News about a new edition of the Grimm fairy tales have been circling the Internet and popping up consistently on my Facebook wall. Headlines include:
Grimm Brothers' fairy tales have blood and horror restored to them in new translation (The Guardian)
New Translation of Grimm's Fairy Tales Restores the Gore and Horror (io9)
First Edition of all the Original Grimm's Fairy Tales will leave in all the gnarly parts (The Mary Sue)
Too Grimm for Disney: Original editions of classic fairy tales offer darker side of Brothers Grimm stories - including self-mutilation in Cinderella and Rapunzel getting pregnant in her tower (The Daily Mail Online)
These Grimm fairy tales are not for the kiddies (USA Today)
Brothers Grimm: Fairy tales restored & there are no "happy endings" (Hollywood Life)
So, what's up with all of this? Are we excited? Yes.
Is this good news? Yes.
DID YOU KNOW THAT IN CINDERELLA...
YES, I KNEW.
Yes, yes, and yes.
When I was little, back in Hungary, I had picture books that told the stories that way, and no one thought about it twice. I went to puppet shows where they poured red glitter out of the stepsisters' shoes to indicate the dripping blood. The firs time I saw the Disney version of some of these tales I was not entirely sure what the heck was up with them.
So, what is the fuss exactly about? Why is all the media talking about the new edition? And, most of all, what I am trying to prove here?
It's not about the stories. The Grimm tales are dark, and they have been known to be dark for a long time. I mean, who ever thought that The Pied Piper of Hamelin is a cheerful, goofy children's story? (Apparently every children's book illustrator ever). The news is not the fact that Grimm is dark. The news is that people are excited about this.
Stories can use some darkness. They don't hurt children. I (like most kids in Europe) knew the original versions when I was little, and I turned out fine (and a storyteller). And yet, these versions are regarded as something strange and new and sensational. If you work in education or entertainment, you know why. Every storyteller could talk to you for hours about parents and teachers (but never kids!) complaining about a story being "too dark" or "too gory" just because the villain dies in the end. Stories get censored left and right. What, it is okay to murder Snow White once, but not three times? (The dwarves manage to save her the first two times, in case you were wondering). Is it okay for Rapunzel to be sold by her mother and thrown from a tower, but pregnancy is a taboo?
Yes, the Grimm tales are dark, and you know what else? It's not just Grimm, either. A 17th century Italian version of Sleeping Beauty gets raped in her sleep and wakes up when she gives birth to twins. The original Red Riding Hood is torn apart and devoured by a wolf. A Swiss version of Snow White is a girl forced into slave labor by seven bandits. The ancient Greek Cinderella is a prostitute. The Hungarian Dancing Princesses don't wait for their suitors to fall asleep - they poison them dead and then go to a witches' Sabbath. I could go on.
Shiny, happy, kid-friendly tales are a product of 19th century romantic ideals of childhood. They are not the norm. Grim(m) was the norm. And some of them were never intended for children. And now while we are talking about it, hopefully we will take another look at what these stories tell us about human nature, and to what extent they need or don't need to be censored.
We might want to talk about what the villain's death means to children listening to a tale. We may want to talk about what Rapunzel can tell us about the need for sex education. We might have a discussion about Cinderella's sisters and the body image of young girls. We might talk about Sleeping Beauty and issues of consent. We might even venture to discuss Snow White and the question of taking authority figures' words at face value. And why stop there? Maybe we will even talk about censorship in other media.
Did you know that...? Yes. I did. And I am glad I do.