The Annotated Brothers Grimm, edited by Maria Tatar

Relying on the Disney versions of Cinderella, Snow White, and Beauty and the Beast to give you a sense of the Brothers Grimm's fairy tales is about as effective as trying to pass a mythology class based on your repeated viewings of the pastoral scene in Fantasia. Disney's movies may be 100-percent pure sparkly G-rated fun, but if you have any interest in historical accuracy you're better off going straight to the source. Hit your local library, head to one of the free online collections, or buy the excellent new book The Annotated Brothers Grimm, but brace yourself--the original fairy tales are some pretty hardcore stuff.

The original Grimm's fairy tales were a collection of German folktales gathered by the brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in the early 19th century. Despite the title, the orignal Children's Stories and Household Tales was not exactly kid-friendly (at least by today's standards). The Brothers Grimm did make some attempt to censor their stories for a child audience, but the kids of 1815 were clearly a pretty red-blooded bunch. The Brothers Grimm's fairy tales are chock-full of violence and gore, featuring everything from eyes getting poked out by thorns to people being forced to dance to death in red-hot shoes. Twinkly fairy godmothers are in short supply. In the Grimm version of Cinderella (in German, "Aschenputtel"), Cinderella's snappy party outfit comes from the birds that live in the magic tree that grows over her mother's grave. When Cinderella's prince swings by to discuss the slipper, her stepsisters slice off bits of their feet in order to fit into the shoe. And at the end of the story, the ever-helpful birds peck out the stepsisters' eyes as they walk in the wedding procession--one eye each way. (They were very efficient birds. No mention is made of how the stepsisters made it through the wedding ceremony, despite being recently blinded.)

But while the Brothers Grimm lingered lovingly on the gore, even their more watered-down stories featured a fairly matter-of-fact attitude about sex. In the Grimm version of Rapunzel, the prince manages to, er, climb Rapunzel's tower. Several times. (If you know what I mean. And I think that you do.) When the witch discovers what has happened, she cuts off Rapunzel's hair, boots her out of the tower, and settles in to wait. When the prince stops by for what can only be described as his nightly booty call, the witch lets him climb almost all the way up the hair that she's dangled out the window... and then drops him onto the thorns below, blinding him. Happily, Rapunzel (now a single mother of twins--face it, even Disney couldn't sanitize this story) eventually finds him, and her tears cause his eyes to magically repair themselves.

For once, I'm actually not criticizing the Disney versions of these stories. In fact, I'd be fairly concerned about any parent that read their little princess Aschenputtel as a bedtime story. There's a place for musicals and comedic relief. (Well... there's a place for comedic relief.) But while I apologize to adult readers with sensitive literary palates, the Grimm Fairy Tales--like Chaucer's Canterbury Tales or 1001 Arabian Nights--are truly required reading for cultural literacy, and you can't bypass the original versions in favor of a highly sanitized secondary source. If you get grossed out by the gore, just remind yourself that it can't be any worse than listening to Snow White sing.
Posted by: Julia, Last edit by: Julianka


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