Beyond Happy Endings: Fairy Tales as You Have Never Read Them Before

The inexhaustible “once upon a time” tell-tale has always been a part of our childhood fantasies because of their ability to unlock our imagination and transport us to the enchanting world of fairy tales. No one understood the power of these stories so much as Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, more popularly known as the Grimm Brothers. They enticed the world with their bountiful servings of dashing heroes and heroines, breathtaking magic and enchanted beings. Children, as well as grown-ups all over the world, fondly recall their stories as the sweet, soothing tales that gently wafted them to dreamland. However, the original stories written by the Grimm Brothers in the early 1800’s were anything but sweet and soothing. The authentic tales were often marked by violence and crudity, presenting life as generations of central Europeans have known and experienced it – capricious and often cruel. The two patriots, determined to preserve German folktales, were only accidental entertainers. Once they saw how the tales bewitched young readers, the Grimms, and editors aplenty after them, started “polishing” bits and pieces. Soon, the stories gradually got softer, sweeter, and primly moral, thus giving birth to the retellings that are more well-known to most modern readers.

If the Shoe Fits

The sugar & spice way– When the clock struck twelve, Cinderella suddenly remembered her fairy godmother’s warning and quickly ran away. In her haste, she left one of her glass slippers on the staircase, and it was retrieved by the prince. He then made a decree that only the lady whose foot fits the slipper will be his wife. The glass slipper was brought to Cinderella’s home, and her two stepsisters tried to fit it in, but their feet were either too big or too small. As the palace servant who brought the slipper was leaving, he remembered that there was still one maiden in the house. Cinderella was called forth and when she tried it on, the slipper fit perfectly. So the prince married her and as Cinderella had a kind heart, she forgave her wicked stepmother and stepsisters and invited them to live in the castle, where they all lived happily ever after.

The Grimm way– In lieu of a fairy godmother, Cinderella was able to go to the ball with the help of two pigeons that lived on a magical hazel tree that was planted on top of her mother’s grave. The prince immediately fell in love with Cinderella when he saw her and he danced with her the whole night. When evening came, she wished to leave, and the king’s son was anxious to go with her and see where she lived, but Cinderella quickly ran away from him. As the celebration continued on the second day, Cinderella escaped from the prince again before he could take her home. On the third day, the prince ordered the whole staircase to be smeared with pitch, and when Cinderella ran away for the third time, one of her golden slippers got stuck on it. The prince declared that no one shall be his wife except the maiden whose foot fits the slipper. The prince went to Cinderella’s house and had the first stepsister try it on. But the shoe was too small for her, and she could not get her big toe in it. The stepmother then handed her a knife and told her to cut off her big toe. So the girl cut the toe off, forced the foot in the shoe, swallowed the pain, and went to the prince. The prince took her on his horse as his bride and rode away with her. But the two birds that helped Cinderella called out to him and told him to look at the woman’s bleeding foot. The prince saw the blood and took her home again. Now it was the second stepsister’s turn, but her heel was too big. Her mother also handed her a knife and told her to cut a bit off her heel. The maiden did as her mother had ordered, slipped on the shoe, and painfully went to the prince. He took her on his horse and rode away with her, but as before, the pigeons also called his attention to the blood trickling out of the shoe. The prince turned his horse and also took this false bride home. He then asked the father if he had another daughter, to which the father replied that there is still one, but she is much too dirty to be the maiden he is looking for. But the prince insisted and Cinderella was brought before the prince. She put on the slipper, and it fitted like a glove. So the prince took his true bride on his horse and rode away to the castle. As they passed by the hazel tree, the two pigeons came flying down and placed themselves on Cinderella’s shoulders, one on the right, the other on the left, and remained sitting there. When the wedding with the king’s son was to be celebrated, the two false sisters came and wanted to get on Cinderella’s good side. As the betrothed couple went to the church, the pigeons pecked out the eyes of the stepsisters. They were punished with blindness all their days for their wickedness and falsehood.

Red as Blood, White as Snow

The sugar & spice way– The evil queen was enraged when she found out from the magical looking glass that the huntsman did not kill Snow White. She also found out that the beautiful maiden lived deep in the forest with the seven dwarfs. Thereupon, she went into a secret room where she made a poisonous apple. While it looked temptingly delicious and pretty from the outside, whoever took a bite from it would surely die. When the apple was ready, she disguised herself as an old woman and went to the dwarfs’ little cottage. The seven dwarfs were away at work and only Snow White remained at home. When the queen offered the apple to the girl, she irresistibly took a bite, whereupon she immediately fell dead. When the dwarfs came home and found her lying still, they put her in a glassed coffin and placed it on top of a mountain so they could always be reminded of their dear friend. It so happened that one day, a prince came upon the coffin and saw the beautiful Snow White within it. Finding her so lovely, the prince gave her a magical kiss, which bequeathed life to the princess. Upon waking up and seeing the prince, she too fell in love with him. The prince took her to his palace to be his wife, where they lived happily ever after.

The Grimm way– When Snow White took a bite of the poisonous apple, it got stuck on her throat, so she was not poisoned. However, she chocked from the piece and fainted due to lack of air. The dwarfs tried to revive her, but it was useless. Thereupon, they put her in a glass coffin and placed it on top of a mountain. It happened, however, that a king’s son came into the mountain and saw the glass coffin with Snow White in it. He fell in love with the beautiful maiden and begged the dwarfs to let him have the coffin, for he cannot live without seeing Snow White again. With the approval of the dwarfs, the prince had it carried away by his servants on their shoulders. So it happened that they stumbled over a tree-stump, and with the shock, the poisonous piece of apple that Snow White had bitten off came out of her throat. Before long, she was revived from her deep sleep, and the prince happily asked her to be his wife. Snow White accepted, and a grand wedding was held. But the evil queen was also invited to the wedding and when she saw Snow White as the young bride, she stood still with rage and fear, and could not move. Little did the evil queen know that the people at the palace had another surprise for her. A pair of iron slippers that had already been put upon the fire, were brought in with thongs, and set before her. Then she was forced to put on the red-hot shoes, and dance until she dropped dead.

What’s My Name Again?

The sugar & spice way– When the queen successfully guessed his name, Rumpeltstiltskin was livid. In his rage, he vanished into thin air and was never seen or heard from again.

The Grimm way– “Perhaps your name is Rumpeltstiltskin?” asked the queen. “The devil has told you that! The devil has told you that,” cried the little man. In his anger, he plunged his right foot so deep into the earth that his whole leg went in, and then in his rage, he pulled at his left leg so hard with both hands that he tore himself in two.

Happily Ever After

Despite the numerous fixings and polishing these fairy tales have gone through, they will forever retain the solid heart within their stories. Underneath the sugary coatings or the violence and crudity, they impart one common thing to their readers – the good will always prevail in the end. Perhaps, this is what makes fairy tales so appealing to everyone. Behind our different beliefs and perspectives, we are one in our search for our own happy endings, in this story called life.