Charles Perrault, Fairy Tales And And How We Still Tell The Same Ugly Stories

Today’s google doodle is Charles Perrault. Well done Charles, you’ve made it! Fairy tale fascination is nothing new, children watch the Disney versions over and over, but as I grew older I realised there was something else to them, something…untamed.

A Jim Henson television programme from the late 80s told me that yes, there was something to that theory. Based on folk tales from the past they were often more unpleasant than the Disney versions – don’t let yourself be led astray, or such and such will happen.

Jim Henson’s Storyteller, Sapsorrow, an early version of Cinderella where she has to marry her father

That’s the gist of many of them: dark predictions if you don’t heed your guardian’s warnings. Little Red Riding Hood was much more The Company of Wolves than a story about a little girl avoiding a scary animal. In truth she was on the brink of sexuality and told not to talk to strangers on the way to her grandma’s lest they be an evil seducer.

But that’s not all they are. The listener no doubt felt a thrill of fear and disgust and the teller would delight in their reaction. They’re projections of worst case scenarios told safely indoors, the Urban Legends of their time. I got the same excitement and revulsion when I first discovered the Snopes website and saw society’s basest worries right there on the screen. There’s no PC filters here, everybody fits a stereotype and everyone wants to secretly maim you or put gerbils up you (neither sounds good).

Don't blame me
Don’t blame me

Just like the Prince’s mother from Charles Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty plans to eat his daughter, stories are whispered of meth taking baby-sitters mistaking children for meatloaf and putting them in ovens. A still earlier version of Sleeping Beauty has the Prince impregnating the Princess IN HER SLEEP, while other versions have the mother-in-law not only eating her son’s first daughter but secretly, apparently for a laugh, feeding her to the King. All of which sound a little like the tales passed between lips of scary foreigners and drug addicts.

So next time you listen to a biased and poorly researched story told to you by the bloke in the office who heard it from Fred just imagine: One day there might be a cartoon version where they get married at the end.

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