October 29, 2002
6:42 AM   Subscribe

Rumplestiltskin gets torn in half, Cinderella's stepsisters get their eyes pecked out, and Snow White's stepmother dances in red hot iron shoes until she dies from exhaustion. These are the original endings to the non-sweetened, and sometimes unsavory, fairy tales collected or written by by reclusive librarians Jacob and Wilhelm, better know as The Brothers Grimm. Their first book, Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Childrens' and Household Tales) was published in 1812. Several more books, mostly of folk tales collected from willing relatives and friends, followed, some containing bizarre and disturbing stories with less than happy endings. As the National Geographic Grimm site puts it, "Looking for a sweet, soothing tale to waft you toward dreamland? Look somewhere else. The stories collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in the early 1800s serve up life as generations of central Europeans knew it—capricious and often cruel." Check out the strange 1960 Mp3s and RealAudio files of some Grimm tales.
posted by iconomy (26 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
In England, Victorian children's stories were more often meant to instruct rather than amuse. Hence in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Alice is wary of eating and drinking the things she comes across labeled "Eat Me" and "Drink Me". She reflects that in the nursery stories, children often die of poisons.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:30 AM on October 29, 2002

Damn you, iconomy, you're making me regret my decision not to buy a copy of Grimm when I saw it at B&N last night.

Highly recommended are Terri Windling's Fairy Tale series (fairy tales retold at novel length by various authors), as well as her various similarly-themed anthologies of short stories. I just finished Tam Lin by Pamela Dean of the many erudite quotations, which is based on the ballad of the same name.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 7:34 AM on October 29, 2002

Fairy tales are serious stuff. Bruno Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment is the classic Freudian analysis of why kids dig them. Thanks for the links, iconomy--I'm going off into the forest by myself now to explore them.
posted by muckster at 8:09 AM on October 29, 2002

fairy tales retold at novel length by various authors

Is there any better proof that so many novels are filled with useless drivel? It'd be better if they reduced many novels to a fairy tale length.
posted by HTuttle at 8:17 AM on October 29, 2002

In addition to having brutal fairy tales, Germans also have a particularly dark spin on Christmas. Jolly Old St. Nicholas is usually accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht, a whip-wielding, sack-carrying, child-abducting horrorshow.

Bavarians and Austrians go a step further. According to their traditions, Nicholas travels in the company of huge, wild, hairy beasts with horns. (Klaubauf and Krampus, respectively. Click on the links to see them, and to taste fear.)

(Thanks for the great links, iconomy.)
posted by Ljubljana at 8:40 AM on October 29, 2002

I've a couple of old editions of Grimm and Anderson. The stories are, indeed, quite dark -- and as a kid, I loved them; and kids to whom I've read the stories, love them.

But, then, that's kids.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:57 AM on October 29, 2002

For an insightful glimpse into German pathology, I particularly recommend reading #110, The Jew Among Thorns. In this story we are presented with a diligent young man of piety and impeccable virtue, who happens upon a Jew one day. What happens next? Well he tortures the Jew for entertainment of course! The End.

And after you're done reading that one to your little angels before bed, if they're not too sleepy, mind you, (And, trust me, they won't be sleeping now, for some time), you can read them another Grimm favorite of mine, How Some Children Played at Slaughtering.
posted by dgaicun at 9:31 AM on October 29, 2002

And yet, according to one study, Germans find just about everything funny.
posted by Ljubljana at 9:58 AM on October 29, 2002

In what sounds like a great matchup, Terry Gilliam is now planning to do the Brothers Grimm as his next project.
posted by soyjoy at 10:02 AM on October 29, 2002

Grimm tales = EC Comics?

Morality tales for the young and voyeuristic?
posted by infowar at 10:45 AM on October 29, 2002

yay, iconomy, wonderful, wonderful
posted by y2karl at 11:08 AM on October 29, 2002

"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." - Albert Einstein

Wow, that second link is quite a treasure trove. I became curious about the "Aarne-Thompson types" referred to (such as: "Little Red Riding Hood and other tales of Aarne-Thompson type 333"), and naively thought I could google for a list and explanation of types. It turns out that the two indexes most commonly referred to when classifying folk and fairy tales are "The Types of the Folktale : A Classification and Bibliography" by Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson, which is no longer in print, and "A Classification of Narrative Elements in Folk Tales, Ballads, Myths, Fables, Mediaeval Romances, Exempla, Fabliaux, Jest-Books, and Local Legends" by Stith Thompson, a work of six volumes, costing at least $400. Interesting. The British Columbia Folklore Society has a page explaining The Motif Index: what it is, and what it does.

