It’s time to blow the lid off the Disneyfied world of children’s fairy tales and reveal their sordid origins. These were not saccharin tales of pastoral beauty in which everyone lived happily ever after. They were passion-filled narratives seeped in gore and violence.
Take “Sleeping Beauty” for example. It first appeared as “Sun, Moon, and Talia,” published by Giambattista Basile in 1634. No Prince Charming awakens the sleeping beauty with a kiss. Rather, a married king rapes her. Nine months later she gives birth to twins. Unable to expose her breasts so they could suckle, one of the twins sucks on her finger, and in doing so, withdraws the splinter of flax that had rendered her comatose, and she awakens.
When the king’s wife learns of his dalliance, she sends for the children intending to cook them into a meal she will serve the king. Only a compassionate cooks saves them.
Carlo Collodi wrote Pinocchio in 1881. The book bears little resemblance to the Disney movie of the same name. In the book, the puppet is a subversive rebel who refused to life by nineteenth century mores. Among other things, he gets Geppetto thrown in jail and manages to burn his wooden legs off in a fire. (Geppetto carves replacements.)
And the cricket? He’s squashed on page 15.
In the Grimm brothers “Cinderella” the step sisters are so hot to have the glass slipper fit that one cuts off her heel while the other cuts off her toes. When the slipper fits Cinderella’s foot without surgery, she invites her step-mother and sisters to their wedding. On the way there, a flock of pigeons descend and pluck out their eyes.
Here, now, is the unvarnished story of “Little Red Riding Hood,” an eighteenth century French peasant’s tale as recorded by Robert Darnton in his book, The Great Cat Massacre. (Spoiler alert: There is no hood, red or otherwise.)
Once a little girl was told by her mother to bring some bread and milk to her grandmother. As the girl was walking through the forest, a wolf came up to her and asked where she was going.
“To grandmother’s house,” she replied.
“Which path are you taking, the path of the pins or the path of the needles?”
“The path of the needles.”
So the wolf took the path of the pins and arrived first at the house. He killed grandmother, poured her blood into a bottle, and sliced her flesh onto a platter. Then he got into her night clothes and waited in bed.
“Come in, my dear.”
“Hello, grandmother. I’ve brought you some bread and milk.”
“Have something yourself, my dear. There is meat and wine in the pantry.”
So the little girl ate what was offered; and as she did, a little cat said, “Slut! To eat the flesh and drink the blood of your grandmother!”
Then the wolf said, “Undress and get into bed with me.”
“Where shall I put my apron?”
“Throw it on the fire; you won’t need it any more.”
For each garment—bodice, skirt, petticoat, and stockings—the girl asked the same question; and each time the wolf answered, “Throw it on the fire; you won’t need it any more.”
When the girl was in bed, she said, “Oh, grandmother! How hairy you are!
“It’s to keep me warm, my dear.”
“Oh, grandmother! What big shoulders you have!”
“It’s for better carrying firewood.”
“Oh, grandmother! what long nails you have!”
“It’s for scratching myself better.”
“Oh, grandmother! What big teeth you have!
“It’s for eating you better, my dear.
And he ate her.
I mention this in passing because we have an administration that has Disneyfied war and torture, turning them into sanitized abstractions. Perhaps we can learn from children’s fairy tales that reality is much grimmer than the fairy tales that come out of the Beltway. The green sprouts of economic recovery bear thorns, and those of us who haven’t yet been bloodied, soon will be.
And, there’s no Prince Charming coming to rescue us. At best, we might look for a married king. Some might say he's already arrived and is raping us as we sleep.