Fairy tales are not so ideal.

A few weeks ago I picked up a copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales as I don’t really know how all the stories I grew up started out. I plunged into what I hoped would be an interesting experience and came out with a few realisations: fairy tales are not really as glamorous as they’re portrayed in modern adaptations; they do not always have happy endings; and the main characters aren’t always as heroic as they’re made to appear.

I know one shouldn’t really pick at fairy tales, but I was disappointed… in what, I’m not sure though. Maybe I was disappointed because the Disney version of Snow White did not show that the Queen attempted to kill her stepdaughter three times instead of just one? Maybe I felt bad for Rumpelstiltskin because he wasn’t a bad guy, just someone who wanted his end of the bargain fulfilled?

One story titled “The Death of the Little Hen” ends as such:

Then the little cock was left alone with the dead hen, and dug a grave for her and laid her in it, and made a mound above it, on which he sat down and fretted until he died too, and then everyone was dead.

How depressing is that? While there are many stories that end with “and they lived happily until the end of their days”, the events leading to such a happy ending are brutal and sad. In one story, a stepmother decapitated her husband’s son and feeds his flesh to the oblivious father (ew). In a story titled Faithful John, the King has to decapitate his two kids in order to break a curse that befell his faithful servant, John… which is touching in a way, but still! Those poor innocent kids. =[

Yet some people wish to live their life like a fairy tale, possibly thinking it’s all sunshine and rainbows. Truth be told, “fairy tale” does give off a false impression, and one is deluded into thinking that it means happiness and sparkles and fairy dust, whereas it’s all about deceit and murder and trickery. People in general are selfish in fairy tales, and women are completely spineless. Everyone is superficial, and marriage is based upon appearances. You can almost always be sure that the pretty princess will meet a handsome prince and they’ll fall in love and get married on the same day.

Did you know that Snow White is actually a child in Grimm’s Fairy Tales? She can’t have been more than seven or eight. In fact, the story is called “Little Snow White”. Her marriage to the Prince is wrong on so many levels!

Am I looking too much into this? Maybe. Should these things be ignored because these are fairy tales meant for kids? No. Grimm’s Fairy Tales are not kiddy stories. They’re quite dark and you’d do best to keep your kids far away from them and give them the watered down Disney versions instead. Twice the amount of fun and considerably less depressing.

I guess one lesson that can be learned from fairy tales is that you will possibly attain happiness after all your hardships, but even then that’s not set in stone. The path to a happily ever after is riddled with obstacles. I guess people who opt for a fairy tale ending do know what they’re talking about though.

What idea do you have about fairy tales? Did you know they were dark all along? Do you have any favourites? =]


57 thoughts on “Fairy tales are not so ideal.

  1. Yes, Zen, I’ve known about Grimm’s fairy tales since about 1980. They are tough because they reflect the tough realities of Medieval life. The more recent fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen, such as Thumbelina, are lighter in outlook, much more positive, and great reading for kids. Plus Hollywood movies are mostly fairy tales, because they feature protags overcoming impossible odds to achieve their dreams (when in real life most people don’t overcome even moderate odds, and having a dream and working hard doesn’t guarantee a single thing).

    • You make a fair point. There is a vast contrast between Grimm’s fairy tales and Andersen’s fairy tales (I love Thumbelina, by the way). And there are many unrealistic Hollywood movies, but I guess they give hope to people? If everyone believed that their dreams wouldn’t come true, then nobody would get anywhere!

  2. ‘The Seven Basic Plots’ by Christopher Booker analyses in detail the structure of fairy tales, why some people get bad endings and some happy endings, why stories are written this way, and what we can learn from them. Highly recommended 🙂

    Personally I like it when a story isn’t 100% happy, because that’s life. Life is strange. It’s full of imperfections. There are no straight lines from this place to that one – you always find yourself on a detour. Even the happiest of endings got there by way of some unhappiness. Sometimes the happy ending doesn’t arrive at all. Sometimes it looks different from what you thought it would, and sometimes you might not recognise it because you were looking for something else.

    • I will look into it, thank you! =D
      And I’m like you. I don’t like my stories to be 100% happy because then it doesn’t feel realistic. I was just taken aback because I thought fairy tales were supposed to be these cheerful, happy tales, but boy was I proved wrong.

