Original versions of classic fairy tales
By Andy Kaiser
Article ID: 1257
[This article is a companion piece to "More original meanings of classic fairy tales".]
“Oh Grandmother, what big ears you have!”
“All the better to hear you with, my dear.”
“Oh Grandmother, what big eyes you have!”
“All the better to see you with, my dear.”
“Oh Grandmother, what big hands you have!”
“All the better to grab you with, my dear.”
“Oh Grandmother, what big teeth you have!”
“All the better to eat you with, my dear.”
Thus begins the true terror of Little Red Riding Hood. Do you know what happens in the original story? Find out, and this Halloween you may think twice when you see certain costumes. This Digital Bits Skeptic article keeps to the usual credo of skepticism and critical thinking. But since it’s a Halloween special, it also gets pretty creepy.
A quick alert to parents and teachers – this article doesn’t have forbidden words, but revealing the dark nature of beloved childrens’ fairy tales may be too much for young kids.
It’s almost Halloween. In less than five days, young children will dress up, put on makeup or a mask, and knock on strangers’ doors, expecting oodles of free candy. And they get it. The kids are happy, the strangers are happy, everyone wins except dental insurance companies.
When I was younger, the cool costumes were made from anyone from the Star Wars movies. I too donned the smelly, sweaty plastic mask, and trick-or-treated as Darth Vader. Being probably three feet tall made me a much less imposing figure.
My friends all did the same. Movies and TV shows dictated our choices. A costumed resurgence occurred at the time Disney started remaking classic fairy tales, like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, and rereleasing older movies like Cinderella and Snow White.
The Little Mermaid was big. Girls everywhere dressed up like Ariel and knew line-by-line the story of unrequited love eventually rewarded.
Yet, this isn’t the original story. Did you know that the original Little Mermaid story by Hans Christian Anderson ended with the Little Mermaid’s death? She essentially committed suicide because she was unwilling to kill the prince, who was already married to someone else.
It’s not quite the happy Disney ending. Yet, I remember being a kid, being somehow more satisfied when I heard the “real” endings of fairy tales. It’s like watching the TV-edited version of an R-rated movie. The R-rated version is invariably better, and was the director’s original intent. Even though the original fairy tale storylines deal with nasty issues, they are truer than hiding behind a Disney-esque ending. They reflect the original violent themes of some fairy tales: that the world is a dangerous place, certain behavior is tolerated and some isn’t, and some people are here to protect you, and some will hurt you.
For those who really like to dig deep, fairy tales also involve heavy symbolism and psychology. The Hansel and Gretel story is an examination of children’s emotional growth and eventual rejection of parental supervision. Many tales (like Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Sleeping Beauty) have a heavily sexual tone, and explore sexual awakening and desire.
Now that we’ve mentioned sex and violence, let’s get to it and find about the original versions of classic fairy tales.
The original story of The Three Little Pigs
The Three Little Pigs is sanitized for today’s children by telling the violence-packed story without the violence. We’re left with a cautionary tale that shows how being smart is a good thing. The original has lost a lot. The original Three Little Pigs is a lot longer, as the Big Bad Wolf doesn’t stick with blowing down houses. He does do that to get the first two little pigs. Those unfortunate morsels are quickly terrorized and eaten. The third pig – the smart one – is the holdout. Unable to blow down the third pig’s house, the wolf tries guile. He tries to tempt the pig out of the house, promising turnips, apples, and a visit to a fair. The pig rejects the temptation for immediate gratification, knowing that there are more important issues.
The wolf then decides to go back to violence. He climbs the pig’s house, and enters through the chimney. But the pig has planned ahead, and has started boiling a huge pot of water in the fireplace. The wolf falls down the chimney, into the pot, and boils to death. He – and the two other pigs still in his stomach – are now a gruesome dinner for the third pig.
The morals of the original Three Little Pigs: Don’t give in to temptation. Grow up and be smart, or die.
The original story of Hansel and Gretel
Hansel and Gretel is often told as two fun-loving kids who, while exploring a forest, find a gingerbread house. They eat some of it, and the owner of the house invites them in and gives them dinner. Then the owner, revealed as an evil witch, tries to eat the children. They escape.
The original Hansel and Gretel spends as much time on getting to the house as on the events in the house itself. You see Hansel and Gretel are siblings, and their parents are very poor. So poor, their mother realizes she has no food for the children. So she conspires with the father to kick Hansel and Gretel out of their house. The kids leave the house to look for food on their own. In order to find their way back, Hansel leaves a trail of white pebbles, then another trail of breadcrumbs. But birds eat the breadcrumbs and the kids get lost, only then to find the gingerbread house.
The witch invites in Hansel and Gretel and gives them good food and comfy beds. Four weeks later, the witch reveals her true self: she’s been fattening up the kids so she can eat them. She has an oven all prepared, and has tied up Hansel, preventing his escape. But quick-thinking Gretel pushes the witch into the oven. The children then ransack the witch’s home for valuables and find their way home with the help of a white duck. Upon returning, they find their mother has died. They present the valuables to their father where, the story says, “they lived together in perfect joy”.
