Whose Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?…Anyone?

I saw this in the newspaper a few weeks ago and found it very sad.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-17024101

I think it’s such a shame these days that children are not getting to enjoy these wonderful fairy tales as they were originally written: as tales laced with danger and a sinister, dark atmosphere. In the world of the Brothers Grimm danger lurked around every corner. Children were not safe and rarely protected from evil by their parents, in fact in most cases their parents/step parents were the source of the evil. The bad guys had no shred of humanity and no back story to explain how they had become the way they were. Not all the characters were innately good, even the hero’s and heroines, and the bad guys could not always be “saved” in the end, be it through repentance or an act of self-sacrificing goodness. What’s more the main antagonists, more often that not, met with very grisly ends! The witch in Hansel and Gretel burned to death in her own oven, Cinderella’s evil stepsisters had their eyes plucked out by birds, Red Riding Hood’s wolf was brutally hacked to death by the woodsman and Snow Whites stepmother was forced to wear iron shoes and dance till she dropped dead!

Naturally it is quite right that some parents may consider these details too graphic for young children and may feel the need to tone them down, as they already have been over the years. But choosing not to tell them at all is just a bit too drastic in my opinion. These tales have been around for hundreds of years. Even the Brothers Grimm were not the original writers. They gathered their stories from various story-tellers, peasants, servants and even aristocrats who in turn had had these tales passed on to them. They really are timeless tales and they certainly didn’t do me any harm! The darkness and the danger made them more thrilling to hear and to read. These tales also convey important moral messages to children: the dangers of talking to strangers and straying from the path (Little Red Riding Hood), the destructive nature of vanity (Snow White), the repercussions of boasting and bragging (Rumpelstiltskin) and the consequences of failing to pay what is owed/ breaking a promise (The Pied Piper). 

I think one of the worst retellings I have heard so far is for Little Red Riding Hood, whereby instead of eating Grandma to snare his prey, the “Big Bad Wolf” has tea with her and Little Red Riding Hood and then goes on his merry way! Fairy tales should never be dull like that. Whilst they should always be enchanting, magical and even romantic, they should also be exciting, unpredictable, dangerous, scary, sinister and disturbing. It seems like a lot to ask from a short story doesn’t it? But trying giving Snow White, Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty another read (the original versions of course) and you’ll find all the above in those stories, which is really quite amazing isn’t it…?

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