More original versions of classic fairy tales
By Andy Kaiser
Article ID: 1260
[This article is a companion piece to "Original meanings of classic fairy tales".]
Fee! Fie! Foe! Fum!
I smell the blood of an Englishman.
Be he live, or be he dead,
I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.
It’s a cool speech. But when you think about its literal meaning and the murderous intent of the giant ogre in “Jack and the Beanstalk”, you know – even as a child – that some fairy tales have strong undercurrents of gore and violence. You can confirm this by examining classic fairy tales and learning their original versions. Many of today’s fairy tales have been retooled to save our children from terrible stuff like blood, guts, sex, and unplanned pregnancies. Unfortunately, that means the original lessons of many fairy tales have been mangled or lost entirely.
Parents and teachers, this is a warning. Here be sex, gore, and worse: the potential destruction of fun childhood bedtime stories.
The original story of Jack and the Beanstalk and Jack and His Bargains
An interesting aspect of this story is that Jack’s adventure with the beanstalk was not his only tale. There were many stories in what is called the “Jack cycle”. “Jack and the Beanstalk” just happens to be the most popular one.
One example from the Jack cycle is called “Jack and his Bargains”. This story starts with Jack and his father, and can be thought of as a sequel to Jack and the Beanstalk. Jack is asked to sell the family cows for money. And like the Beanstalk story, he doesn’t, but instead trades the cows for magical items. In this case, the items are a magical stick (which physically beats anyone once Jack activates it by saying, “up stick and at it”), a singing bee, and a fiddle which plays beautiful music. Jack uses these items to impress a local princess, after which they get married and have “baskets full of children”.
On to the beanstalk: in “Jack and the Beanstalk”, Jack sells the family cow for magic seeds, as the cow (named “Milky White”) no longer gives milk. These seeds are planted, and a giant beanstalk grows out of the ground and high into the sky. Jack climbs the beanstalk. At the top, nestled in the clouds, is a giant castle. A huge ogre lives in the castle. The ogre gives us the memorable line of “Fee! Fi! Fo! Fum!”
Jack makes three trips, and each trip has a similar plot: he hides from the giant (twice in the giant ogre’s oven, and once in a cooking pot), and steals the ogre’s possessions (a bag of gold, a hen that lays golden eggs, and a golden harp). An fun twist is that the ogre is married. The ogress actually helps Jack hide from her husband, and she and Jack get along great together when the ogre isn’t around.
As Jack escapes after his third theft, the golden harp in his hands comes alive and starts screaming for help. The ogre chases after Jack. Jack descends the beanstalk with the ogre close above him. He calls for his mother to cut down the beanstalk with an axe. The mother gets the axe, but freezes – she can’t do it. Jack drops to the ground, frantically chops down the beanstalk, and the ogre dies from the fall.
I end up feeling sorry for the ogre husband and wife. They seem to have lived a pretty good life in the clouds, in their own castle, along with some pretty cool magical gadgets. And here comes Jack to ruin it all, with no moral justification for his repeated burglaries and his final murder of the ogre.
The morals of the original Jack and the Beanstalk: Grow up and stop being an infant. You must be able to independently strike out alone to provide for a family. The killing of the giant by destroying the beanstalk is a nicely phallic representation of the need to supersede male influence, taking control of one’s own life and rejecting superstition and magic.
The original story of Beauty and the Beast
The father is rich. There is no mother. The father has three sons and three daughters. The youngest daughter, the most attractive, is called “The Little Beauty”. All sisters except Beauty are vain and selfish and jealous of Beauty. Beauty, of course, is demure and loving towards everyone.
The father suddenly falls poor, and then has to go on a trip. He asks his daughters what they want. The daughters (except Beauty), want expensive clothes. Beauty just wants a rose. The Father finds and picks a rose, but he’s confronted by the rose’s owner, the Beast. As punishment, the Beast demands the father’s life as payment, or he’ll also settle for the lives of one of his daughters. The Father is allowed to return home to make his decision. When Beauty hears the father’s story, she begs to take her Father’s place. She does, and heads to the Beast’s castle.
