When I went to undergrad at Colorado College, I was a writing tutor. I remember one day a girl came in with a literary theory paper about The Cat in the Hat. Her assignment was to pick a critical point of view and analyze The Cat in the Hat from said point of view. She’d picked Freudianism. I will forever think of the fish as the superego and the cat as the id. And I won’t even get into the stuff with the mother’s dress. Forever and ever when I see that book, I’ll be thinking about Freudian psychology. (This is awkward, when my day job is teaching preschool…)
Anyway, my point is that there are just some things that once seen, cannot be unseen.
So, with all this research for “Changeling”*, I am reading a lot about fairies and fairy tales. With that, I am reading a lot of original fairy tales and Grimms’ mildly-edited versions of fairy tales. And let me tell you–they’re a doozy.
So far, here are my top five ridiculous fairy tale moments:
5. In the 1800s Grimms’ version of the Frog Prince, she does not kiss the frog to make it turn into a handsome prince. She gets grossed out and throws it at a wall. It still turns into a prince, and not even one with broken bones or anything.
4. The tale “The Twelve Brothers” bothers me on several levels. Sure, at the end the evil mother-in-law is put into a barrel of boiling oil and poisonous snakes and dies a horrible death, but even before then, something’s off. The plot centers around this princess who has twelve brothers that are supposed to die when the girl is born so she can inherit the kingdom. The method of death isn’t really touched on…the king in the story just decrees that they shall die and make twelve coffins for them. Not an award-winning parenting move. No one questions him, either!
3. The story “The Maiden Without Hands” revolves around a maiden who was accidentally promised to the Devil by her father. The Devil tells the father he has to make her stop bathing, and then later chop off her hands. Apparently, if she has clean hands, the Devil can’t get to her. Was this a message about handwashing?
2. “The Castle of Murder” was left out of the Grimms’ manuscript entirely for being to disturbing, apparently. It’s about a shoemaker’s daughter who’s being courted by a very nice young man with a nice castle in which he kills his dates and has his creepy old servant scrape out their intestines. This cautionary tale is possibly relevant for when your children learn about online dating.
1. Another one of the fairy tales that the Grimms cut entirely because there was no way they could sanitize it is called “How the Children Played at Slaughter.” It’s about kids who watched their farmer parents butchering meat and then decided it’d be a really good idea for one to cut the other’s throat with a knife. Then the mother got so angry that she stabbed the one who’d killed the other, and then hanged herself. And their dad died, too, out of misery that his whole family had murdered each other randomly. I’m not entirely sure what the moral is, aside from “don’t be an idiot and die.”
I highly recommend picking up a book of fairy tales: Hans Christian Andersen, Grimms’, Italo Calvino’s Italian tales, or the Andrew Lang collections (Green Fairy Book, etc.). It’s an entertaining and disturbing experience.
*My goodness, I need a better title. I mean, not only is it a one word title that’s also a major motion picture (as Freedomland is), but it gives away a major piece of the story. Now, there are some works that give away the ENTIRE story in the title, e.g. Snakes on a Plane or Pride and Prejudice and Zombies…so “Changeling” isn’t quite THAT obvious, but still. I need something better.