Folklore & Fairytales discussion

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Those Frightful Fairy-Tales

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message 1: by Salma (new)

Salma | 17 comments Well- aside from Rumpelstiltskin, Snow White has always disturbed me. It's just that most people have both dark and light in them- no one is all-good or all-bad. Yet fairy tales portray the characters exactly as that. I understand that it might be easier that way in order to instruct children to engage in moral behavior.

But fairy tales weren't always meant for children. What were adults trying to convey in these very black-and-white tales. Don't get me wrong- I think fairy tales a delicious way to feed your imagination, I adore them. But I guess, as an adult, I feel frustrations reading them that I never felt as a chld.


message 2: by Salma (new)

Salma | 17 comments Point taken. What layers of meaning would you find in Snow White and Rumpelstiltskin, for example. I mean- there's nothing really redeeming in the Evil Queen figure in most tales- no gray area in their characters, don't you think?


message 3: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Vegan (lisavegan) I both loved and was fearful of Hansel and Gretel. The whole abandonment thing and the potential of being eaten by a witch was terrifying to me. No other fairy tale, even the other disturbing ones, got to me like Hansel and Gretel. The edible house was so appealing and enticing and possibly that's why the reality of it was so horrifying.

I was actually relatively sensitive to all fairy tales as a young child.


message 4: by Jude (last edited Aug 15, 2009 10:19AM) (new)

Jude (jude42) | 7 comments there's nothing really redeeming in the Evil Queen figure in most tales- no gray area in their characters, don't you think?

pretty much the opposite sense for me- not about redeeming, but plenty of complexity.
i see snow white's queen as a faceted reflection of what is fearful TO women: losing the currency of beauty and fertility, which are their only traditional "powers," and also a reflection of what was/is considered fearful IN women: powers of insight, manipulation, control by way of unseen/arcane skills. Old (familiar to friends) bone for me: that women of power in many tales are evil- creating an associative demonization of any woman with any power...


message 5: by Jude (new)

Jude (jude42) | 7 comments Perrault's version is hugely popular because he added the FG, but other versions including Grimm have no fairy Godmother- there is a tree that grants her prayers to her dead mother.

I can't think of any group of FG characters comparable to the pantheon of evil witches or witch-like evil queens & stepmothers, but that might just be my brain...
otoh- a number of tales including my fave The Goose Girl have special protection from a dead or absent mother- which IS pretty cool when you think about it. still, tho i'm certainly not an authority & don't need to be right, my impression is that the theme of bad witches is stronger than that of dead moms & FG's.


message 6: by Jude (new)

Jude (jude42) | 7 comments ok. went to wiki:

Fairy Godmothers

In Fairytale and Legend

Actual fairy godmothers are rare in fairy tales, but became familiar figures because of the popularity of the literary fairy tales of Madame d'Aulnoy and other précieuses, and Charles Perrault. Many other supernatural patrons feature in fairy tales; these include various kinds of animals and the spirit of a dead mother.[1:] The fairy godmother has her roots in the figures of the Fates; this is especially clear in Sleeping Beauty, where they decree her fate, and are associated with spinning.[2:]
In the tales of précieuses and later successors, the fairy godmother acts in a manner atypical of fairies in actual folklore belief; they are preoccupied with the character and fortunes of their human protegees, whereas fairies in folklore had their own interests.[3:]


"It was her fairy godmother!" Illustration to Cinderella
Typically, the fairy godmother's protégé is a prince or princess and the hero of the story, and the godparent uses her magic to help or otherwise support them. The most well-known example is probably the fairy godmother in Charles Perrault's Cinderella. Multiple fairy godmothers appear in Sleeping Beauty, in both Charles Perrault's and the Grimm Brothers's variants, including one evil, offended one. The popularity of these versions of these tales led to this being widely regarded as a common fairy-tale motif, although they are less common in other tales.
Indeed, the fairy godmothers were added to Sleeping Beauty by Perrault; no such figures appeared in his source, "Sole, Luna, e Talia" by Giambattista Basile.[4:] In the Grimm Brothers' variant of Cinderella, Aschenputtel is aided not by her fairy godmother but by her dead mother.[5:] A great variety of other figures may also take this place.

