We all love the delightful little stories we heard as children. Fairy tales, beautiful princesses wedded to handsome princes, evil witches, and benevolent godmothers – we were mesmerized by them all throughout our formative years. Numerous adaptations are still being carried out and we still find Cinderella themed Bollywood flicks.
The stories, as we know it, are largely from Grimm’s Fairy Tales which was published in 1812 by two brothers Jacob and Wilhelm. They, in turn, had heavily borrowed from Perrault. It can be said that “what Perrault began, the Grimms completed”. The Grimm brothers collected tales from far and wide, compiling them into what is now the best-known anthology for children. What remains unknown is the extent to which the Grimm brothers toned down the tales, taking out the immensely obscene and gory parts of the so-called “children’s tales”.
Here are some exceedingly disconcerting facts about the origin of your favorite fairy tale! Take a look at the stories as they were before the Grimm brothers tailored them!
1) Sleeping Beauty
The Prince kissed the enchanting Sleeping Beauty and brought her back to life? No! The original tale was titled “Perceforest”, written around 1330. It was reworked many times by Perrault, Basile, and Grimm. “Perceforest” is about a beautiful Zellandine who falls into an enchanted sleep. While she is asleep, Troylus rapes and she becomes pregnant with his child. When the child is born from the mother who was still unconscious, it breaks the enchantment and Zellandine wake up. Troilus was in the meantime married!
2) Little Red Riding Hood
The bad wolf eats up Riding Hood and her Grandmother but the hunter saves them both and kills the wolf? Definitely not! The earliest versions date back to 10th century where the wolf entices Riding Hood into bed and saves the meat of her own grandmother for her. She undresses and lies down with the wolf while inadvertently cannibalizing the grandma! In some early versions, the red hood too is absent.
The earliest origin of Cinderella dates back to 7 BC by Rhodopis! It is not just about how the step-sisters fail to slip their feet into the glass slipper while it fit Cinderella seamlessly! The older variations, including Grimms, say that the sisters cut their feet into a shape that would fit into the slipper but the blood gave them away. Also, the father of Cinderella is obliterated in the recent versions whereas the older ones stated that the father too had a hand in torturing the daughter.
This maiden-in-the-tower story is not as innocent as it seems! The early version is a Persian tale about Rudaba and her lover Zal, published in the 10th century. In the previous telling of the tale, Rapunzel would let her hair down for her lovers. The prince in the story climbs up into the tower every night, rendering Rapunzel pregnant. Witch in some versions is the Devil and on discovering the prince, she throws him down from the tower leaving his eyes poked by thrones and thus blinded.
Go re-read your favorite tale and discover new edges to it! Perhaps we should not forget that the tales for children are written by adults and will inevitably carry complexities blind to a child’s eyes.