Unvarnished horror stories for children

October 25, 2007 | By | 19 Replies More

Here’s a post summarizing the original versions of seven popular fairy tales. Some gory stuff, indeed:

What is creepier than kids, parents, evilness, sorceresses, wolves, and cannibalism? Before the stories were ripped from their horror roots, they were just right for scary, gory films. The early days of fairy tales weren’t all rosy cheeks and puckered, pouting lips; they had blood, flesh, and genuine frights.

Many of the gory elements have now been sanitized out of the original versions. Some of the gory elements of these stories remain, however.  Nonetheless, we read these problematic parts to our kids as though things like killing and eating other people don’t really mean what they plainly say. 

With practice, we humans have the ability to read things any way we choose.  Yes, with practice, these stories about violence, death and the horrid betrayal of children by their parents can be read to children without disclaimers as though they are appropriate to read to children without heavy disclaimers.

This de facto sanitation of fairy tales reminds me of a little “joke” I sometimes play on Catholic friends.  I tell them that I’ve learned that there is a church in the neighborhood that incorporates cannibalism into its ritual–that the participants are literally eating human flesh and drinking blood.  I suggest that the police should be called. Most of the time, the Catholics will look concerned or grossed out, not recognizing that I am describing their own religion, the Catholic Mass. 

Bring the kids on down and celebrate transubstantiational cannibalism each and every Sunday!  Sanitized cannibalism. For more on Catholic cannibalism, see my earlier post, Good Friday, Good Grief!

I would suggest this as the take away thought:  With enough repetition, almost anything can be made to seem normal.  

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Category: Communication, Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (19)

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  1. Tim Hogan says:

    Erich, I partook just yesterday, and prayed for you.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Tim: I've never had anyone indulge in cannibalism (Cannibalism) in my name before.

  3. Vesperiant says:

    Hi Erich,

    That is both funny and true. Did you know that the Romans actually prosecuted and persecuted the early Christians under the idea that they were cannibals? That is an actual historical truth. I guess that this is the disadvantage of a taking liturgy literally.

  4. Cannibalism and horror fairy tales. That reminds me of a story I read as a kid. I don't really remember it well, but here it goes: There is this young woman who is promised to this guy who had appeared out of nowhere but seemed like a decent man. She ends up in his hut where there is this big pile of dead bodies cut into pieces. When she realizes that her husband and his gang is coming back she hides underneath this pile. Her husband didn't come home alone, instead he brought another girl with him. They make her drunk and also cut her into pieces. One of the men sees a ring he likes on the finger of the girl who is hidden and cuts it off. Somehow she can escape, warns her parents and the whole villages goes after the cannibals.

    It scared the shit out of me. It's really not the kind of stuff that little kids should read.

  5. Very funny! It reminds me that during one altercation with H, the Santeria priest whoconducts the backyard goat sacrifices I have been battling, turned to me and said, "You know YOUR religion deals in sacrifice too!! At least WE don't sacrifice PEOPLE!!"

    Of course he couldn't know that I no longer subscribe to my given religion…but he had a good point!

  6. Dan Klarmann says:

    Proj: You're referring to Grimm's The Robber Bridegroom

    I just read that one in The Annotated Grimm

  7. Dan, I think that's the one. I remember though that he was described as a nice good-looking guy.

    Enchanting and magical, The Annotated Brothers Grimm will cast its spell on children and adults alike for decades to come.

    From the Amazon website. These are really not good night stories for kids…

  8. By the way, has anybody noticed, the stories from the Arabian Nights are pretty sensual and the stories from the Grimm are well, grim 😀 and full with grisly stuff like cannibalism?

  9. Erich Vieth says:

    One of our daughters was briefly enrolled in a Waldorf school in St. Louis. She was in their kindergartern. We lasted one semester. We pulled our daughter out of that school for many reasons, one of which was that the teachers insisted that the ONLY literature we should be reading to our daughter should be stories from Grimm's Fairy Tales. She was dead serious. Read nothing else for several years.

