Giambattista Basile‘s tales feature dismemberments, rapes and killings. Far from being the magical, Disney-style fairy tales we imagine, his works inspired a stunning movie that I recently watched called “The Tale of Tales” (Il Racconto dei Racconti), directed by Matteo Garrone.
I remember as a kid to be an avid reader of fairytales, especially the ones by the Grimm brothers, but of course most of the books I used to own back then were a lot “sugarcoated” because the original versions of the most famous fairy-tales we know are NOT very suitable for children. I’m pretty sure that there’s a sort of moral at the end and scarying the hell out of kids might work to make them understand the “message”.
Let’s start with The Little Mermaid (Hans Christian Andersen), Ariel and her lovely friends having fun underwater (okay, it does sound wrong!). Well, in the original version the little mermaid doesn’t even have a name nor a soul and this is the lesser evil. She falls in love with a charming prince from the human world so she goes to Ursula the Sea Witch so that she can turn her into a human, not only is she voiceless, every step on her feet causes her agony; the sea-witch describes it as “walking on knives.” All this for the prince she loves, who at the end marries another girl. As the little mermaid contemplates dying, her sisters pop out of the water, having traded their hair with the witch for a magical knife so that she can kill the prince but the mermaid throws the knife away and prepares to meet her fate. Her body dissolves into foam, but instead of ceasing to exist she’s rescued by the “daughters of the air,” who tell her that she’s now one of them and that, if she flies around the world doing good deeds for 300 years, she might get a soul after all. What a deal?!
Now it’s time for Sleeping Beauty, the original version would have terrified even Maleficent! Consider some of the plot devices found in the original story of “Sleeping Beauty” in the days of our distant past: adultery, bigamy, murder, the rape of a comatose woman and even human cannibalism. The young woman is put to sleep because of a prophesy, rather than a curse. And it isn’t the kiss of a prince which wakes her up: the king seeing her asleep decides to rape her. After nine months she gives birth to two children (while she is still asleep). One of the children sucks her finger which removes the piece of flax that was keeping her asleep. She wakes up to find herself raped and the mother of two kids. The king comes back, and despite him having raped her, they end up falling in love. However, another big problem: the king is still married to someone else. His wife finds out and not only tries to have the twins killed, cooked, and fed to the king, but also tries to burn the princess at the stake. Luckily, she is unsuccessful. The king and the princess get married and live happily ever after (despite the fact that he raped her).
In Charles Perrault’s version of Little Red Riding Hood, included in his 1697 collection Stories or Fairy Tales from Past Times: Tales of Mother Goose, there is no intrepid huntsman. Little Red simply strips naked, gets in bed, and then dies, eaten up by the big bad wolf, with no miraculous relief. In another version, she eats her own grandmother first, her flesh cooked up and her blood poured into a wine glass by our wolfish friend and another version has it that the young girl has sex with the wolf, who was a some sort of a werewolf.
Sometimes I wonder how different would Disneyland be if they stuck to the original endings, I’m pretty sure it would only be a place for some adults fun!