As many of you probably already know (and if not this will be quite a surprise), the Grimm Brothers were the authors of many well-known folktales past down over generations. Many of these tales have been adapted into sweet movies of lovely princesses and songs that provoke nostalgic memories. The original published stories, however, were nothing like this. They were, dark and twisted, filled with scenarios of murder, greed, lust, death, and even rape. Silly to think those stories adapted by Disney are so precious, right?
In a recent article for the Irish Times,Jack Zipes (acclaimed author of several books discussing fairy tales in society today such as Breaking the Magic Spell: Radical Theoriesof Folk and Fairy Tales and Why FairyTales Stick: The Evolution and Relevance of a Genre), talks about the contradictions and distortions these modern versions hold. He points out how there are dark images and descriptions in the original publications and how these new versions are probably opposite to the intentions of the Grimm Brothers original publications. He emphasizes that the original published fairy tales were not originally meant for a child audience and also never intended to become great works of children’s literature. Interestingly, the stories originated from European, Middle Eastern, and Asian tales passed down orally over generations and most of the stories did not even contain fairies.
Zipes states, “Clearly, if [the Grimm Brothers] were living today, they would be shocked to discover how their tales have been misread and hyped and spread throughout the world in all sizes and shapes, not to mention in films and TV programs that might make them shudder.”
To clarify just how different these versions of the fairy tales are, here are two examples:
In the Grimm’s version of Rapunzel, a husband steals from the garden of a witch to satisfy his pregnant wife’s brutal pregnancy cravings. When the husband is caught stealing ‘rampion’ from the garden, he is forced to give the witch his daughter, who then grows into the most beautiful girl with long golden hair. The witch locks her in a tower on her twelfth birthday that has neither stair nor doors. A prince wandering through the forest sees the witch call to Rapunzel to let down her hair one day and upon her departure mimics the call to the dame at the top of the tower. They fall in love and the prince impregnates Rapunzel. The witch finds out and in her anger cuts off Rapunzel’s hair and put her out into the forest to fend for herself. The next time the prince comes to visit, the witch pretends to be Rapunzel and ultimately throws him from the tower, blinding him when he lands face-first in a thorny bush. He wanders around for years blinded until one day Rapunzel, who has now given birth to twins, finds him and they are reunited.
This is exceptionally different from the Disney movie version where Rapunzel starts out as a princess and the witch is the villain of this version. The prince's character in the Disney movie is a thief-outlaw and together they defeat the evil witch and return to the king and queen, who have missed their daughter for eighteen years. Then once the outlaw-thief gives up his bad ways, he and Rapunzel get married and live happily-ever-after.
The Grimm’s version of SleepingBeauty is sort of similar to the Disney version, expect for the whole second part of the story that gets cut out of the movie. After the prince rescues the princess from her hundred years of sleep, in the story, he does not go and fight an evil dragon fairy, but instead marries the princess and they have two children. His mother, the queen, is a terrible evil ogre who is very jealous of the princess and the children and desires to eat them for her dinner. She demands that the cook kill and serve them to her. The cook hides them in his house and instead uses different animal meats to disguise the dinner she thinks she is having. The queen ends up finding out the trick and as she is preparing to throw the kids and the princess into a pit with snakes and vipers, the prince arrives just in time to save the day. Disney probably assumed that mothers wouldn’t be so satisfied with a story that portrays them as an evil ogre. So they simply cut out that ‘unnecessary’ part of the story and included their own ending, which they could gain more profit from about fifty-five years later by creating a movie version of the villain, Maleficent.
If these original versions have caught your attention, check out Jack Zipes’s recently published The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of theBrothers Grimm from Princeton University Press. This collection is translated from the last original edition of the Grimm Brother’s fairy tales and is one that will bring up many hot conversation starters next time someone brings up a Disney movie, song or princess.
Sources and Notes:
- Irish Times article: http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/jack-zipes-on-those-saucy-grimms-fairy-tales-your-mother-never-told-you-1.2034660
- Other fun facts: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/12/the-real-story-behind-eve_n_4239730.html
- Sleeping Beauty Summary: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleeping_Beauty
- Rapunzel Summary:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rapunzel
- Jack Zipes's New Book: The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm