Behind the Fairy Tale

No doubt you had a favorite fairy tale as a child. Most bedtime routines involved a story told or read to lull us off to dreamland. Thankfully, we were clueless about the dark and sinister history behind those stories; dreamland would have become nightmare alley quickly. The original stories were full of villains, murder, and mayhem to rival any CSI crime show plotline. Who knew?

Credit as “Father of Fairy Tales” goes to the French writer, Charles Perrault. Born in Paris in 1628, he spent much of his career as a lawyer before trying his hand at writing. He was instrumental in creating the new genre of fairy tales, which was not originally intended for children. At that time children’s literature did not exist. Fairytales were cautionary, moral tales of behaviors or situations to be avoided. Many were inspired by actual events.

“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”

This tale was inspired by the life of a Bavarian noblewoman, Margaretha von Waldeck, born in 1533. Her brother used child labor in his copper mines. Poisoned apples figured into her life via her brother as a means to rid himself of problem people. Eventually, her stepmother’s jealousy resulted in Margaretha being sent away to the Brussels court, where she succumbed to poison.

I’ll take Disney’s version with Sleepy, Grumpy, Sneezy, Happy, Dopey, Doc, and Bashful singing “Off to work we go” to their diamond mine any day over the real version.


In the third century A.D., a certain merchant was known for forbidding his daughter to have any suitors. Since he traveled in his business, while he was away, he locked her in a tower. Whether or not she grew her hair long is unknown; however, she did convert to Christianity while her father was away. Upon his return, the government officials gave him two options—he could behead his daughter or give up his fortune—if she did not renounce her faith. Her father decided to have her beheaded so he could keep his money; he was later killed by lightning. The daughter became a Christian martyr known as Saint Barbara in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

The latest Disney version is one of my favorites; love that horse Maximus. As with all Disney films, the animation and colors are spectacular.


The original tale, from the first century B.C., was based on a Greek girl named Rhodopis (which translates to “rosy-cheeked”). As a young girl, she was captured and sold into slavery in Egypt. She became one of Pharaoh Ahmose II’s wives. During her life, she was given many gifts due to her beauty, including a pair of golden shoes.

In the Grimm Brothers’ version of “Cinderella,” the step-sisters were so desperate to wear the glass slippers that they cut off parts of their feet. Once Cinderella married the prince, they were blinded and ended up as street beggars.

Cinderella has had so many film versions. The latest Disney version with the court intrigue is the most beautiful; however, the Drew Barrymore version with Cinderella as a gutsy girl willing to fight for herself is well done. The stepsisters and stepmother ending up in a vat of purple dye is quite fitting.

“The Little Mermaid”

In the Hans Christian Andersen version, the mermaid’s legs felt like she was walking on knives. In order to return to her home in the sea, she had to kill the prince; she chose to kill herself instead.

In Disney’s version, Sebastian is the show stealer. At least this mermaid got to keep her prince, her family, and get her voice back.

It’s interesting to see the background of many of the beloved fairy tales of our childhood. No matter how old I might be, I still love a good fairytale movie. How about you?