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Tolkien & Beyond: Fantasy's Grimm Ancestor

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Remember the fairy tales we all grew up on? Those Disney Classics that we watched and re-watched until the VHS tapes wore out deserve some credit since they are the origin of the modern fantasy genre. Perhaps my love of fairy tales as a kid is what led to my love for fantasy novels!

But the fairy tales we knew as kids aren’t the original versions, as recorded by the Brothers Grimm. The original tales are darker and more gruesome – stories to scare children into good behavior, or tales exaggerated over the centuries. Cinderella, for instance. We think of ugly stepsisters, a fairy godmother, and the happily-ever-after ending. But in the Grimm version, the stepsisters are actually quite pretty, Cinderella has only two white pigeons to help her instead of a godmother, and the story gets quite bloody. When the prince goes to Cinderella’s father asking for all of his daughters to try on the shoe of the mysterious girl, there is no comical scene of the sisters wrestling and trying to shove the slipper onto their feet. Instead, the stepmother orders each daughter, in turn, to cut off their big toe or their heel in order to fit into the shoe. The pigeons tip off the prince each time, crying:

“Looky, look, look

At the shoe that she took.

There’s blood all over, and the shoe’s too small.

She’s not the bride you met at the ball.”

When the prince finally finds and marries Cinderella, the sisters receive their comeuppance for the wickedness they displayed toward Cinderella when the pigeons pluck their eyes out.

It was interesting, seeing how much Disney changed the original fairy tales, but of course, kids would have nightmares now if they saw girls cutting off their toes and getting their eyes plucked out. Disney took the essence of “happily-ever-after,” and extended that to make a feel-good movie. But these fairy tales, with all of their curses and magic spells, show the origin of creative thinking. These stories eventually led to the witches, wizards, and fantastical worlds of modern-day fantasy novels.

What’s your favorite fairy tale? Comment on Tolkien & Beyond and you could win a free copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies!

–Alyssa Krueger

Photo: Sound Opinions


Written by whitney teal

April 7, 2010 at 9:41 am

Posted in Tolkein and Beyond

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4 Responses

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  1. I’ve always been compelled to read the original stories but still haven’t gotten around to it! But perhaps our culture has become too desensitized to be able to share with our children the ugly truths of real life. I have mixed feelings whether happily ever after is the best for us…?

    Caitlin Funaro

    April 7, 2010 at 4:39 pm

  2. I’ve heard tell of some truly terrible things that happen in some of these stories. The Grimm’s Little Red Riding Hood, for instance, is one that my friends told me about in high school. I don’t know if the censorship by Disney is a particularly bad thing, because honestly, when these stories were written down, scary things weren’t nearly as well covered up as they are now, so children had to be exposed to ugliness early on in order to better deal with it as they grew older. However, in our pampered culture, getting eaten by wolves no longer applies.


    April 8, 2010 at 5:34 pm

  3. Maybe kids are being a little too sheltered now – this new attitude is spreading into academics, as well. Kids feelings can’t be hurt! I don’t think being over-protective is good, but I’m not sure I would want to tell my kids stories about girls cutting off parts of their bodies or getting their eyes poked out…Most of the stories have something gruesome like that. Perhaps parents can modify the stories a little bit, without focusing so much on “happily-ever-after” – maybe emphasize the morals of the stories instead of the outcomes.


    April 8, 2010 at 10:22 pm

  4. […] Michael!  He left a great comment on Fantasy’s Grimm Ancestor: […]

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