I love fairy tales. Even the name evokes a sense of fancy. What are they exactly? Merriam-Webster says this:
a story involving fantastic forces
Well, that opens the field right up!
If you come to my blog regularly, you’ll know I’m a huge fan of metaphor and symbolism. I enjoy stretching my mind and imagination. Like parables, there are many messages hidden in our childhood nursery rhymes, fables, and fairy tales. That was the point of Aesop’s Fables, and it’s certainly the point of Heinrich Hoffmann’s nightmare-inducing 1845 children’s book Struwwelpeter
Long before the internet came into being, I recall reading examples. One such tale was The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe as a reference to Queen Victoria and the fragmentation of the British Empire. It sort of makes sense. At one time the sun literally never set on the British Empire. When your holdings are spread around the world like so many children, she (the Queen) didn’t know what to do. Another was a reference to L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as having been written as a parable about populism. The Tin Man sort of hints at the dehumanized industrial worker of the 1900’s. That yellow brick road can certainly be a reference to the common image of America the immigrants of that era sought — the streets are paved with gold.
The Brothers Grimm
By the time Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm were born in the late 1700’s, the era of Sturm and Drang was drawing to a close. Sturm and Drang or Storm and Drive put emotion back into thought. Previously, the Enlightenment stripped all that away and rational, scientific thought prevailed. You might say Sturm and Drang was the counter culture of the time. On the heels of Sturm and Drang came Romantism –a celebration of intense emotion, and here we get a real feel for the minds of the Brothers Grimm.
With their keen interest in German folklore, Jakob and Wilhelm traveled extensively and everywhere they went, they collected the local stories. Much of what they found had threads of truth woven in. What’s more, most were cautionary tales filled with extreme violence. I’ve read several original versions of these fairy tales. Holy cow. I wouldn’t read them to a child. Example: Snow White dies in the end and her body is carted off by the prince and his men for a night of necrophilia. I have links to several holy cow examples below.
The Pied Piper
The Grimm’s Fairytale The Pied Piper of Hamelin tells the story of a rat catcher who’s hired to rid the town of rats. He’s successful but the greedy towns people refuse to pay as promised. What else is he to do but return and lure the children away. It’s said the brothers drew upon 11 different versions of this story to make their own.
Believe it or not, this tale is based on an actual occurrence in 1284 in which most of the children in Hamelin disappeared. I came across many references to the whys and wherefores of how such a thing happened — a death metaphor for children dying from bubonic plague or other childhood disease, or a disease called Huntington’s chorea that makes people dance (as in the medieval Danse Macabre). I even came across one reference that says the kids went on a crusade to defend Christendom and never returned. The earliest reference is quite disturbing:
In the year of 1284, on the day of Saints John and Paul on June 26, by a piper, clothed in many kinds of colours, 130 children born in Hamelin were seduced, and lost at the place of execution near the koppen.
Jeeze. How do you make a fairytale out of that??
Just so you know, today is Rat Catcher Day. Keep your kids inside.
The Grimm Truth About Your Favorite Fairy tales
The Dark Side of the Grimm Fairy Tales
For 100 days, I’ll post something from my chosen topic: Clichés.
There are 63 entries to come.
Here’s a cliché for today:
Pay the piper
Today is Author Desiree Holt’s blog day
The Romance Books ‘4’ Us Annual Christmas in July Contest is almost over. We have 32 prizes for ONE WINNER! http://www.romancebooks4us.com
Love Waits in Unexpected Places – Scorching Samplings of Unusual Love Stories
Find my novels wherever books are sold.
Sample my love stories for free!
Hi Rose, I studied fairy tales in college. Like Bible stories, many different nationalities came up with similar stories. They truly are universal. And yes, creepy. Rat Catcher Day? Maybe that’ll bode well for us to catch the mouse in our condo. Tenth floor. How the heck did it get up here in the first place and where the heck is it now? It hasn’t been seen for a week.
I did get my mouse…cute little raider. I really wish they’d stay outside and not force me to trap them, them and their hanta virus and Lyme disease.
What fascinating tales. I knew that The Little Mermaid ends with Eric choosing another girl and the mermaid dying and becoming a part of the surf. I love how these stories tell us morals and people.
I’m thinking on doing a blog series on this topic. There are so many grim tales dressed up by Disney that we forget the original versions. Thank goodness for Disney!
Very interesting! I am always surprised when someone thinks fairy tales are for children.
Aren’t they gruesome? My grade school had an ancient copy of Struwwelpeter in the library. I think I was about 6 or 7 the first time I read it. Horrible story and even more horrible illustrations. There was one in particular about a boy who pulled the wings off insects and one day the insects came in a mass and tore him apart. I suppose there’s an object lesson there. And the tailor that cuts off your thumbs? You can almost see how Nazis came to be, raised on children’s stories like these.
Grimm’s fairy tales are pretty grim and violent. One of our projects for Children’s Lit in Library School was to take a fairy tale and collect every version worldwide that existed in books. It was a fascinating project.
That sounds like an amazing project! I’ve been reading a book Author Gemma Juliana turned me on to about parallel myths. We get the same stories dressed up in their cultural attire. Very interesting.
What a fascinating post, Rose – I love fairy tales but also enjoy the real meaning behind them (as in nursery rhymes)!
Thanks! I love the fairy tales too. Beauty and the Beast and Tam Lin are two favorites. Hmm…I wonder if I should do a blog series on fables?
Even the watered down versions if written now would be among books not fit for children. I wonder if kids are as delicate as some of the adults who decide what is appropriate, not just in fairy tales, but general literature.
Great day in my family today. My great granddaughter turned five today and another great granddaughter was born just after noon EDT today.
A huge congratulations Grandpa Ray! Lots of reasons to smile in your family. My best all around. 🙂