more at:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairy_go...



message 7: by Jude (new)

Jude (jude42) | 7 comments Although honestly, I don't really see the landscape of folk tales as populated by white hats and black hats, to me it looks more equivocal than that.

oh! - neither do i - i thought we were talkin bout the hats right now & thought i had identified the females in black ones as a beloved hobby horse of mine. & i was intrigued by the wiki implication that only the FG's (as opposed to dead moms) made it into pop fairy tales, etc... Not meant as refutation or argument - i was just thinking & digging. sorry altogether.


message 8: by Salma (new)

Salma | 17 comments I'm impressed with the themes everyone has come up with- I never thought of the hidden resentments angle, as BunWat mentioned.

I'm worried that I wasn't really making myself clear, though. I brought up the whole white/black area, and we have uncovered layers of meaning, but I haven't read anything that changes my mind about the all good/all evil issue.

Yes, fear of women's power, resentments, etc. are at the root of many of these stories- but my original point was that characters in the stories are either all good or all evil.

We've discussed various things the stepmother could signify, but the fact still remains, she has not one redeeming quality. The fairy godmothers/sweet young damsels are all good, sweet beautiful virtue. The reason that I brought up the issue of instruction to children is because, as I said earlier, that's the only way having completely good/completely evil characters would make sense. It would make it easier for the children to understand.

however, fairy tales weren't originally intended for children. Considering this fact, I think it odd that layers of depth in the characters , as opposed to in the actual story aren't apparent. Since people are rarely all good or all bad, I am surprised that these different layers aren't covered in the stories. I don't know if this is years of lit classes talking, but stories, I feel are easier to relate to, if we can relate to the characters. But I can't relate to some girl who all kindness and virtue. ;-p

Now that I think about it- Rumpelstiltskin is actually an example of more multi-layered characters. No one there is all good/all bad, some villainshave redeeming qualities, however slight. And the 'good' people have their sly, nasty moments as well.


message 9: by Salma (new)

Salma | 17 comments I just remembered something. Anyone ever see the movie "Snow White- The Terror?" The actual acting, plot are so-so. But what really stuck out to me was the stepmother's character, played by Sigourney Weaver.

She actually starts out as being kind to Snow-White, but then she has a miscarriage, and as part of her psychosis (why should my own baby die while Snow-White lives?) is out to get Snow White. I think maybe the film's creators were thinking along the same lines that I was- at least give the queen a reason to be mean (even if it's not one that normal people would condone).



message 10: by Salma (new)

Salma | 17 comments Bun Wat-

That's a good point- it makes sense that fairy tales may have been used for 'community theatre' purposes before 'widespread literacy.' Writing the stories down, while great for post- literacy generations, probably took away some of the charms of fairy tales.

BTW- I'd love to read that variation where Snow White tries to kill the stepmother first. Do you know what country it's from?


message 11: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Vegan (lisavegan) My first introduction to The Princess and the Pea was seeing the humorous play with Carol Burnett, and I loved it, so I've always had a fondness for the story.


message 12: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Vegan (lisavegan) Yes! Once Upon a Mattress! Made me love the story forever.

Thanks for The Princess Tales/The Princess Test link, Bun. and onto my to-read list it went!


message 13: by Manybooks (last edited Aug 23, 2010 01:33PM) (new)

Manybooks | 65 comments Salma wrote: "Well- aside from Rumpelstiltskin, Snow White has always disturbed me. It's just that most people have both dark and light in them- no one is all-good or all-bad. Yet fairy tales portray the charact..."

And, when you think about it, the original Grimm's version of Snow White was even worse. In the 1815 version, Snow White was not hounded by an evil stepmother, but by her biological mother. It seems that mothers objected when they started reading this tale to their children and the Grimm's changed the erstwhile mother to an evil stepmother. Of course, the theme in that original story would likely be a mother not being able to cope with her daughter's emerging beauty, seeing her as a rival, maybe even seeing her as a rival for the father's affection, being displaced by the daughter, loosing power.


message 14: by Christine (last edited Aug 23, 2010 03:05PM) (new)

Christine (chrisarrow) If you read The Madwoman in the Attic, there is a nice section on "Snow White". Considering that Snow White seems cocerned with beauty as her mother/stepmother, I see the tale as about beauty and how beauty is judged.

