Grimms' Original Fairy Tales Were the Stuff of Nightmares

In new translation of Grimm tales, Snow White's own mom wants to kill her
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 17, 2014 10:40 AM CST
Grimms' Fairy Tales: Now the Stuff of Your Nightmares
Snow White's nemesis wasn't her stepmother in the original tale.   (PRNewsFoto/Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment)

Forget an evil stepmother: The woman jealous of 7-year-old Snow White's beauty was her biological mother, and she flat out wanted her kid dead. At least that's how the Brothers Grimm tell it in the first edition of their fairy tales; that December 1812 version has just been translated into English by German professor Jack Zipes. It's actually the less gruesome seventh edition, which came in 1857, that's best known, the Guardian reports. As for the tales in the first edition, "Some of them are extremely dark and harrowing," Zipes tells NPR in an interview. "Many are somewhat erotic and deal with incest. Most of them are not what we call fairy tales; they tend to be animal tales or warning tales."

He offers another example: When kids see a pig butchered, they decide to mimic the act. One brother kills the other, and their mother, who's bathing a baby, sees the brutality through a window. So she goes and kills the still-living brother. That leaves time for the baby to die in the bath, and all this prompts the mother to kill herself. Not exactly something you'd be likely to read to your 3-year-old. Zipes, however, sees some "hope" in the tales. "For the most part, there is social justice in these tales, and ... we need that." (The brothers themselves were "workaholics, moralists, and freaks," according to one expert.)

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