Have you ever read the original Cinderella? Snow White? Or the Snow Queen for that matter? Not as dreamy or romantic as you may think! Sleeping Beauty picking fleas medieval style out of the Prince’s hair like a monkey. The wicked step mother wishes to eat Snow White’s liver. Fairy tales are associated with love, happiness and dreams come true. Yet they must have the elements of nightmare to contrast and thereby maximise the effect of the happy ending. These classics of our youths were often inspired by something fearful or threatening. It is fair to say that behind all fairy stories we can see a dark, sinister undercurrent. One that we may not want our children to experience. Violence, abuse, abandonment,neglect- and that is just Little Red Riding Hood.
I had all the little Ladybird books and still do. My education and love of literature began right here.
Mine were circa 1984. The exact ones in the image. My sister was born in ’92. When my mother and I were reading the old fairy stories the violence and nightmare inducing horror suddenly came crashing down! Maybe the eighties suited the Grimms’ grimness more? We got her a few newer copies. The stories were different however. Red Riding Hood’s Granny safely hides in a wardrobe until the coast is clear. No Nana for tea anymore. The Seven Little Kids are never swallowed by the Wolf at all. In fact the Wolf or the Ogre or whatever monster in each story seemed to have lost most of their evil ways. My sister, now 24, talked to me about this recently and recounted her shivering horror when she raided my childhood library. Her cosseted versions left her in no state to deal with my originals!
Alongside the introduction of channels such as the Cartoon Network and 24 hr animated entertainment, someone in an office somewhere must have decided the next reprint needed a revamp. Fairytale land got a sheriff in and he/she cleaned up Ladybird town big style.
Original fairy tales…prepare yourself! Click here for a surprise…Where our childhood stories started.
When I told my friends that I was pregnant again, I received huge congratulations. One friend had just had a second baby and had the two under two thing going on also. She did give me a gentle warning. She elusively commented that ‘things are a bit hairy for the first few months, then it settles down’. A few months later, after baby was born, I joined a night out and a few glasses of wine made her more brutally honest in attitude and words. She was a little wild eyed as she declared,’ if you think things are busy now, wait until you go back to work. You won’t believe it. Myself and xxx are almost divorced!’.
Her words were uttered in quite a desperate tone, underlined with frustrated tension. So she had a told me a fairytale before. To keep me happy. A kindly white lie. One we tell ourselves all the time. So we get out of bed in the morning. So we face the day. We placate ourselves, saying the baby will be fine today. It was only wind yesterday that made her cry. Or when the weather improves and we can leave the house all will be well. Or my most uttered, ‘Sure it’s only teeth…’.Yes, the wolf had teeth too. All the better to eat you with…remember? These fairytales must be sued for false advertisement! Or should they? If I look further however, I can see they weren’t tricking me. The warning sign was in each and every one, hidden there behind a glitzy smokecreen of balls and princes, white horses and golden carriages. There was a nasty witch in Snow White. A whale swallowed Pinocchio. Who can forget the scene the youngest kid goat returns to, believing his six older brothers and sisters were attacked and eaten? A scene of violence and tragedy. Genocide.
The gingerbread man was devoured.
This ingesting phenomemon wasn’t limited to bread boys and wooden children. A nasty lady was planning to EAT Hansel and Gretel. Children! Eaten! Children whose kindly father abandoned them and stepmother hated them. Cinderella lived in the dirt with mice. The little mermaid walked on knives, bleeding in agony. The little match girl froze to death.
No matter how much these stories were modified, these elements are what I remember. The story of how the tinman became a tinman in Baum’s original writing is just awful. It can be likened to the trauma suffered by Maximus Aurelius in Gladiator. Learn about the tinman’s pain here if you have time… and a lack of sensitivity!
I believe ‘Fairy Tales’ should be renamed. I will use my friend’s expression to describe stressful, painful yet beautiful times, the elusive ‘hairy’. I will call them Hairy Tales! Yes, some of them are just plain hirsute.
Disney has brought many loved fairytales to screen. As a teacher, I am lucky enough to have a creative writing class with a Transition Year group. We modernise a fairy tale as one of our tasks. I have found that they are becoming increasingly more stymied when choosing which to modify and the reason is they don’t know them! Only for Disney, they wouldn’t be aware of many of the story lines at all. I know The Gruffalos and How to Train Your Dragons of this world are part of the reason. These are great tales too! I just wonder. Are parents avoiding these stories as they can remember shivering in the dark after lights out, hoping the evil Step Mother had not poisoned their night time snack?
