Once upon a time, there was a little mermaid who fell in love with a prince on the surface. She visited a sea witch who, in turn for her tongue, promised to give her legs on which to walk. The mermaid had little time to make the prince fall in love with her and although her dancing amused him, he ended up marrying the wrong girl. The little mermaid, who refused to kill the prince to return to the sea, died. THE END.
When we think of a fairy tale, we think of Disney princesses, true love’s first kiss and happily ever afters. The origins of the fairy tales that we have come to know and understand, however, were a little different. Based around the usual concept of underdog falling in love with someone in high places, they tended to dabble not in love and happiness but rather, death, desolation and murder. Huh. Somewhere along the way, some producer realised that doom and gloom don’t sell to young audiences and so it was that the fairy tales from the old masters got something of a rewrite.
In truth, it’s the originals that they should have paid attention to; in their darker shades and melancholic narratives, they speak to the human condition in a far more eloquent and poignant way than any Disney story ever could. It’s little wonder, then, that the film industry is starting to take darker fairy tales more seriously, poking fun at the ridiculousness of its own creation. Films like Maleficent, Into the Woods and Snow White and the Huntsmen, whilst not necessarily groundbreaking, go some way towards trying to change the fairy story cliche. But what of the originals themselves? Some of the stories are the greatest tales ever written and I think it’s about time they got a little mention of their own.
Little Red Riding Hood
“And the little girl and her grandmother were eaten by a wolf” doesn’t exactly make the most comforting of endings, so it’s little wonder that the Brothers Grimm chose to alter the story’s depressing finish. Whilst we all know the original, in which a huntsman chops open the wolf, the original tale was much less optimistic. There’s a lesson to be learnt, of course; never never trust in strangers. They might eat you.
The fairy tale which has done the rounds countless times, Sleeping Beauty saw a semi-rewrite in Disney’s recent film Maleficent, told from the side of the story’s villain. Whilst the film offered an alternative angle on the story, the original tale is much more interesting and definitely not suitable for children. In the Italian version, Sleeping Beauty is indeed put to sleep but rather than being awoken by true love’s first kiss, she is raped by the king and subsequently gives birth to two children. One of her children sucks her finger, absorbing her curse and enabling her to awake. There’s some other stuff about cooking children and being burnt on a stake but that’s a story for another time.
Hansel and Gretel
Admit it, Hansel and Gretel is a creepy story from the off. Firstly, what kinds of parents send their children into the woods alone, secondly, who would enter a stranger’s home and thirdly, how could Hansel not see what the witch was doing to him? It’s exasperating to think about. In the original tale, the witch is still killed by the children who subsequently rob her and return home. Hands up if you would like to give the kids a taste of their own medicine?
In this tale, Rapunzel – trapped in a tower because of her eye-aching beauty – is rescued by a valiant prince with whom she falls in love and the two live happily ever after. Tale told. The original, however, gets a little messier, dabbling in jealousy, obsession and desire as casually as you like. Rapunzel’s only fairy friend becomes enraged when a passing prince falls in love with her and gets her pregnant. Rapunzel is banished from the tower and the prince is made blind. Don’t worry, it’s all well and good in the end but really, could the fairy not just have said “congratulations” and be done with it?
Beauty and the Beast
Relying on the “have someone force you to love them and live together forever” principle, the original fairy tale doesn’t differ too far from the version with which we’re more familiar today. Belle is given to the beast as a sacrifice for her father’s trespassing and she does indeed fall in love with the beast, turning him into a prince. The themes of entrapment and forced will, however, are darker than most children should be dealing with and it’s worth considering, is this story something that we want to be sharing with new generations? Proving that there’s nothing like a good ol’ mercy marriage, Beauty and the Beast continues to endure as a fairy tale classic.
I saved the best until last. In Bluebeard, a beautiful young girl is persuaded to marry a mysterious aristocrat, known for his ability to get through a wife or three without batting an eyelid. I mean, ok. Of course, she is won over by the attention, the gifts, the bling. It’s your classic tale of girl-overlooks-murderous-air-of-husband-because-he’s-rich. Soon, Bluebeard has to go away on business and whilst his new wife can do whatever she wants, she is forbidden from entering one room in the castle. What do you think she does? Of course, the room is chock full of the butchered corpses of his former wives, all suspiciously un-decayed and ripe with blood. Whilst Bluebeard eventually gets his comeuppance, the tale is no less disturbing and dark.
They don’t make them like they used to, that’s for sure. Whilst fairy tales on film are showing some signs of realigning their basic principles, they are still largely upbeat fare, going off track briefly only to return to the original game plan. We can still look back to the stories of the past, however, revel in their despicable nature and rub our hands together in mock glee.