specialty to children’s literature with the help of the Brothers Grimm as well as Perrault. Now, after they have belonged solely to children for years, Disney is beginning to re-transform them back into adult entertainment, especially with their newest adaptations that are no longer childish cartoons. It is doubtful that fairytales will ever be considered “only for adults” as they are generally now “only for children”, however projections for the future make it seem as though fairytales will be enjoyed equally by adults and children alike.

Dark Origins

Evolving Tales

In essence, fairytales are always evolving. They will change grow and adapt along with civilization, becoming at some times more violent or more sexual and at others less violent and less sexual as the ideas and values of society shift. Tatar opens the door with her essay, making excellent points about the fairytales by the Brothers Grimm, her ideas about the violence and sexual content being meant for adults hold true in other fairytales by authors like Perrault and Jacobs as well, and, her notice of the shifting audience can be taken even further when comparing the Grimm Brothers and Walt Disney.

What About You?

Did you know about the dark origins of fairy tales before?

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