My entire life Disney has been where I turned to make sense of all my tragedy.
Snow White is my favorite as you lovely readers may have gathered. Though the Disney spin involves singing dwarves, dishwashing birds, and an accidental karmic death for the wicked Queen, the true tale was much more sinister. Grimm’s first edition was a story of a very young princess and her jealous Mother who would have her slain. This version had no singing and more attempts at homicide. Firstly bodice laces, secondly a poisoned comb, thirdly and finally a poison apple was to seal the seven-year old Snow’s fate. Luckily she is indeed rescued by a prince, though the likelihood of “true love’s kiss” waking the princess is exceedingly doubtful. The Queen’s death is anything but accidental. As she arrives at Snow’s wedding only to realize her still alive, this abusive Mother has hot iron shoes placed upon her feet and the court watches as she dances herself to death.
Cinderella is a tale many know to contain happy sewing mice and plotting mischievous cats. Yes, the pumpkin still turns into a carriage and she does have a fairy Godmother. However at the core of Perrault’s tale exists a girl who is neglected, verbally abused, and forced into servitude. After a long day’s work, this girl would retire to the barren, cold room given her. Each night she would fall asleep curled close to the fire for warmth. Each morning she would awake covered in ash. This is from whence her nickname “Cinderella” is born. Though remarried, her Father is alive and well in the first edition of the story. How absent must he be to not notice this treachery going on in his own house?
Sleeping Beauty is know to many as yet another incredibly romantic tale in which true love’s kiss saves not only a princess, but an entire kingdom from a centuries sleep at the curse of an evil fairy. Though Disney’s movie is quite popular and Perrault’s version of this tale is the most widely read, it originates with Basile. We all love the idea of a princess awoken from a deep sleep by a handsome prince, alas there was much more than a kiss in the first version of this story. Upon falling into her deep sleep, this princess is sat upon the throne then abandoned by her distraught father. The castle falls to naught, until one day a King happens by. Upon exploration of the ruins, he finds Sleeping Beauty. Though he tries to rouse her, she still sleeps. It is then that the King carries her away to chambers in the castle and rapes her. As if that wasn’t enough, she gives birth to his twins whilst asleep. Furthermore, when the King’s wife learns of Sleeping Beauty and her children, she tries to eat them. It’s fabulously cannibalistic. I highly recommend!
The Little Mermaid is of course the tale of a mermaid who falls in love with a handsome prince. Andersen’s tale does indeed begin when a mermaid rescues a prince from drowning. She does indeed seek out the help of a sea witch, however she gives her a magical potion in exchange for her tongue. That’s right, no golden, singing voice exiting Ariel’s mouth and transferring into Ursula’s tiger’s eye shell necklace in this version! The sea witch takes her tongue! Though the potion does indeed give our mermaid legs, every step upon these legs feels like stepping upon a blade. The mission remains the same, capture the prince’s heart and true love’s kiss and our mermaid shall remain human. The original fairytales don’t always have happy endings. The prince marries another (no, not the sea witch in disguise) and the mermaid dissolves into sea-foam.
Once upon a time, Disney embraced only the darkest of fairy tales. The embraced those who roads had been rocky. They embraced tragedy. Sure, they put a spin on them, added singing, drew lovely illustrations of magnificent happy endings, but these films sparkled up tales with real terror brimming just beneath the surface. Alas, that era has long since ended. Tragic fairy tales have become extinct. Grimm, Villeneuve, Andersen, Perrault, Basile… they are all dead. Disney now embraces an era of dramatic change, psychological understanding, and growth. The villan of the story has been replaced by the villan within. The happy ending now involves the characters emotional transformation, rather than a physical struggle. I’ve always been into all things “retro” and “classic” and especially “tragic”, so it appears that this evolution happened right before my eyes. I was still looking backwards at the past, rather than forward towards the future. I did not see it, therefore I was unprepared. It was shocking. I do not handle shock well.