Not so hap­pily ever af­ter

Slaugh­ter­ing chil­dren, a cursed nightin­gale and a pre­gant Ra­pun­zel: Vic­to­ria Marston re­lates the real fairy­tales

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

TO­DAY, ‘raised on fairy­tales’ is a com­mon slur. Lit­tle girls who have grown up on a diet of Dis­ney are deemed daft for pa­tiently wait­ing for their prince to come and res­cue them from a life of drudgery— even if this is more likely to con­sti­tute tak­ing the Tube and an­swer­ing emails than sweep­ing cin­ders. Young boys are fools to be­lieve that they can take on the ogre and emerge vic­to­ri­ous.

We might won­der what the Broth­ers Grimm would think of this evo­lu­tion of their oeu­vre, which was orig­i­nally, quite frankly, pretty grim. Ja­cob and Wil­helm were Ger­man schol­ars who com­piled folk songs and lit­er­a­ture, ini­tially stay­ing true to the tales they col­lected.

How­ever, the grad­ual sani­ti­sa­tion of their Kin­der- und Haus­märchen, first pub­lished in two vol­umes in 1812 and 1815, was ac­tu­ally be­gun by their own hands. By the time of the pub­li­ca­tion of the sev­enth and fi­nal edi­tion in 1857, the sto­ries had been in­jected with a fam­ily-friendly sense of Chris­tian­ity and ide­al­ism.

A clas­sic ex­am­ple is the wicked step­mother, who ap­pears in later ver­sions of both Snow White and Hansel and Gre­tel. This ruth­less woman was, in fact, ini­tially a bi­o­log­i­cal mother, but this didn’t sit well with the Grimms, who held mother­hood sa­cred.

Our mod­ern fairy­tales are not those that were once passed around a fire, from whis­per­ing mouth to hor­ri­fied ear, with ti­tles such as How Some Chil­dren Played at Slaugh­ter­ing. The mes­sage was most cer­tainly not one of ‘happy ever af­ter’.

Con­sider these ex­am­ples, from an English trans­la­tion of the first edi­tion by the Broth­ers Grimm—and per­haps don’t share them with your chil­dren at bed­time. ‘The Orig­i­nal Folk & Fairy­tales of the Broth­ers Grimm: The Com­plete First Edi­tion’ was trans­lated and edited by Jack Zipes (£27, Prince­ton Univer­sity Press)

Steal­ing is okay as long as it’s from a child gob­bling witch

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