The Gore You Never Asked For: Part 4
The Gore You Never Asked For:
The Scary Shit We Do in Real Life, Part 4: Fairy Tales
L. Marie Wood
Husband kills wife in a fit of rage.
Girl escapes brutal enslavement at the hands of her family.
Recluse accused of cannibalism.
These are not headlines from the news or snatches of stories found on social media. These are the plots of some of the most well-known fairy tales, stories that have been told to children for hundreds of years. They are The Cat Who Married a Mouse, Cinderella, and Hansel and Gretel, respectively, and reading what they are about might have set your teeth on edge just a little. They are startling, straightforward, and downright scary to a number. Not the kind of story you’d read to your child right before bed, right…?
If you are of a certain age—and yes, I count myself among you—you know very well that this is untrue. Because our parents read them to us. Our teachers read them to us in school. Some animator somewhere made TV specials about them in the 1970s. There was a whole live-action series dedicated to reenactments of them in the 1980s. Kind of makes you scratch your head, doesn’t it? The life that fairy tales have taken on over the years, the longevity they seem to possess, definitely has me doing the same. Even as a child, I wondered if my teacher understood that she was reading to us about how children had been abandoned in the woods by their parents, a plan that was hatched by their mother. I remember looking around the room at my classmates and wondering if they were hearing the same thing I was, but I don’t recall seeing understanding dawning on their faces. Mostly boredom lived there in the 15 minutes of story time that occurred after recess, the window of time designated for us to settle back into schoolwork.
Did no one else understand the meaning of the story?
Was the story told to us in warning because, gasp, people actually did this to little kids who disobey?
Was this really just my confusion, my mistake, the result of an over-active imagination?
I sold myself on the latter until I reread the Brothers Grimm fairy tales as an adult. And then…holy cow.
Fairy tales, like nursery rhymes, are used to impart messages, explain reality, and even warn children about the repercussions of certain behaviors (Don’t believe me? Remember Ring Around the Rosie? Plague—some superstitious notion about flowers warding off sickness—or, if you prefer the more morbid consideration, flowers in pockets to perfume the stench of decay. The pyre that awaited as ‘we all fall down!’ See?), but did they have to go that hard? I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t explain all the graphic details of dismemberment and mutilation for the sake of, well anything, really. Imagery has a tendency to burn in one’s mind and children, the most imaginative age group of the human race, often add on to what they hear and see anyway, embellishing the message with faces and places and things that have meaning to them so that it all makes sense. But if you’ve read The Handless Maiden, you know this is exactly what is described. And we won’t even get into why.
Let’s think of some favorites, shall we? The Little Mermaid? Well, it’s not the beautiful story with a happy ending that we’ve come to know. The original princess, who would forsake her position and her kingdom for love, loses in the end and is reduced to sea foam. Little Red Riding Hood? The wolf mauls the grandmother, deceives the child, then eats the child. Rapunzel? Um, the prince falls from the tower and his eyes… his eyes…
And then there’s Bluebeard. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Curiosity killed the cat, my dear.
The Brothers Grimm.
Hans Christian Andersen.
And there are more. So many more. Because every culture passes down oral history in the form of folklore.
Disney was unable to resist the fantasy these stories presented but when they reproduced them, they softened the blow, so to speak. Less death and dismemberment, less blood and broken limbs. More beauty and love, more honesty and everything working out in the end. Okay, okay, I know Mufasa is dead, but think past that. So from the bottom of our hearts, thank you, Disney. Just… thank you. Just maybe leave The Mouse, the Bird, and the Sausage where it is, ok?