Taking the Grim out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales

Thursdays Bite

a paranormal blog

A few weeks ago I went to the library for a copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. I went to the trusty computer and typed in the name, and about a hundred titles came up. Most of them picture books for children that didn’t have all the stories in them, but were also lacking something else. They’d taken the grim out of Grimm.

I was particularly looking for Snow White, the fairy tale that I’ve twisted before and am twisting again as a sequel to Little Red Riding Wolf. You likely won’t be surprised to find that out of all those books, most of them had been sanitized.

I think it started with Disney. Snow White was the first full length major film for Disney. (Wikipedia’s info on Snow White HERE) A lot was riding on it’s success. Would people go see a long cartoon? Were they interested in a story that had been told many times? Maybe they were looking for a more exciting ending, but I think it’s more likely that they were horrified at the ending where the Queen is locked in red hot iron shoes and dances till she dies.

Yep, fairy tales are not for children, that’s for sure. In the translations from the German that I read it’s only one line. I as a reader, would have liked more explanation. Why red hot slippers? Was this a common punishment for attempted murder or treason? From my modern perspective the ending lacks an explanation that would make me understand why the Queen would go to the wedding at all, knowing what her fate is to be. But she goes, and naturally has to step into the pre-prepared slippers and be tortured.

I say naturally, because when you read through the entire collection of tales you realize that we have taken the horror out of the fairy tales. Our children live in a different age. We no longer go to hangings as entertainment, or throw food at people locked into xxx on the square. And we definitely don’t expose children to the idea that bad deeds, or even minorly careless ones, are punished by torture and death.

But that is exactly what the Grimm’s did. So when looking for inspiration I go looking for the original fairy tales. What pieces of the story are germane to the tale. What will readers be looking for? Do you have to have seven dwarfs? In the Russian version it’s seven brawny woodsmen. Do you have to have a glass coffin? What about the apple? In the original version there are three chances for the Queen to kill the princess. A tight corset, a poisoned comb and the apple. But the only one we really remember is the apple. Do we thank Disney for that?

What about the Queen’s comeuppance? Should I have my queen dancing at the end of the book? Disney didn’t, but do you remember what did happen? In true 1930’s style she is struck by lightning while trying to lever a giant rock onto the seven dwarfs. She falls off a cliff and the rock follows her.  Death by the hand of God. No torture involved.

I have to say I had to find it and watch it to remember how the Queen died. It isn’t memorable. But those red hot iron shoes? I remembered them years later. What impression do you want to leave with your endings? How dark is your fairy tale? Would it compete with the Grimm’s stories?

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Filed under fairy tales, Thursdays Bite

11 responses to “Taking the Grim out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales

  1. Ah, the red hot hand of censorship. Our little darlings couldn’t possibly know about red hot shoes. Well, as you say, it’s a different world. And for the most part, better. In a children’s literature course I took years ago, I remember a collection of fairy tales. I think it was called the Blue Fairy Book or the Blue Fairy Tales. Those endings were more grim. (Grimm? ha ha) And I remember a tale I read to my kids where the big bad wolf had rocks sewn into his belly and was thrown into the river. Just a little violence there. Yet I think my kids (long since adults) are pretty well-adjusted people. Thanks for giving us something to think about, Jessica. I love that!

    • Poor wolf! I don’t remember that one at all, but he is usually killed in the end. How else do you get Granny out of his stomach? I love the oldest version of Little Red Riding Hood, Lon Po Po from China. There are three little girls and they save themselves. Who knew that women’s lib was alive and well in ancient China? I think they kill him by raising him up in a bucket and dropping the bucket, it’s been a while since I read that one. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  2. Brinda Berry

    Red hot iron shoes? Sounds like some of my heels I regret buying. lol

    I went to Google Books and found this: The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales for $2.62 . Here is the link:http://books.google.com/books?id=KA_Pt9jfIAwC&dq=grimm+fairy+tales&source=gbs_navlinks_s

    • Thanks Brinda! I did find a good copy at the library, translated and published in 1882, with lovely woodcut illustrations. Not sure that it has the complete 200 listed in the one you found.

      LOL about your heels! I definitely have had squished toes in some of those pointy ones! Witch shoes??

  3. Shame on you for sending me on a shiny bauble search, Jessica Aspen!

    I was going to suggest you’d LOVE the London Dungeon — with it’s graphic displays and historical torture devices from the middle ages. So, I went over to Google.

    Google doth not a productive writing morning make.

    Did you know that in the original version of sleeping beauty, she is not put to sleep by a needle prick? She falls asleep due to a prophecy. The King takes a fancy to her and rapes her while she sleeps. She gives birth to two babies (still sleeping). One of the children sucks on her finger, removing some wax and breaking the spell of the prophecy. SO! Sleeping Beauty wakes to find herself raped and the mama of two kids.

    My work here is done. You have your next story inspiration. 😉 Off to write. G

    • Scary about poor Sleeping Beauty. Where did you find that one? Grimm’s have a version, but it ends with the kiss and starts with the spindle. Hmm, I wonder if the one you know about is the inspiration for The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, Anne Rice’s erotic novel written under the name A. N. Roquelaure. That one starts with the rape but then it goes on to get really wild.

      Thanks for the (very dark) inspiration!

  4. Well, I always knew the root of fairy tales had morbid, frightening morals to teach, but red hot iron shoes? Yikes. (Brinda, snort on your heels!)
    Interesting post, Jessica.
    I was a little shocked when I at last read The Little Matchstick Girl. The story was one in a compilation of fairy tales I bought for my children. All the stories were the tame, popular versions of today, except for Matchstick Girl. I actually stopped reading it aloud to my kids when I realized what was up, told them we’d read the rest the next night, but never did. I did read it to myself. So sad.
    And I remember a version of Little Mermaid in which she does not get her man, and is stuck with the legs, and painful knife-like stabs with every step, yet she smiles as she dances with him at his wedding, happy that he is happy. Mind you, Disney version is not too pretty, Ariel stands to lose her soul to the sea witch.
    There was a university level course on fairy tales I heard of years ago. Would have been so cool to take, but the children were small and life didn’t permit the luxury of night classes back then.

    • You can always study them now! With the internet it’s much easier then when I was trying to do it in college and had to find hard copies in the depths of Norlin library. Is the Little Matchstick Girl by Hans Christian Anderson? He tends to have a darker edge too. And until I saw the Disney version of the Little Mermaid it was one of my least favorites. I’m a big fan of the Disney effect on that one. In fact I love the music too. Very nice job! They stuck pretty well to the tail of Beauty and the Beast, leaving out the selfish sisters and adding in Gaston instead, but I like it. See, Disney twists those tales every time.

    • Brinda Berry

      The Little Matchstick Girl haunted me for years. Still does.

  5. I don’t mean to offend anyone with this comment, but it wasn’t just fairy tales that I found a little too grim to read to my kids, it was also the children’s bible, some brutal tales there too. (God-fearing? uh huh) You said it, Jessica, we are no longer entertained by public hangings. We evolved into a society with human rights for good reason. I think it’s okay to omo\it torturous bed time stories from our kids dream world.

    • You never know what your kids will be afraid of. My oldest was terrified of the nuns in The Sound of Music. The idea of Maria getting into trouble sent my daughter hiding behind the sofa, till the nuns were safely gone!

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