Whenever I visit a school, I always ask the students "Who wrote fairytales?" Most frequent answer: Disney. This is not surprising, though perhaps a little disheartening. Despite my love of Disney, I feel myself charged with a sacred duty to set the record straight. I find shock to be a useful method in this case.
At some point, I tell the kids about Hans Christian Andersen, the Danish author and poet renowned for his fairy tales, one of the most popular being "The Little Mermaid." I ask the kids to tell me the story of "The Little Mermaid." Without a beat, they recite the Disney movie, ending with Ariel permanently transformed into a human so she can marry her prince. This is when I drop the bomb. This is not how the tale really ends, I tell them. (Spoiler Alert: The prince marries someone else, and the Little Mermaid turns to sea foam.)
After the shock wears off and jaws are raised off the floor, we delve into an insightful discussion about why Andersen decided to end this story in such tragedy, instead of the happy way Disney chose to end it. We like happy endings. It's obviously better from a marketing standpoint. What was this guy's problem?
"Maybe he was depressed," some say. Possible.
"Maybe he was just trying to be different," others say. Could be.
Once a boy raised his hand and said, "I like that ending better. We don't always get what we want in real life. It's not always happy." Kids are way more insightful than we give them credit.
"Life itself is the most wonderful fairy tale," said Hans Christian Andersen. Life is not always happy, and neither are fairy tales. Aside from plenty of unhappy endings in classic tales, there was also cannibalism, murder, rape, incest, and all manner of brutality and gore. It wasn't until later that the fairy tale collectors such as Charles Perrault, the Grimms Brothers and others, altered the tales of "Cinderella" and "Little Red Riding Hood" to make them more palatable and moralistic for children and families. We continue to do this today. Fairy tales have survived for generations, not just because of their symbolic nature, but because they are flexible. We can shift point-of-view, draw different conclusions, and even change the events of the tale to make them more meaningful to our current social, political, and moral points-of-view. Here are nine tales that were changed for just those purposes.
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