Has life seemed a little off-putting to you lately? Wars and rumors of wars abound. Israel and Hamas have pushed Ukraine out of the news. Will the United States government come to a screeching halt when the budget deal expires in November? The circular firing squad of Republicans and their saga of finding the perfect Speaker of the House, coupled with the increasingly grim international news, reminded me of our old storytelling buddies, the Brothers Grimm. Did the Brothers Grimm intend to soothe or scare the kinder when they were collecting folk tales? Buckle down and read the rest of the column to find out.
Some background: first, the Grimm Boys did not invent fairy tales. They collected folk tales that floated around Europe since the memory of man runneth not. Their bright idea was to write the stories down to print them in a book. The first book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales came out in 1812. Like recipes for shrimp and grits, there were many versions of the same basic stories. The Grimm’s version of the stories stuck for the most part until Disney got hold of them. Uncle Walt sweetened up the stories and added music. The original Grimm stories were grim. You say: “What? Fairy tales are sweet stories to soothe little children.” Gentle Reader, as Jules in “Pulp Fiction” said: “Allow me to retort.” Things were tough back in Medieval Times. It was not a place for sissies. Below is Cinderella, the original Brothers Grimm version.
Cinderella begins with Cindy’s dying mom telling her: “Be good as gold and meek as a lamb, and the blessed Lord will protect you.” This does not turn out to be the case. Cindy’s dad waits only six months to marry Wicked Stepmother, who has two unpleasant daughters.
Dad is oblivious to how Wicked Step Mom and Sisters treat Cindy. Cindy is reduced to a kitchen scullery maid who is the butt of the evil Step Sisters’ abuse. It is not enough that Cindy must sleep in ashes in the hearth. Lacking social media to drive Cindy to suicide, the Sisters make up names to bully her. They suggest nicknaming her Ashy-Face, Sooty Bottom and finally settle on Cinderella.
One day, Dad is heading to town. He asks the Step Sisters and Cindy what they want him to bring them. The Evil Sisters ask for fancy dresses and jewels. Cindy asks for the first tree branch that brushes Dad’s hat on the way back. Everyone gets what they ask for. Cindy plants the branch on Mom’s grave, watering it daily with her tears. It grows quickly into a hazel tree that becomes home to many birds. Alfred Hitchcock Spoiler Alert — don’t mess with “The Birds.”
Prince Charming announces a three-day
Batchelor in Paradise Royal Ball at which he will choose his bride. Cindy helps the step-sisters get gussied up. Step Mom won’t let Cindy go to the ball, so she sneaks out to the hazel tree and makes a wish for a fancy prom dress, which magically appears. Surprise! The Fairy Godmother is a tree in the original story. Cindy goes to the ball, wows the Prince, and sneaks out before he can find out who she is. This goes on for the next two nights. On the last night, Prince has his lackeys spread pitch so he can follow Cindy’s footsteps. The Prince finds her golden shoe stuck in the pitch and announces he will marry the Shoe Fittee.
The Step Sisters go to try on the golden shoe. Step Mom tells them if the shoe doesn’t fit, they should cut off part of their foot to make it fit. Step Sister One cuts off part of her heel. Step Sister Two cuts off her big toe. Cindy’s birds tell the Prince, who is apparently a bit slow, to check the shoe for blood. He examines the bloody shoe and disqualifies both Step Sisters. Cindy’s foot fits, and the wedding takes place. The Step Sisters decide to butter up to Cindy and walk on each side of her into the church. Cindy’s birds are not fooled and peck out the left eye of each Sister. On the way out of the church, the birds peck out the Sisters’ right eyes, leaving them blind. Cindy and Prince live happily ever after.
So, what have we learned today? Fairy tales are not all sweetness and light. Hazel trees watered by tears are as good as a fairy godmother. Do-it-yourself podiatric surgery is a bad idea. If your step-sibling is good with birds, you better wear a helmet if you want to see the food at the wedding reception.
Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo! Happy Halloween.