Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Once Upon a Time...there was no 'Happily Ever After'

My kids love to listen to stories, and lately my son asks to hear fairy tales. We have a cute little collection of them, but they are all the Disney variety and really watered down, mostly only appealing to the youngest of children. Over the summer we got into chapter books and now most of what I read to the kids are story books that contain only a few pictures here and there. They don't seem to miss them, especially David, who can work on building his "K'nex" models while he listens.

But at night he tends to reach for that fairy tale collection and I've gotten pretty weary of reading the same stories over and over. I've happily done this for years and years, but now it grows tiresome.

My mother has been taking a course on fairy tales and she's been reading the real ones. You know, the ones with gore and not so happy endings. So we got to talking about them and I recalled the collection of stories she used to read to me as a child called the "Atlantic Treasury" and it was fantastic, with all sorts of wild characters, and both horrible and wonderful, magical things happening on every page and they weren't the least bit watered down and I loved them.

So I decided that I would read some of the real fairy tales to myself again and enjoyed the original "Little Mermaid" last night and marveled at just how much better a story it is than the one most children know. Now, no one likes that overzealous little crab "Sebastian" better than I, but it's just not the same story. Ariel is just boy crazy, but the Andersen's mermaid is just as(if not more) passionate about taking on an "eternal soul" as a result of being loved by a human being.

Today I read Grimm's "Cinderella" to the kids and they enjoyed it quite a bit. I told them before reading it that it was going to be a bit different than the version they are accustomed to and asked for them to point out some of the differences when we reached the end of the story. They weren't the least bit put off by the wicked stepsisters having to cut off their toes or heels in order to shove their fat feet into Cinderella's shoe and they loved the imagery of the little birds that came to help Cinderella when she had to pick the lentils out of the ashes. They were keen to spot the big and little differences in the story, one in particular being that there is "no happily ever after" at the end. No, just the scene in which the two stepsisters have their eyes pecked out by Cinderella's bird friends.

And the moral of the story? Don't get too close to a lady with a bird on each of her shoulders, whose fancy ball gowns fall down from an enchanted tree. If things end well for her then you can be assured they won't end well for you.

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