‘Once upon a time...’ a staple of the fairy tale. They take place in the next kingdom over (usually one comparable to Europe) and in the past, normally when there was still a monarchy and the majority of citizens were peasants, perhaps because it was in this age when folk stories really began to grow in popularity. It’s obvious why these stories were so common in the 17th century - tales of princes and princesses, life and morals, good defeating evil were exactly the thing to entertain at night while doing your chores. One would have thought these stories would have died out with the invention of the television, but their popularity merely increased. There are many popular films and TV shows which have been greatly inspired by fairy tales; Pretty Women starring Julia Roberts is a clear modern day Cinderella, and almost every bad-boy-changes-for-a-girl and makeover-for-love plotline is based to a large degree on Beauty and the Beast.
But were fairy tales only campfire stories, something to save for a rainy day? Respected folklorists Marta C. Sims and Martine Stephens thought otherwise. In their book Living Folklore, they claimed that fairy tales were used as a way to communicate with their children about the changes in life, to explain the “rites of passage [that] occur at time of change or transition: birth, puberty, entering adulthood or coming-of-age, marriage, and death”.
However, fairy tales weren’t all morality tales - in fact, in their earliest forms, they were violent, sexual, gory. Many stories as we know them today have changed significantly since centuries ago. Sleeping Beauty was originally found asleep in the woods by a nobleman who raped her which, still while she slept, resulted in twins, and when the nobleman‘s wife found out, she demanded the twins be cooked alive and fed to him. In the late 19th century, Little Red Riding Hood was performing a strip tease for the wolf and outwitting him without any mention of a huntsman. An earlier version of Hansel and Gretel called The Lost Children replaced the witch with the devil, who realised their plan to escape and built a sawhorse; the children only outsmarted him by pretending not to know how to sawhorse worked and the devil’s wife showed them, and they slit her neck. The Little Mermaid has a completely different ending: the prince marries a princess and, distraught, she jumps into the see and dies as she turns to froth rather than stab him. The Queen demanded Snow White’s lungs and liver, so that they could be eaten, and she awoke from her coma when her coffin was jarred and the apple in her throat was dislodged; this is in fact one of many stories which emphasises a common matriarchal theme.
Of course, fairy tales aren’t quite this graphic any more. As they began to be collected in written form, the collectors adapted and to some extent softened the stories. The most famous are the Grimm brothers and Han Christian Anderson. However, the Grimm brothers weren't so opposed to...