In times where we can’t figure out anymore what is real and what is hidden from the general pubic, where images and information are manipulated for “a common good”, but where inevitably such “common good” only benefits few, I can’t think of a better analogy than a fairy tale. The “once upon a time there was a good king who ruled a prosperous country” opening paragraph no longer applies in the 21st century. Anyway, this blog is not focused on political issues, but rather the acquisition of a second language. Language, of course, reflects new realities, technolodies, culture, thus more and more new words appear each day. So, looking at just a few fairy tales, not the ones that were told to us after being censored and polished with moral values, but the real ones, is somewhat interesting… and striking. Here are just a few:
In the tale of the Pied Piper, we have a village overrun with rats. A man arrives dressed in clothes of pied (a patchwork of colors) and offers to rid the town of the vermin. The villagers agree to pay a vast sum of money if the piper can do it – and he does. He plays music on his pipe which draws all the rats out of the town. When he returns for payment – the villagers won’t cough up so the Pied Piper decides to rid the town of children too! In most modern variants, the piper draws the children to a cave out of the town and when the townsfolk finally agree to pay up, he sends them back. In the darker original, the piper leads the children to a river where they all drown (except a lame boy who couldn’t keep up).
The version of this tale that most of us are familiar with ends with Riding Hood being saved by the woodsman who kills the wicked wolf. But in fact, the original French version (by Charles Perrault) of the tale was not quite so nice. In this version, the little girl is a well bred young lady who is given false instructions by the wolf when she asks the way to her grandmothers. Foolishly riding hood takes the advice of the wolf and ends up being eaten. And here the story ends. There is no woodsman – no grandmother – just a fat wolf and a dead Red Riding Hood. The moral to this story is to not take advice from strangers.
The Little Mermaid
The 1989 version of the Little Mermaid might be better known as “The big whopper!” In the Disney version, the film ends with Ariel the mermaid being changed into a human so she can marry Eric. They marry in a wonderful wedding attended by humans and merpeople. But, in the very first version by Hans Christian Andersen, the mermaid sees the Prince marry a princess and she despairs. She is offered a knife with which to stab the prince to death, but rather than do that she jumps into the sea and dies by turning to froth. Hans Christian Andersen modified the ending slightly to make it more pleasant. In his new ending, instead of dying when turned to froth, she becomes a “daughter of the air” waiting to go to heaven – so, frankly, she is still dead for all intents and purposes.
In the tale of snow white that we are all familiar with, the Queen asks a huntsman to kill her and bring her heart back as proof. Instead, the huntsman can’t bring himself to do it and returns with the heart of a boar. Now, fortunately disney hasn’t done too much damage to this tale, but they did leave out one important original element: in the original tale, the Queen actually asks for Snow White’s liver and lungs – which are to be served for dinner that night! Also in the original, Snow White wakes up when she is jostled by the prince’s horse as he carries her back to his castle – not from a magical kiss. What the prince wanted to do with a dead girl’s body I will leave to your imagination. Oh – in the Grimm version, the tale ends with the Queen being forced to dance to death in red hot iron shoes!
Sleeping Beauty (a little long, but worth reading)
Wise men warned the great King that his daughter Talia was in grave danger – there was poison in the palace’s flax. A ban was put on flax but as expected, Talia still ran across a splinter while spinning flax on the flax-spinning wheel. In great despair, the king placed her sleeping (or dead) body on a velvet clothe and left her in the forest.
Some time later, a rich nobleman was hunting in the woods when he ran across the abandoned body of Sleeping Beauty. Far from planting a kiss, the nobleman instead raped her sleeping body, from which resulted a pregnancy. Nine months later, Sleeping Beauty gave birth to two children (and named them Sun and Moon) and the forest fairies took care of them while Sleeping Beauty continued her slumber. Whilst placing the babes to Sleeping Beauty’s breasts, one of the children accidentally mistook her thumb for a nipple and sucked out the poison splinter. Talia awoke from her deep sleep. Months later, the nobleman decided to return to the woods to have more sex with Sleeping Beauty’s body when to his surprise, he found her awake. The nobleman confesses that he raped her and they again had sex in the barn. The nobleman then returns home to his wife. The nobleman’s wife found out about the sexual encounter and ordered the children be kidnapped and cooked alive. The cook prepared the fiendish disk and served it to the rich nobleman at his dinner. As the nobleman finished his meal, the wife boldly announced “you are eating what is your own!”. Alas, as it turns out, the cook had a soft heart and instead of killing and cooking the children, he substituted a goat instead. Talia and the children and her rapist new love interest lived happily ever after.
In this heart warming tale, we hear of pretty little goldilocks who finds the house of the three bears. She sneaks inside and eats their food, sits in their chairs, and finally falls asleep on the bed of the littlest bear. When the bears return home they find her asleep – she awakens and escapes out the window in terror. The original tale (which actually only dates to 1837) has two possible variations. In the first, the bears find Goldilocks and rip her apart and eat her. In the second, Goldilocks is actually an old hag who (like the sanitized version) jumps out of a window when the bears wake her up. The story ends by telling us that she either broke her neck in the fall, or was arrested for vagrancy and sent to the “House of Correction”.
In the modern Cinderella fairy tale we have the beautiful Cinderella swept off her feet by the prince and her wicked step sisters marrying two lords – with everyone living happily ever after. The fairy tale has its origins way back in the 1st century BC where Strabo’s heroine was actually called Rhodopis, not Cinderella. The story was very similar to the modern one with the exception of the glass slippers and pumpkin coach. But, lurking behind the pretty tale is a more sinister variation by the Grimm brothers: in this version, the nasty step-sisters cut off parts of their own feet in order to fit them into the glass slipper – hoping to fool the prince. The prince is alerted to the trickery by two pigeons who peck out the step sister’s eyes. They end up spending the rest of their lives as blind beggars while Cinderella gets to lounge about in luxury at the prince’s castle.