I can't remember what tale I found distrubing as a child other than "The Marsh King's Daughter" by Andersen. Now, ever time I re-read "The Little Mermaid", I get werided out by the prince.


message 15: by Old-Barbarossa (new)

Old-Barbarossa Gundula wrote: "the theme in that original story would likely be a mother not being able to cope with her daughter's emerging beauty..."

And now we have the execrable (and creepy) reality tv that is "Hotter Than My Daughter"...


message 16: by Brenda (new)

Brenda The fairy tale that stuck with me the most was Hansel and Gretel. As a child it was disturbing to me that parents would take their children into the woods and leave them there. I loved that the two children stuck together and came up with a plan to drop breadcrumbs. I loved the gingerbread house with candies and treats even though it was just there to entice and fatten up children. It was the ending that left me without a feeling of “living happily ever after.”


message 17: by Manybooks (last edited Aug 24, 2010 12:55PM) (new)

Manybooks | 65 comments Brenda wrote: "The fairy tale that stuck with me the most was Hansel and Gretel. As a child it was disturbing to me that parents would take their children into the woods and leave them there. I loved that the t..."

"Hansel and Gretel" has always disturbed me as well, not only the fact that the parents would abandon their children in the woods, but the fact that poverty would drive parents to do such a terrible thing. That does not mean to excuse the parents (both the father and the mother), but I think that listening to this story when I was a child really made me angry at social injustice and the fact that some people, no matter how hard they work, will not have enough to survive, to feed their family.

Actually, one of my favourite operas is Engelbert Humperdinck's "Hansel and Gretel" which I've always loved not only for the wonderful music (which is a bit like Wagner light), but mostly because the parents are portrayed in a much more positive light. The mother sends the children into the forest to gather berries not to be rid of them, but because due to their being naughty, the milk they were supposed to have for their evening meal was spilled (they are definitely not abandoned). When the parents realise that the children are in danger (due to the witch), they go and look for them (a retelling, but I love the story, the fact that the mother, while she should maybe not have sent the children into a dangerous area of the forest, did not realise the danger, she just wants them to gather food for supper).


message 18: by Brenda (new)

Brenda I like that version:)


message 19: by Manybooks (new)

Manybooks | 65 comments In Germany, may cities show this opera every year at Christmas, it's a wonderful way of introducing children to opera, and I do love the story and the music (I also wish that it was more of a tradition to show it in North America).


message 20: by Ronyell (new)

Ronyell (rabbitearsblog) | 95 comments Brenda wrote: "The fairy tale that stuck with me the most was Hansel and Gretel. As a child it was disturbing to me that parents would take their children into the woods and leave them there. I loved that the t..."

I was also a bit disturbed at the ending about how the mother suddenly dies but the father and Hansel and Gretal never really felt remorse of her passing, even though the mother was portrayed as a horrible person in the story. Another story that disturbed me a bit was Pinocchio especially with the scene of the boys turning into donkeys. In the original version of Pinocchio, Pinocchio actually turns into a full donkey and I thought that it was a bit disturbing when one of the trainers tried to drown Pinocchio as a donkey because he injured himself. Also, the original version of "The Little Mermaid" was a little disturbing especially when the little mermaid had to stab the prince to become a mermaid again, but she didn't stab him and she ended up dying at the end.


message 21: by Brenda (new)

Brenda I think I would have found those disturbing as well Ronyell. It just confirms my desire to preview movies and read books prior to passing them on to younger children.


message 22: by Manybooks (new)

Manybooks | 65 comments I think both the father and the mother in Hansel and Gretel are less than stellar characters. I mean, the father certainly went along with abandoning the children, he is the typical ineffective father so common in many fairy tales. However, Hansel and Gretel does raise important issues about poverty and that in some cases, families will not have enough to feed themselves.


message 23: by Ronyell (new)

Ronyell (rabbitearsblog) | 95 comments Brenda wrote: "I think I would have found those disturbing as well Ronyell. It just confirms my desire to preview movies and read books prior to passing them on to younger children."

