Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Favorite Fairy Tales

As a bit of a carryover from last week, when we reviewed "Hansel and Gretel," this week we'll be choosing our favorite fairy tales. (This is not to be confused with the time we picked our favorite myths.)

One of my favorite fairy tales is called "Clever Hans." It's from the Grimm collection, and is therefore German in origin. (If you couldn't tell by the fact that our protagonist is named Hans.)

The story goes that every day, Hans asks his fiance Gretel for a gift, and every day she gives him something, which he treats improperly.

First, she gives him a needle. He tucks it safely away in a haystack. His mom scolds him, of course, saying he should have stuck it in his sleeve.

Gretel then gives Hans a knife, which he sticks in his sleeve, but his mom said it should have gone in his pocket (proving that Germans are, in fact, kinda weird).

Next, Gretel gives Hans a kid (as in a goat), which I feel is a poor choice, given that he can't even properly take care of inanimate objects. He puts the kid in his pocket (somehow) and it suffocates, leading his mother to say he should have led it on a rope.

Which is precisely what he does with his next gift: a ham. Dogs follow him and eat the ham. Depending on which version you're reading, his mother either tells him he should have carried it on his head or under his arm.

His next gift, a calf (demonstrating extreme negligence toward animals on Gretel's part) is carried in this way, giving it ample opportunity to kick him and run away. His mother, in her infinite wisdom, tells him he should have tied the calf up in the barn.

Finally, proving that Gretel is a complete idiot, she gives Hans herself, leading to her being tied up in the barn. And you might think it ends there, but a suffocating goat wasn't nearly gory enough for a German fairy tale... Hans' mother says he should cast his adoring eyes at her, so he plucks out his livestock's eyes and throws them at Gretel.

The ending, which likely should have come several paragraphs ago, is, "And that's how Hans lost his bride."

It's silly, it's weird, and I'm not entirely sure what lesson I'm supposed to learn (other than the proper care and keeping of needles, knives, goats, hams, calves, and fiances).

Side note: Have you ever heard of that horse who can do math? You give him a math problem and he stamps his foot to answer. So you show him "4+3" and he stamps 7 times. His name was Clever Hans. I'm not sure if they named him before or after the hoax was found out, but it was before, it was a wonderful example of foreshadowing. The trick is, the person showing him the equation stops him to praise him after the right number of stamps. It's called the "Clever Hans effect," contributing to studies in the observer-expectancy effect.

My favorite fairy tale is much different, and generally more well-known.  And while the Disney version is the first I fell in love with, the original tale is one I adore and even wrote a retelling of it for a fairy tales class.

That's right; I'm a big, huge, stinking fan of Beauty and the Beast.  Surprisingly, the Disney version isn't TERRIBLY far off from the original tale, though there definitely are some major changes.  For instance, the Beast is actually very nice, and when Belle's father shows up at the castle, Beast gives him food and shelter (though her father never sees the Beast.)  It's only when her father takes a rose for Belle, that the Beast appears and threatens to kill him.

Also, Belle has two sisters, who are greedy, selfish and nasty.  After all, someone has to be in the fairy tale.  They're happy Belle is shipped off to the Beast (or rather, that she volunteers to go in her father's place) because she was always so much more beautiful than them.

When Belle gets to the castle, the Beasts treats her with nothing but kindness, giving her riches and anything that she's ever desired in her life.  He asks her to marry him every night, and every night she refuses.  Not because she hates him, but because she only sees him as a friend.

It's only when she leaves to see her family, and doesn't come back when she promised (due to the trickery of those sisters), that she realizes her love for the Beast (who is dying of heartbreak.)  She returns, tells him she loves him and he turns into a handsome prince.  They live happily ever after, the end.

Now, sure it's not as gruesome as some of the others, but it's one of the few fairy tales out there where the girl doesn't have to be saved by a prince.  Belle, in fact, does the saving.  She is a woman who comes out on top and does what she inevitably thinks is the right thing to do.

Of course, there are still the elements of "she needs a prince to be happy" kind of thing, not to mention the mean, nasty characters of the book are both women, but it's one of the few fairy tales that puts women in a much better light, which really makes me like it.


  1. Where did the original "Beauty and the Beast" story come from? It sounds too clean to be a Grimm tale, hehe. (My mother read a version called "The Pig King" where apparently the beast character was really nasty, raped both of the beauty's sisters, but she married him anyway)

  2. The "original" (as original as these things can be) was by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve in the mid-1700s. It was one of the few (maybe one of the only) fairy tales to be written by a female, which is probably why it's a little tamer that some of the others.

    It was abridged years late by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont (which is probably the most well-known version), but it kept most of its original story lines.