What springs to mind when you think of fairytales? Princesses with hair long enough to climb? Frog princes? Everyone living happily ever after? We’re all familiar with the Disney versions of these stories, but if you skim below the surface, many of these fairy tales are not as cheerful as one might initially think.
Be warned: there are no sing-alongs here!
1) The Frog Prince
Traditionally, the first story in the Grimm brothers’ collection is kept very simple. Princess kisses frog, frog turns into a prince. However, in the original, the frog tricks the princess into a deal, follows her home and sits on her pillow until, eventually, she angrily throws him against a wall which, for unknown reasons, turns him into a prince. Earlier versions went so far as to have the princess cut off his head! Not quite the fairytale ending you’d expect!
2) The Little Mermaid
Most of us would picture Ariel and her fishy underwater friends when we think of The Little Mermaid, but the Hans Christian Anderson version is far from the story we remember singing along to. In the Disney version, the sea witch Ursula tricks Ariel into making a deal to transform her into a human for three days in exchange for Ariel's voice. Within these three days, Ariel must receive the "kiss of true love" from the prince to remain a human permanently; otherwise, she will transform back into a mermaid and belong to Ursula. Of course, eventually it all ends well – she becomes a human and marries the prince.
In Hans Christian Andersen’s original tale she, indeed, trades her tongue for legs, but every step she takes is unbearable, like walking on sharp swords. If the prince marries someone else, she’ll die and turn into sea foam. Hoping to win over the prince, she dances for him – despite the agony it brings. This isn’t enough and eventually he decides to marry someone else. The mermaid’s sisters bring her a dagger, urging her to kill the prince and allow his blood to touch her feet, which will turn them into fins again. Just as she is about to kill the prince, she decides that she can’t bring herself to do it. So she dies, and dissolves into foam. Eek!
3) Goldilocks and the Three Bears
The original version of this tale didn’t include a 'Goldilocks' – at least not the blonde-haired little girl that we imagine. Instead, the three bears encountered a fox called Scrapefoot who wanders into their house, sleeps in their beds and eats their food. There are a few different endings to this tale, including the fox being thrown out of the window or being eaten by the bears. Interestingly, it is thought that the use of the word ‘vixen’ brought about the image of a human instead of a fox, as ‘vixen’ was often used to describe a cunning old woman. Later, Joseph Cundall transformed the antagonist from a grotesque old woman to a pretty little girl with golden locks we are familiar with in his Treasury of Pleasure Books for Young Children.
We all know the famous line in this tale: “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair”. In the Grimm version, Rapunzel lets down her hair for the prince - on a regular basis! She eventually becomes pregnant. In response to this, the witch chops off Rapunzel’s beautiful, long hair and sends her far away with no money, shelter and two mouths to feed. The prince also suffers a grim fate when the witch lures him to the top of the tower and pushes him off.
4) Snow White
The original 1812 Brother Grimm version of Snow White featured the evil queen as Snow White’s mother, as opposed to her stepmother, which makes the tale that little bit bleaker. Modern day versions also tend to leave out the dark detail of the queen sending the huntsmen out to retrieve Snow’s liver and lungs, which she intends to eat. Traditionally Snow White was dead, rather than sleeping, and only wakes up when the poisoned apple dislodges from her throat when the prince decides to cart her away…
The grim ending to this tale sees the queen daring to show up at Snow White’s wedding and being forced to dance in hot iron shoes until she keels over and dies.
In the Brothers Grimm version of Cinderella, our leading lady’s sisters go to much more extreme and gruesome lengths to fit into the glass slipper (a golden slipper in this version). The eldest sister cuts off her toes, whilst the second eldest sister cuts off her heel. The prince is alerted to the blood in the slipper by a dove, sent by Cinderella’s deceased mother. Later, as Cinderella marries the prince the dove returns to peck out the sisters’ eyes.
6) Little Red Riding Hood
In Charles Perrualt’s 1697 version there is no woodsman to save the day. Instead, Little Red simply strips naked, gets in bed, and then dies, eaten up by the big bad wolf. There is an even more shocking version, in which she unknowingly eats her own grandmother courtesy of the Big Bad Wolf!
The sexual undertones of this tale are not hard to miss — after all, the contemporary French idiom for a girl having lost her virginity was "elle avoit vû le loup" — “she has seen the wolf”...
There is evidently inspiration from the Perrault version of the tale in Mischief’s RED. As you watch the three central characters Red, The Wolf & The Devil embark on a journey of love, sacrifice and betrayal, you are cleverly drawn into their world. The journey into the relationship between Red and The Wolf sees Red consumed by the forest, as she takes a dark and misleading pathway to Granny’s house. You will be engrossed as the relationship descends into an animalistic madness compounded by manipulation and control; lovers take actions into their own hands and these actions have unforeseen consequences…
Catch RED at Pavilion Dance on Thursday 21 and Friday 22 September, 7.30pm >>>
Want more? See Ballet Black's Triple Bill featuring Red Riding Hood (with a surprising twist!) on Tuesday 31 October, 7.45pm at Lighthouse Poole >>>