I agree with you Brenda that parents should read certain books before they show it to their children because some of these fairy tales are a bit gruesome and I don't know how young children can handle that.


message 24: by Ronyell (new)

Ronyell (rabbitearsblog) | 95 comments Gundula wrote: "I think both the father and the mother in Hansel and Gretel are less than stellar characters. I mean, the father certainly went along with abandoning the children, he is the typical ineffective fa..."

I agree with you Gundula that the father in Hansel and Gretel should have at least stood up for the children instead of letting the mother talk him into abandoning the children in the forest. That was the scene that made me mad a little bit!


message 26: by Janice (last edited Sep 15, 2010 05:04PM) (new)

Janice  Durante | 2 comments In my experience, children both relate to and need stories that have elements of both darkness (or gruesomeness, as Ronyell sees it) and light. Fairy tales help show us how we can surmount impossible obstacles, how we can grow, how we can explore possibilities, and, ultimately, how to come into our own. Bettelheim said this and much more in his intriguing books on fairy tales. The fairy tale provides a "safe" place for children to work through some of their darkest fears.
One problem is that people often read fairy tales that are not appropriate for a child's age. In general, I've found many of the English fairy and folktales to be gentle enough for young children -- think "Three Little Pigs," "Goldilocks and the Three Bears," etc. As children reach the age of 8, they tend to relish tales with darker elements. As a feminist, I, too, have problems with the implications of many of the Cinderella and Snow White versions. Since, however, there are so many variants of the tales, it is easy to recommend those that feature more independent heroines. Alison Lurie, for instance has given us "The Sleeping Prince" in her collection Clever Gretchen and Other Forgotten Folktales ; Ruth Sanderson has written a wonderful Italian version of the Cinderella story in her picture book Papa Gatto. Recently published parodies such as Kate and the Beanstalk and Sleeping Bobby by Mary Pope Osborne, are fun and reflect contemporary values. The possibilities are endless.


message 27: by Ronyell (new)

Ronyell (rabbitearsblog) | 95 comments Janice Floyd wrote: "In my experience, children both relate to and need stories that have elements of both darkness (or gruesomeness, as Ronyell sees it) and light. Fairy tales help show us how we can surmount impossib..."

I love your logic on fairy tales Janice! I agree with you that many children need a balance between dark and light in order to face their fears and know what is right or what is wrong.


message 28: by Manybooks (new)

Manybooks | 65 comments If any of you read German and want to read a great collection of European fairy tales featuring strong heroines, you should give the collection Die Frau, dies auszog, ihren Mann zu erlösen a try.


message 29: by Ronyell (new)

Ronyell (rabbitearsblog) | 95 comments Gundula wrote: "If any of you read German and want to read a great collection of European fairy tales featuring strong heroines, you should give the collection [book:Die Frau, dies auszog, ihren Mann zu erlösen|88..."

Thanks Gundula!!! That's sounds interesting!!! :D


message 30: by BK (new)

BK Blue (paradoxically) | 3 comments Like others have mentioned, I hate that fairy tales have been altered to be light and fluffy. I know it is for children, but it's the wrong idea. They should disturb, scare and make you think. There should be shades of gray. Yes, even the kid versions. Because they weren't intended as just entertainment, but lessons, no?

Besides, just imagine how much better the Disney movies would be! (j/k)


message 31: by Manybooks (new)

Manybooks | 65 comments BonFire wrote: "Like others have mentioned, I hate that fairy tales have been altered to be light and fluffy. I know it is for children, but it's the wrong idea. They should disturb, scare and make you think. Ther..."

