I’ve just finished reading a book that contained so much stomach-churning violence, cruelty, greed and lust, I had to reach for the bottle of Pepto-Bismol after every chapter.
The title of this book? Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
It took me all these years to finally learn the shocking truth: all of the sweet, happily-ever-after stories my parents used to read to me when I was a kid were nothing more than candy-coated versions of the original sordid tales, written back in the 1800s by Jacob (sometimes spelled Jakob) and Wilhelm Grimm, two really sadistic German guys.
It’s pretty obvious the Grimms hated their parents. I mean, every parent in their stories is depicted as a cruel, selfish, kid-hating monster. The tales of “Rapunzel” and “Hansel and Gretel” are prime examples.
In “Rapunzel,” a woman has a terrible craving for rampion, which is some kind of European salad root. Her husband, wanting to please her, climbs over a huge stone wall and steals some rampion from a witch’s garden. He does this repeatedly until the witch finally catches him.
“Have mercy on me!” he begs the witch. “If I don’t keep my wife supplied with rampion, she’ll make my life a living hell!”
“You can have all you want,” the witch tells him, cackling wickedly, “in exchange for your firstborn child.”
“It’s a deal,” the man says, relieved he won’t have to scale any more walls. Besides that, in those days a child was a small price to pay for a decent salad.
Alas, according to the bargain, when the couple’s first child is born, the witch promptly arrives to claim her. She names the baby “Campanula Rapunculus” (Rapunzel for short), which is the scientific name for rampion. The witch then imprisons the child in a tower and subjects the poor girl to years of verbal abuse and cruel and unusual hair yanking.
Well, in my parents’ Disney version of this story, one day a handsome prince happens to come trotting by on his horse, hears Rapunzel’s cries for help, climbs up the tower (using her mile-long braid as a rope), then rescues her and whisks her off to his palace, where they live happily ever after.
Not so. According to the Grimms, the poor guy climbs the tower, falls off into a patch of dagger-like thorns and accidentally gouges out both of his eyes (pardon me while I take another swig of Pepto).
And then there were Hansel and Gretel’s parents who, by no stretch of the imagination, ever could be confused with the German equivalent of Ozzie and Harriet. When they were down to their last crust of bread and no longer could feed their little family of four, they decided to lighten the grocery bill by getting rid of their two kids.
“Take them for a nice long walk in the Forest of No Return,” their mother, cackling wickedly (women apparently did a lot of wicked cackling back then), ordered their father.
The father had a few misgivings about his wife’s plan, especially since he had to enter the Forest of No Return himself, and the name of the place didn’t sound all that inviting to him. But because he was so henpecked, he gave in to his spouse's demands...just to shut her up.
Anyway, I’m sure you know what happened to Hansel and Gretel, what with the cannibalistic child-eating witch in the gingerbread house and all, but what you might not know is that when the two kids finally managed to escape from the witch’s house and were making a beeline for home, they came upon a huge pond not far from their house and crossed it by riding on the backs of oversized ducks.
Just a thought here, but if there was a pond full of giant ducks near their house, why didn’t Hansel and Gretel’s dad just nab a couple of them and whip up a big batch of duck fricassee for his starving family instead of ditching his kids?
All I can say is that after reading the real versions of my favorite fairy tales, I’m more than slightly disillusioned. It wouldn’t even surprise me to find out that “Beauty and the Beast” originally was called “The Two Beasts”…until one of them underwent extensive cosmetic surgery.
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