The Plot Holes Thicken... The Grimm Reality of Fairy Talesby Ellie Thompson
Welcome to the wonderful world of fairy tales! They say it's really important to read fairy tales to young children, because they fuel imagination, teach kids to handle problems, cross cultures and build emotional resilience. I've been revisiting all the old classics with both my 3 and 5-year-old, and I have to say, some of them are quite frankly, absolutely brutal, and others have plot holes aplenty. Let me explain with a few examples...
Puss in Boots
Forget the Tinder Swindler, the ultimate con artist has to be the anthropomorphic cat, Puss in Boots from the fairy tale of the same name. Thanks to his cunning and deceitful ways, his low-born master, Bob, forges a marriage with royalty on a complete and utter lie. I mean, hashtag relationship goals for our kids, or what?
And to help his master achieve the hand of a princess, he cheated a poor ogre (who was busy minding his own business) out of his home by penalty of death! And literally, no more than five minutes later, welcomed the King and his daughter to the ogre's castle, passing it off as Bob's... I mean, what about all those ogre family portraits on the walls? Ogre-sized furniture and ogre-appropriate toilets (which are in reality, probably just giant holes in the floor)? The stench of it. And aren't ogres supposed to be pretty uncleanly in general? Pretty sure there's nothing in the book about giving the gaff a quick once over with a damp cloth and a bottle of Jif.
And aside from all that: Bob, what a complete dim-wit. What did that princess see in him anyway?
Little Red Riding Hood
Let me get this straight: In Little Red Riding Hood (the uncensored version of the fairy tale) the wolf eats the granny, and the woodcutter performs some kind of unsterile C-section on the wolf, slicing the wolf's stomach open to release the granny, who is by some miracle still alive with not one catastrophic injury to speak of. Then, the woodcutter fills the wolf's belly with stones, stitches him up, (and according to my 5-year-old) sends him off to fall down a well. Animal cruelty at its finest. Where, oh where do I begin with this? Chris Packham would have some choice words to say to Mr. Woodcutter, am I right, Chris?
Talk about an overreaction. The 13th fairy got overlooked, missed out on an invite to a dinner party, and decided to take it out on a baby and embark on a 16-year grudge intended to end the life of an innocent child. I mean, come on guys, who hasn't been overlooked at a social occasion before? It happens to me daily on the school run, and you don't see me sweating over my cauldron about it. I might even cry on the inside, but absolutely no children are harmed.
Hansel and Gretal
Gretal shoves an old witch into the oven. Fair play, the woman had plans to eat Gretal and her bro Hansel, so we can claim self-defence here, but the subsequent behaviour of the pair following the unfortunate but necessary roasting portrays the innocent siblings in a more sinister light, does it not?
I mean, they chill out in the house for a couple of weeks after stuffing an old lady into an oven and cooking her merrily on gas mark 7. While that's occurrin', they spend their days happily eating the gingerbread house and casually rifling through the woman's things. They find her treasure, count it, and steal it by loading up their pockets. Their pockets. Cure forehead slap. I mean, use your brains guys, if you're going to do the job, do it properly - right?, Bad Grandpas from the Hatton Garden Heist? Surely the witch has a long-life shopping bag lying about the place somewhere.
The Gingerbread Man
The old lady who made him baked him and watched with her very own eyes as he came to life in her kitchen - well, what a moment that must have been! And yet her first thought was to eat him. Harsh. She obviously hasn't seen the end of Disney's Bao.
And then the final traumatic scenes of this fairy tale unfold as kids from all over the world are made to watch and listen in horror as the poor little gingerbread man is dismembered and eaten by a fox, limb by limb all while pleading earnestly and desperately for his life. Absolutely brutal. It's like a plot from Line of Duty with no fridge involved. My 3-year-old son's stunned reaction told me everything I needed to know. He sat there in silence for at least 30 seconds processing the death of the poor gingerbread man, before asking me to read it again. What is it with these kids? Have they no empathy?!
Probably more folk tale than fairy tale, I read Chicken Licken for the very first time the other day. And as I casually tuned in to the words coming out of my mouth, the story gathered its tedious, tongue-twisting pace only to end in a brutal mass murder with absolutely no reprieve. My daughter and I were both left aghast. I was not at all prepared for the brief but bloodthirsty end to basically an entire village of birdlife at the hands of a family of greedy foxes. I felt like I was witnessing an unfortunate episode of Springwatch.
And so to the rest...
Yo, biggest Billy Goat's Gruff! You need to re-think your family choices! Both your brothers thought nothing of selling you out to get across the bridge to the other side to get to the sweet, sweet grass. Bastards! In fairy tales, even the good guys are bad. And Cinderella, you think we haven't worked out by now that the glass slipper wouldn't have turned back into a manky old wooden clog at the stroke of midnight? Give me a break. Rumplestiltskin: what a creep. What sort of guy asks for a firstborn and what on earth did he have in store for the innocent prince? And where did he disappear to when he stomped his foot through the floor as we all heard the big name reveal? Wouldn't happen on our laminate. Wickes. It's not got your name on it.