Sinister Versions of Our Beloved Fairytales
By Kawmudi Debnath
Ceylon Today Features
We’ve all heard of the magical fairytales which filled our childhoods with magic and wonder, plunging our imaginations into a world filled with fairies, mermaids, the one and only prince charming and many more fictional entities. But what if you were to take a step back and read the true origins of our beloved fairytales? Are they really magical and fantastic as Disney make them out to be? Unfortunately not. Magical pumpkins, true love kisses and happy ever afters were not aimed for by writers that came before Walt Disney. Writers such as the Grimm Brothers, Hans Christian Andersen, Giambattista Basile and so on, preferred horrific and haunted tales over romantic ones.
One of the earliest versions of the Cinderella story came from China in the 9th century CE. The story earned its famed when the western world came across this blond beauty in 1634. The story first appeared in The Pentamerone written by an Italian writer named Giambattista Basile. Compared to this original version, Walt Disney made many changes; transforming Cinderella to the pure, innocent girl we all know when in fact, she might not be that pure and innocent after all.
Given the title of The Cat Cinderella, Basile’s story begins with the familiar widowed father who remarried, but in the story, Cinderella is portrayed as a murderer who “snaps her step-mother’s neck with the lid of a dressing trunk.” Of course, Cinderella never meant to do this awful deed on her own.
The evil seeds were planted in her mind by the governess but still, Cinderella became a cold-blooded killer in Basile’s eyes. This wicked governess ends up marrying Cinderella’s father, banishing Cinderella to the kitchen to work as a servant in her very own house. Just like in the stories we all know, Cinderella in Basile’s story was granted a wish by her fairy godmother and comes to the grand ball in all her glory. When running away at the stroke of 12:00 a.m., she indeed loses her slipper, but instead of a glass slipper, Cinderella loses a slipper covered with fur.
In the end, the slipper fits Cinderella’s foot and she lives happily ever after. In early versions of the story written by an Author in Scotland named Rashin Coatie, the wicked stepmother showed her true evilness when she cuts off her own daughters feet so they could take Cinderella’s place. In the Grimm Brothers version of the story, Cinderella’s step sisters cut their feet at their own will. In punishment for their cruelty towards Cinderella, songbirds flew down towards them at the grand wedding and pecked out their eyes as punishment.
The olden stories of sleeping beauty began in 1634, appearing alongside The Cat Cinderella in Basile’s Pentamerone. Given the name ‘Sun, Moon, Talia’, the story began similarly to the story we all know. Princess Talia (instead of the name Aurora) was cursed with pricking her finger on a splinter and falling to her eternal sleep.
She indeed grows up to become a beautiful woman and unfortunately pricks her finger as destined. Filled with grief, the king gently places his daughter on a velvet bed and leaves the palace forever. This is where the story heads in a different, gruesome path. In the original tales, sleeping beauty was not awoken by true loves kiss. In Basile’s version, a king from a neighbouring kingdom came across the gorgeous sleeping beauty and taken by her beauty, the king rapes Talia, thus impregnating the sleeping princess. In her sleep, princess Talia gives birth to twins that were given the name Sun and Moon. In search for breast milk, one of the babies sucked the splinter out of Talia’s finger and she awoke to the shock around her.
The king comes back to Talia and is delighted to find her awake, instantly falling in love with her. Back in the neighbouring kingdom, the king’s original queen discovers her husbands’ infidelities and orders the cook to kill the twin babies and serve their flesh to the king in secrecy. The cook, being a kind-hearted person could not bear to do such an evil deed and hid the two babies, serving the flesh of a goat to the king. Meanwhile, the wicked queen tries to throw Talia into a burning fire but the king intercepts and saves Talia, pushing the queen into the fire pit, burning her alive. Princess Talia and the king get married and lives happily ever after together with their twin children.
The Little Mermaid
The original story of the little Mermaid was created by a Danish writer named Hans Christian Andersen in the year 1837. In Anderson’s story, mermaids were portrayed as soulless creatures that were fated to dissolve into sea form when they died while humans were promised a beautiful afterlife in paradise.
This made the little mermaids desire to become human even more dramatic that the Ariel we know. The little mermaid wanted nothing more than to become human and walk on shore but according to her grandmother, the only way a mermaid could become human was to marry a human man that would love her more than anything in the world.
If the man does not, she will die. One day, when playing nearby the shore, the little mermaid spots a handsome prince and her desire to become human only worsens as she fell in love with the young man. In her desperation, she visits the sea witch but before that, the little mermaid had to swim through a dangerous tunnel filled with polypi that were sea creatures who would cling on to anything, catching and strangling their victims.
As we all know the sea witch strikes a deal that would give the little mermaid her beloved legs but at a very high cost. The sea which claimed that the little mermaid would have to undergo a great deal of pain, much like a sword passing through her when her tail turns to legs and every step she takes would feel like she was walking on sharp knives.
The little mermaid agrees of course.”As if the pain of a sword passing through her wasn’t enough, the witch cuts off the little mermaid’s tongue for payment.” Even though the little mermaid had to deal with so much pain, she never got her happy ever after. The prince did love the mermaid but not more than anything as he ends up marrying another woman. The only way the little mermaid could save herself was to drive a knife into the prince’s heart but being truly in love with her beloved prince; the little mermaid refused and ended her life on both land and sea.
Snow-white and the seven dwarfs
There were not many changes in the story of Snow white since Walt Disney’s 1937 animated film closely resembled the original version of the tale by Giambattista Basile and the Grimm Brothers.
In the early tales, the wicked queen was actually Snow white’s own mother, making her behaviour even eviler in the Grimm Brothers version of the story. Finally, she summoned a huntsman and said to him, “Take Snow White out into the woods to a remote spot and stab her to death. As proof that she is dead bring her lungs and her liver back to me.
I shall cook them with salt and eat them.’ Just like in the story we know, the huntsmen did not have the heart to harm the beautiful young girl and after making sure she had run away deep into the dark forest, he hunted and killed a boar, taking out its lungs and liver and presenting them to the queen as proof for Snow white’s death. As expected, the evil queen cooks them and eats them. Fortunately, at the end of the story, Snow-white gets her happily ever after but not without seeking revenge from her wicked mother. The evil queen attends Snow Whites wedding who, instead of being the forgiving young lady as we all knew her to be, tortures her mother to death.”They put a pair of iron shoes into the fire until they glowed, and she had to put them on and dance in them. Her feet were terribly burned, and she could not stop until she had danced herself to death.”