Fairy Tales Are For Grown-Ups

Disney's Snow White

Fairy tales aren’t for kids. If illustrators stayed faithful to the dark themes of their plots, we’d have been exposed to gruesome reading that is galaxies away from the cutesy storybooks we grew up with. Think about it. They are riddled with evil plots, murderous schemes, injustice, violence.

Remember the parents who left Hansel and Gretel in the woods to die, and the witch who wanted to bake them? How about the wolf who ate up Little Red Riding Hood’s granny? Or the Little Match Girl who froze to her death, and Pinocchio whose punishment for dishonesty was deformity? And how about the Little Mermaid, whose every step hurt like a thousand swords, and who was asked to slay her beloved so she could live?

Disney interpretations, already sterilized as they are, still have truly terrifying moments. My first movie experience was Snow White, and I remember having nightmares about the scene in the woods after the huntsman’s failed attempt to kill her.

So let’s take a look at those fairy tales again. We’ll probably get a kick out of the underlying sex and violence that we probably were oblivious to the first time we read them, but let’s look beyond those. Even when we grow up and cynically scoff at the improbability of happily-ever-afters, revisiting these tales as adults allows us to appreciate them more fully, bringing us deeper into the allegories that they usually are. We may think that they’re predictable, but they could still surprise us by bringing to the surface certain themes we did not know they had — metaphysical themes of morality and immortality, of self-sacrifice and identity.

Have you noticed the word’s renewed fascination for fairy tales? Writers, filmmakers, and composers have discovered the treasures in their depths and have commenced the mining.


Beauty's Punishment

Some novelists like expand on or reinterpret fairy tales. Anne Rice, an author famous for her vampire chronicles, wrote her Sleeping Beauty Trilogy under the pseudonym A. N. Roquelaure, The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, Beauty’s Punishment, and Beauty’s Release. Now these books are definitely not for kids, nor for faint-hearted adults, as they are BDSM erotica novels.

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister

Author Gregory Maguire likes to give readers new perspectives on classic tales, often switching around the protagonist and antagonist roles in his characters. His Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister is told from the point-of-view of Cinderella’s younger stepsister. Mirror, Mirror is a revision of the Snow White tale which incorporates actual historical figures in the story, such as Lucrezia Borgia, whom he cast as the Evil Queen and Stepmother. His Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, based on Frank Baum’s novel, is now a Stephen Schwartz Broadway musical, Wicked.

An illustration from King Golden hair

And just last week I read an article about the discovery of 500 new fairy tales in Germany, which were collected by one Franz Xaver von Schönwerth. These myths, legends, and tales he drew from common countryfolk in long ago Bavaria, and recorded them faithfully. He didn’t edit or embellish them, and so reading them will be like a glimpse into a culture hundreds of years in the past.


Cinderella, The Nutcracker, and Swan Lake have been well-loved ballets for more than a century already. Same with Hansel and Gretel, which is also an opera. But Wicked is a fairly new musical. And Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and the Little Mermaid, have also been adapted for the stage.


Once Upon a Time is a television series that is set in a fictitious town in Maine, that serves as a kind of limbo that all the fairy tale characters are exiled to. It revolves around the conflict between Snow White and the Evil Queen and incorporates a different fairy tale in each episode, oftentimes intersecting two or more. I love the well-crafted back stories to the fairy tales, and how the characters they translate to “modern” times.

And then there’s Grimm, which is a police-series-meets-fairy-tales kind of show.


Fairy tales are so inherently cinematic, so why shouldn’t they be in the movies? I can’t even count how many fairy tale movies have been made…

I loved Enchanted! It’s a wonderful amalgamation of the classic romantic fairy tales juxtaposed with the harsh reality of New York City. It’s amazing how these two seemingly incongruous realities mix so beautifully in this movie.

And wow, two Snow White movies are to be released this year — and within 3 months of each other! Add that to the TV Snow White, that’s a lot. Hope we don’t overdose.


That’s it for fairy tales, for now. I haven’t even started on nursery rhymes!

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