I bought 9-Year Old Daughter a box set of classic paperbacks packaged by Wordsworth Classics. Peter Pan. Treasure Island. The Wizard of Oz. Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. The usual suspects.
I was complaining that I was out of reading material so she went up to her room and came down with a book from that set. English Fairy Tales. She knows I’m an old Anglophile and I’m always pushing books under her nose so turnabout is fair play. Besides, the illustrations were by Arthur Rackham and I’ve always admired his work.
For the love of GOD what are you British people feeding your children!? These are not at all like the delicate, sanitized fables that I’ve been reading to my poor young innocents all these years. It’s basically the same story over and over. Male royalty discovers downtrodden female commoner, falls in love and marries her. It’s Cinderella over and over and over, but with acts of extreme violence and cruelty. To wit.
This is from Mr. Fox, the tale of a beautiful young maiden (They’re always young and beautiful unless they are a “witch-woman” in which case they’re old and ugly.) who discovers a secret about the man she is soon to marry. While exploring the castle she discovers…
Why! a wide saloon lit with many candles, and all round it, some hanging by their necks, some seated on chairs, some lying on the floor, were the skeletons and bodies of numbers of beautiful young maidens in their wedding-dresses that were all stained with blood.
In Babes in the Woods, a three-year old boy and his younger sister are abandoned in the woods by a mean uncle. Is there a fairy tale happy ending? Nay.
Thus wandered these poor innocents,
Till death did end their grief;
In one another’s arms they died,
As wanting due relief:
No burial this pretty pair
From any man receives,
Till Robin Readbreast piously
Did cover them with leaves.
The Red Ettin is a fearsome creature who…
…stole King Malcom’s daughter, The King of Scotland. He beats her, he binds her, He lays her on a band; And every day he strikes her With a bright silver wand.
The Fish and the Ring is (yet another) fable of a parent who unwittingly entrusts their child to the tender mercies of a cruel adult.
Well! the man he nigh jumped for joy, since he was to get good money, and his daughter, so he thought, a good home. Therefore he brought out the child then and there and the Barron, wrapping the babe in his cloak, rode away. But when he got to the river he flung the little thing into the swollen stream and said to himself as he galloped back to his castle: ‘There goes fate!
In Molly Whuppie and the Double-Faced Giant, the giant is cheated out of his own riches by a conniving young man, and is tricked in a most heinous way:
For in the very middle of the night, when everybody else was dead asleep, and it was pitch dark, in comes the giant, all stealthy, feels for the straw chains, twists theme tight round the wearers’ necks, half strangles his daughters, drags them on to the floor, and beats them till are quite dead.
The Little Red Riding Hood of my youth always ended with the hunter slaying the wolf. Not in the original English version:
‘All the better to eat you with, my dear!’ says that wicked, wicked wolf, and with that he gobbled up little Red Riding Hood.
I have a vague recollection of Disney making a movie out of the classic Tom Thumb. I don’t recall how the movie ends, but I’m willing to bet it didn’t end the way the original story did:
Thus Tom was once more in favour; but he did not live long to enjoy his good luck, for a spider one day attacked him, and though he fought well, the creature’s poisonous breath proved too much for him; he fell dead on the ground where he stood, and the spider soon sucked every drop of his blood.
The Rose Tree borrows a page from Sweeney Todd. Or perhaps it’s the other way around.
And the child did as she was bid without fear; and lo! the beautiful little golden head was off in a second, by one blow of the axe. Because she was a wicked witch-woman, knowing spells and charms, she took out the heart of the little girl and make it into two savoury pasties, one for her husband’s breakfast and one for the little boy’s.
The English might be a bunch of crazies, but I still wish I was one of them.