And, they were not for children originally, either, but for mixed company.


message 32: by Ronyell (new)

Ronyell (rabbitearsblog) | 95 comments I agree that the originally fairy tales were dark, but I think that they were trying to teach children about the importance of right and wrong and about the dangers of the real world. I think kids do need some dark stories to teach them about the real world without warping their minds.


message 33: by Parvathy (new)

Parvathy | 15 comments I have come across a number of fairy tales which are dark and scary which had its once upon a time but lacked the happily ever after. I am not even sure they classify as fairy tale. The story of Blue Beard who kills of his wives when they do not obey his instructions, the Yellow Dwarf, the wonderful sheep. I am not saying that a happy ending makes a fairy tale but there some gruesome points in these stories that can scare people. The little red riding hood that is a scary one but it teach morals to children such as don't talk to strangers that does redeem it. Then there are those Russian fairytale such as Vailisa the Beautiful with the witch Baba Yaga and talking dolls. They are very dark and scary.


message 34: by Manybooks (new)

Manybooks | 65 comments Parvathy wrote: "I have come across a number of fairy tales which are dark and scary which had its once upon a time but lacked the happily ever after. I am not even sure they classify as fairy tale. The story of Bl..."

And there are even differences in some of the same or similar fairy tale traditions themselves. In the German (or in most of the German versions) of Little Red Riding Hood (Rotkäppchen), the little girl, as well as the grandmother are saved by the hunter at the end, while in Charles Perrault's version (French), the ending is just that the wolf eats the girl (which could be interpreted as being rather sexual as well).

About Baba Yaga, though, I find that she is a really interesting character, because in some of the tales, she is a definite force of evil, while in other tales, she is helpful (she is always spooky and rather dark, but she is as often a force for good as she is a force for evil).


message 35: by Parvathy (new)

Parvathy | 15 comments Gundula wrote: "Parvathy wrote: "I have come across a number of fairy tales which are dark and scary which had its once upon a time but lacked the happily ever after. I am not even sure they classify as fairy tale..."

I have read stories were Baba Yaga was portrayed as a helpful characters. But I have read similar stories where the same part was played by some other character.In the story East of the Sun West of the Moon(Andrew Lang) the protagonist takes directions from North,East,West and South winds but in a similar Russian Fairy tale Fenist the Falcon Baba Yaga takes this role. Even though she is scary I also find Baba Yaga an interesting character. Once while reading a book on Russian Fairy tales for the first time I was suprised at how often she came up as a character in the stories. The Little Red riding hood story the first version I have read the Grandmother and Red Riding Hood was saved only the later version I have read said otherwise. In Andrew Lang's collection also the end is not happy. It is more like a cautionary tale.


message 36: by Manybooks (new)

Manybooks | 65 comments Parvathy wrote: "Gundula wrote: "Parvathy wrote: "I have come across a number of fairy tales which are dark and scary which had its once upon a time but lacked the happily ever after. I am not even sure they classi..."

You have mentioned two of my favourite tales (I really love the tale of Fenist the falcon and I also noticed how close the tale is to East of the Sun and West of the Moon). One of the interesting things in Russian folk and fairy tales (for me) is the combination of Orthodox Christianity and paganism (or at least aspects that could be pagan).


message 37: by Parvathy (last edited Sep 07, 2011 04:26AM) (new)

Parvathy | 15 comments Gundula wrote: "Parvathy wrote: "Gundula wrote: "Parvathy wrote: "I have come across a number of fairy tales which are dark and scary which had its once upon a time but lacked the happily ever after. I am not even..."

Have you read the story King of Love this story is also similar to the two mentioned above. In Greek mythology the story of Psyche and Cupid(Eros) also has the same type of storyline. I have also noticed certain aspects of paganism in Russia fairy tales which is surprising considering the Orthodoxy they follow. If you take into account the Russian history the religion has played an important and rigid role. But their stories however does not seem to adhere to this that strictly and includes certain amount of paganism. But I would like to read more tales that has a strong Orthodox Christianity elements in them.


message 38: by Nicky (new)

Nicky (shanaqui) | 18 comments I have come across a number of fairy tales which are dark and scary which had its once upon a time but lacked the happily ever after. I am not even sure they classify as fairy tale.

They're probably closer to the original form of the fairytale than the form we know today. It's an interesting thought: do we still class them as fairytales, when they're so violent and morally dubious, or are they only the roots for the modern fairytale tradition?


message 39: by Parvathy (new)

Parvathy | 15 comments Nikki wrote: "I have come across a number of fairy tales which are dark and scary which had its once upon a time but lacked the happily ever after. I am not even sure they classify as fairy tale.

They're probab..."


