One of the very first things I remember about my reading life is reading fairytales – in every form imaginable. abridged, unabridged, sanitised and unsanitised. The abridged and sanitised ones are definitely not as interesting as the ones left as they are, and I am not a fan of these ones. I support the dissemination and reading of these ones by people of all ages. Why? Because at some stage, we’re all going to encounter nasty things in our lives or come across nasty things in our reading and whilst I still am shocked, having read these unabridged, gruesome fairytales has at least given me some warning. And I enjoy them. There’s nothing better than opening a book of Brothers Grimm or Charles Perrault and reading about Little Red Cap or Hansel and Gretel.
Having read for pleasure and for study many fairytales and done analysis on them, the themes within them are seen in later literature. Themes, I think, are often inherent in what is left out in sanitised versions. The taboo of cannibalism is explored in Hansel and Gretel, as is murder – when Gretel pushes the witch into the oven, she dies. And when they return home, their evil stepmother has died – one theory I came up with when doing this fairytale in class was the question of whether the stepmother was the witch. Perhaps she wasn’t, but it was very clear to me that the death of the witch heralded the death of the evil stepmother.
And why the evil stepmother and never the evil stepfather? That is something I discussed with the lecturer I had and we rested on the idea that mothers provide and indeed in the day of these esteemed fairytale collectors – because the Brothers Grimm didn’t write their own tales, but collected them, more than one quarter from Dortchen Wild, their neighbour – the care and nourishment for a child. So rejection by a mother figure was more horrifying and unnatural. Perhaps if an evil stepfather had been involved, they wouldn’t have been as successful, as many fathers are shown as doting upon children or wives. In fact, men, in some cases are shown as quite pitiful, such as in Rapunzel, when Rapunzel’s father fails to stand up to the witch and save his daughter.
Fairytales provide entertainment and a world of wonder and magic for children though. As a child, I didn’t think about the horrors or the fates of the evil witches, I enjoyed the magic in the story, and the reading of unabridged version to me and later by me has not corrupted me for the worse as some arguments might go.
Because fairytales weren’t originally intended for child consumption, they had the horrors all included. Coming from an oral tradition where adults and children gathered together to listen to the tales, fairytales, or as they should more aptly be called, folktales, because the presence of fairies within them is limited to a few, though many include magic, did not, to my knowledge, cause children nightmares. Perhaps it was the era they grew up in. Perhaps now, in the 21st century with all our gadgets and freedoms, fear of what might happen is more abundant at times, and the desire to protect our loved ones from anything objectionable as some might say of these wonders of early literature as I see the, is highly apparent.
Reading fairytales for me not only takes me back to my childhood but into a world of enchanted forests and talking animals. It is a world well trodden and I love it to this day.