My term paper for English last semester. If you read all of it, kudos. I broke it down so the big blocks of text wouldn't be so intimidating.
The Stories Behind the Stories
Terri Windling, the author of "Surviving Childhood," once said, "Fairy tales were not my escape from reality as a child; rather, they were my reality- for mine was a world in which good and evil were not abstract concepts, and like fairy-tale heroines, no magic would save me unless I had the wit and heart and courage to use it wisely." Fairy tales lay out whole new, magical worlds for children and adults alike with fantastical images of dragons, witches, and talking animals in magical, even if ordinary, settings like castles and gingerbread houses and even the heavens (Lindahl, McNamara, Lindow, 348).
Nobody wants to admit that some of those "happily ever after" endings were rather gruesome and maybe not as happy as originally remembered. Even the Grimm brothers, who collected many of the fairy tales known today, edited some parts in the original stories (Tatar 8). What makes them have such a long-lasting effect on people- and with this in mind, why should they be censored?
The first fairy recorded in history wasn't exactly a fairy tale; it was more of a myth. "Cupid and Psyche" was written by Apuleius in AD 100-200. It's noted that it's very similar to Beauty and the Beast. The Grimms published their first collection of fairy tales (Märchen) in 1812 (Heiner, Timeline). The funny thing about their collection was that, contrary to what some may believe, they didn't write the stories themselves. They wrote down the stories that they heard from well brought-up girls, young women, and mothers who could tell them accurately (Behrens, Bottigheimer). The Grimms tried to connect the fairy tales to myth, but they weren't able to because myths were more focused on gods, heroes, and creation for historical purposes, while fairy tales were geared more for entertainment (although, as said before, there was a strong likeness between Cupid and Psyche and Beauty and the Beast) (Encyclopedia Americana V.10, 846-847).
In the article "Fairy-Tale Origins, Fairy-Tale Dissemination, and Folk Narrative Theory," Ruth Bottigheimer says that fairy tales can be defined as, "complex narratives in which magic brings about closure and in which heroes and heroines achieve elevation through a wedding in which one or both of the participants is royal." This is a common characteristic in most stories. In Cinderella, for example, Cinderella is aided by a little tree by her mother's grave to help her appear, for lack of a better phrase, more like a princess than a scullery maid (there's the magic). Then (summarizing quickly) she goes to the ball, dances with the Prince, loses her slipper, the Prince tracks her down, and they get married and live happily ever after- there's the marriage with one royal participant.
Fairy tales hold a certain magic for everyone who reads them. These stories, passed down from generation to generation, are more widely known than any other book or story- even Harry Potter. Over the course of the years, they continue to enchant their readers. Even as adults, the charm that the stories carry holds an effect over them. Edward Summer, a writer for the Skeptical Inquirer, wrote this about JM Barrie's classic tale, Peter Pan: "…it contains a famous audience-participation scene in which Tinkerbell, a female fairy, drinks poisoned medicine to save Peter Pan's life. In order to keep her from dying, the audience is asked to 'clap if you believe in fairies.' Inevitably, the child in all of us applauds so that Tinkerbell won't die." (Summer)
In a different scenario, there was a woman who needed treatment because of a severe neurosis and gall bladder and stomach symptoms. She was also suicidal. In one of her treatment sessions, she talked about a dream she had where she was telling the people to release her ex-husband and imprison her instead. In order for her to do this, she had to have her hands cut off. After the patient had finished telling about her dream, she remembered a fairy tale (The Handless Maiden) where the girl's hands are cut off, and also recalled that it was her favorite fairy tale as a child (Dieckmann, 89).
When looked at from a psychological perspective, it can be shown how fairy tales incorporate themselves into people's lives through symbolism. For instance, Carl Jung theorized that shadows in dreams or nightmares often seem like threatening creatures, like wolves or witches. But he also said that the things in the shadows, there can be something good, which implies that just like in a fairy tale, as dark as it gets, there will be a happy ending (Youngs).
Fairy tales can also settle into people's lives in a more literal manner by sinking into a person's subconscious and leading them to, in essence, "act out" the fairy tale (Dieckmann, 61). In one case, a nine-year-old boy had a tendency to smash the windows of public buildings with his bare hands, and nobody quite knew why. Then they found out his favorite fairy tale, which was "The Musicians of Bremen," a story in which the climatic point was when the animals "climb up to an illuminated window at the robbers' house, break into the house through this window, and hence make the ample meal and the house itself their own," after they had driven the robbers out (Dieckmann, 63).