The Beast treats her well, meeting her every need. Every night, he asks her to marry him. She always refuses, but finds herself starting to like the Beast. The Beast allows Beauty to visit her father, but requires that she be back in a week. At home, the other daughters conspire to keep Beauty past her deadline, in the hopes that the Beast will track Beauty down and kill her.
She overstays the week. The Beast does make an appearance, but only in Beauty’s dreams. In these, he reproaches her for leaving him. Beauty then realizes she loves the Beast, and that her broken promise has broken the Beast’s heart. She returns to the Beast, professes her love and agrees to marry him, and he immediately turns into a prince.
Beauty and the Beast are joined by the father and the sons. Beauty’s sisters, however, are turned into statues, and are cursed to remain that way until they “own up to their faults”. Doing this in statue form might be difficult, but I suppose that’s their problem.
In many versions of the story, the Beast is never described – his appearance is left to the imagination of the reader (and a select team of Disney animators). However, in one version, he is said to have a “snakelike” appearance. At the end of this version, the newly-transformed prince explains that snakelike appearance: he was cursed because he “seduced an orphan”. I have a hard time believing that pedophilia is acceptable anywhere, yet Beauty is able to forgive the Beast and they live happily ever after.
Symbolism is smeared all over this story: the Beast and his eventual transformation represent sexual fear and confusion evolving into sexual maturity. The rose (given by the father to Beauty) is a symbol of virginity and the father’s acceptance of Beauty’s growth into a woman. The symbol of the snake represents sexual lust and evil living in Paradise.
The morals of the original Beauty and the Beast: From a child’s perspective, sex may seem scary – or beastly – but an adult learns it’s a wonderful thing. Like Beauty’s relationship with her father, some aspects of the Oedipal complex can be beneficial and positive. A life where all your desires are immediately answered will quickly turn depressing and boring. In contrast, life is truly lived when you’re motivated by conflict and love.
The original story of Snow White
If you’re eating food right now, stop and go brush your teeth. Get yourself emotionally ready for some insinuated cannibalism.
But first, let’s look at Snow White’s name and her origin. The Brothers Grimm’s version of the story describes it this way:
“Once upon a time, in the middle of winter when the snow flakes fell like feathers from the sky, a queen sat at a window which had a frame of black ebony. And as she was sewing while looking at the snow, she pricked her finger with the needle and three drops of blood fell on the snow. The red looked so beautiful on the white snow that she thought to herself, ‘I wish I had a child as white as snow, as red as the blood, and had hair as black as ebony.’”
Thus we have Snow White, she of black hair, white skin and red lips.
The story of Snow White revolves around an evil queen who, despite her best efforts, is surpassed and replaced by her daughter. Like many in Hollywood, the queen is not content to grow old gracefully. She also can’t appreciate the blossoming and beauty of her daughter. She instead hates Snow White and wants her dead.
Early versions of the story have the queen go out riding with the king and Snow White on a horse-drawn coach ride. She tells Snow White to get out and pick roses. Then she tells the coachman to drive away fast, deserting Snow White. At this point, Snow White is seven years old.
The queen later realizes that Snow White didn’t die from exposure, and so starts plotting to have her killed. She hires a mercenary hunter, but the hunter fails both morally and legally – after finding Snow White, he refuses to kill her, but also refuses to help Snow White: he leaves her stranded alone in the forest.
The queen has a precondition for the hunter’s return. As proof of the kill, she wants the hunter to bring back Snow White’s heart, lungs and liver. After the hunter returns with organs and entrails taken from a butchered animal, the queen salts them down, cooks them and eats them. In primitive thinking, it is thought that one develops the powers and attributes of whatever one eats. The queen knows this and wants a double bonus: she kills Snow White while also stealing her beauty and youth.
Variations on the Snow White story focus heavily on Snow White and the Dwarves, and ignore the nastier plot points with the queen. The queen herself also changes – she’s sometimes a countess, and sometimes a step-mother instead of a genetic mother.
