In my senior year at Temple, I took a Child Literature and Folklore class. It was a very interesting class. All we did was read children’s stories and talk about them. Some of the fairy tails we read were so much different, and with good purpose, than that of the Disney classics we grew up with. The original stories were recorded onto print by Charles Perrault and the Grimm brothers. However, the tales go way back long before that.
Born in France over 350 years ago, Charles Perrault published several tales under the title, Histoires ou contes du temps passé, avec des moralités: Contes de ma mère l’Oye (Stories or Tales from Times Past, with Morals: Tales of Mother Goose ). Of course they were not his own, he merely recorded them onto print from oral storytelling much like the Brothers Grimm. The tales were popular all over Europe so there wasn’t much surprise that the people instantly fell in love with it. The tales included Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Blue Beard, Puss in Boots, Ricky of the Tuft, Little Thumb, and The Fairies.
The Brothers Grimm
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were actually story tellers.They were also academics, cultural researchers, and linguists. They collected European folk tales, Danish, Irish, and German folklore which were orally handed down for generations. These folktales were ultimately put in a collected series named Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales). Because these were folk tales, they tried to keep the details as much accurate as they possibly could. Their only mistake was to put these under Children’s and Household Tales for which they were much criticized for.
Disney: Cinderella is the beloved child of a widowed merchant. Because he feels that his daughter is in need of a mother, he remarries a widowed woman, Lady Tremaine, with two daughters of her own, Anastasia and Drizella. But Cinderella’s step family turns out to be cruel and forces her into serving the family with countless chores such as sewing, washing, cooking, and feeding the family. Long story short, she meets the prince with the help of her animal friends and fairy godmother, the prince likes her, finds her despite Lady Tremaine’s ploys, and marries her giving rise to the thought that good things can happen if your work hard and fight for what you want.
Original: Apparently, there are said to be 345-1500 versions of Cinderella all over the world, including France (Cendrellion), Egypt (Rhodopis), China (Yeh Shen), Germany (Aschenputtel), Italy (Zezolla), Russia (Vasilisa), Native American [The Hidden One], and West Africa (Chinye).There are many other versions in may other countries. The difference in stories between Perrault and Grimm are some of the details and the morals, which are complete opposites of each other. Like in the Grimm version, when the prince comes to Cinderella’s home with the glass slipper, the step sisters try to fool him into thinking that the glass slipper fits their toe. One cuts off her toe while the other cuts off her heel. Pretty gruesome, right? 😨 And that’s not the end of it. During the wedding, pigeons peck out the stepsisters’ eyes making them blind forever. Thankfully, Perrault’s version is not as gruesome and the moral of the story seems to be along the lines of the Disney version. In fact, I should note that Walt Disney based Cinderella off of Perrault’s version of the tale.
Disney: Snow White lived with her evil stepmother, the Queen. One day she meets a prince, who hears her singing and sings with her. Everyday the queen asks her magic mirror, “Magic Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?” and the mirror always replies, “My queen, you are the fairest one of all”. But one day the mirror replies that Snow White is more beautiful than her. Furious, the queen orders a huntsman to kill Snow White. However, the huntsman does not have the heart to kill the innocent child and begs her to run away as far as she can from the queen. [In another twist of the fairy tail, the movie Snow White and the Huntsman portrays the huntsman as her protector and mentor, and the one who helps her to defeat the queen.] So she runs away deep into the forest where she comes upon a cottage that belongs to seven dwarves, who find her sleeping on their beds when they return home after a long day’s of work. The dwarves, wanting to protect Snow White, lets her stay with them. They would go out to work at dawn while she stayed at home to take care of the house. Eventually, the queen quickly found out about Snow White when the magic mirror replied that Snow White is still the fairest in all the land. Disguised as an old Peddler woman, the queen offered a red apple to Snow White, one that was so beautiful that Snow White could not refuse it. By taking just one bite, she fell into a deep sleep. The dwarves chased the queen to the mountain where she most likely fell to her death when lightening struck it. The dwarves placed the sleeping Snow White in a glass coffin and hoped that she would wake up one day. Finally Prince Charming, who has been looking for her all this time, shows up and wakes her up with a kiss.
Original: The best known version is Snow White and Rose Red collected by the Grimm brothers. The tale talks about two sisters who befriend a freezing bear and helps and takes care of him. In the summer, the bear leaves to guard his treasure from a wicked dwarf. The girls meet and save the dwarf throughout the story but each time he remains ungrateful. The bear ultimately kills the dwarf and turns into a prince. Snow White marries the prince and Rose Red marries his brother. There are many other various forms of Snow White around the world such as The Beautiful Daughter (West Africa), Cymbeline (play by Shakespeare), Fatimé (Albania), The Favored Daughter (Gabon), The Innkeeper (Portugal), Padmavat (Indian epic poem), Hajir (Iraq), Pormegranite Seed (Arab folktale), and many more.
