Fairy Tales Uncensored: What Disney didn’t show us!
“ When the wedding with the king's son was to be celebrated, the two false sisters came and wanted to get into favor with Cinderella and share her good fortune. When the betrothed couple went to church, the elder was at the right side and the younger at the left, and the pigeons pecked out one eye from each of them. Afterwards as they came back the elder was at the left, and the younger at the right, and then the pigeons pecked out the other eye from each. And thus, for their wickedness and falsehood, they were punished with blindness all their days.” (www.vcu.edu/hasweb/for/grimm/cinder_grimm.html)
This doesn’t exactly sound like the Cinderella story we all know and love, does it? That’s because this is the ending of the true story (well, as true as a fairy tale can be). The truth is that the fairy tales that we are most familiar with are really adaptations of older, more violent tales.
Perhaps the most famous of fairy tales come from the collection of two men, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, who have become best known as simply the brothers Grimm. Their collection of German folk tales reads like a “who’s who” list of classic fairy tale characters: Snow Drop (Snow White), Ashputtel (Cinderella), Rose-Bud (Sleeping Beauty), Rumpelstiltskin...the list is extensive, as was their meticulous research.
The Grimm brothers lived at a time when Germany was under French control and the brothers, who saw themselves as “patriotic folklorists”, hoped to preserve Germany’s rich heritage by documenting the stories in their originally told form. They accomplished this in the 1812 story collection that they called Children’s and Household Tales. The Grimm brothers prided themselves on having changed nothing in the telling of the tales. But these stories weren’t for children, they were written strictly for an adult audience--where scholarly footnotes took up almost as much room as the tales themselves.
Although the brothers Grimm were the first to write down the oral tales, the stories themselves had been around for centuries beforehand. They originated in medieval Europe and, therefore, reflected the medieval beliefs, including all their crudeness and barbarities. The stories were meant to show a cruel world with awful punishment for wrong doers and great reward for the good. Each tale had its own moral-don’t talk to strangers, work hard, obey your parents--morals that still have a place in all societies.
Disney came out with its first full length animated movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, in 1937. It was the first of five animated adaptations of the classic Grimm brother fairy tales. Snow White was followed by the 1938 The Brave Little Tailor, the 1950 Cinderella, the 1959 Sleeping Beauty, and the 1991 Beauty and the Beast and, though these movies are the version that generations of people know best, they tend to leave out major parts of the original stories.
Instead of the violence and awful punishment seen in the originals, Disney shortened the story-lines, added musical and comedic relief, and softened the punishment for the bad guys. The tales’ main purpose was no longer to scare little kids into obeying the stories’ morals; instead, they are now meant to entertain while still sneaking in these morals.
Despite the fact that some of the basic morals were right, the way they went about them was much more violent than we are used to today. In the original version of Cinderella, for example, the whole story is quite different: First of all, Cinderella’s father doesn’t die. In fact, he stays alive and ignores the abuses that his daughter suffers at the hands of her evil step-mother and sisters. Also, when the prince comes with the glass slipper, one evil step-sister cuts off her big toe so she will fit into the shoe. The prince thinks that she must be his true love and rides off to the palace with her. But, when a little birdie warns him to look at the blood on her foot, he realizes he has been deceived and brings her back. The second sister cuts off part of her heel to fit the shoe, and she, too, rides off with the prince. Once again the prince learns of the deception and brings her back. Finally, he finds Cinderella and she is the one who rightfully fits the slipper. But, as you read earlier, the story doesn’t end there. The mean step-sisters get their eyes gouged out as punishment for their cruelness and deception.
The tale of Snow White is also quite different from the Disney version. In the Grimm’s version, the evil queen tries to kill Snow White three times. Once with a killer corset that the queen tied so tight that Snow White couldn’t breath, and the second with a poison comb. Both times the dwarfs came back from their work and managed to save her. But the third time, and this is the way we know it best, Snow White was poisoned by a apple given to her by the queen. Of course, in the Disney version, the handsome prince kisses Snow White to bring her back to life, but, in the original, the prince is actually taking her glass coffin home to his palace, when the piece of apple that killed Snow White is dislodged by accident. Snow White awakens and they live happily ever after. But not before they make the evil queen dance to her death in hot iron slippers at their wedding.
Fairy tales will be around for centuries more to come for many reasons, but mainly because they have the power to touch our imaginations and because they lend themselves so easily to the current society’s own adaptations. The original tales remain and I urge any of you who have an interest in the real versions of your favorite stories, to check them out. You might be surprised at how different they really were from the versions that we are used to today.