The queen disguises herself, and visits Snow White three times at the dwarves’ house. Snow White lets her in each time, despite warnings from the dwarves to never let anyone in the house. The first time, the disguised queen offers to sell Snow White some “stay-laces”, which are similar in function to the straps on a corset. When Snow White tries on these stay-laces, the queen cinches them so tightly Snow White can’t breathe and falls unconscious. The queen departs, and the dwarves return later and unlace Snow White. I couldn’t find much information on the queen’s second visit, only that it involved her combing Snow White’s hair and Snow White falling unconscious. On the third visit, the queen offers Snow White the famous poisoned apple. As proof of its safety, the queen cuts the apple in half, and eats the “white piece”. She gives Snow White the “red piece”. Snow White, perhaps never having seen a normal apple before, takes a bite and keels over.
Everyone thinks Snow White is dead. They bury her in a clear coffin made of glass. She’s out for a long time, visited by the seven dwarves and three birds – an owl, a raven and a dove.
A prince comes along, and finds Snow White in her coffin. He moves or nudges the coffin, and this jostles the poisoned apple out of Snow White’s mouth. She wakes up from her death-like sleep, and marries the prince.
In the end, the queen is killed. Her macabre punishment is with a pair of metal shoes, heated in a furnace until red-hot. The shoes are put on the queen’s feet. The queen “dances” in these fiery shoes until she falls down dead.
The morals of the original Snow White: As we learn from the Queen’s speech of “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all,” narcissism is a bad thing. The child will always eclipse the parent, and this process cannot and should not be stopped. The religious iconography of the poisoned apple is hard to ignore, leading us to ponder the inevitability of forbidden knowledge and intellectual and spiritual growth. Reaching physical adulthood does not mean you’re emotionally ready for it.
The original story of Cinderella
I originally wrote that the Cinderella story was originally written by the Brothers Grimm, but I was wrong. Thanks to Professor Harold Terrell from Northwest Mississippi Community College, who took the time to help clarify:
“Disney adapted the 1697 Perrault (French) version for his animated feature, the most popular Cinderella story. Although you have a disclaimer (older origins), there is no original version. The German variant (Aschenputtel) you describe is from 1857 (edited from the 1812 version), so even if there were an original, 1697 predates the German variant you claim as original, as does the Italian version of 1634/1635 by Giambattista Basile, or the Chinese version from 850–so, in other words, the Brothers Grimm story is NOT the original.
Look at the scholarly works of Jack Zipes and Maria Tatar. They may help with your confusion.”
While the Cinderella plotline has remained much the same, a few gruesome scenes were left out in modern retellings.
In modern versions, the stepsisters try to force Cinderella’s glass slipper on their own feet, only to be frustrated and disappointed when the slipper doesn’t fit. The original story shows the stepsisters’ extreme determination and brutality: since their feet don’t fit in the slipper, they just cut off pieces of their feet that don’t fit. They slice off parts of their toes and heel, and then try to shove their feet into the increasingly bloody slipper.
The original Cinderella story ends with the evil stepsisters and stepmother having their eyes plucked out and eaten by ravenous white birds.
The morals of the original Cinderella: Don’t focus on physical aspects. Focus instead on spiritual quality.
The original story of Rapunzel
The word “rapunzel” is a derivative of the German word for “rampion”. Rampion is a European vegetable, and was a favorite food of Rapunzel’s mother. This mother convinces her husband to enter a forbidden garden and steal rampion. She desperately wants the vegetable – this craving is a symptom of her pregnancy. The garden is owned by a sorceress, who catches the husband. The husband explains the situation, and in lieu of punishment, offers the sorceress the soon-to-be-born baby Rapunzel as payment for the transgression.
Life with her new mother is good until Rapunzel turns twelve. Then the sorceress puts Rapunzel into a tall tower, one that’s impossible to climb unaided. Luckily, Rapunzel has freakishly long hair: when the sorceress visits Rapunzel to bring food (and, presumably, lots of shampoo), the sorceress stands at the foot of the tower and calls out:
“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair, so that I may climb the golden stair.”
Rapunzel throws down her hair, braces herself, and the sorceress climbs this unique ladder into the tower.
One day a wandering prince hears Rapunzel singing from inside her tower. He sneaks up and sees the sorceress call out and ascend the tower. After the sorceress leaves, he stands at the tower and says the sorceress’s line. He climbs Rapunzel’s hair. Thus begins a peculiar but successful dating regimen, and after a few more visits and plenty of sex, Rapunzel becomes pregnant. Not knowing about the mysteries of pregnancy and childbirth, she makes a mistake. When the sorceress next visits, Rapunzel asks why her dress is growing so tight around her stomach.
