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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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