Disney has taught us that all good fairy tale spells can be broken with a good ol’ kiss – Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, the Princess and the Frog, to name a few. But, in two of the stories mentioned above, in BOTH versions of the stories that I have read this week, there is no kiss to break the spell!
In both versions (to clarify – Philip Pullman’s retelling of the fairy tales, based on researching various editions of Grimms’, and other author’s fairytales, and Puffin’s reprint of the 1823 edition of Grimm’s tales for children) of Snow White (called Snow-Drop in one edition), the princess is awoken from her death inflicted by a poison apple not by a kiss, but by the prince’s minions dropping the glass case in which she is enclosed, and the jolt of being dropped loosend the piece of poisoned apple from her throat and it flies out her mouth, and she awakes. No romantic kiss there.
And in the Princess and the Frog, there are two different ways in which the frog is transformed into a prince, and neither of them involve kissing – in Philip Pullman’s retelling, the princess throws the frog against a wall in despair, and this causes him to reclaim his princely shape, and in the other, he transforms after the Princess allows him to sleep on her pillow for three nights.
I must admit that Sleeping Beauty is awoken in both editions from a fairytale like kiss, but research shows me that the story of SleepingBeauty has been around since before 1812, when the Brothers Grimm wrote it down, and in early version of the story the Princess wakes up after being raped by the prince, and bears him two children. Not very children-friendly, that version.
Reading two different editions of Grimm’s fairy tales in one week has taught me one thing – there is no one way to tell a fairy tale. The Brothers Grimm were fascinated by the folklore of their country, which was divided up into more than 300 states, and sought to unite Germany through its fairytales. However, they found as they searched the country far and wide, that in many cases, there were lots of different version of the same fairy tale. Apparently, for the story of Hansel and Gretel, they had to decide whether a witch, or a wolf owned the gingerbread cottage, as both versions existed. In their version, Cinderella does not have a fairy godmother, but a tree that has grown at the foot of her mother’s grave, watered by Cinderella’s tears, supplies her with a dress and golden shoes (not glass) to go to the ball. And reading two different versions of Grimm’s fairy tales in so short a time has illustrated distinct differences between the two, despite both of them being based on the ‘original’ stories – in one edition, the princess ‘thousandfurs’ is called ‘cat skin’, in another, it is not the devil, but a giant from which the prince has to pluck three hairs, and in the puffin edition, Hansel and Gretel are called Mary-Bird & Roland! Roland and Mary-Bird escape, however, not by pushing the witch into the oven, but by stealing her magic wand, and transforming themselves into a lake and a swan.
One of the most obvious reasons why the fairytales vary so much, is that the Grimm Brothers themselves varied the stories from publication to publication. Each time the stories were republished, new tales were added, others subtracted, and changed, and tweaked – especially towards the end of Wilhelm’s life, where he was pressured to have more Christian messages in the stories, and also through the publication of their ‘little edition’, which featured stories adapted for children. So, do we take the first edition, published in 1812 as the ‘true’ versions of the stories? Or do we take the last versions published by the Brothers? Or do we look even further back, to Perrault, and other such collectors of folk tales, and see their versions as the ‘true’ fairy tale? Is there such as thing as the ‘true fairy tale’?