Fairy tales; the loved, the lost, and beginnings.
Fairy Tales are often the first introductions to story telling. They are, for the most part, better know as fables from Disney and for many writers (and readers alike) they become life long companions. Fairy Tales by definition are short stories that involve goblins, fairies, trolls, witches and other folklore fantasy (at least according to the cynics) creatures.
Fairy Tales have always stood apart from other forms of story telling. Up until the 19th and 20th centuries the audience was adults as much as it was children. Come this period, the focus shifted to solely children. Beauty and the Beast, as an example, had its origins in the adult side of the audience. It’s a redacted version that we’ve come to adore since it was first done in 1756.
Hans Christian Andersen began writing Fairy Tales in 1835. Being Danish there was great difficulty capturing his humour and the quality of his story telling in the translations. Stories that are now favourites, (Little Mermaid, Thumbelina, The Tinderbox) were initially met with poor sales. The stories are now, of course, most well known as being part of the Disney franchise and another generation are currently being raised on them.
It pays to note that Andersen’s Fairy Tales weren’t born wholly out of love for all things good. There were references to the unattainable women he’d fallen in love with (The Nightingale was an expression of love for one Jenny Lind, as one example) and the trials of a life without sex. He famously wrote in his journal, “Almighty God…Give me a bride! My blood wants love, as my heart does!”.
Andersen’s The Little Mermaid ends with our beloved Mermaid being offered a knife in order to murder the prince, the very man she fell in love with and watched marry a princess. Instead of killing him, she falls into the arms of sorrow and commits suicide. In the original Andersen tale she turns to foam and dies, but in his altered version, she becomes a Goddess of the air and awaits heaven. Either way, she’s dead. Not everyone finds the person or the thing they want most in life. Perhaps that’s Andersen’s lesson but nonetheless it’s far from the world of Disney and fairy tale endings, so to speak.
The folkloric tales were originally a spoken tradition that sometimes moved into the realm of dramatisation. In order to write them down Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (the Brothers Grimm) had to make large re-workings of the stories.
The Brothers are most famous for their stories that, to coin a phrase, have been ‘Disneyfied’. They are responsible for some of our most beloved fables such as Cinderella, Hansel and Grethel and Rapunzel.
Much like Andersen’s The Little Mermaid there is a sinister side to Cinderella that isn’t acknowledged in the more popular Disney version. Cinderella’s two wicked sisters cut parts of their feet off (a big toe for one and a part of the heel for the other) in order to fit them into the slipper. Our lust driven perfection hunter of a prince is apparently easily deceived as he rides off with both in their turn. He’s stopped only by, what the sisters may consider, overly interested and invested birds that sing of the deception.
The tales of the Grimms (the aptitude of their name never ceases to make me smile) are both twisted and horrific. The beauty of this, despite their flaws with plot, is that they are in someway reflections of real life. It’s easy to turn to Tolstoy or Austen as hallmarks of stories about people and humanity, but the Grimms all too often seem to be forgotten in this. To stick with the Cinderella story, the wicked sisters’ cutting off their parts of their feet is a perfect meditation on actions driven by jealousy.
While Hansel and Grethel is an astounding portrayal of manipulation, trust and love. It also shows the fortitude of the bond and love of siblings. The morals of the Grimm’s tales no longer seem to be what brings them to front of readers minds, and for this reason, we as readers, and the Grimm brothers as writers are missing out.
All fairy tales are just as relevant and important today as they have ever been. One of their beauties, aside from the occasional transgression, is that they’ve remained true to from since they’ve been written down. Treated and altered, yes, but so far their fate hasn’t led them too far down the Marvel Superhero trail. These tales, in someways, have already stood the test of time and as long as publishers exist to continue printing and fans post them on the internet, they’ll continue to be told.