Thursday, June 15, 2006

Truly Grim


The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm are like the Bible, in that everybody knows at least some version of the stories, but nobody actually reads the stories, or knows what they actually say. I'm reading the most recent translation of the stories, from 1987, and they sure are not the way they have been sanitized by modern interpreters.
For instance, in the Frog Prince (actually, the Frog King), how does the Princess transform the frog? Does she kiss him? No. Does she give him some special food or medicine? No. She picks him up off of her pillow, where she very reluctantly has allowed him to sleep, as a reward for helping her retrieve a golden ball that had fallen in a well, and she throws him against the wall. Yep, she winds up and hurls him against a wall, which for some reason breaks the spell.
Or how about some of the grisly demises that befall the evil stepmothers and their evil children? In Snow White, the evil Queen is put into red hot iron shoes at the wedding feast and forced to dance herself to death. In another tale, the evil stepmother and daughter are put into a barrel full of boiling oil AND poisonous snakes. Seems a bit of overkill to me, plus, it's mean to the snakes.
The translation is pretty good, and readable, but it is a translation of the final version of the tales, from 1857, rather than the earlier, bawdier version from 1812, which was full of sexual inuendo. For instance, in Rapunzel, the witch is tipped off that Rapunzel has been having a visitor, when she comments that pulling the witch up on the rope of her hair is much harder than pulling up the prince, who weighs less. Not a slip up one would expect her to make. In the original story, the prince has been visiting and staying with Rapunzel for a while, and the witch is none the wiser until Rapunzel asks her: "Mother Goethel, why do you think my clothes have become too tight for me and no longer fit?" Oops. Evidently Rapunzel hadn't been exposed to the abstinence only program.

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