Fairy Tale Follies; or Analyzing Beloved Stories Without Being Shot. Dead.

Ah, the Fairy Tale. Few icons of popular culture illicit such vehement defense. Especially the Disney versions. I know women who absolutely get angry when I espouse how Disney fairy tales are the worst blueprint for women on earth. And they aren’t so great for men, either. But it really isn’t Disney’s fault, not completely. He isn’t the first to alter the original meanings of the stories, nor will he be the last. The problem with Disney is in actuality the problem with our society at large.

1. Make everything sweetness and light.

2. Take away the actual meaning behind why these things are happening to these women, and/or men.

3. Dress the stories up in a pretty package and hope nobody notices how bad they are for young minds that are just forming.

4. Ignore the bad shit.

And that’s the big one. Ignore the bad shit. Why? Why do people continue to turn their head from what really happens in this world?  I maintain that they’re all a bunch of chickenshits who are afraid that if they admit the bad shit happens that it might happen to them. I also think that this is incredibly detrimental to our children. People wonder why kids have so many more problems than the used to. This is often explained as “times were harsher” and they were, but kids today are not allowed to fail, are not allowed to know what small amounts of pain are let alone what real suffering and strife is. We make it too easy for them, and then they are severely disappointed when things do not go their way. Granted, this is a huge generalization, but I’ve seen it, especially in girls and their ideas of what a man should be. Unfortunately, this circles back to Disney and the sanitation of tales that were supposed to warn girls (and sometimes boys) of the horrors that the world has to offer.
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Let’s look at the original tale of Little Red Riding Hood (which, as far as I know, Disney has not mangled). Briefly, the tale of her going through the woods has pretty much remained the same throughout the centuries, and yes, I said centuries. The little girl goes to visit her grandmother, has a bunch of goodies in her basket, meets the wolf, innocently (or stupidly, depending on your point of view) tells the wolf where’ she’s going, he eats the grandma and is there waiting for Red in anticipation of eating her, too. And if you are not getting the overtly sexual metaphors here, then your head has really been in the sand your entire life. This is where the story has changed, dramatically, over the years.
In the original version, the oral tale, Red (Cap in this case, not Hood) is treated to her grandmother’s intestines splattered all over her grandmother’s shack, and the wolf offers her her grandmother’s blood to drink, which she does. He asks her to undress bit by bit and get in the bed with him. Naked. Red only escapes by telling him that she has to urinate. He ties her to a large rope which she then ties to a tree and makes her escape, presumably as naked as the day she was born.

Here we have a story that not only is intended to frighten children of the dangers of the woods (which at the time these stories were popular were more dangerous than any city) but to warn little girls of “charming” men. Same old story, there, right? They never had oral tales explaining to boy children how not to be a raving, drooling, rapist. Nope, it’s always on the women.

And, this may seem strange, but the fault there might in fact not lie with a patriarchal society, but with the women themselves. I know, the world has ended, the feminist is blaming the women. But there’s a lot to what I’m saying.

First off, The Grimm Brothers wrote very few of the stories attributed to them. I think maybe one or two. What they did was go to the women of Germany, all over the countryside, the cities, to friends, to noblewomen, to peasants, and gather the stories from women. Women who passed the stories around and down through the generations  as oral tales told while spinning, weaving, sewing, knitting, and perhaps after reading the Bible and before going to bed. The women told tales to scare the Hell out of their daughters, whether out of love or concern for a good marriage, it was still the women who continued the cautionary tales that informed their daughters’ lives and it was those daughters who continued the pattern.

