I remember fairytales being magical when I was a kid. Fairytales were tales where anything could happen and I loved tales were normalcy got cast out the window and something surreal and strange took over (I still do!). I remember reading The Snow Queen as a kid and falling in love with it completely. The harsh environment, the loneliness and the little girl who went so far out of her way to do extraordinary things for someone she loved.
Fairytales were about beating the odds, managing something against all odds and not only surviving but living happily ever after, despite it ALL. I loved that.
The first fairytale I read for my little girl was Little Red Riding Hood. We bought a 12 crown book in the supermarket and there I was with the gruesome tale of the little girl and her grandmother who get eaten by the big bad wolf. And suddenly there were parts of the story that I hesitated over. Can I really read this to my four year old? Is she old enough? *Gulp*
I must admit that I left some things out. In the version we read the wolf got killed when he fell into the river after he has the stones in his stomach but I left that part out. When the “hunter took care of the wolf skin” I quickly changed the line to “the hunter took care of the wolf”.
There have been others since then. The evil queen who wants Snow White dead. Introducing the notion of murder to a young mind just seemed out of the question but isn’t that misplaced sheltering? It’s only a fairytale after all…
There are so many – Hansel and Gretsel’s evil stepmother who wants to leave them in the forest because she doesn’t like to share her bread. And the fact that the kids father goes along with the whole ordeal at first just makes no sense at all…
The cruelty in fairytales has little limits. Still there seems a difference between Cinderella’s evil stepmother (she does get to live!), Snow White’s and Hansel and Gretsels.
All fairytales do not have innate cruelty. In Jack and the Beanstalk you have hard times and a grumpy boy-eating (!) giant but at least Jack has a mother who loves him and the adventure he faces is somewhat self-inflicted. Going up to steal things from a boy-eating giant once maybe acceptable, but doing it three times is just asking for trouble.
Goldilocks and the three bears is also a fairytale without any real evilness. The bears are nice and live what seems like a quiet and calm life in the forest when Goldilocks enters their house and eats their porridge and sleeps in their beds. She is the real perpetrator and the crime is minimal.
Since we started reading our way through various fairytales it has also surprised me how different they are. We have a Chinese version of Aladdin and his lamp which features a magical ring as well. We have versions of Little Red Riding Hood where they have tried to keep the tale a little less gruesome and then we have versions that seem set on being as vile as possible.
I try not to “censor” the tales. I try to tell it like it is and explain things in a manner that makes things a little less shocking but still true.
I loved fairytales as a kid and I don’t remember thinking about the gruesome part. Maim and murder is a part of the world of the fairytale and the more evil the villain the more satisfying the ending.
Our favourite is the Puss in Boots and the Marquis of Carabas. I loved that story as a kid and albeit it does entail serious misleading, lying and the slaying of an evil troll. Evil trolls and giants are somehow less scary to me as an adult as the evil stepmothers! Of course the kid gets wide eyed and awestruck at the evil trolls – to her they are a lot worse. To her mother… they are a part of the more far-fetched elements of the fairytale and therefore not at all so bad.. I want more evil trolls in fairytales and less murderous stepmothers!