Essential Read: Grimms’ Fairy Tales

Grimms’ Fairy Tales
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, 1812


by Michelle Buckley

It is often said that the Grimm Brothers’ original Fairy Tales will ruin your childhood. This is because despite being the originals, most of us are more familiar with the Disney versions of stories like Cinderella or Snow White. Therefore the brutality of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales can take people by surprise, because when the evil get punished at the end they don’t just get what they deserve: they often get a fate far worse.

For instance, take ‘Snow White’: sure, the Queen tries to kill Snow White three times (not including the time she sends the huntsman to kill Snow and bring back her lungs and liver, which she then proceeds to eat, not knowing they are in fact a boar’s). There is no question that the Queen is evil, however her punishment still seems a little harsh. For after surviving a suffocating corset lace, murderous comb and poisonous apple, Snow White lands herself a Prince, and it seems nothing says love and romance like making the person who tried to kill you dance in hot iron shoes till their death at your wedding. It is therefore understandable why Disney took some creative liberties and just chose to throw the evil queen off a cliff.

It is also notable that Snow White is not brought back by True Love’s Kiss but by the Prince’s clumsy servants who drop her coffin, dislodging the apple from her throat; romanticising fairy tales has given multiple generations Prince Charming complexes. In Grimms’ Fairy Tales the beautiful and virtuous tend to get their happily ever after, however the journey is far darker than the sugar coated version of events. Those versions tend to gloss over the fact that the protagonists are often downtrodden, orphaned or enduring personal trauma, and skip to the pretty dresses and happily ever after as soon as possible. Cinderella’s story is far less enviable when told by the Brothers Grimm: most of us would be considerably less eager to accept shoes from a Prince if they were made of squirrel fur and soaked in the blood of our stepsisters who had mutilated their own feet trying to put the shoes on.

An important feature present in most of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales is a series of trials that the protagonist must endure.  Modernised fairy tales tend to only keep what is essential to the story arc, tending to miss out the ‘ugly’ parts and teach children that life is easy: it’s just a matter of time before you become rich or score yourself a prince. However, by skipping over the more disturbing parts, less of what the protagonists endure actually seems that bad and therefore we lose sight of why they deserve a happy ending.  Grimms’ Fairy Tales don’t ruin happy memories of childhood tales: they take away the disillusionment caused by them.  Turns out life is hard, and you have to be ready to withstand cannibals, ghosts of dead relatives and witches on your way to happily ever after. They may be bloody and savage but really that’s for dramatic effect, and just makes the moral of the story more obvious.

There are over two hundred Grimm Fairy Tales but it’s not imperative you read all of them: at the very least, you should read the ones of stories you are familiar with. Otherwise it’s kind of like spending your life eating fruit pastilles and never trying the fruit the flavours are based on: they may be sweeter; you might even like them better, however the ‘originals’ are far more substantial.} else {