Who would have thought that the innocent and charming fairy tales that you read to your children actually have older versions with far more sinister meanings.
I recently read a couple of fairy stories to my two daughters, both were older editions of the usual gentle and innocuous versions that I’m used to. I certainly wasn’t prepared for some of the graphic content! This made me investigate a few other gruesome fairy tales with some horrific content involving rape and murder! Not so much fairy tales, but horror stories!
- Red Riding Hood
Newer versions of this tale mostly see the wolf being caught before he has a chance to eat either the grandmother or Red Riding Hood. So I was a little stunned when, in the older version I was reading to my daughters, the wolf first gobbled up Grandmother and then RRH without a pause for breath. Luckily my daughters didn’t seem too bothered by this and so I carried on reading only to be greeted with the savage picture shown below of the woodcutter swinging his axe to cut open the wolf and pull out his eaten relatives.
Whilst relieved that there were no images of a bloody RRH or a half-eaten Grandmother, I was still a bit shocked to be reading such a graphic version. My daughters however seemed to take it all in their stride asking various straight forward questions like “How did they get out?” “Did he actually cut the wolf?” Leaving me to navigate some careful answers.
It seems that the original version by Charles Perrault in 1697 was even less sympathetic with no happy ending. The wolf represents a sexual predator and in those days when a girl who lost her virginity was said to have “seen the wolf”, Perrault gives an explicit moral ending to the tale.
Last summer, my eldest daughter received a pretty looking Rapunzel story for her 4th birthday which tells the story we all know about Rapunzel being whisked off to a high tower by an evil witch. A prince eventually finds her and woos Rapunzel. In this version of the book, the witch discovers what has been going on, pushes the prince from the window of the tower where he falls into a thorn bush and is blinded. It all ends happily when the prince and Rapunzel are reunited and her tears cure his blindness. Phew! That’s all right then.
Again, a slightly more frightening version than the more innocuous Disney film and usual book versions that I’m used to, but again both kids didn’t seem bothered in the slightest.
It seems the original written in 1698 is fairly close to the version that I read but the only difference is that she becomes pregnant whilst in the tower and even innocently remarks to her captor that her clothes are becoming too tight.
- Sleeping Beauty
I think this original tale has to take the biscuit for most gruesome. Rather than pricking her finger on a spinning wheel, the princess gets a splinter under her finger nail and falls asleep. A prince finds the sleeping princess and when he can’t wake her up, rapes her whilst still unconscious. She then goes onto give birth to two children whilst unconscious and one of the babies sucks her finger breaking the curse. The princess wakes up and wants to be with the prince but as he is already married he burns his wife alive so that they can be together. Not before the wife tries to first kill and eat the babies.
What can you say to this?! Can you imagine even attempting to read this version to your kids? It’s so gruesome it makes me wince!
Practically all versions follow the same story of the prince trying to find his true love by asking women to try on a shoe. The original story by Brothers Grimm in 1812 is a bit more horrific which sees the stepsisters cutting off part of their feet to try and get the glass slipper to fit. And whilst Cinderella gets to marry her prince and live in luxury, the step sisters have their eyes pecked out by a couple of doves and spend the rest of their lives as blind beggars.
- Snow White
In the original Brothers Grimm version of Snow White in 1812 the wicked queen was actually Snow White’s real mother. The queen sends out the huntsman to bring back Snow White’s liver and lungs for her to eat. Snow White actually dies rather than falls into a sleep and is only woken by accident when the apple is dislodged by the prince’s servant. The queen attends the wedding but is forced to wear iron shoes that have been cooking in the fire and then dances until she falls down dead.
Through The Years
It’s fascinating that for hundreds of years we continue to read these fairy tales to our children, they form part of our heritage and our culture. And yet it’s bizarre that they could have started out so gruesome and with such sinister meaning. Could they really have been read to children all those years ago or were they merely for the entertainment of adults?
The fact that my children didn’t even flinch on the more explicit story and image of Red Riding Hood makes me wonder if we nowadays go too far the other way covering up certain gruesome facts from kids. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no way I would ever consider reading them the original version of Sleeping Beauty, but have we watered things down too much? Kids are inquisitive and are not stupid. As we as a family have witnessed only too well last year, they understand pain, death and cruelty much more than we give them credit for.
It’s only natural as a parent and carer to want to shield our children from harm. But they are far more resilient than we think.
Having said that, I’ll still be checking any old versions of fairy tales before I read them out loud, if only to prepare myself and prevent my gasps of horror whilst reading!