Literature

Scary Tales

Sleeping Beauty
Sleeping Beauty
A depiction of Sleeping Beauty. | Photo: | Fairy Tales, Brothers Grimm, Princess,

Fabulous Folklore is Sometimes Grimm

The Brothers Grimm were nineteenth-century German linguists. Their mastery of human communication helped them to translate and publish classic tales of European folklore. Stories like "Rapunzel," "Sleeping Beauty," and "Little Red Riding Hood" were a cherished part of oral tradition. These tales were quite graphic in their original translations, and amazingly the Brothers Grimm actually edited and changed many of the tales to make them more palatable for nineteenth-century readers. Still, many of these classic tales are actually quite scary when we think about them in detail. Classic Grimm's Fairy Tales are full of graphic violence, incest, home invasion, murder, and rape; many of them may not be suitable for children.

Depravity is nothing new, human history is full of the morbid and macabre. Life is not always easy. Folklore of the Old Word was designed to explain to children that the world is not a safe place, and most certainly you should be careful in the woods. Europe in the middle ages was crippled by the black death, and terrorised by Viking raiders. Slavery was common, and for entertainment people would gather in the town centre and watch witches and heretics burn. The medieval period certainly was a dark time, and it comes as no surprise that many of the stories in European oral history are colored with gruesome violence. Just like today, even in the olden days people enjoyed grim and scary stories. Even children like to get scared once in awhile.

"Sleeping Beauty" is a classic and one of the earliest of Grimm's stories to be adopted by the Disney Corporation. It was first published by Charles Perrault, in 1697; its first title was La Belle au bois dormant, "The Beauty in the sleeping wood." Sleeping Beauty is a princess who is cursed by a jealous fairy and falls into a one-hundred-year slumber. Meanwhile, the son of the king is a voyeur and stumbles upon a sleeping damsel in the woods, and he gets her pregnant while she is sleeping. When Sleeping Beauty wakes up she is surprised to find that one hundred years has past, and she somehow has two children. In many modern versions of Sleeping Beauty, the controversial subjects of rape and voyeurism are not explored. Sleeping Beauty is actually a frightening story, perhaps everyone's worst nightmare, about being watched and raped while you are sleeping.

Another very popular tale that touches on the subject of female vulnerability is "Little Red Riding Hood," perhaps the most gruesome of them all. "Little Red Riding Hood" is a story about a young girl walking alone in the woods. She finds herself being followed by a metaphorical wolf, or psychopath. The predator comes out of the woods and talks to the innocent girl; he asks her questions. Naively she responds truthfully, and tells the sociopath where her grandmother lives. Creepily, the predator follows the young girl for awhile. His appetites run wild, and he runs ahead to grandma's house. At grandma's house, the story takes a turn for the worst; the "wolf" violates grandma and kills her. Perversely, he dresses in the dead woman's clothes and waits for the young girl to arrive. When Ridding Hood gets to grandma's house the man coaxes her into bed, where he has his way with her and then kills her. If the purpose of folklore is to teach lessons, then "Little Red Riding Hood" is very successful. The story is frightening, but the moral is clear: don't talk to strangers.

Unfortunately the world is not a safe place, and there are bad people out there. Many Old World tales are didactic, or educational, and they have a moral purpose. This is certainly true of Grimm's Fairy Tales. Although fairly tales are sometimes scary tales they are useful. It can be difficult for parents to warn children about danger, and nightmarish tales can get the point across in an unforgettable way.

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Updated May 6, 2017 6:00 AM EDT | More details

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