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Fairy tales of yesteryear weren't really for kids

POSTED: November 20, 2013 4:30 p.m.
 

Did you love fairy tales as a child? I sure did.

Among my favorites were Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood and, of course, Cinderella.

When thinking of these popular tales from yesteryear, most of us probably recall the Grimm brothers. The reality, however, is that these stories were written and told long before the Grimms penned their versions.

The early tales were, well, decidedly different than those most of us loved as children and read to our own. In fact, look into their history and you may be as shocked as I was.

For example, did you know in early versions of Little Red Riding Hood, both Little Red and her grandmother were both killed by the wolf? And it was told in the most graphic of ways. Wouldn’t that have been lovely for a child before bedtime?

As it turns out, long before the Grimm brothers there was a man named Charles Perrault. Ever heard of him? I hadn’t. Perrault was responsible for immortalizing some of the most famous tales and telling them in a different way than the originals.

Born in Paris in 1628, Perrault rebelled against traditional educational roads, and instead illegally bought his credentials to become a lawyer.

The practice of law bored Perrault, but he found his true calling when he penned his landmark book, “Tales of Times Passed” in 1697. It contained eight stories, including some of my favorites.

In Perrault’s version of Little Red Riding Hood, both granny and Red were eaten by the wolf, which did influence future writers who then began telling the story that while Red was screaming, her father heard her cries and saved her.

Many years later, the story continued to evolve with hunters saving her and cutting the wolf open to find both Red and granny alive and well.

Fairy tales before Perrault weren’t really for children at all. Many were complicated stories full of blood and gore. They often were told to royalty, who had an interest in violent stories.

Indeed, the history of Sleeping Beauty is nothing short of horrifying, including the ending.

Perrault realized something nobody before him had. Fairy tales could be told in a more straightforward way, without too much gore, and laced with magic that would serve to entertain an audience. They didn’t have to terrify.

Those who love the story of Cinderella (and what little girl doesn’t) should thank Perrault. Before him, it was told for at least a thousand years in a much different vein.

In earlier versions, the little girl who cleaned cinders and had three ugly stepsisters was nicknamed Rashin Coatie because her siblings forced her to wear “rushes” for clothing.

Before Perrault, there was no fairy godmother, but instead a magic calf. As part of that horrible tale, the wicked stepmother and stepsisters kill Rashin’s calf. After making a wish on the bones of her beloved magic calf, Rashin suddenly has a beautiful dress to wear to the big dance.

There was a prince, as well as a missing shoe, but the lengths to which the wicked stepmother went to make her daughters feet “fit” are too graphic for my rated-G column.

Suffice it to say there was a knife involved and some maiming. Again, imagine reading that to a child before bed.

One more interesting note about the story of Cinderella is that the original version is believed to have first appeared in a Chinese book written between A.D. 850 and 860.

There was a magic fish. And as we saw in Rashin’s story, the wicked stepmother killed the girl’s fish. After making a wish on the fish bones, the young girl is outfitted in a fancy feather and gold outfit so she can be the best dressed girl at the festival.

There was no prince in the story, but there was a lost golden shoe and a wealthy merchant who searched until he found the girl and then married her.

The history of pretty much anything fascinates me. I often worry about this young generation and what it sees on a daily basis.

Those who read my column know how critical I am of so many things in our culture. From reality TV and music award shows gone bad to song lyrics and inappropriate movies for young people, there is plenty to complain about.

Thankfully, fairy tales seem to have evolved in a good way from their earliest beginnings.

 

Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at contact@adlenrobinson.com.

 

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