I’ve been thinking about fairy-tales a lot lately. While shopping I noticed a selection of classic fairy-tales on sale, and in the spur of the moment I grabbed a handful for my lovely niece. She’s only thirteen months old, but she already loves books and I know she’s going to be a huge bookworm just like her mom and me. After I bought it, though, I started to wonder: is this really the kind of books a little girl should read?
Let’s take a look at our main contenders, shall we?
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
A young girl must flee to escape the life-threatening jealousy of her step-mother. She moves into a house with seven strange men, and whiles away her time cooking and cleaning for them (Of course! What else could a woman possibly do with her free time?).
|Excuse me while I clean up after these strangers. I'll feel better|
She is also stupid enough to, not only talk to strangers, but accept food from an obviously quite creepy old lady. She chokes on a poisonous apple, and it is the kiss of a prince that finally wakes her.
|Kissed by a stranger. While unconscious|
Aurora is cursed by a vengeful woman who was upset that she hadn’t been invited to a party. Petty much? Years later Aurora wanders the castle and comes across a spinning wheel. She cannot help but prick her finger on the spindle (because, let’s face it – what woman can possibly resist needlework?).
|Oooh! A spinning wheel! Must. Touch. It|
Aurora collapses, remains lifeless for a number of years, and is ultimately woken by a prince’s kiss. I see a disturbing recurring theme here. Never mind romantic, in what universe is it ever okay to kiss an unconscious woman?
|Kissed by a stranger. While unconscious|
Okay, Cinderella is not that bad. She is repressed and emotionally abused by her jealous evil stepmother (another recurring theme seems to be suffering at the hands of jealous women), but she doesn’t let it affect her personality. She seems to remain happy and cheerful (why wouldn’t you, getting to do all the cooking and cleaning all by yourself?), and ultimately wins the heart of a prince. Whom she marries after one
|Let me sing while I clean up after my evil step-family... it's so much fun|
The Little Mermaid
Granted, Ariel is adventurous, brave and headstrong – but she disobeys her father every chance she gets, and places her life in danger in order to collect shiny objects. Then she goes and makes what is possibly the worst deal in history, and trades the voice her prince fell in love with for a pair of legs. She can now be close to the prince she has fallen in love with because he’s pretty, but she can’t communicate with him. She is forced to watch him fall in love with the evil Ursula who now possesses her voice. Why would she do this to herself? It kind of reminds me of the girls on The Bachelor.
|Hiding amidst the collection my father forbid me to have|
Beauty and the Beast
Granted, Belle is quite a bad-ass as far as fairy-tale princesses go. She is loyal, honest, trustworthy, smart and brave. But then she goes and ruins it all by developing Stockholm Syndrome.
|Excuse me while I stare lovingly into the eyes of my captor|
And this is just the watered down versions we have come to know - Don’t even get me started on the disturbing original versions of fairy-tales!
In the original 1812 Grimm version, the evil Queen who wants to eat Snow White’s liver and lungs for dinner (literally) is her biological mother, not her stepmother. Nice. When the prince finds Snow White after she has collapsed from eating the poisonous apple she is for all intents and purposes, quite dead. The apple is dislodged from Snow White’s throat when she is jostled by the prince’s horse as he carries her back to his castle – what the prince wanted to do with a dead girl’s body I will leave to your imagination. When the Queen shows up at Snow White’s wedding (heavens please tell me she's not marrying the necrophiliac!), she’s forced to step into iron shoes that had been cooking in the fire, and dance until she falls down dead.
In Giambattista Basile’s Sun, Moon, and Talia, one of the earliest versions of this story (published in 1634), the princess gets a sliver of flax stuck under her fingernail and falls down, apparently dead. Her father, who cannot face the idea of losing her, lays her body on a bed in one of his estates where a king hunting in the woods finds her. Since he cannot wake her up, he rapes her while she’s unconscious(!) and then goes on his merry way. A few months later, still unconscious, she gives birth to two children. One of them accidentally sucks the splinter out of her finger and she wakes up. Imagine waking up, finding yourself violated, now the mother of two children – the products of rape. The “fun” does not end here - The king who raped her is already married, but he burns his wife alive so that he can be with Talia – but not before the discarded wife tries to kill and eat their babies. Yes, you read that right.
In the Grimm version the stepsisters cut off parts of their feet in order to fit into the glass slippers, hoping to fool the prince, but he is alerted to the trickery by two pigeons who peck out the step sisters' eyes (did the blood pooling in the shoes not give them away?).
The little mermaid
in Hans Christian Andersen’s very first version the little mermaid trades tongue for legs, and part of the deal is that every step she takes will be agony. Hoping to win the prince’s heart she dances for him, even though it means excruciating pain. Despite her best efforts, she sees the prince marry someone else and she despairs. Her sisters bring her a knife with which to kill the prince, figuring his blood falling on her feet will turn her into a mermaid again. She can’t bring herself to go through with it, dies and turns into sea foam. Andersen later modified the ending slightly, having her become a “daughter of the air” waiting to go to heaven – after she has performed good deeds for 300 years.
The version of Beauty and the Beast which we have come to know today does not differ much from the original. Instead, let’s take a look at the original Red Riding Hood – much more interesting.
Red Riding Hood
In Charles Perrault’s 1697 version, there is no intrepid huntsman to save the day. Little Red Riding Hood simply strips naked(!), gets in bed, and is eaten up by the big bad wolf. The sexual undertones are not lost on us; after all, the contemporary French idiom for a girl having lost her virginity is elle avoit vû le loup — she has seen the wolf.
But I digress. My point is, am I making too much of this? Am I overthinking it? Because while these are clearly not the best role-models for girls, I myself read these fairy-tales as a little girl (not the original versions, obviously), and I don’t think it made any lasting negative impressions on me. I don't know... but we've got a few more years to think about it.