“Okay, bedtime! You want a story? Goldilocks? Hansel and Gretel?”
“Mummy, tell me the story about the princess who disguises herself as a pond.”
“Yeah, to escape the evil witch!”
“Right… Don’t know that one. What happens?”
“The witch drinks the pond.”
“Er… She drinks the princess?”
“Don’t worry, Mummy, the clever princess cut her way out of the witch’s tummy with a knife.”
“Dear God! … Can I sleep with you tonight?”
Fairytales don’t come with ratings, but the best and the most popular all have a good dollop of gore in them. The kids love them. It’s the adults who are squeamish. Remember how the Grandmother gets out of the Big Bad Wolf? What about the violent end for the witch inside the cottage made of gingerbread and cakes? It’s amazing what images we send our smallies off to bed with.
Well, it’s gonna get a lot gorier, because 500 new fairytales have been discovered locked away in a dusty German archive for 150 years. The tale of the princess who changed into a pond detailed above is just one of them. Another one is called King Golden Hair. I’m betting it doesn’t end well, for someone.
I’m fascinated by the origins of fairytales and bedtime stories. I discovered some ugly truths while researching the most popular ones:
- Little Red Riding Hood: The wolf was originally an ogre. And the heroine didn’t need a woodcutter to escape.
- The Ugly Duckling: A tale about being an outsider in terms of class and sexuality.
- Pied Piper of Hamelin: Children vanished in the German town in 1284. Was it plague, natural disaster… or a crusade call-up?
Have a look at my Fairytales article for the Irish Examiner, some years back. Each tale is illustrated with a fantastic cartoon.