There is some skepticism about whether fairy tales that have a more violent nature (The Juniper Tree, The Handless Maiden, Little Red Riding Hood) should be told to impressionable children. During the early years of the twentieth century, when fairy tales were growing into the sugary sweet stories that they are today instead of their original, grotesque and even horrifying natures, a poet named Wilhelm Hauff started his own collection of fairy tales with an original story called The Fairy Tale as Almanac. In this story, the key protagonist, Fairy Tale, is shut out from the humans' society and tells her mother, Fantasy, about what happened to her. Mother Fantasy is equally upset by this, suspecting that Auntie Fashion is responsible for giving Fairy Tale a bad reputation. Mother Fantasy proceeds to make an almanac for Fairy Tale to wear and sends her daughter back. The humans recognize that Fairy Tale is dressed as the almanac and laugh at her, "but Fairy Tale leads them up a garden path with the colorful images of her stories until they fall asleep. A friendly man then takes Fairy Tale by the hand and leads her past the sleeping sentries to the children." (Dieckmann, 30). The point of Hauff's story is that even though people may believe that fairy tales are too outdated or too violent, they won't stop spreading, even if they are censored in some places (thanks to the Grimms).
It's been observed that children correlate things that happen in fairy tales with things from their everyday lives, and also help shape our personalities (Young). In Gina Higgins' book, Resilient Adults: Overcoming A Cruel Past, a case is mentioned of two brothers who were horribly abused as children by their mother. They compared the Wicked Witch of the West with their cruel mother, and because of this association, they poured water on top of her one night while she was sleeping.
But in less drastic cases, children can easily identify with the heroes and heroines of fairy tales because they face problems like the ones in fairy tales, but on a smaller scale (Cashdan, 30). The story of Cinderella, for example, is essentially a story about jealousy and sibling rivalry, seeing as how Cinderella is subconsciously jealous of her stepsisters because of the fact that she's mistreated, but then it's the stepsisters who become jealous of her (even though they don't realize it's Cinderella) when she gets to dance with the prince.
Jack and the Beanstalk is a story about greed. It starts off innocently enough with Jack and his mother starving, Jack getting the beans and climbing up the hill to steal money for food, it eventually becomes stealing what rightfully belongs to the giant with no remorse (although in other versions, it doesn't make it out that the chicken who can lay golden eggs and the magic harp belong to the giant).
Violence in fairy tales is frequent and horrific, ranging from cannibalism to infanticide (or maybe a healthy blend of the two). Snow White's wicked stepmother becomes so jealous of Snow White's beauty that not only does she feel the need to hire a hit man (or in this case, the huntsman), but she requests that her stepdaughter's eyes and heart be brought back to her. When she believes she has them (when in fact, the heart and eyes are from a boar), she eats them. Similarly, in The Mother-In-Law (which was excluded from the second addition of the Grimms' collection), a young queen and her two sons are imprisoned by the young queen's mother in law, and when the mother-in-law decides she wants to eat her two grandsons and their mother (on three separate occasions), she sends the cook up to kill them, but each time, the queen convinces him to kill something else in their place (Tatar, 201).
In the story of The Twelve Sons, the king said that he would kill his twelve sons if his wife had a daughter (in the original version, it was because the king would rather have his sons dead than live with a girl; in the version read today, it's because the king wants his daughter to inherit everything), thus leading the sons to run for their lives (Tatar, 31).
In The Juniper Tree, a stepmother loves her daughter more than her stepson, and in a moment of weakness, she whacks his head off by shutting a heavy lid on him- and then, even more treacherous, she proceeds to convince her daughter, Marline, that she killed him because the mother had tied the boy's head back onto his neck with a handkerchief, and then she told Marline to give her brother "a box on the ear." To cover up what happened, the stepmother cooks the little boy into soup and Marline buries his remains under the juniper tree. The soup is fed to an unsuspecting father (Cashdan, 182-188).
There's the traditional case of murder in some stories ("traditional" meaning that it doesn't involve killing a kid and or devouring them), such as in The Twelve Princes (although there aren't any murders, there almost were), The Princess Who Couldn't Laugh, Little Red Riding Hood, and The Pig King. In The Princess Who Couldn't Laugh, a princess is doomed to a life of celibacy because she laughed at something embarrassing that happened to a witch, and the only way she could be able to marry was if she filled up two buckets with tears in three days. Long story short, a slave woman cheats the princess out of the marriage by putting in those last few tears and essentially "stealing" the prince. Eventually, she's found out, and the prince orders her to be buried alive.