  3. I love fairy tales! And the new version of snow white and the huntsman is my favorite.
    I must admit that like many little girls, I was looking forward to a fairy tales love. When reality hit, I was disappointed.
    Now, about dark version…there is a snow white poem by Anee Sexton. I thought that was dark. In fact, I was going to post about it this week.
    In other words, even though Disney fairy tales are unrealistic to the point of ridiculous, I still love them just as much as the darker versions (but not all). I guess, I unconsciously prepare myself to enjoy each and every one for what they are…heehee 😀

    • I’m hesitant to watch Snow White and the Huntsman because of Kristen Stewart – I really do not like that actress.
      That’s the bad thing about fairy tales; they set up little girls for disappointment, which is sad. =[ I’ve read dark versions of Snow White before, and there’s one in Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors short story anthology. It’s really disturbing.
      And I love the Disney fairy tales! My absolute favourites are the Little Mermaid and Tangled, which are immensely different from the original stories, haha.

      • Patricia Awapara says:

        I thought the movie was good and entertaining. I like the fact that in this movie snow white is portrayed as a strong woman instead of fragile like usual…heehee
        Another thing I love about it is the special effects. They are awesome!!!

  4. Great post. I realized long ago that fairy tales often held quiet dark secrets at their cores. Like the mermaid who’s every step on land felt as if she were walking on knives. Revealing the inner pain of not being true to oneself. Or the father who abandoned his children in the woods for the sake of his new wife…. They may be old tales but I’d say the themes are just as apt for the modern world. Or at least they would have been if Disney hadn’t sugar coated them all.

    • Thank you! I had no idea. Thanks to Disney’s sugar coated versions, I always thought fairy tales were happy, and it was discomfiting to realise just how dark and brutal the world can be.

  5. This is why I like the series Grimm. It’s more true to the place fairy tales came from than Disney. And if you want the women to have spines check out some of the modern rewordings of fairy tales by writers like Jane Yolen and Jim Hines.

    • I just looked those two up. Briar Rose by Jane Yolen sounds really great and I will have to check it out! Are there any particular titles you recommend?

      • lisaspiral says:

        Briar Rose is really interesting and well done. The Hines books work like a series. You might know Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine she has other reworkings as well.

  6. Raising a rough and tumble boy, we read quite a few full Grimm versions – much to his delight and ewws. But he grew up a softie and loved Drew Barrymore in Ever More (Cinderella). As a child, I knew Perrault’s story of Red Riding Hood and loved it even though both Grandma and Red were eaten before the woodcutter saved them and the wolf’s “stones-in-belly” demise. Love Hansel and Gretel, and the music for the opera always makes me happy and nostalgic for my childhood. But I am a big Disney fan, too!

    • I loved Ever More too! It’s such a great movie. =D The Red Riding Hood version I got as a kid was one which involved putting the grandmother in the cupboard and the woodcutter saving Little Red before any harm comes to them. I was so sheltered, haha. Did you know, they’re filming a new Hansel and Gretel movie with a modern twist. Looks pretty interesting!

  7. It’s the darkness of the tales that I like – Disney versions are for modern kids, but the original tales were being rwead by a different audience. The very meaning of the word “fairy” as something cute and girlie is a modern Victorian idea. They used to be far less nice!

    • Oh the darkness is definitely interesting, I didn’t dislike it, I was just surprised. Though honestly I do like the happy Disney versions too, haha.

  8. My parents bought me a copy of the Complete Grimm’s Fairytales when I was about 8. I had seen a lot of the classic Disney princess films by then, and liked them, but even at a young age I preferred the original, darker fairytales. They were stories meant to teach harsh, terrifying lessons about going in the woods, disobeying your parents, etc., so that little children didn’t dare do such things. Death was not such a taboo subject then, either. When someone in your family died, you didn’t just call an expert up to take care of it for you. You and your family did the death-care yourself. It was just the reality of the times.

    The way that society is now, it’s easy to see why these stories seem so upsetting because we tend to be a lot more sensitive to death and violence than people were even a hundred years ago. But I’m a pretty dark character, so I quite enjoy the dark original stories, and quite like the new twisted ones being published now.

    • Maybe you were okay with dark stories, but I know that I would’ve probably had nightmares if someone read them to me before bed, haha. These days, however, I do like to read dark stories more than happy ones.