The morals of the original Hansel and Gretel: You must be able to survive on your own without the help of your parents. If you must depend on someone, depend on people your own age. The material world is tempting and spiritually dangerous.
The original story of Little Red Riding Hood (also called “Little Red Cap“)
This is a story of a little girl wearing a red cloak and hood, walking through the forest to deliver a basket of goodies to her grandmother. She was assigned this task by her mother, who warned her not to stray from the path, no matter how tempting. A wolf is stalking her, and realizing Little Red’s destination, decides to capitalize by eating both Little Red and her grandmother. The wolf meets Little Red in the forest, and convinces her to stray from the path and look around, causing her to waste time while the wolf speeds towards the Grandma’s house. The wolf eats the grandmother, disguises himself in her clothing, and waits patiently in the Grandma’s bed.
Little Red Riding Hood arrives, and then we have the immortal lines beginning with “Oh Grandmother, what big ears you have!” At the final line, the wolf grabs Little Red and eats her.
A new character is then introduced, that of a hunter, who may have been tracking the wolf. The hunter bursts in to the Grandma’s house. Knowing that using his gun may also kill the two trapped ladies, he grabs a pair of scissors and cuts open the wolf’s stomach. A red hood is the first thing to emerge. Little Red Riding hood and her grandmother tumble out. Both are still alive. The wolf is still alive. Then Little Red collects a bunch of heavy rocks, and puts them into the still-open stomach of the wolf. She sews up the stomach. The wolf tries to run, but due to the weight of rocks in its belly, it falls down and dies. After this bloody retribution, the hunter keeps and wears the wolf’s skin, the grandma gets her basket of goodies, and Little Red knows she will never be distracted from the footpath again.
Some versions of the story have a highly sexual overtone between Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf. One translation has Little Red strip naked and climb into bed with the wolf. When Little Red remarks on “Grandma’s” powerful arms, the response is “All the better to embrace you, my dear.” At no point does Little Red make a move to escape or fight back this blatant seduction.
The morals of the original Little Red Riding Hood: Don’t allow yourself to be distracted from your goals. Heed the wisdom of your parents. If you don’t, you will gain experience, though the process may be painful. A mature, controlled person can be sexually powerful without being threatening.
The original story of Sleeping Beauty
Sleeping Beauty is another fairy tale with a weird sexual twist. In original, non-censored versions, the young maiden is certainly not woken with a kiss.
Sleeping Beauty falls into a hundred-year sleep due to a curse by an evil fairy. The curse stated that she would sleep after being pricked in the finger by a spinning wheel. This of course happens, and our heroine falls asleep.
A prince arrives, and falls in lust with the sleeping girl. He rapes her. She becomes pregnant, and – still sleeping – gives birth to twins. The twins crawl out of her and feed from her. During one feeding, one of the babies accidentally starts sucking on a finger instead of a breast, and sucks out a splinter of wood under Sleeping Beauty’s fingernail. The curse is broken, and Sleeping Beauty wakes up.
The morals of the original Sleeping Beauty: Progress and advancement does not have to be seen in order to happen. Trying to prevent a child’s sexual awakening is impossible. Sometimes you have to wait a long time for sexual satisfaction. Children are not just parasitic – they can also help the parents.
Many of the classic fairy tales were not addressed in this article. You may notice exclusions like Beauty and the Beast, Jack and the Beanstalk, Snow White, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and others. Much like the Big Bad Wolf, these stories must be brutally sacrificed at the expense of others. I didn’t want to push too far in time or length. However, if there is interest, there will be another article. If you’d like to hear a sequel with more origins of popular fairy tales, leave a comment saying so at the end of this article and, as they say, “your dreams will come true”. [Editor's note: The "sequel" has been published, and is available at this link.]
We need to realize that fairy tales evolve and change based on our current social and political setting. What is normal for one culture (even just a couple hundred years ago) is violent and ugly to another.
Just because Disney made a movie out of it, don’t think one particular version of anything is The Truth. That even goes for the “original versions” mentioned in this article. Many fairy tales are extremely old, and many have multiple origins, or have merged with other stories over time.
If you want to enjoy a fairy tale for enjoyment’s sake, that’s fine. But know that your entertainment may originally have had deeper lessons about life, love, good and evil. A quality story is one that can be enjoyed on multiple levels. Those stories are worth listening to. They’re definitely worth remembering and passing on to those who can learn from them. Don’t bury the classics. Keep them alive.
Bettelheim, Bruno. 1977. The Uses of Enchantment. New York: Vintage Books.
Frank, Josette (editorial supervision). 1958. Shirley Temple’s Storybook. New York: Random House.
Heuscher, Julius. 1963. A Psychiatric Study of Fairy Tales: Their Origin, Meaning and Usefulness. Illinois: Charles C. Thomas.