Just a few days ago, Boston.Com aired this article on how fairy tales have become watered-down and sanitary, the better to appeal to Mummsies and Daddsies eager to spare Little Tulip/Timmy from the Harsh World.
Of coures, His Holiness Of Fairyness, Jack Zipes, gets to pontificate for a bit:
Zipes reads his own Grimm Brothers translations in Minneapolis-St. Paul elementary schools, and says he has seen young kids latch onto the classic, dark versions of the tales. Some of the most disadvantaged students, he says, “really relate to us, because we’re telling tales that they experience in their homes.” And even kids shielded from terrible strife find connections to fairy tale worlds. Of Cinderella, Zipes says, “What are we talking about? We’re talking about today. How many families are split today?”
::Dae Rants:: See, now here’s my problem. We’re only looking at these tales from one point of view. The first question we always ask is “how is this relevant for me? Sure, these fairy tales are interesting. But what do they say about me?”
Answer: they may say something about you. Then again, they may not. As a child, I noticed that some girls truly did identify with Cinderella/Snow White/Sleeping Beauty. Some tried to, or thought that they did, because that’s what the ruling culture-dogma told them they should do. And some just felt left out. “Where’s the fairy tale for me?” They asked. Deep within our young, lolly-pop loving selves, we became convinced that some people got fairy tale endings, and that some people didn’t. Or, more to the point, we believed that there was only one kind of fairy tale.
This is blatantly not true. The Brothers Grimm (just to name one fairy tale tradition, because there are dozens) wrote over 200 fairy tales. That’s right. Two hundred. I’ve read them all, I’ve studied them for years. And let me tell you something. Only about 20% of those tales are the Princess Tales that we now immediately associate with fairy tales. There are just as many peasants as princesses. There are soldiers, tailors, cobblers, and miller’s daughters. In fact, my favorite tale of all time is Räuberbräutigam (Robber Bride-Groom), which tells the story of a miller’s daughter who escapes from a band of robber-cannibals (which includes her fiance), and is then uses her wedding feast as a trap to catch them. Seriously. She’s a strong, kick-ass, takes-no-shit kind of a gal. These women exist in fairy tales, too. We just don’t see them as often.
Why is that?
1) Money. That’s right. Disney. Hollywood. They know that glamor, sex, and royalty sells. They also know that simple ideas make stronger impressions. They’ve also picked up on broader trends in our culture that have little to do with fairy tales (in their pure form), but everything to do with changing gender-roles, religion, sexual mores, and sexism. In short: they know they can make money off of princesses.
2) History. The Grimms did not originally make much money off of their 200 fairy tales. (Are you sick of that number? Because I haven’t even begun to be sick of it yet…) They therefore put out a small edition, “Die Kleine Ausgabe,” in 1825. This edition contained only 50 tales. Snow White, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty and all their pals were among them. This book made money and upped sales, in part because the society it depicted and the tales it contained were simpler and easier to digest. These are the tales that have mostly entered into popular culture. The more complex and subversive ones remain under the radar. But. They. Are. There. And in my view, they are quite empowering. ::end rant::
Back to the article!
Our dear friend and guide Joanna Weiss has this to say about sanitizing fairy tales:
In truth, I think I’ve told a [sanitized] version of that one to my little girl, putting my own, gentle spin on the story. And there is reason to protect the smallest kids from the violent parts of fairy tales, says David Bickham, a research scientist at the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston. Young kids are already exposed to plenty of violence, he says, in news reports and superhero stories.
I agree with the fact that kids are exposed to a lot of violence today. Video games in which children shoot guns, steal money, and beat up women are very, very horrific (at least in my mind). But censoring fairy tales is not the solution. Stopping your children from playing the damn video game is the solution. Then the pointless, mind-numbing violence will be out of the picture. Then you can read your kids the real fairy tales. Then maybe they’ll grow up with a more complex view of the world.
We need to think carefully about what we read our children. If we read them puffy, empty, simple and sanitized stories in an effort to spare our children nightmares and pain, then our children will grow up to be puffy, empty, simple people, with just as much substance to them as the stories we fed them when they were children.