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Telling the Truth about Fairy Tales

Along time ago, in a land far, far away called Germany there lived two brothers.  Their names were Jacob and Wilhelm and they collected folk tales and myths.  Together they were the ‘Brothers Grimm’.



Over the years we have all come to know and love these stories.  We read them to ourselves as we grow up; we tell our children them before bed; and (don’t lie) we have all watched them in Disney’s famous animations.  But it seems that the end of every fairy tale its always the same; the goodie gets the girl, the baddie gets defeated and we wrap up the story with a whispered “happily ever after”.  We reassure our children that in life the good guys always prevail and that evil is thwarted, no matter how many times our hero (and if we are lucky heroine) gets knocked down by sword, spell or fire-breathing dragon.



However, that’s a very different message from the original fairy tales.

Walt Disney, Lotte Reiniger and various publishers have ‘sanitised’ the Brothers Grimm tales to make their work more child-friendly and more ‘appropriate’ for their target market.  Many might think it was a good idea – I doubt many kids would have wanted to see Rapunzel and Flynn Rider blinded as they fall out of the tower, if the producers of the 2010 film ‘Tangled” had stuck to the original 1812 Brothers Grimm version.



The same thing applies to other fairy tales.  In the original French version of Red Riding Hood, there is no Woodsman to save the day and we end up with an overweight wolf and a dead girl.  Actually,  Snow White isn’t actually woken with love’s true kiss; the prince’s servants accidentally jostle her awake as they carry her back to his castle.  The question is whether this is a good thing for children – should they be protected from the more gruesome endings of the original stories and given the Disney-ized version, or are we setting our children up for a lifetime of disappointment as they discover that life isn’t like it is in the fairy tales and there isn’t always a happy ever after?

I know that I myself as a kid would have been more than happy to see Snow White’s evil Stepmother dance herself to death in a pair of red hot iron tap shoes as written in the original, but I doubt I’d have coped with some of the things that the Prince intended to do to the supposedly dead body of Snow White.

So should we protect young children from some of the harsher realities of life or by doing so are we depriving them of the chance to learn to cope with challenges and difficulties?  When the big bad wolf kills Little Red Riding Hood it was emphasised that the moral of the story was to not talk to strangers.  This is something that all parents strive to tell their children to protect them and because many of the classic fairy tales are based on folk tales its not uncommon for there to be a good moral to the story.



No one gains when children are awake half the night with nightmares, so it’s important to know what your children can cope with, but do yourself, and them, a favour and don’t let them grow up thinking that their prince/princess is waiting just around the corner to whisk them away from the difficulties of everyday life.  It’s much better to help them learn to cope with reality and develop skills and attitudes that will enable them to make the most of their lives.

On the other hand, a little bit of escapism every now and then can be fun too.