The story of Little Red Cap that The Grimm Brothers anthologized is significantly changed from the original oral tale. In the version many of us knew when we were growing up the blood and gore was mostly gone, Red never had to get naked, and the Huntsman came and rescued her and Grandmother.  Again, the mothers of European girls in the 17th, 18th, and 19th were very much focused on marriage, and a good, hardworking, strong, man was the one to look for. And because girls were weaker in spirit, mind, and body they needed this guy to rescue them.
Looking at this illustration…

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…we see the real attitude toward women and girls especially. Here Red is the coquette “playing” the innocent while the ravaging wolf looks on. How can he help himself? She’s there for the taking.
And this is one fairy tale I’d like changed. There have been modernizations, such as Francesca Lia Block’s stunning and terrifying Wolf  which shows the wolf as a manipulative step-father who will do anything to possess his  young step-daughter. It examines pedophilia and molestation in an open and honest way, one that I’ll bet most mother’s won’t let their child read, and they should. Just as those mother’s did around the fireplace decades ago. Wolf is the modern cautionary tale and one that shouldn’t be ignored.

But what does all of this have to do with Disney or even the sanitation of fairy tales? Little Red Riding Hood doesn’t follow the pattern only because it’s closer to its roots than many of the other fairy stories children have loved for eons. But it does show what fairy tales are really all about. They were meant to be stories that warned girls of falling prey to men, whether by charm, losing their virginity, or just marrying a cad in general. These were stories that gave young women, metaphorically, instructions on living life with the least amount of pain and strife.

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Cinderella, for example. The original tale discusses mutilations and an apparently moronic prince who cannot even remember who the love of his life is the next day. But Cinderella can marry a prince, high above her social class in reality, if she only remains pure, obedient, and cleans the shit out of the house. Presumably she’s a damn fine cook, as well. Well, she doesn’t really follow the obedience part, otherwise she never would have married the Prince. In the meantime, her step-mother imprisons her, beats her, and has killed her father for his money, and her step-sisters mutilate themselves in order to marry the dolt of a prince who doesn’t even notice the course of blood flowing from the shoe until a bird, a bird, tells him that the shoe does not fit.

Disney keeps most of the tale intact, remarkably. He omits the bird and we never really see the evil step-mother as anything other than mean. Sure she uses Cindy as a slave and locks her in her room, but we never really fear for Cindy’s life as we do in the tale. Maybe little children shouldn’t be exposed to death threats, but being sent to your room also shouldn’t be seen as evil personified. And that’s all that really happens in the Disney version. Cinderella is being punished for defying her step-mother. Wah. Get over it, kid. At least this step-mother didn’t go to the ball dressed as a young woman with her breasts exposed, which she did in the Grimm’s version. Hell, if the ugly sisters can’t get the Prince, then mama can!

The point is, Fairy Tales were supposed to scare girls into behaving. Most of them are sexist and focused on finding a husband even before Disney made them so happy and full of light. The husband’s were just as dull, by the way. Remember, these are stories told by women, so not only are they promoting marriage, they’re warning their daughters that the husbands of the time are really dull and don’t care much for anything other than begetting and moving on.

But, they also had a deeper purpose. One that was to warn against the evils of men, or the devil, or even other women. That evil can walk on this earth and harm all of us, especially young and innocent girls and boys.  Disney forgets this in their attempt to satisfy the larger demographic. It certainly isn’t the worst thing a filmmaker has done, and I watched the movies along with my children. But  I also read them the originals so that they knew what the literature looks, sounds, and feels liked.
The mermaid does not get her man, but she gets Jesus in the end. Sleeping Beauty is raped in her sleep and her Ogre mother-in-law wants to eat her and her offspring. Peter Pan wants a mother and has a fairy by his side who has a boudoir and wants more than  his fairy dust, if you know what I mean. While not a fairy tale, Pocahontas dies rather quickly after leaving the US and John Smith doesn’t make it back to England and she marries someone completely different.

Does any of this matter? Probably not to most people, but I see an increasing amount of people saying things such as we do not want to know the bad parts of the holocaust, as an example. They’re belief is that just knowing about it is good enough, why experience the pain of seeing and reading about what happened to those poor people. Because, you moron, if you don’t feel and see and experience this shit it doesn’t feel real and it happens again. So is Disney awful? No. The stories that the studio tells are lovely little interludes of brightness and light. But beware! If you do not explain to your daughters and sons that those stories are pure bullshit you will have a generation of disillusioned adults who will never find their perfect partner because Prince Phillip never existed.

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