Let’s be honest. Everyone loves a good fairytale. Stories about princesses, mysterious creatures, magic, and mystery enthrall us all. A key reason why so many of us grew up with fairy tales was Disney movies, which adapted many popular fairytales from around the world for a child audience. But Disney took a lot of liberty in the ways they altered and sanitized the original versions of these stories so they could market them to kids (and their parents).
Most of the princess stories in the Disney repertoire originally appeared in an 1812 collection of fairytales known as The Children’s and Household Tales, or as they are known more commonly now, the Grimm Brothers’ fairytales. Originally printed in German, the Grimm Brothers traveled extensively around Germany, collecting folktales that could be compiled into a single collection for children. It is unclear how much they chose to alter these stories from the version they were told, but they successfully completed the collection and birthed a phenomenon.
The original stories have a reputation for being rather dark. Far from the sparkles and magic we think of fairytales to be today, most of these stories were written with a certain irreverence for the gore they contained. At the time, literature written for children did not make a lot of attempts to make their stories kid-friendly. This resulted in both serious themes and violent content being fairly common in kids’ stories. But for most writers of the time, Children’s stories were meant to preach to kids, to scare them into good behavior. The Grimm Brothers, however, seem to simply enjoy giving Children surprising and interesting stories to read.
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Here are some well-known fairytales, their mainstream versions compared with the Grimm’s version. How do they stack up to the original? Do they say something a little deeper than the Disney versions, or are they just disturbing for the sake of it? Read on to find out.
1. “Cinderella” aka The Little Glass Slipper
Possibly the most recognized fairy tale in the world, it is important to acknowledge that the Grimm Brothers did not create the Cinderella story. It has been around in the folklore of many European cultures with many iterations. Today, even though its role in the Disney canon has become substantially smaller to favor more recent princesses, the Grimm Brothers’ version of the story was nothing like the bow-wrapped Disney version.
The premise is more or less the same. Cinderella, the pretty sister, is trapped by her evil stepmother and exploited to do household chores. But the fate that befalls her stepsister is much gorier in the Grimms’ version. When the Prince arrives with Cinderella’s slipper, the first stepsister cuts off her toe to cram her foot into the shoe. The second stepsister slices off her heel. Then two doves arrive from heaven sent by Cinderella’s mother to alert the Prince to the blood seeping out of the shoes.
After the Prince and Cinderella get married, these doves poke the sisters’ eyes out, leaving them to beg on the streets for alms. Fun fact, Cinderella’s name was originally just Ella, but she was nicknamed Cinderella because she was always covered in dirt and soot. The choice to punish the stepsisters but not the evil stepmother for mistreating Cinderella is interesting. Perhaps the story is not really punishing the stepsisters for Cinderella’s mistreatment but for daring to compare their ugly selves to Cinderella – who is a faultless, pure maiden. What do you think?
2. “Snow White” and The Seven Dwarfs
Where the Disney version is filled with songs and cute dwarves (Do you know their names? 🤔), the Grimms’ version is filled with cannibalism and old-timey torture methods. In the Grimm Brothers’ version, Snow White’s mother is very much her real mother, who is jealous of her daughter’s beauty because her value to the king depends entirely on being the ‘fairest woman in the land.
So the Queen worries that her husband may favor his own daughter over her, which is so weird already, so her solution is to kill Snow White. But she doesn’t stop there. She instructs the Huntsman to bring her Snow White’s heart and liver not as proof of the murder but to eat them so she’d get Snow White’s fairness somehow. In the Disney movie, the dwarves comically chase the evil Queen off a cliff, but in this version, she is forced to attend Snow White’s wedding to the Prince, where she’s given a pair of burning hot iron shoes and forced to dance in them until she dies. I’m starting to get why Disney changed so much of this plot.
3. “Rapunzel” from Tangled
Ah, the wonderful world of Disney’s tangled – chameleons for best friends, singing mobsters, and one incredibly attractive (despite being a cartoon) Flynn Rider. It comes as a surprise to absolutely no one that the Grimms’ version does not feature any of this. Even Disney shied away from calling their Rapunzel movie Rapunzel because of these differences.
The Grimms’ version starts not with Rapunzel but with her mother’s pregnancy cravings. Her mother desperately craves Rampion, which is literally a type of German Raddish, and her dad steals them for her from their neighbor-slash-evil-queen, Dame Gothel’s backyard. Dame Gothel eventually catches him and threatens to kill him. When Rapunzel’s father begs for mercy, she asks for the totally reasonable payment of his firstborn child.
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The rest of the story goes as you may have heard it. The only way in and out of Rapunzel’s tower is to climb up with her hair, and one day the Prince happens to pass by and hear her sing and climb up the tower to meet this maiden. One day, however, Rapunzel naively mentions to Gothel that her dresses are getting tighter around her waist (hint: she’s pregnant). Gothel then cuts her hair off and uses it to lift up the Prince and tries to kill him, but the Prince jumps out the window and lands in a thorn bush that breaks his falls but pokes his eyes out.
Rapunzel, on the other hand, flees to the woods and gives birth to twins. The Prince eventually finds her, despite being literally blind, and Rapunzel’s tears heal his eyes, and they live happily ever after. Who would have thought that would have been the most accurate part of Tangled? Another fun fact: Rapunzel was the german word for the almost-Raddish vegetable, making her the first female protagonist to be named after a root vegetable. Sorry, Katniss.
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