This week, I am writing about Grimms Fairy Tales. Both Alice Hoffman and James Salter listed these in their top ten. Apparently, based on my last 3 selections, I need to read more Alice Hoffman. I have never heard of James Salter, so went to the all knowing Wikipedia.
I will admit that I have read this before, but I think the last time I read my compilation book of them, I was around 10. I, have of course, in the last couple of years gotten to know the sanitized versions of the tales quite well (the fallout of having a four year old daughter).
I will also admit that I have not read through all of them at this time, so I will be doing another post in a couple of days once I finish all of them. However, I have read through enough of them that I can give opinions and the true story on some of the ones that Disney has come through and “princessed” and sanitized. I also can talk about the viewpoint on whether they truly are too bloody for children today.
Interesting note first, the Grimm brothers first published the book of tales, marketed towards children in the early 1800s but parents complained (apparently they did that even back then) that the tales were way too violent, so years later, the brothers released an updated version with a few of the tales “cleaned” up. So the stories we read today as the originals actually are probably already sanitized a bit. This doesn’t mean that they are rated G by any means.
The charges of feminism that the fairy tales paint women in a negative light, making them appear dumb and in need of someone to rescue them, isn’t necessarily all that true. Yes, in some tales, the girl is painted as a victim who is desirous of rescue, but in others, she is quite resourceful. I am thinking here of “The Princess in Disguise”. Her father, the King, promises her mother, the Queen, on her deathbed that he will marry no one unless she has golden hair like the Queen and is just as beautiful. Of course, no one fulfills these requirements. Until his daughter reaches of age. So, he decides he will marry her. Even way back when the story originated (who knows when as the Grimm brothers transcribed stories), this wasn’t acceptable. So the girl runs away. Hunters from another kingdom find her, and she hides her identity to keep herself safe…after she has shoved 3 gowns she forced her father into making in the hopes that he will be unable to marry her and a rough cloak of skins. She then begins to work for the cook at this castle and contrives a way to show herself as a princess to the King and to marry him. And she succeeds.
Of course on the flip side, we have “Snow White”, who manages to smartly convince the huntsman to let her go. (the original version has the original proclamation from the mirror to come when she was 7, the story doesn’t signify when she runs away) She then runs away and finds the 7 Dwarves (this is pretty similiar to the Disney version so far). However, the wicked stepmother, upon hearing from her mirror about Snow White still being alive, disguises herself and goes as a peddler woman and sells her a poisoned hair comb. Snow White puts the comb in her hair and falls down as dead. When the dwarves return, they notice the comb and pull it out and warn her to be extra careful as the stepmother is after her and to not answer the door to anyone. Well, the stepmother of course notices that she is not dead and redisguises herself and goes back, this time selling corsets. Snow White puts up a little protest but then is so overcome with need for the corsets (of her own accord, not the stepmother’s) that she allows the woman to tie one on her, and the laces are pulled too tight and she collapses. The dwarves save her again and re-warn her. Then comes the apple, which the stepmother has spelled to be only poisonous on one side so she is able to take a bite out of it and convince Snow White (again) that it is ok. She then falls down. The dwarves can’t find anything so bury her in a glass coffin due to her great beauty. A prince comes along and is so captivated by her that he requests to carry her body back to his castle. As servants are carrying her, the piece of apple is dislodged from her throat and THAT is what causes her return. Not a kiss. They do kiss, and they do live happily ever after, but the jostling of being carried over paths is what saves her. The stepmother goes to their wedding and they had ready red hot iron shoes, which they made her dance in until she fell down dead.
But men get the same treatment in the fairy tales. “The Skilful Huntsman” has a young man in it who receives an air gun which will not fail to hit its target. He then deceives three giants. He sneaks away and the princess in the castle refuses to marry the man in the King’s Guard who says he killed the 3 giants so is exiled to sell pots (this seems to be a common punishment for princesses who refuse to do the King’s bidding in the tales I’ve read). Other stories point at men who are smart outwitting dumb men. In Clever Gretel, the man she is a cook/serving maid for is completely dumb.
Most of the tales in the half I have read so far have someone greedy getting punished in the end.
Recently (prior to picking Grimm’s fairy tales to read and partly causing me to pick the fairy tales for my next one) I was in the library and saw the book Cinderella Ate My Daughter. I of course, had to get it. It’s a good read for mothers or fathers of little girls and explores the whole new movement of princesses for little girls and where that might lead. Peggy Orenstein is a humorous and easy to read author. She talks about the psychologist Bruno Bettelheim in regards to the original (or only slightly sanitized) tales, stating that Bettelheim says “…fairy tales and only fairy tales-as opposed to myths and legends–tap into children’s unconscious preoccupations with such knotty issues as sibling rivalry or the fear of omnivorous mother”. Fairy tales show that those who stand fast are victorous. Bettelheim goes so far as to say, according to Orenstein “without exposure to fairy tales a child will be emotionally stunted, unable to create a meaningful life”. I did not read Bettelheim at all, beyond what is discussed in this book so can’t really go into depth of his viewpoints. However, I don’t think he necessarily needs to go as far as saying any child without that exposure will be emotionally stunted. I do know that as I read through these tales again, I remember how much I loved them as a child and why all the sanitized versions of Disney have always felt…lacking to me. Unfortunately, Amelia (the four year old that has made me live in Disney princess land) has been a little ruined by those Disney versions and always looks a little confused when I read ones closer to the original.
Next time, I’ll go into the real stories behind some of the other sanitized versions. Stay tuned for the parts that Disney didn’t want you to know!