Fairy Tales – those short, sweet stories of princes and princesses. Tales of love, romance, terrifying heroics, and always happy endings. Today, the most popular versions are Disney’s sugary sweet derivatives of the Grimm brothers’ classics. These classic stories weren’t always so lovely. Jack Zipes, who is a professor emeritus of German and comparative literature at the University of Minnesota (so he definitely knows what’s what), has sought to rectify the Christian-washing of these classic oral traditions in a new English language translation of the first and most horrifying Grimm Brother’s compilation and the resulting tales are not for the faint of heart.
In an interview with The Guardian, Jack stated that “though the Grimms kept about 100 of the tales from the first edition, they changed them a good deal. So, the versions with which most English-speaking (and German-speaking) readers are familiar are quite different from the tales in the first edition.” Changes made from the first edition included swapping biological mothers for step-mothers (which is incredibly terrifying when you consider that this means it was Snow White’s own mother who ordered the Huntsman to hunt, find, and kill Snow so that she could harvest and eat her heart. Sociopathy apparently knows no bounds – not even in a fairy tale!!), turning teenage pregnancy into lawfully wedded bliss (hey there, Rapunzel), and removing some Lord of the Flies grade/oh-hell-no stories entirely (there literally is a story called “How the Children Played at Slaughtering” and it is about kids playing butcher and one of the kids slices his little brother’s throat, so his mother stabs him in the heart, except for while she is exacting her revenge her third child drowns in the bath, so naturally she hangs herself, and then her husband comes home and dies probably because he was gone for the weekend and came home to find his family deader than the wild boar he brought home with him).
The most obvious reason for the changes were the Grimm bro’s were trying to keep up with the
Kardashians times. When the later editions were being edited and released, many mothers were dying during child birth. Fathers, being incapable of caring for children independently, would marry younger women – some even close to the same age as their oldest daughters. The ensuing turmoil would lay a foundation that stepmothers are still trying to destroy today. The addition of Christian themes and proverbs reflects the shift toward organized Christian religion, an assumption also supported by the removal of some of the more horrifying tales (do I need to remind you of the slaughter family?).
So, okay, quick side bar – is Grimm brothers like the most legendary literary pun of all time? Or is that just me? Some of these stories are actually nightmare inducing, and I refuse to believe that these grim stories were COINCIDENTALLY compiled by the Brothers Grimm. Terrifying or not, according to Jack these stories still have a place as bed time tales. I’m not sure because I definitely think parents want their kids to sleep at night and I don’t really know how much sleeping anyone is going to do with the image of the carnage of Cinderella’s step-sisters cutting chunks off their feet so they could squeeze them into the glass slipper on their mind. Either way, the number one item on my gift wishlist this year is “The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm.”