      I don’t think it’s anything to do with modern society, though. Children in general like to be sent off to sleep with something happy, otherwise they have a troubled sleep.

  9. I’ve got a copy of Grimm’s fairytales too, I was surprised how so many of them were totally different from the stories I knew; with completely different plots, the only similarities seeming to be names! I would like to think that I’d read my daughter them when she’s older, so that she can see the ‘originals’ and know that everything isn’t sugar sweet as disney (delightful though it is) can make you think!

    • I know right? It’s incredible how much they’re different from one another. Reading them to your daughter is a great idea, though make sure she isn’t one to be scared by such things! Don’t want her having nightmares!

  10. Oh my god! How awful is the ending of The Little Red Hen. My MiL is constantly referring to this story when she is cleaning the house or making dinner. We read fairy stories as children and they are terrifying and sad.

    Warning – never read The Happy Prince! It’ anything BUT happy. It’s the story of a statue of the dead prince covered in gold and jewels and when the people of the town begin to starve a little bird is sitting on the statue and the statue tells the bird to take all the jewels and gold and give them to the people so they can buy food. Eventually the prince tells the bird to pluck the stones from his eyes and then the prince can no longer see the starvation. After the prince has been stripped of everything the bird is so tired he drops dead at the feet of the statue – it’s SO SAD!!!
    I love this post!

  11. Hermine who commented above is right: the old fairy tales reflected the harsh realities of life in the Medieval times. Yet, the modern remakes don’t illustrate modern life at all. We need some remakes that involve financial insecurity and environmental degradation, or at least something to balance out the typical happily ever after for everyone. I believe it’s possible to be both heroic and realistic at the same time.

  12. How funny that you posted this today! I have a post scheduled on Disney Princesses for tomorrow 😉
    I did know that they were based on much more gruesome versions, although I haven’t read all of the Grimm Brother’s tales, they’re on my list!

    • I will make sure to check out your post! Some Disney princesses are awesome. =D
      I think Grimm’s Fairy Tales should be on everyone’s list. It’s important to know where all the stories originated from.

      • Andrea Kelly says:

        I agree! I remember reading a couple as a child and thinking they were terrifying, but I’m sure I would get SO much more out of them now 🙂

  13. I’ve been wanting to check out the Grimm tales for a while now. Always inspires something absolutely rotten that I can use for my own writing. I was planning on blogging on it too.
    But yes, it was crazy how they started. Most people don’t even know that Walt Disney didn’t start fairy tales and that their origins were less that sparkly happy.
    It shows how people thought in that time period. Women were helpless, men were heroes, and ‘moral’ was just another word for corrupt. Very, very strange.
    Thanks for the reminder!

    • While I knew that the original fairy tales weren’t all happy, I had no idea they could be so horrid. The experience was enlightening to say the least!
      And yep. Every woman is a damsel in distress waiting for someone to rescue her, and heroes could be burglars for all they cared about.
      Thank you for the comment!

  14. Okay…. Where to start on this one….? Actually, I have so much to say, I think I need to write a blog post about it. Would you mind if I write a response to this? Because there are some very basic misconceptions or misunderstandings in here and a lot of confusion and since I chose “fairy tales” (I’ll explain the quotation marks in my own post) as a topic in my final examination for university, I think this topic is worthwhile enough to get it right.

  15. Yes Grimm really does mean grim. And we used to have a copy but I never read them to a child. Although I think children actually cope better with that sort of stuff than adults. They’re not entirely civilised, have a very definite idea of right and wrong and what should happen to people if they do wrong things. They also quite like having their toes curled.
    Punishment is OK with kids, even horrible punishment, if they think it is fair.
    So maybe it’s just us adults who think it should all be sunshine and roses in stories. Just look at modern children’s fiction. It delivers some fairly horrible endings for the baddies.

    • You know, that’s an interesting way of thinking about it. It didn’t occur to me to consider this from the point of view of children. You’re right in saying that children usually don’t care much how the baddie dies as long as they get what they deserve .
      I don’t mind if a story is not all sunshine and roses actually, but for some reason I was always under the impression that fairy tales, or folk tales as wordsurfer put it, were like that!
      Thank you for your comment! =]

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