Little Red Riding Hood (originally known as Little Red-cap) has a "the ends justify the means" sort of theme. In the story, the wolf devoured both Little Red's grandmother and Little Red herself, and when the woodsman entered, he saw the sleeping wolf and cut his stomach in two, freeing Little Red and her grandmother. The story doesn't end there. The three of them stuff the wolf full of rocks, and once the wolf woke up and attempted to run away, the weight of the rocks inside him killed him, showing that every character in any fairy tale has the capacity to be evil, even the protagonists (Cashdan, 81).
The Pig Prince tells of a prince who was born a pig, and he takes three brides. The first two are murdered because they think he's repulsive, but the youngest isn't afraid of him, and that's how she discovers that the prince can get rid of his pigskin at night, and once it's destroyed, they, stereotypically, live happily ever after.
What the Grimm brothers did (or rather, what Wilhelm did, seeing as he was the most enthusiastic about censoring the tales) when they were putting their fairy tale collections together was that if there was an area that might have been objectionable, they would alter it to make it more appropriate (Tatar, 7-10). For instance, in the original version of Rapunzel, the witch doesn't reprimand her for meeting with the prince in secret (although that's part of the reason), but because Rapunzel was found pregnant. Obviously, this was not for a G-rated audience, so the witch finding out Rapunzel's pregnancy was swapped for the line, "How is it you are so much heavier to draw up than the prince?" In these days, the common knowledge of telling any lady that she's heavier than someone is usually frowned upon, and this makes a person wonder if Rapunzel had asked why the witch was lighter, if the punishment would have been as severe.
In a different scenario, the main character in Sleeping Beauty, Briar Rose, was awakened not from a sweet, innocent kiss, but from giving birth to twins. Another story that was cut from the collections, Hans Dumm, is a tale about how whatever Hans wishes for comes true, and he decides to wish for a princess to become pregnant. But of course, they all get their happy endings when Rapunzel and her two children are reunited with the prince, Briar Rose finds the father of her children, and Hans wishes for a castle and marries the princess.
Hate 'em or love 'em, fairy tales are an immovable part of life in whatever generation in any version. Yes, there's cannibalism and infanticide, not to mention homicide and abuse. Yes, they can be horrifying, but once someone's heard one, they'll never forget it, and that's probably not because said someone has a terrific memory. These stories are an inherent part of life, and so it would be unimaginable to think them missing. Every underdog can identify with Cinderella, every child who ever dreamed of something magical and wondrous happening with Jack, and every little idealistic girl with Snow White. Tales of looking past a person's appearance can be seen in Thousandfurs and The Pig Prince. Sympathy can be drawn from Snow White when the dwarves take the young princess in, and in The Little Mermaid, who gives up her own life to save the prince.
In all of these, there is hope of a "happily ever after," which everybody wants, and the very thing that makes life worth living. These endings, concluding stories where the hero and or heroine gets their "happily ever after" ending after going through whatever trouble it may be, are reminiscent of something a wise person once said, "Happiness lies for those who cry, those who hurt, those who have searched and those who have tried, for only they can appreciate the importance of people who have touched their lives."
Behrens, Susan J. "Clever Maids: The Secret History of the Grimm Fairy Tales." Research & Teaching in Developmental Education (Spring 2005). 11 Dec. 2007 http://articles. Ruth B. "Fairy-Tale Origins, Fairy-Tale Dissemination, and Folk Narrative Theory." ProQuest 47.3/4 (2006). ProQuest Multiple Databases. ProQuest. KVCC Lib., Kalamazoo, MI. 10 Dec. 2007 http://proquest. Sheldon. The Witch Must Die: How Fairy Tales Shape Our Lives. New York: Basic Books, 1999.
Dieckmann, Hans, Bruno Bettleheim, and Boris Matthews. Twice-Told Tales: The Psychological Use of Fairy Tales. Wilmette, Ill: Chiron Publications, 1986. Bruno Bettleheim: Introduction Boris Matthews: Translation
"Fairy Tales." Encyclopedia Americana Volume 10. 2003.
Heiner, Heidi Anne. SurLaLune Fairy Tales. 7 July 2007. 11 Dec. 2007 Carl, John McNamara, and John Lindow. "Fairy Tales." Medieval Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Myths, Legends, Tales, Beliefs, and Customs. 2000.
Summer, Edward. "Fairy Tales: Film, Photos, Fantasies, and the Child Within Us."
Skeptical Inquirer 1 Jan. 1998. 10 Dec. 2007 http://articles. Maria. The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales. N.p.: Princeton University Press, 1987.
Youngs, Jonathan. "Once Upon A Time: How Fairy Tales Shape Our Lives." The Center for Story and Symbol. 11 Dec. 2007
Hey! You made it to the end!
And God said, Let there be brownies.