Once Upon A Week: Fairy Tale Transformations

fairy tale week


Classic fairy tales have gone through numerous revisions and changes since they were first published. I thought I would look at a couple more well known fairy tales and list some of the changes they’ve gone through since they were first published: Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and The Little Mermaid.

The Sleeping Beauty story that most people are familiar with was first contained in Charles Perrault’s 1697 publication “Tales of Mother Goose”. It tells the story of a princess cursed by an evil fairy to prick her finger on a spindle and die. It was unable to be removed, but a good fairy changed the curse so that the princess would not die, but just sleep for a hundred years until awakened by true love’s kiss. Although spindle’s were forbidden in the kingdom on pain of death, the princess still managed to find one around her sisteenth year, and pricking her finger fell asleep. The good fairy returned, put the entire castle to sleep, and a forest of briars formed around the castle, protecting it from the outside world. After a hundred years, a prince ventured to the castle. The briars parted before him, and he woke the princess with a kiss. The prince and princess were secretly wed and she bore him two children. The prince’s mother was of Ogre lineage, and when he went to wage war on his neighbouring Emporer, the Queen instructed the princess and her children be secluded in the wood and for the cook to prepare them to be eaten. The cook could not do so, and tricked the Ogress Queen. When she found out about the deception, she prepared a bit full of all manner of disgusting creatures. Thankfully, the prince returned in time to save his family and the Queen through herself into the pit she had prepared and was consumed. (French version)

The Brother’s Grimm included a variant of Perrault’s tale in the 1812 collection of fairy tales, calling it Briar Rose. It was in this collection that the story first ended with the prince arriving at the castle, and added the ‘happily ever after’ aspect to the tale. Unlike Perrault’s anonymous princess, the Grimm Brothers gave her the name Briar Rose. (German version)

Italo Calvino’s version detailed the cause of the princess’ sleep as a wish by her mother that if only she had a daughter, she wouldn’t care if the daughter died at fifteen from pricking her finger. In this tale, the princess is raped by the prince. Her children are born and one sucks on her finger, removing the prick that put her to sleep, thus waking her. (Italian version)

Of course, today’s most well known version* is Disney’s movie version. The princess is given the names Briar Rose and Aurora. She is sent into hiding with three fairy godmothers, and actually meets the prince in the woods. Through the machinations of the evil fairy Maleficent, Aurora pricks her finger and falls asleep. The rest of the castle is put to sleep, and briars grow up around the castle. The prince finds out, and actually has to battle dragon!Maleficent before he makes it to the castle to kiss her awake. Obviously, this means she was probably only sleeping for a few hours or days, not 100 years.

These basic overviews were summerized from the wonderful Wikipedia entry about the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale.

The first known printed version of this fairy tale, in 1697 by Charles Perrault, definitely did not follow the ‘happily ever after’ formula so many of us are used to. A wolf tricks the Red Riding Hood into telling him how to get to her grandmother’s house, avoiding all the woodcutters along the way. He eats granny, lays a trap for the Red Riding Hood, and then eats her. The end. (French version)

The Brothers Grimm went through a few versions of the tale before it ended up as the one most children are familiar with. Little Red Riding Hood is traveling through the woods to visit her grandmother. A wolf who wants to eat her, approaches her to find out where she is going. After telling her to pick soem flowers (which she does), he goes to grandmother’s house. Pretending to be Little Red Riding Hood, he gains entry into the house and eats the grandmother. Pretending to be the grandmother, he waits for Little Red Riding Hood. When she arrives, she notices her grandmother looks strange. The wolf eats her, but a hunter comes to the rescue, cutting open the wolf – granny and Little Red emerge unharmed. They then fill the wolf’s body with stone and drown him. It is this version that has been taken and adapted to the tale we know today, in which we have the famous “my what big teeth you have!” dialogue. (German version)

These basic overviews were summerized from the wonderful Wikipedia entry about the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale.

This well known fairy tale is perhaps one of the oldest. Similar tales to the one we know today were told in Ancient Greece back around the first century BC. Likewise, the story of Cinderella appeared in China, Japan and the well known collection Arabian Nights. The earliest known European version appeared from Giambattista Basile.

Charles Perrault wrote one of the most common tellings in the 1600s when he added in the pumpkin, glass slipper and fairy-godmother. The Brothers Grimm wrote a version as well, but discarded the fairy-godmother, replacing her with a wishing tree tha grew on Cinderella’s mother’s grave. Also, the stepsisters tried to trick the prince by cutting off parts of their feet so they would fit the glass slipper. The prince was alerted to their deception when pigeons came and pecked out their eyes.

The Disney retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale obviously left out the more adult parts of the Brothers Grimm version, pulling mainly from Perrault’s recitation. It was Disney who added in the talking mice and other singing/dancing animals, though.

These basic overviews were summerized from the wonderful Wikipedia entry about the Cinderella fairy tale.

The basis of the well-known fairy tale first appeared from Hans Christian Anderson in the 1800s. The fairy tale told of a mermaid who rescues a prince from a shipwreck and falls in love with him. Consulting a sea-witch about able to win his love, she buys a potion that will give her the legs she needs to be able to live on land in exchange for her voice. If the prince returns her love, she will gain a human soul; if he marries another, the mermaid will die. The mermaid drinks the potion, and happily becomes the prince’s companion. Unfortunately, he eventually marries another. The mermaid’s sisters arrive and let her know that she can save herself and return to the sea if she kills the prince. Because she loves him, she refuses and dies. She becomes a daughter of the air, and if she does good deeds for a period of 300 years will be assured a soul.

Once again, Disney has produced the most well known version of The Littler Mermaid, giving the story a happy ending. Disney kept her father and numerous sisters, along with the sea-witch and the ship-wrecked prince. They removed her grandmother and all mention of the daughters of air. Likewise, they removed the “sad” ending. In their version, the sea-witch herself tries to keep the prince from marrying the mermaid. Disney, of course, gives a happily-ever-after to their tale, and the Little Mermaid marries her prince, keeping her legs and gaining her voice back. They also added in some singing and talking sea-creatures.

The basic overview was summerized from the wonderful Wikipedia entry about the Little Mermaid fairy tale.
Also, here’s a link to Hans Christian Anderson’s version: The Little Mermaid.

* when I say well known, I’m refering to the English-speaking, North American population. Other versions may be more well known in other parts of the world and/or other cultures.


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