I have been a Disney fanatic from childhood. However I found myself becoming a little ‘odd’ about Frozen, maybe believing it wouldn’t give the magic of the Little Mermaid or The Sword and the Stone as I am an adult now (physically anyway!). I watched the smallest child sway to Let It Go and wondered at its power. I finally watched it. Boy, the issues are tough. Not as tough as the origins, but tough! Frozen…The origins. I am not sure if I would really like Gigi and Betsy getting too deeply into it.
Early Disney produced some truly scary films! I know at least five of these videos (eighties!) had to be ‘put in the freezer’ in my home as it were after I had sobbed my way through. Dumbo? Couldn’t deal with the tearful trunk entwining scene as he is separated from his Mammy. Pinocchio? Terrifying. Drunken, evil fairground. Bambi? Once he grows up, I am done. The Fox and the Hound? They would never remain friends. Snow White?? The most terrifying evil character of all time! The image of that tranformed witch was a page in the book I couldn’t turn to without trembling. Gentler animation such as Robin Hood or The Aristocats would become my favourites and I still had evil butlers and snakes to deal with!
The nineties? Glorious soundtracks. More adorable animals that talk. Any dense, dark themes? Dead parents. The Lion King, Finding Nemo, Bambi, Cinderella…list goes on. Attempted murders. The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Disney opens with the near drowning of a baby in a well. Horrific.
My father always says that Victor Hugo story was a tragedy and never meant for children. He was right. Frozen? Tragedy. Loss. The destruction of young sisterly joy. Beautiful films. I love them all. I had no issues watching them (except my frozen status on Frozen! ). Do I want my daughters to watch them all? I really don’t know. Aladdin maybe! The Lady and the Tramp? Possibly. Alice in Wonderland? No, probably not. Remember The Walrus and the Carpenter or The tale of the curious Oysters? That did not end well.
Real life modern Hairy Tales exist too. I was inspired to write this part because of a chance encounter. The other day myself and Betsy were in a cafe after an appointment with the doc. She was having a bottle and I, a coffee. We struck up conversations with the near by tables, as happens here in small towns. Another Mum and baby. A lady on her own. A gent on his. The man was past middle aged and clearly a regular. He was obviously there to talk and the paper just disguised loneliness. A nice old man. When he got warmed though up her managed to relate quite a few Hairy Tales. It is part of our culture and I quite enjoyed the chat. Like storytime in school!
He told of a woman he had known with 18 children who lost her husband to cancer. She raised a lovely family. The elder daughter married and went on to have six children of her own. Tragedy struck as she died suddenly when the youngest was three months old. The husband was a builder and a hard worker but unable to cope. Care homes were put on the cards. The grandmother said she had raised 18 of her own. She would take the six and do it again. The children are now adults and seemingly a credit to her. A tragedy with a beautiful ending. A real life Hairy Tale.
He spoke of an argument with his sister. He had shared money with her from a win. He expected that when he moved nearer to her they would meet up for tea, go to matches and generally keep company. He had been gravely mistaken. Days were often spent alone. She barely spoke to him. He had come to terms with it, he said. He clearly hadn’t and was saddened by his solitude. I wonder if he will be there for her when she inevitably needs him again? Or like the little red hen, will he ignore the other person’s need once rejected, in retribution for being ignored, like she did at the end?
Finally he spoke of his depression. Electroconvulsive therapy. How lucky he was to be here. He lived each day as it came. A very religious man, he often makes pilgrimages to Lourdes. Maybe his tales were tall. Maybe they were not word by word truth. Either way they originated from life. Nothing ‘fairy’ about then at all. Definitely more ‘hairy’. A hint of fable with added morals too.
Have you imagined yourself curling up with your child introducing them to your favourite book? Watching your beloved animated characters on screen? I have. The magic of The Elves and the Shoemaker. The fun of The Jungle Book. I then recall how terrifying a coiling python is. How scary the shoemaker’s plight would be if he didn’t finish his work. Do I want them to be afraid? My friend’ s seven year old boy was crying in his sleep one night. He told her it was because he didn’t want her to ever be locked up. Bewildered, she said that wouldn’t happen. He replied by asking, ‘What if you go mad like Dumbo’s Mammy? Like when you shouted at the man in the other car when we went home from school?’. She was so shocked. Her cherished Disney memory became her son’s nightmare!
My friend surely thinks having babies is no fairytale. I can argue that it fully is. Moments of true beauty spotted with occasional fear and horror. Happy endings all round. Real little princes and princesses.
I can’t protect them always. For now I will see what happens. We will read. We will share stories. I might risk the girls having a false impression of Prince Charming. I might have to test whether morals can be learned. We might just see why the Princess who danced all night and dip our toes tentatively in the mineridden grassy fields that are Hairy Tales!