The Unbearable Banishment: Tales of Terror for Tiny Tots

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Tales of Terror for Tiny Tots

I bought 9-Year Old Daughter a box set of classic paperbacks packaged by Wordsworth Classics. Peter Pan. Treasure Island. The Wizard of Oz. Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. The usual suspects.

I was complaining that I was out of reading material so she went up to her room and came down with a book from that set. English Fairy Tales. She knows I'm an old Anglophile and I'm always pushing books under her nose so turnabout is fair play. Besides, the illustrations were by Arthur Rackham and I've always admired his work.

For the love of GOD what are you British people feeding your children!? These are not at all like the delicate, sanitized fables that I've been reading to my poor young innocents all these years. It's basically the same story over and over. Male royalty discovers downtrodden female commoner, falls in love and marries her. It's Cinderella over and over and over, but with acts of extreme violence and cruelty. To wit.

This is from Mr. Fox, the tale of a beautiful young maiden (They're always young and beautiful unless they are a "witch-woman" in which case they're old and ugly.) who discovers a secret about the man she is soon to marry. While exploring the castle she discovers...
Why! a wide saloon lit with many candles, and all round it, some hanging by their necks, some seated on chairs, some lying on the floor, were the skeletons and bodies of numbers of beautiful young maidens in their wedding-dresses that were all stained with blood.
In Babes in the Woods, a three-year old boy and his younger sister are abandoned in the woods by a mean uncle. Is there a fairy tale happy ending? Nay.
Thus wandered these poor innocents,
Till death did end their grief;
In one another's arms they died,
As wanting due relief:
No burial this pretty pair
From any man receives,
Till Robin Readbreast piously
Did cover them with leaves.
The Red Ettin is a fearsome creature who...
...stole King Malcom's daughter, The King of Scotland. He beats her, he binds her, He lays her on a band; And every day he strikes her With a bright silver wand.
The Fish and the Ring is (yet another) fable of a parent who unwittingly entrusts their child to the tender mercies of a cruel adult.
Well! the man he nigh jumped for joy, since he was to get good money, and his daughter, so he thought, a good home. Therefore he brought out the child then and there and the Barron, wrapping the babe in his cloak, rode away. But when he got to the river he flung the little thing into the swollen stream and said to himself as he galloped back to his castle: 'There goes fate!
In Molly Whuppie and the Double-Faced Giant, the giant is cheated out of his own riches by a conniving young man, and is tricked in a most heinous way:
For in the very middle of the night, when everybody else was dead asleep, and it was pitch dark, in comes the giant, all stealthy, feels for the straw chains, twists theme tight round the wearers' necks, half strangles his daughters, drags them on to the floor, and beats them till are quite dead.
The Little Red Riding Hood of my youth always ended with the hunter slaying the wolf. Not in the original English version:
'All the better to eat you with, my dear!' says that wicked, wicked wolf, and with that he gobbled up little Red Riding Hood.

The end.
I have a vague recollection of Disney making a movie out of the classic Tom Thumb. I don't recall how the movie ends, but I'm willing to bet it didn't end the way the original story did:
Thus Tom was once more in favour; but he did not live long to enjoy his good luck, for a spider one day attacked him, and though he fought well, the creature's poisonous breath proved too much for him; he fell dead on the ground where he stood, and the spider soon sucked every drop of his blood.
The Rose Tree borrows a page from Sweeney Todd. Or perhaps it's the other way around.
And the child did as she was bid without fear; and lo! the beautiful little golden head was off in a second, by one blow of the axe. Because she was a wicked witch-woman, knowing spells and charms, she took out the heart of the little girl and make it into two savoury pasties, one for her husband's breakfast and one for the little boy's.
The English might be a bunch of crazies, but I still wish I was one of them.


Anonymous dinahmow said...

Currently on my bedside table, a book about Arthur Rackham.
I had a collection of folk tales just as gory as these. I would not have them in my room at night!But I'd read them by daylight without a qualm!

May 14, 2011 at 12:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

UB does your book include that story about the girl with the red shoes who had to ask someone to chop her feet off? I had nightmares about that one as a child

May 14, 2011 at 5:10 AM  
Blogger Ponita in Real Life said...

Holy crap! These are kids' tales??? Methinks reading through a few books you buy for said daughter might be in order before you actually pay for them. Has she read these? What does she think? I've never read any English fairy tales... I'm not sure I want to!

