Fairy Tales

I’d like to take a look at how much fairy tales have changed since they were first canonized. When I say fairy tales, I don’t mean fantasy, children’s stories, or anything else that’s out there today. I  want to talk about the evolution of how fairy tales are portrayed.

Everyone knows that traditional fairy tales were used as cautionary children’s tales. Little Red Riding Hood is an obvious example of this. It is a cautionary tale about a child who wandered too far from home, off the forest path. In the original story, the wolf succeeds in delaying the child’s journey. While she is off picking flowers, the wolf goes to her grandmother’s house, eats the old woman, and then waits there and eats the child when she arrives. A huntsman soon comes along and rescues the two by cutting the wolf’s stomach open. Then they throw stones into its stomach and drown it.

Do you remember that part? When I was a child, that kind of image was deemed “graphic.” I remember being told that the wolf was vanquished before he was able to eat anyone.

Even if you remember that ending, I bet you don’t remember this next part…

The next time that Red Riding Hood goes to visit her grandmother, another wolf tries to call her off the path. She doesn’t let him. When she arrives safely at her grandmother’s house, they bar the door. The grandmother had been cooking sausages earlier that day. The child throws the cooking water into the trough. The smell attracts the wolf, who is on the roof waiting for Little Red Riding Hood to exit. When he bends down to take a long whiff of sausages, he slips and drowns in the water. Red Riding Hood went home safely later that day and no one ever bothered her again.

So what could children learn from this frightening tale? To follow their parent’s instructions. To not leave the path. To not talk to strangers. To not dawdle when they have a task to do. To be ever vigilant.

Those are good things to teach children. I was able to deduce that from the story when I was a child, but I never heard about any of this “eating people alive” or “cutting open and drowning wolves” business. My childhood was full of happy endings without all that gore…In short, a Disney childhood. Those stories spoke to me.

I miss that.

Not everyone sees the morals in happy-ending-for-all type children’s stories. These stories are still full of good morals: kindness, caution, bravery, etc. However, unlike the original Brothers Grimm tales, they don’t use terror to drive their message home. Instead, they reflect the joy of childhood back at their readers and watchers. They are full of light and love and good magic. I think that childhood has its own type of magic. Wouldn’t you agree? There is nothing wrong with stories that are full of it.

Sadly, though, I see the golden age of my childhood vanishing from children’s book shelves. Now they are full other messages, like feminism. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not against strong women who can stand on their own two feet and rescue themselves. I just see a little too much focus on that in children’s literature and films, and in the media that surround them.

Does anyone else have thoughts on this? Which do you prefer: the original fairy tales or modern renditions? Where do you think these tales are going now? What is your favorite fairy tale and, if you care to dig a little deeper, why? What does it mean to you?


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