When hearing the phrase “once upon a time…” most of us already know that we are about to be told a fairytale. I don’t have any statistical facts on this, but I can say with a fair amount of confidence that most children love fairytales. Maybe it’s because of the desire that humans have towards storytelling. The magic of being enveloped in a story that is factually impossible but on the other hand intriguing could also be a part of this. Or, maybe it’s the idea that we are not encouraged to lie in our daily lives, but when it comes to fairytales there are no rules to making up the best of stories. Fairytales provide an endless world of possibilities, and all of this happens while the listener knows that the ending will be a safe, satisfying conclusion of “…and they lived happily ever after.”
But at a certain age we grow out of fairytales. This age usually coincides with the time in our lives where we realize that life also has bad parts to it, and when we come to the sobering realization that our mothers aren’t always going to be there for us when we need something. Long after I had this so-called epiphany in my own life, I came across the Brothers Grimm, and I learned all about their original fairytales. The Grimm Brothers were two German brothers who published a collection of folklore and fairy tales in the early 1800’s for the first time ever. These documented fairytales are considered to be the original ones. This doesn’t mean that fairytales did not exist before them, because they did, but they were never written down before, as fairytales were an oral tradition. But what is so special about the Grimm Brothers? To start off, the fairytales that they published are very different from the fairytales that children read about nowadays. While the titles and characters still remain somewhat the same, their plots differ. Secondly, and most importantly, their fairytales are very dark and sinister. For example, in Grimm’s version of Cinderella, the stepsisters cut off their toes to fit into the glass shoe, and at the end of the story Cinderella’s helping birds strike the stepsister’s eyes leaving them blind for the rest of their lives. And, in Snow White, the jealous step-mother dies at the end by choking on her rage and falling down. These endings are far more graphic than Disney’s smoothed over versions of them that make them more palatable for young children. That being said, the Grimm Brother’s version is much more entertaining because of its unpredictability. Their fairytales are, in some ways, also more realistic; the death of a villain (such as Snow White’s stepmother) is explained in detail, while in Disney’s version of the same tale, the villain usually disappears or dies without putting too much emphasis on this fact. Now, we shouldn’t come to the hasty conclusion that Grimms’ versions of these stories are all sober and dark, and that Disney has entirely sugar-coated their stories to appeal to the masses. Although there might be some truth to this, Grimms’ fairytales had a useful function of warning children about the dangers of life, and teaching them about morals. Disney, on the other hand, has still tried to somewhat maintain this essence through the portrayal of villains and the way that they have animated their characters onto a screen. They bring children a simple message of: do well in life, and life will be good to you. This was exactly the purpose of Grimms’ fairytales in the first place.
Over time, different adaptations and interpretations of Grimm’s tales have been created. As talked about earlier, Disney is one of them, and probably also the most popular. But, there have been a few others. The American series Once upon a time is one that incorporates the characters from different fairytales into the “real world”. The movie Maleficent is another one and, although this falls under the Disney category, it is still worth mentioning because it shows the perspective of the villain, and also because it puts the emphasis on a love between a mother and a daughter instead of a romantic love. So, the next time you’re in the mood for a fairytale, make sure to keep in mind that these stories have a long, interesting history that you can learn from!