Common Fairy Tale Myths Debunked
I've noticed that people have many misconceptions about fairy tales, especially what early fairy tales were like. Here are some common misconceptions examined and debunked.
The Brothers Grimm wrote/archived the "original" fairy tales.
Many of the stories that the Brothers Grimm had been passed down for generations already, so it's unlikely the stories they heard were the "originals." Secondly, the Brothers Grimm were in the business of entertaining children, not terrifying them, so they actually sanitized many of the stories they published themselves.
Fairy tales didn't have happy endings until recently.
Some fairy tales (eg, Little Red Riding Hood) ended badly for the protagonist. However, this was not always the case. Many fairy tales did in fact have happy endings. While there was often more violence and gore than in modern tellings, the protagonists usually came out victorious in the end. Some fairy tales are even quite comedic.
Fairy tales were originally meant to scare children into behaving.
While some were definitely cautionary tales, others were coming-of-age stories and/or were meant to demonstrate the importance of holding to one's morals and virtues. These were not negative lessons, but positive lessons - for example, Cinderella taught children that being faithful and virtuous would eventally pay off. The fates that befall many of the antagonists are rarely, if ever presented in a "look what will happen to YOU if you don't behave!" sort of way, but rather in the time-honored tradition of the antagonist eventually receiving his or her just reward.
The Story of the Three Bears (the story that eventually became Goldilocks and the Three Bears) is essentially a story about a pathetic petty crook.
Disney based their fairy tale films on the Brothers Grimm versions, but massively sanitized them.
I've had people tell me that Disney gave a massive clean-up job to Cinderella because in the "original" Brothers Grimm version, the one wicked stepsister cut off her big toe and the other one cut off her heel to fit into the shoe. In fact, Disney based their version of Cinderella on Charles Perrault's version, which does not contain the infamous foot mutilations.
(Perrault, by the way, published his fairy tales over a century before the Brothers Grimm did. Perrault's book Tales of Mother Goose was published in 1697; Grimm's Fairy Tales was published in 1812.)
The only fairy tale Disney expressly based on a Brothers Grimm story was Snow White. (They did actually sanitize this one somewhat.) Sleeping Beauty was based on Perrault's version (which was quite tame already), and their Beauty & The Beast was based on a version written by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont (also quite tame - her version was actually written with young girls as the target audience, after all.) Aladdin comes from The 1001 Nights, and The Little Mermaid was originally written by Hans Christian Andersen.
Disney did most certainly take some creative liberties with the fairy tales, but overall the reports of their Bowdlerization rampage as far as the fairy tales are concerned are greatly exaggerated.
If you're into fairy tales - and especially old fairy tales, the University of Pittsburgh has just the site for you.
Other things you might like:
List of Fairytale Tropes and Cliches
Fairy Tale Plot Generator
Are Peter Pan And The Lost Boys Dead?