There are certain glorified versions of old fairy tales nowadays and the most popular one I have come across is the Disney version of Little Mermaid. As a child I preferred the Disney one. But the old version is not without its positives. For one thing rather than being selfish the mermaid decided to sacrifice herself for the good of all. But if given a choice which is more appealing the Disney version or the original version


message 40: by Nicky (new)

Nicky (shanaqui) | 18 comments To me, the original, actually, but there y'go.


message 41: by Parvathy (last edited Sep 07, 2011 06:50AM) (new)

Parvathy | 15 comments Nikki wrote: "To me, the original, actually, but there y'go."

Yes if you think about it the original is much more praise worthy but I started liking it only after I gained enough maturity to understand the story. Now if you ask me I would say that Disney ruined the tale but when I was a child the adaptation by the book would not have appealed to me. So in a way the glorification meant for the popularization of the tale helped to kindle my interest which led me to seek out the original and other stories. These glorified version acted as a stepping stone. Hey but that is just my opinion.


message 42: by Nicky (new)

Nicky (shanaqui) | 18 comments The Tortoise and the Hare is a fable, isn't it?


message 43: by Ronyell (last edited Sep 08, 2011 08:39AM) (new)

Ronyell (rabbitearsblog) | 95 comments Parvathy wrote: "Nikki wrote: "I have come across a number of fairy tales which are dark and scary which had its once upon a time but lacked the happily ever after. I am not even sure they classify as fairy tale...."

I agree that I liked the Disney version of "The Little Mermaid" much better than the original, even though in the original story, I liked the idea that the Mermaid sacrificed her life to save the man she loved, although I wished that she would have somehow ended up with the Prince, but then the story would have lost the meaning of the mermaid's sacrifice to save the Prince's life.


message 44: by Parvathy (new)

Parvathy | 15 comments There are books in which the story of Tortoise and the Hare, the Ugly Duckling and the Emperor's New clothes comes under fairy tales but other sources state them as fables.


message 45: by Parvathy (new)

Parvathy | 15 comments There is an argument that magic is a necessary element in fairy tales. So just out of curiosity if the same stories had some magical element added to them would they be more of a fairy tale.


message 46: by Nicky (new)

Nicky (shanaqui) | 18 comments Talking animals aren't magic?


message 47: by Parvathy (last edited Sep 09, 2011 06:40AM) (new)

Parvathy | 15 comments Nikki wrote: "Talking animals aren't magic?"

Definitely,But I talking more along the lines of a fairy godmother and a quest kind of thing. Suppose the tortoise was helped by a fairy or some other character like that.


message 48: by Tahleen (new)

Tahleen | 2 comments I don't necessarily think talking animals are exactly magic, only because they are not talking to humans in most fables and because the fables themselves are allegorical. The element of fantasy is stronger in stories where humans and animals can talk with each other than if animals are only talking to each other and everything else in the story is more or less normal.


message 49: by Nicky (new)

Nicky (shanaqui) | 18 comments Mm. In fables, animals usually act as stand-ins for humans, so magic isn't quite the right word. Still, it's not very normal for animals to cooperate in that way either.


message 50: by Parvathy (last edited Sep 10, 2011 07:45AM) (new)

Parvathy | 15 comments While reading through the Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang I came across the story of sleeping beauty in the woods. This was the first version of sleeping beauty I have come across where the story did not end when the beauty woke up but it continued from there. The prince and princess got married in secret because the prince was scared of the ogre mother. They had two children, a girl and a boy after which the prince's mother came to know about them. They moved in with her and before long the ogre mother was overcame by desire to have her grand children for dinner. So she plotted for her son to leave the palace on an errand and asked her cook to kill children and make supper out of them. The kindhearted cook saves them. After eating her children the ogre wanted to eat their mother too but there also the cook saves her. Then the ogre comes to learn about this deception decides to kill them herself. In the end the Ogre meets with a gruesome death and the prince returns. He is happy for his wife and children but he laments his mother's death. I don't know how original this story it is but if it is then this is an example of a story where the story was not reinterpreted but a huge part of the story was omitted to make it less horrifying. Because the second half of the story truly is frightful. The Ogre mother was scarier than the witch in Hansel and Gretel maybe because she was thinking of eating her own grandchildren.


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