The Dark Origins of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales

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Classic fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood were much darker before being revised by the Brothers Grimm.

Fairy tales are all very well-known children’s stories. Tales such as Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty are some of the first stories that children hear, filled with magic, wicked stepmothers, good vs. evil, and more. Although they can be very heartwarming, the original versions had dark twists that were disturbing and definitely not meant for younger children. 

 

The men who turned these gruesome old tales into nice, family-friendly stories were the Brothers Grimm. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were German academics in the early 19th century. They popularized fairy tales, and, being inspired by a surge of romanticism in Germany, collected stories from German folklore. They ‘gathered’ their stories by communicating with people of all classes, from peasants to aristocrats, writing down the different versions of the stories. They began to combine and edit them as time went on, rewriting some and removing others. During their lifetime, they managed to publish multiple editions of Children’s and Household Tales, with the stories changing quite considerably with passages of a violent or sexual nature being removed. In 1815, the first edition was published, containing 86 fairy tales. By the seventh edition, published in 1857, they had over 210 in their collection. 

 

The Brothers Grimm desired to transform the stories they collected into moralistic tales for social good. They were warnings for children to behave themselves– discipline instilled through fear. Characters and storylines were adapted to reinforce this, but none were actually scrapped entirely. Some of the classic tales still told today, such as Little Red Riding Hood, were much darker. In the original version, Little Red Riding Hood was simply eaten by the wolf. The story was moralized to warn young women not to listen to strangers. Many of the originals also had more explicit sexual references or imagery which was immediately cut out since the tales were predominantly aimed at children. Stories that involved children being eaten–either by animals or adults–were also censored.

Most children are familiar with classic fairy tales because of Disney’s adaptations. The first-ever feature-length Disney film was Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Even though some of the more violent aspects of the story had been edited out since the first time it was printed, it still remained somewhat somber, with true villains and, at times, a dark atmosphere. Disney went on to modify even more of the fairy tales found in the Brothers Grimm collections. Today, the decisions made by Disney’s animators and screenwriters often define popular conceptions of these age-old characters and stories.