    For those interested in knowning more about this school, it was called Shining Rivers (http://www.shiningrivers.org/ ). I suspect that other Waldorf schools don't place such an emphasis on fairy tales, but I don't really know. For more on Waldorf schools, see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waldorf_school

  10. Vicki Baker says:

    Some of the tales in Grimm's collection have roots that go back thousands of years. There are versions of the Cinderella for example in almost every culture. Originally they weren't stories for children, of course, they were just stories that the people told. The Bible is a bunch of stories that people told that wandered into a religion and got trapped there. Buddha is an example of someone who thought he was founding a worldview, and wound up walking into a lot of fairy stories (some very lovely ones, esp "Journey to the West")

    Tolkien and CS Lewis theorized that fairy stories came to be associated with children in the same way that old furniture ended up in the nursery – once adults had no use for them they were consigned to children. Children do wrestle with dark things like fear and jealousy that are the themes of these universal tales, so I see value in them. There's nothing especially sacred or authentic about the Grimm versions, they were composited and cleaned up versions of stories the brothers collected from their informants. Yes, cleaned up – the original stories had a lot more sex. I remember an early Riding Hood story for example, where the wolf is clearly a sexual predator. He has Riding Hood take off all her clothes one by one, and then get in bed with him. Whereupon the resourceful girl says "Oh Mr. Wolf, I really have to pee." After some discussion, the Wolf lets her outside to pee but makes her tie a rope to her ankle so she can't run away. Once outside, she ties the rope to a tree and runs off.

    As for Waldorf schools, I like a lot of things about them, the handicrafts and the nature corner and so on, but there's just something… they tend to attract people with dogmatic tendencies, even if they aren't committed theosophists. The ONLY Griimm diet is an example. Why not folk tales from around the world?

  11. Vicki Baker says:

    Oh, one more thing about Waldorf schools. Angela Davis, the radical Black Panther-turned-professor, sent her kids to the Waldorf school here in Santa Cruz. I used to think it was really funny, because Waldorf seems so non- Black Panther-ish. But I guess if you develop a taste for one Germanic philosophy (Marxism) another one (theosophy) is just that much more palatable.

  12. Erich Vieth says:

    Vicki: The Waldorf teachers at the school my daughter attended were incredibly dogmatic. They often insisted on doing things a certain way because Rudolf Steiner (the founder of Waldorf) said so. Why Grimm? Because Steiner said so, we were told. They did a lot of other strange things. They covered the bathroom mirror at the school because children were unable to deal with their own image. The "art" class consisted of swirling one color of paint around a page without making any particular images. They celebrated their own brand of fairy-laden holidays.

    We were attracted to this Waldorf School for the good things you mention–connection with nature and handicrafts. It all sounded good from the outside but we were sorely disappointed by the day-to-day reality. We barely lasted one semester. I must say, though, that this was only one Waldorf school. There are other Waldorf schools in the U.S. and many other Waldorf schools in Europe. Many of them have fine reputations substantiated by high-performing graduates.

  13. grumpypilgrim says:

    Where, exactly, is the scriptural support for the Catholic belief in transubstantiation? It seems to me this bizarre belief, and the 'holy communion' ritual it supports, has two causes. First and foremost, it is a vehicle for Church power. Once the Church convinces people: (a) they cannot get into heaven without holy communion, and (b) the Church is the only source of holy communion, the stage is set for an assertion of absolute power. We've see this today: Catholic powermongers who threaten to deny communion to politicians who vote in favor of abortion rights.

    A second reason why the Church has this odd belief and ritual likely stems from the fact that ritual slaughter — animal or human — followed by the consumption of the slaughtered creature is a common feature of many ancient religions, especially those the Church desired to convert. What better way to convert such people to Christianity — while at the same time helping to safeguard the lives of those enterprising Church missionaries who ventured into cannibalistic cultures — than to convince the population that Christianity would provide both the ritual slaughter and ritual meal they were used to having, but without the messy business of actually killing a fattened calf or attractive virgin? By becoming Christians, converts could enjoy all of the benefits of ritual slaughter without any of the usual costs.

    We see this self-serving motive in many Christian sermons. Watch almost any televangelist, for example, and he will declare that whatever you donate to his ministry "will be returned to you a hundred-fold by God." "Accept the free gift of salvation and you can spend eternity in heaven." The list goes on.

  14. So, fromthewater's comment gets through and mine got classified as spam. I don't really want to start whining again that life treats me unfairly, but come on, but recently even emails to my grandma's email account and other accounts I own got classified as spam…

  15. Erich Vieth says:

    proj: I can't explain why some people (like you apparently) are bad and thus deserve all the frustrations life throws their way. Everything happens for a reason, right?

    ps I'm just kidding.

  16. Dan Klarmann says:

    The fromthewater response is clear spam. Clicking on his name takes you to a paid links page.

  17. Erich Vieth says:

    Hasta la vista, "fromthe water!" Cursed spammer.

  18. Spammers are going to RUIN the internet! People will soon demand that "something be done about this", the government will step in and…need I say more?

  19. You will stop laughing once I invite all my little spammer friends for a session here, HA HA. *evil laughter*

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