The next day, I was at the local bookstore, leafing through some classic choices, and I suddenly realized how disturbing many of these stories might be to a small child. Seriously, these books could scare the crap out of a toddler. There are giants that eat small boys, forest animals that devour your grandma, evil stepmothers who want to kill you or lock you in a attic, and moms that abandon you in the woods to be cooked in a psycho-lady’s oven.
I understand that fairy tales have been around forever, that we grew up on them and (arguably) turned out fine, and that they provide children with enthralling examples of the triumph of good over evil. So before blog trolls accuse me of hating storybooks, children, and all things related to the sanctity of motherhood, I’m not suggesting a household ban on fairy tales. I do, however, question their validity as bedtime stories.
At two or three years of age, as our tiny progeny drifts off to sleep, listening to how Snow White’s stepmother put a contract out on her, then when that failed, deciding to poison Snowy herself, it feels less like a tale about a handsome prince and his beautiful princess living happily ever after, and more like a child’s version of Criminal Minds.
1. Little Red Riding Hood. A story about a little girl taking goodies to her beloved grandma, walking alone in the woods (yeah, good plan), while being stalked by a wolf that wants to eat her. Wolfie rushes to grandma’s house to get there before the little girl does, where he eats the grandmother, puts on her clothes, and lies in wait for the child. When she arrives, he kills her and eats her too. Good luck getting that kid to summer camp.
2. Hansel and Gretel. A tale about a poor, forest-dwelling family, where Mom decides to ease their financial burdens by having Dad take the two kids out into the woods and abandoning them. Dad doesn’t really like the idea, but he’s a pussy, so he agrees. Hansel and Gretel overhear the plan, so Hansel drops white stones behind them as they travel into the forest. The kids follow the stones and return home. Mom’s pissed, and instructs Dad to try again. This time, the children mark their trail with bread crumbs, but the crumbs get eaten by birds, and the kids are basically screwed. Eventually, they get lucky and stumble across a house made of sugar and candy, only to discover it’s owned by an old woman who plans to bake the kids in her furnace and eat them. She locks Hansel in a cage until Gretel ultimately shoves her into the fire and she burns to death. Wow. If you ever take your children hiking in the forest after this story, don’t be surprised to find them a little clingy.
3. Jack and the Beanstalk. Jack and his family were poor and starving. So Jack plants some beans for food, and they grow into a large beanstalk. Jack shimmies up the beanstalk and discovers that it leads to a huge castle belonging to an evil giant. The giant wants to eat Jack by grinding him into his bread. While in the castle, Jack discovers a goose that lays golden eggs. He steals the goose so he and his mother can live a life of leisure. On the next trip up, Jack discovers a golden harp. When he stole that too, the giant tried to run down the beanstalk to get it back, but Jack chopped the beanstalk down and the giant fell to his death. Jack and his mother lived happily ever after on the giant’s gold. The moral? Steal it, and kill the owner when he tries to get it back.
4. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. A young girl gets an evil stepmother, who is so jealous of her that she instructs a hunter to take her out and kill her. He won’t do it, so Stepmom decides to do it herself by giving Snowy a poisoned apple. Snowy runs away from home and moves into a house with seven men she doesn’t know. Eventually a handsome prince saves her with a kiss. The stereotypes in here are rampant (Stepmom is evil, girl is saved by boy), and Snow White’s decision to run away and live with a houseful of men she knows nothing about could have ended differently and is a stupid message to send to a little girl.
5. Cinderella. Again with the evil stepmother cliché, but this time with two equally nasty stepsisters. They’re all so jealous of Cindy that they make her a scullery maid and otherwise keep her locked in the attic with the mice. She never figures out a way to help herself, and years go by, until one day she gets a fairy godmother and a prince, who step in and magically change her life. Do we really want to teach our daughters to be helpless victims until a fairy godmother and a rich man suddenly materialize to solve their problems? One doesn’t exist, and the other makes up 1 percent of the population. I’d rather teach my granddaughter how to kick bully ass on her way out the door.
And so I put down the beautifully illustrated, but oddly dark, boxed set of Classic Fairy Tales and picked up the entire series of Winnie the Pooh and the Hundred-Acre Woods. I love that donkey. And I’m just not ready to explain those dwarfs.