Little Red Riding Hood
Little Red Riding Hood is actually very interesting.The story line goes like this: A little girl, carrying a basket with gifts, goes to visit her sick grandmother. The wolf asks her where she is going and she tells him that she’s going to see her grandmother. The wolf decides to get there first, eats the grandmother, wears her cloths and accessories, and pretends to be her when little red knocks on the door. Upon entering, Little Red is surprised by how different her grandmother looks. And then, the wolf eats her up. In Charles Perrault’s version, the story ends here and the moral of the story is “do not talk to strangers”. But in other versions, the story continues with the wolf dozing off to sleep. A woodcutter/hunter comes and opens him up with his ax to free Little Red and her grandmother.Then they later place stones in his stomach and sews him back up. Upon waking up, the wolf tries to flee; but ultimately dies because of the weight of the stones.
There is said to be 58 versions of this story, some dating way before the Brothers Grimm version. In class, I probably read about 7 or 8 different versions of it, including that of which belongs to the Grimm brothers. Some were close to the Disney version and some not so, like The Chinese Red Riding Hoods by Isabelle Chang, which consisted of three sisters who were all portrayed as red riding hoods. This version is interesting because the Little Red Riding Hood we know is just innocent. In this version, we get to see another side of her. Along with being innocent, these red riding hoods are also smart and brave. Another version, The Company of Wolves by Angela Carter, portrays Little Red Riding Hood (a pre-teenager) as not so innocent, as she grows to have desire and lust for the wolf.
Hansel and Gretel
Disney: Based on the Disney Film, Hansel and Gretel are the children of a poor toy maker and his wicked new wife. She despised the children so she hatched a plan to take them into the wood and abandon them there. Knowing of their stepmother’s ploy, the children had gathered small pebbles beforehand and dropped them along as they went into the forest. Upset upon their return, the stepmother took them deeper into the forest and this time she gave them a toy duck that their father had made. This part is kind of confusing because I thought they had breadcrumbs with them instead of pebbles but I might be mixing two different stories together. Anyhow, moving on, much to their dismay, this time the two children could not get home because somehow the toy duck ate up all the pebbles. Eventually they came across a house made of candy and cake where a witch lived. The witch welcomed the children in and fed them all sorts of confectionary. The children realized that all this is a trap and the witch wants to eat them instead. The children fight for their life and somehow while doing a flying kick, the witch flies straight into the oven and the children hurry to lock it up. The whole house melts down along with the witch. The toy duck turns into a swan and carries them home where they are reunited with their father. And their evil stepmother has been kicked out of the house.
Original: The best known version of the story was published by the Brothers Grimm as Hänsel und Gretel in their Children’s and Household Tales (1812). Based on the 1812 version of the tale, both parents had agreed to send the children to the woods. However, in the 1857 version, the cruel stepmother is the one who comes up with the plan to abandon them. The latter version is what was later adopted as the best known plot today. There’s a whole history behind the story of Hänsel and Gretel, but that is a story for another post.
There are similar tales from other cultures such as Kadar and Cannibals (Southern India), The Story of the Bird that Made Milk (South Africa), Baba Yoga (Russia), and The Oni and the Three Children (Japan). Some other variants I have come across recently includes a movie, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2012), where after defeating the witch that wanted to eat them, Hansel and Gretel have grown up to become witch hunters and seeks witches out to vanquish them. I would love to watch this if only I wasn’t afraid of horror movies😓. I also came across a book a few years back, The True Story of Hansel and Gretel, which I had started but did not get to finish 😢. This is a Holocaust story. In this version, both father and stepmother are good but in order to protect their children, they are forced to send them away deep into the forest. Because their names will reveal their Jewishness, they are renamed Hansel and Gretel. Magda, and eccentric woman called “witch” by the villagers, takes them in and intends to protect them from Nazi officials. It certainly is fascinating. For some reason, I’m drawn to Holocaust stories, and this one written by Louise Murphy, combines a well known fairy tale and a piece of war literature into an amazing and powerful story.
McIntyre, R. (2015, April 7). The history behind disney princesses. Retrieved from http://the-artifice.com/history-behind-disney-princesses/
Newer, R. (2013, November 15). There are 58 Versions of little red riding hood, some 1,000 years older than the brothers grimm’s . Retrieved from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/there-are-58-versions-of-little-red-riding-hood-some-1000-years-older-than-the-brothers-grimms-180947704/
Pook Press. (2016). The history and origins of hansel and gretel . Retrieved from http://www.pookpress.co.uk/project/hansel-and-gretel-history/
The Language Journal. (2012, May 24). Two linguist Brothers: Jacob and wilhelm grimm and their fairy tales. Retrieved from http://www.thelanguagejournal.com/2012/05/two-linguist-brothers-jacob-and-wilhelm.html