Fairy tales: Disney didn't tell it this way...
As a film revives the original 'Snow White', Andy McSmith revisits old tales where they all suffer horribly ever after
Published 03/11/2010 | 12:06
It will be Snow White and seven dwarves, but do not expect any hi-ho, hi-ho or bluddle-uddle-um-dum.
The US media company Relativity has signed Indian director Tarsem Singh to produce an "edgy" version of the familiar tale of the mirror on the wall that never lied. It promises to be in the gory tradition of adult fairy tales, rather than the sanitised version served up by Hollywood for all the family.
The film will begin bloodily with the murder of Snow White's father, the King, by his second wife. This fills a gap in the original tale, which was handed down orally and collected by the Brothers Grimm, in which nothing more is heard of the King after he remarries, following the death of Snow White's mother.
The remake will restore some of the gore and savagery of the fairy tales conceived long before Disney's sugar-coated adaptations.
The true origins of Snow White are typical of the macabre stories written as stark morality tales for the children of harsher times. In the Grimm version, Snow White's evil stepmother made not one but three attempts to murder her.
Obviously, the stepmother must die if Snow White and her prince are to live happily ever after. Disney granted her a quick death – falling off a cliff – that did not implicate the young couple.
In the original, the bride and groom invited the Queen to their wedding, where they had a nasty surprise awaited her.
She was forced to wear iron slippers that had been heated over a fire until they were red hot and dance until she dropped dead.
Once upon a time... the scary versions
Little Red Riding Hood
We all think we know how this story ends: just as Little Red Riding Hood is staring into the jaws of death, she is rescued by the woodman. In some versions, he even cuts open the wolf and saves grandma. But in the original, written in the 1690s by French author Charles Perrault, all the woodcutters do is deter the wolf from eating "le petit chaperon rouge", which is why he has to lure her into a trap. He also gets the girl to climb into bed with him before eating her up.
The Little Mermaid
This is a searing tragedy in the original version, written in 1836 by Hans Christian Andersen. Having her fish tail changed into legs is agonisingly painful for the little mermaid and the witch who performs the operation cuts off her tongue as payment. But despite all she has been through, there is no happy ending for the fish-woman, who does not get her man. The prince marries a beautiful princess, whereupon the distraught mermaid turns into foam and floats away to join the daughters of the air. Not quite how Disney told it.
The version of Sleeping Beauty that Charles Perrault recorded is much as we now know it – the Princess sleeps for 100 years after pricking her finger on a spindle until she is awoken by the kiss of the Prince – but there is an earlier Italian version, written by Giambattista Basile in the 17th century, that is considerably darker than the tale told to young minds. In the original, Talia, the Sleeping Beauty, is raped by a king while she sleeps, and gives birth to twins. When the Queen finds out, she orders that Talia be burnt alive, but the King arrives in the nick of time, throws the Queen on the bonfire, and marries Talia.
The Three Little Pigs
This a Victorian morality tale about deferred gratification, in which the two idle swine who indulge themselves by using unsuitable building materials are eaten by the wolf who huffs and puffs and blows their houses down, but the worthy Victorian pig, living safely in his brick house, outsmarts the wolf, who falls into boiling water and is himself eaten for supper. In the toned-down version favoured by Disney and enjoyed by millions of children, no pigs or wolves are eaten.