By the way, fairy-tale-lovers should definitely check out the Sur la Lune fairy tale pages, a really lovely site with annotated Tales including info on their histories, similar tales from other cultures, illustrations, modern interpretations and bibliographies.
posted by taz at 11:15 AM on October 29, 2002

Funny that infowar should mention comics.....The Big Book of Grimm will always be a favorite on my bookshelf. I've spent hours pouring over the pictures, and discovered some excellent iullustrators.
posted by redsparkler at 12:37 PM on October 29, 2002

One of the coolest things about this, for me, is that traditional fairy tales don't seem to follow what modern society considers "good plot structure." Where is the rising action? The denouement? The falling action? Indeed, sometimes the main character switches part way into the story (in addition to the above link about the hand-less girl, Rapunzel is a good example of this).
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:49 PM on October 29, 2002

Great link, iconomy!

I was not aware of the dark nature of fairy tales until a few years ago, when I happened across an old copy of one and was amazed at the gruesome nature of it. Has the change in the nature of these stories been gradual, or did the world suddenly decide that they were too nasty and change them all at once? Perhaps this is an example of early PC in force.
posted by dg at 5:44 PM on October 29, 2002

Good plot structure? Hell, a lot of them don't seem to abide with plot structure at all! Things just... happen. Inexplicably. Often maliciously. I find it a little unnerving and puzzling.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:16 PM on October 29, 2002

Thanks for bringing this all back to me iconomy, I loved fairy tales as a kid. But yikes I had forgotten how violent and punitive these stories were! That one you cited about the mother beating her dead child's arm into the grave - chilling! And the father cutting off his daughter's hands so he could keep his own? Nice daddy, huh?! Between the nuns and these scary stories, no wonder I was such a good little obedient child.
posted by madamjujujive at 11:40 PM on October 29, 2002

Fathers must have been really horrid and selfish in the late 1700s and early 1800s - a lot of the stories have very unpaternal-like scenarios, like the Grimm version of Hansel and Gretel, where the stepmother "orders" the children's father to take them out into the woods and kill them, and he actually sets out to do so, has a change of heart, and instead only sets the little ones out into the forest with no clothes or food, to fend for themselves. I believe in Rumplestiltskin, or maybe it was Snow White...one of those "women making stuff with spinning wheels" stories - the father gives up his daughter to save his own skin, once again.

Thanks so much for all of the additional great linkage, everyone. Wow. I'm going to be busy for a long time - I love fairy tales.
posted by iconomy at 4:44 AM on October 30, 2002

Things just... happen. Inexplicably. Often maliciously. I find it a little unnerving and puzzling.

Better not watch any Bugs Bunny or Tom & Jerry cartoons, then!
posted by crunchland at 5:23 AM on October 30, 2002

I blame Disney. In Hans Christian Andersen's original, the little mermaid dissolved into seafoam because she failed to win the love of the prince. IIRC, the transition from mermaid to human was pretty painful, and every step she ever took on dry land was like walking on red-hot knives.
posted by qrs136 at 2:20 PM on October 30, 2002

I remember that the little mermaid had to endure excruciating pain as the price for becoming human too. Just like the wolf in little red riding hood was originally killed by the woodsman's axe, but modern versions have him being chased away.
posted by dg at 3:55 PM on October 30, 2002

No one is reading this link anymore, so...

Metafilter: Things just... happen. Inexplicably. Often maliciously.

Metafilter: I find it a little unnerving and puzzling.

I've been wanting to do that since last night ;)
posted by iconomy at 6:23 PM on October 30, 2002

posted by five fresh fish at 8:53 PM on October 30, 2002

Metafilter: Looking for a sweet, soothing tale to waft you toward dreamland? Look somewhere else
posted by taz at 3:04 AM on November 1, 2002

Hehe. Even better, taz! I hope dg takes note of these taglines - they're some of the best yet.
posted by iconomy at 5:18 AM on November 1, 2002

*scribbles madly, thinking "time I updated that page"*
posted by dg at 9:55 PM on November 3, 2002

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