In anger, the sorceress chops off Rapunzel’s hair and banishes her into a nearby desert. The sorceress waits in the tower for the prince to return. When the prince next climbs the hair, he comes face to face with the sorceress. In fear and depression from having lost Rapunzel, he jumps from the tower, and lands in a thorn bush. The thorns pierce his eyes and blind him. He stumbles off into a forest, lamenting his bad fortune and generally acting pretty mopey while bumping into trees.
Rapunzel and the prince wander around separately for a while. Eventually, they get close enough, because one day the price hears Rapunzel singing, just like when he first found her tower. They reunite, and Rapunzel’s tears of joy land in the prince’s eyes, curing his blindness. The prince takes Rapunzel back to his kingdom. At this point, we can assume the situation is “happily ever after”, though nothing more is said about what befalls the sorceress or Rapunzel’s unborn child.
The morals of the original Rapunzel: A child maturing into adulthood can’t be stopped. It is a parent’s emotional burden to want to delay this process, though they shouldn’t act on it. Pregnant women may sometimes have strange requests for food.
The original story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears
One interesting aspect of the Goldilocks tale is in its evolution. The original story of “Goldilocks” didn’t even feature a golden-haired child as the central character. There were three bears, but they were visited by a she-fox. The fox was later replaced with an old, crone-like woman. The woman was later replaced by a little girl named “Silver Hair”. “Silver Hair” was later changed to “Golden Hair”, and then finally “Goldilocks”.
The family of bears wasn’t originally so anthropomorphic. Instead of Father Bear, Mother Bear and Baby
Bear, earlier versions called them “Great Huge Bear”, “Middle Bear” and “Little Small Wee Bear”.
In recent versions, when Goldilocks is discovered by the bears, she screams and jumps out of a window, never to be seen again. In earlier versions, the bears were less forgiving: they try to throw her into the fireplace, drown her and drop her from a church steeple. In the original story with the bears and the she-fox, the stomach wins out and the bears simply eat the intruder.
The number three is a common theme in many stories, but more so in Goldilocks and the Three Bears. There are three bowls of porridge, three chairs, three beds and of course three bears. In earlier versions of the story we find more symbolism of the number three: Before entering the house, the old crone-like woman took three actions:
“She looked in at the window, and then she peeped in at the keyhole; and seeing nobody in the house, she lifted the latch.”
There were originally three punishments of fire, water, and throwing the intruder off of a church steeple. The number three is a mystical number, and is used to denote mysticism and holiness, even long before the Catholic Trinity.
The morals of the original Goldilocks and the Three Bears: Goldilocks is somewhat unique compared to other fairy tales in that it raises many psychological issues, but gives no solutions. The story seems incomplete, since there is no true resolution to Goldilocks’ problem – she just runs away, never to be seen again, and the bears go on with their unchanged lives. However, even without a resolution, we can still find important lessons: as you grow and mature, figure out who you identify with, like the “hard” father or the “soft” mother, or someone else entirely. Find yourself. Know yourself.
In the telling of fairy tales, it’s critical to know that the horrible things described are not always meant to be literally true. Frequent descriptions of blindness are symbolic of a lack of spiritual awareness. Evil stepmothers are symbolic of a child’s need to emotionally mature, enough to live independently of parents. Times of perceived death (like the long sleep of Sleeping Beauty and the poisoned-apple “death” of Snow White) are symbolic of physical and emotional growth, of waiting for the right time to emerge out of childhood into an adult.
Children can revel in or be scared by the blood-and-guts aspect of some stories. It’s up to the parent or teacher to properly present the material. A classic fairy tale is pervasive and long-lasting because it can be appreciated in many ways. It can be educational, teaching children simple concepts of right and wrong. It can illustrate proper social behavior, and how to live with the consequences of one’s actions. It can be analyzed for symbolism of complex psychological themes, like the emotional growth of an innocent child into a sexually-aware adult. Finally, a classic fairy tale can be simply enjoyed, as we have memorable characters with exciting and creative adventures.
So you have options. Read and appreciate fairy tales in whatever way you’d like. But whatever you do, don’t stop. They are far too important to be forgotten.
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.