May 14, 2011 at 9:53 AM  
Anonymous daisyfae said...

i remember "The Little Match Girl", of Grimm's Fairy Tales, from my childhood. It didn't end well. i was mesmerized by that tale as a child - BECAUSE it didn't have a Disney ending...

perhaps the Brits have i right -- bash your children with the worst imaginable reality, and then perhaps they'll appreciate the fact that you didn't sell them, beat them, or feed them to dragons.

May 14, 2011 at 10:07 AM  
Blogger Pat said...

I think maybe we have a taste for the macabre and horrific. I remember devouring Edgar Allen Poe at a quite young age.
Daisyfae has a point.

May 14, 2011 at 11:25 AM  
Blogger savannah said...

i'm in total agreement with daisy and pat, sugar! it's all part of my own expect the worst and be surprised when the good stuff happens. :D xoxoxo

May 14, 2011 at 12:29 PM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

dinah: Are you a Rackham fan? He's great. And very collectible, by the way.

nurse: I guess they don't expose kids to these stories anymore for a damn good reason.

Ponita: The fist thing I wondered was what got through the cracks. She eats books like peanuts. I can't monitor EVERYTHING she reads!

daisy: They call them Grimm for a damn good reason. You might have a good point. These stories give them a very good point of view.

Pat: You read this stuff and you seemed to turn out just fine. Maybe I'm being an alarmist.

sav: I see their point but I think tossing babies into swollen rivers is a bit much.

May 14, 2011 at 12:39 PM  
Blogger savannah said...

dude, you have mail!!!! pls to answer, he's driving me nuts!

May 14, 2011 at 12:47 PM  
Blogger Gorilla Bananas said...

The English like to scare their children - it keeps them on the defensive.

May 14, 2011 at 1:00 PM  
Anonymous annie said...

i used to love teaching the old original versions of folk tales to my 7th graders, brought up on the Disney versions as they were.

Sleeping Beauty ends up with a MIL who is an orge who tries to eat the grandchildren SB give her Prince. He returns in the nick of time and throws his mother into a vat of sea monsters that devour her. The kicker is that the story ends with the Prince being a bit sad, as it was his mother and all, but soon forgets her due to the love of SB.

The Little Mermaid never marries her Prince but ends up turning into sea foam. In fact all of Andersen's fairy tales are grisly - frozen to death children and blind leaden statues with dead birds at their feet.

The original Cinderella had fur slippers and was a wild child learning magic in the forest. Her stepsisters tried cutting off their own toes to fit her slipper and are blinded by birds for their mean girl ways in the end.

Step-mothers always die and horribly. Princes kill things and there is usually something sinister in the woods.

Tattercoats is an English version of Cinderella that has the little girl orphaned and birth and the Duke, her grandfather, is so distraught that he neglects the girl who basically grows up in rage and abused by the staff. It's a gooseherd who saves her by bringing her to the ball where the Prince meets her and loves the fact that she is not an entitled brat like the other women he is supposed to choose from.

I love the old versions. They reflect that fears and the harsh lives that people lived and the uncertainty of life.

May 14, 2011 at 9:45 PM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Sav: Message received. Answer sent.

GB: Well, they have a successful society so perhaps that's the way to go. We soft-peddle kids in the U.S.

Annie: Tattercoats is part of this collection as well. There are many variations on that same theme. I'd always heard that The Little Mermaid was pretty rough stuff. The transformation of her fins to legs is supposed to be excruciatingly painful. Hard to imagine it's all meant for kids.

May 14, 2011 at 11:17 PM  
Anonymous looby said...

Fairy tales are fascinating to children about facing up to those universal childhood fears of abandonment and abduction. I loved them *because* some of them were very unsettling, and now, my 12-year-old girls have gone through them all. I'm glad we (English) don't put our children in cotton wool.

And besides, there's no fairy tale as awful as the front page of any decent newspaper.

May 15, 2011 at 11:56 AM  
Blogger bob said...

"Molly Whuppie and the Double-Faced Giant"

You totally made that one up, guvnor.

May 16, 2011 at 12:53 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

looby: I can appreciate your point of view but still feel that some of this stuff it just way too over the top for the kiddies.

Bob: Now, you know that I'm not quite that creative.

May 16, 2011 at 6:47 AM  
Blogger The Jules said...

To be fair, we do consider them PG rated.

May 16, 2011 at 4:10 PM  

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