The Real Stories Behind 5 Disney Fairy Tales
We recently went to Disneyland, and I loved seeing my kids’ face light up watching talking animals and beautiful princesses. I was chatting with my son about The Little Mermaid while waiting in line and going through the story and eventually the ending of how Ariel transformed into a human and was able to marry the prince. My son looked up at me with his innocent eyes and said, “No mommy, you are wrong. The prince married another girl and the mermaid died.” I just blinked at him for a few seconds, and then I realized that he is referring to the version of The Little Mermaid that we read to him from a Chinese book, which happens to be the original version that does not have the Disney happy ending.
After we got home, I started looking up the original stories on which the Disney movies were based. Then, I passed out from exhaustion (have you ever tried going to Disneyland with two toddlers who want to be carried all the time and no stroller for an entire day?) and resumed my research the next day. It turns out that most of the fairytales I read when I was a little kid were actually the original versions with not-so-happy endings. This got me thinking … should we shield our children from the real stories? Well, let me tell you the original fairy tales that are not so family-friendly, and you can decide for yourself!
The Little Mermaid
Let’s start with my son’s favorite fairy tale, The Little Mermaid! The Disney version and the Hans Christian Andersen version are similar in the sense that the mermaid did make a deal with the sea witch to exchange her voice for her legs. However, the Disney version neglected the fine print in the agreement, which is if she fails to marry the prince, she will DIE. The agreement also stated that the mermaid’s legs will feel like she is “treading upon the points of needles or sharp knives” all the time. How she danced for the prince is beyond me. Then, despite all her efforts, the prince ended up marrying a woman who he thought was the one who saved him. Argh. The mermaid had the choice of killing the prince and turning back into a mermaid, but of course she chose to throw herself in the ocean and turn into sea foam instead of killing the love of her life. How virtuous and romantic. You would think she would get rewarded finally for all her pain and torture, but no! She became one of the “daughters of the air” and had to go around and do good deeds for the next 300 years to MAYBE earn herself a soul. Dude, that’s rough.
My 2 cents: When I first read this version to my son, I didn’t realize that it was the original version of The Little Mermaid and was shocked at the end when she turned into sea foam. I expected my son to be upset that the mermaid didn’t get the happy ending she wanted, but he didn’t react to the ending at all. When I give him a choice between the Disney and the original version to read, he always picks the original version. I think that despite the sad ending, the sequence of events makes sense to him. I don’t mind it because it teaches him that despite all her efforts, things might not always work out in life.
When we think of Cinderella, we think of dancing mice, magical fairy godmother, and of course, the glass slipper. However, in the Brother’s Grimm version, things got a lot more gruesome. When the prince came knocking with the slipper in hand, trying to find the love of his life, the evil stepmother ordered one of her daughters to cut off her toes and the other to cut off her heel so that they can fit into the tiny slipper. Ouch! Then when that plan didn’t work, the stepsisters figured they should suck up to Cinderella to win favors from the future queen. When they attended Cinderella’s wedding, some pigeons pecked out one eye from each of the sisters. Then later in the wedding, as if the sisters were not mutilated enough already, the pigeons came back and pecked out the remaining eyes from the sisters so they can live eternity in blindness. Can you say overkill? Or maybe they deserved it?
Oh and by the way, there was no fairy godmother either. Cinderella planted a tree by her mother’s grave and every day, she prayed under it and watered it with her tears. When she needed a gown for the ball, she wished for it next to the tree and a little white bird granted her a gold and silver dress with silver silk slippers.
My 2 cents: Things get a little too bloody in the Brother’s Grimm version for children, but I actually prefer that in this version there is no fairy godmother. It’s really difficult to explain to my toddlers who exactly the fairy godmother is and why she randomly shows up to help out Cinderella.
Thankfully the Brother’s Grimm version and the Disney version of Snow White are very similar except for the very end. Instead of falling off the cliff after lightning broke off the precipice she was standing on, in the Brother’s Grimm version, the queen was forced to wear a pair of burning-hot iron shoes and dance until she drops dead.
My 2 cents: I don’t have strong feelings for either version since they are so similar. Not sure if the torturous punishment was really necessary for the evil queen, so I will probably stick to reading the Disney version to my son.
Beauty and the Beast
The Disney version of Beauty and the Beast is actually pretty similar to the version by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumontwritten back in 1756, with one major detail missing. Beauty actually had two wicked sisters. As expected, her sisters were average looking, lazy, and only think about themselves, while Beauty was beautiful, hard-working, and kind. After several months in the Beast’s castle, the Beast allowed Beauty to go home to visit her family, but gave her a deadline by which she must return. Upon seeing all the nice clothes and hearing about the opulent life Beauty led at the Beast’s castle, the jealous sisters tried to persuade her to stay so that she would miss her deadline, with the hope that the Beast would be so enraged that he would kill Beauty upon her return. However, Beauty returned to find the Beast dying of grief. Realizing her love for the Beast, she begged for him to live and marry her, magically, the Beast transformed into a handsome prince.
My 2 cents: As I am not a fan of Gaston, I definitely prefer the 1756 version better. I find that my son gets confused by Gaston as a character, since he is not able to grasp why Gaston wanted to marry Beauty so badly when Beauty wouldn’t even give him the light of day. It is actually much simpler to explain the jealous sisters and the story contains a lot less violence. Guess it’s a little too tame for Disney?
- Sleeping Beauty
Saving the “best” for last, I think out of all the fairy tales, Giambattista Basile’s version of Sleeping Beauty is the most jaw-dropping of them all. Sleeping Beauty was woken up not by the handsome prince’s kiss, but by one of her babies sucking on her finger so hard that the baby drew out the flax that was stuck deep in her finger. Ok WHAT? Let’s back up for a second. So, when Sleeping Beauty was well, sleeping, the young king (not prince) found her and couldn’t resist her. He carried her to the bed and raped her and then left and forgot about her. Nine months later, she gave birth to twins in her sleep (okay I been through natural birth twice and I have no clue how she could have given birth to two babies without waking up) and fairies helped the twins breastfeed and stay alive. One day, one of the twins could not find the nipple and ended up sucking on Sleeping Beauty’s finger instead. Seriously, giving birth naturally didn’t wake her up but a baby sucking on her finger did?
The king ended up returning and they ended up falling in love (this Sleeping Beauty needs some major psychological counseling). Just one problem – the king already had a wife! So, not only was he a rapist, but a cheater. The queen despised Sleeping Beauty and her two beautiful children and attempted to kill and cook the children and feed them to the king. She also tried to burn the princess at the stake. Fortunately, the king found out her evil plans and cast her into the fire that she built for the princess. Sleeping Beauty and the king then lived happily … ever … after …?
My 2 cents: Uh … nope not touching this one. Disney version all the way.
We want to build the perfect world for our children. We want them to never get hurt, experience heartbreak, or have to worry about anything except what makes them happy (even when most of the time it means turning the house upside down). However, in real life, happy endings are not always possible, so as parents, we are faced with the hard question of deciding whether we shield our children from pain as much as possible, or expose them to life lessons now and prepare them to face the real world? I find myself debating this all the time and definitely when it comes to choosing whether to go with the Disney versions or the original versions of the fairy tales. Some are more obvious than others, but ultimately, it comes down to how you want to parent your children.
What do you think of the original versions of the Disney fairytales?