The Truth About Fairy Tales
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North Shields mum Sarah Hall has come in for some stick after asking her son's school to take Sleeping Beauty off the curriculum, on the basis it ends with a prince sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. The problem is that both Sarah and her don't-tell-the-children-life-is-awful detractors have missed the basic point of fairy stories - they're morality tales used for millennia to tell children what dangers to look out for. As such, reading Sleeping Beauty to youngsters is a GREAT idea, and should be done by every school in the land as part of mandatory age-appropriate consent classes.
Since becoming a mum almost two years ago fairytales have come back onto my radar with vigour, and they're horrifying in all the wrong ways. Blood, guts and horror should always be included. The original compilation of oral fairy stories by the Brothers Grimm are bloodthirsty in the extreme, which is fine for children who are often worryingly keen on capital punishment for even minor offences.
But when a prince on a horse finds a group of seven dwarves in a forest, wailing around a glass coffin containing what they insist is the corpse of their unpaid housekeeper, the morally-sound thing to do is to ask if they've checked her pulse and possibly begin resuscitation. There's no need to be what the frothing old gits of the world call politically-correct - but who these days wants their daughter to grow up to be a housewife?
Who wants their son to snog dead people? That's before we get to the story of Rapunzel, a vain Kardashian-type wench who spent so much time grooming her hair she didn't notice she was being groomed by a lad who claimed to be a prince and impregnated her, much to the annoyance of the evil witch who had locked her in a tower to ensure this type of thing couldn't happen.
There's so many questions any enquiring child should ask of that story. Why didn't Rapunzel get traction alopecia?
The truth behind Grimm's fairy tales
Why, if her hair was strong enough for a prince to climb up, didn't she tie it to the bed leg and lower herself down, then cut it off and make her escape? Why is the mother-figure who'd rather this dim child wasn't systematically abused an evil witch, rather than her guardian? And why, in the name of Pete, didn't the witch just zap the prince rather than go through all the tower rigmarole?
The true purpose of political correctness is to instill basic good manners in people by way of social shame, and there's no reason any sane parent shouldn't point out that Jack is a lazy beggar who should have listened to his mother, and that one should never rely on the appearance of beanstalks to solve your problems.
You might also like to point out that while the giant is turning the castle upside down to kill the little sod it's no different to us hunting down a spider, and the giant might be nicer if Jack didn't nick his stuff. There are some fairytales that need very little tweaking. The story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses is a current favourite in my house, and as a massive Strictly fan my daughter thoroughly approves of young girls dancing to their own strange beat whether the adults like it or not.
I tell her it's called Twelve Dancing Feminists, and try to skip over the bit where a magician commits several stalking offences to follow them to a party, squeals about it to their dad and then gets GIVEN the oldest princess as a reward. Unfortunately the good work of the Brothers Grimm is entirely undone by the joint efforts of Walt Disney and an 18th century French bint called Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve, who wrote Beauty and the Beast in which a man is turned into an animal by his own arrogant rudeness good but must be saved by the love of a good woman oh, for pity's sake.
Numerous fairy tales, and the legends behind them, are actually watered-down versions of uncomfortable historical events. These darker stories might be too terrifying for today's little lambkins, as well as some adults!
Their horrific origins, which often involve rape, incest, torture, cannibalism and other hideous occurrences, are brimming with sophisticated and brutal morality. Their images cannot be dispelled easily and their lessons are more powerful than the present-day, innocuous fables they resemble. In the early 's Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm collected stories that depicted the unpredictable and often unforgiving life experienced by central Europeans. These brothers, determined to preserve the Germanic oral story telling that was vanishing, poured over the folklore of the region.
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Their first collection of stories was based on actual, gruesome events. However, they had to provide lighter interpretations of these factual incidents in order to sell books. Consequently they paid attention to previously printed fairytales, particularly those of Charles Perrault. As early as the 17th century, this Frenchman who is thought to be the father of fairy tales, created some of the most imaginative and delightful stories ever told. His confabulations of a pumpkin carriage and Fairy Godmother in Cinderella, for example, are magnificently enchanting.
His original Cinderella, based on a true story, contains violent elements as well, since the wicked stepsisters butcher their own feet while trying to get into the slipper that the Prince had found. Perrault's tales, albeit charming, were unsentimental; for they were intended for adults, because no children's literature existed at the time.
Let us bust some myths!
Perrault based his fairy tale on two accounts of dark depravity in Brittany, France. The earlier of the two accounts dealt with a savage, 6th century ruler. The second detailed the acts of a nobleman, named Gilles de Rais, who tortured, mutilated, raped and murdered hundreds of innocent children. My book explores the life and crimes of this tragic, historic figure. The almost barbaric episodes that follow are just a smattering of fairy tales, as we know them today, derived from spoken legends which were based on facts. The morals these stories convey are far more important than the events themselves, the circumstances of which are often forgotten.
These cautionary tales, where good conquers evil, the wicked get punished, the righteous live happily ever after, offer hope that one can do something positive about changing oneself and the world.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs The fairy tale is based on the tragic life of Margarete von Waldeck, a 16th century Bavarian noblewoman. Margarete grew up in Bad Wildungen, where her brother used small children to work his copper mine. Severely deformed because of the physical labor mining required, they were despairingly referred to as dwarfs. The poison apple is also rooted in fact; an old man would offer tainted fruits to the workers, and other children he believed stole from him.
Margarete's stepmother, despising her, sent the beauty, to the Brussels court to get rid of her.
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His father, the king of Spain, opposing the romance, dispatched Spanish agents to murder Margarete. Then again, none of the stories with people getting nailed into barrels and thrown down hills or into ponds have really made it into the mainstream. In one of the very earliest versions of this classic story, published in by Giambattista Basile as Sun, Moon, and Talia , the princess does not prick her finger on a spindle, but rather gets a sliver of flax stuck under her fingernail.
She falls down, apparently dead, but her father cannot face the idea of losing her, so he lays her body on a bed in one of his estates.
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Some time after that, still unconscious, she gives birth to two children, and one of them accidentally sucks the splinter out of her finger, so she wakes up. The king who raped her is already married, but he burns his wife alive so he and Talia can be together. If you can believe it, the Brothers Grimm actually made this story a lot nicer than it was when they got their hands on it. Little Red simply strips naked, gets in bed, and then dies, eaten up by the big bad wolf, with no miraculous relief in another version, she eats her own grandmother first, her flesh cooked up and her blood poured into a wine glass by our wolfish friend.
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Instead, Perrault gives us a little rhyming verse reminding us that not all wolves are wild beasts — some seduce with gentleness, sneak into our beds, and get us there. A little man appears to her, and spins it for her, but says that he will take her child in payment unless she can guess his name.