The original tale of Rapunzel by the Brothers Grimm is similar to the one we all know, albeit a few variables. The prince that falls in love with the long-haired maiden winds up falling from the tower due to the witch’s doing, and is blinded because of it. The story’s heroine doesn’t do much to move the plot along. After the witch cuts off Razzie’s hair and dumps her by a swamp, the fair maiden finds her beloved stumbling about. Upon reaching her home, she heals his sight through her tears, and they end up living happily ever after.
The Brothers Grimm have become a source of inspiration for many animated movies, particularly the ones by Disney. Retellings of “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Cinderella,” and “Snow White” have fallen prey to an industry that has transformed their tragic and bizarre endings for ones that children will be able to digest easier. From a queen that is punished by wearing smoldering iron slippers and being forced to dance to her death (“Snow White”) to stepsisters that are blinded and mutilated due to their treatment of the protagonist (“Cinderella”), all these dramatic tales have been filtered and adapted for our modern sensibilities, but the following stories by the Grimms have such twisted plots that it’s doubtful they’ll ever have animated counterparts.
Charles Perrault created the original 1697 version of this tale. The brothers retold this story of a man who throughout his life marries several women who mysteriously disappear. So when he visits a house full of sisters, all of them panic when the man chooses the youngest to be his bride. After much insistence, she accepts the strange Bluebeard as her husband, who hands her the keys to his kingdom on the condition never to enter one specific room. This of course ends up being exactly what she wants to do despite the warnings from her sisters. Once she opens the door, she finds the bodies of all of her husband’s deceased wives. Her scream is nothing compared to how quickly Bluebeard arrives threatening to kill her. But before she meets the fate of the other women, her brothers kill her sadist husband and she inherits all his wealth as her happy ending. Despite its appearance as a not-so-bad denouement, this story abounds in sadistic moments that are unlikely to be adapted into a children’s film.
“The Jew Among the Thorns”
A boy finds a magical violin that makes everyone who listens to it start dancing. He meets a Jewish man and gets him to dance to the point that he gets hurt in a thorn-filled bush, so he can steal all his money and disappear. The man has the police get the boy, who is then sentenced to die by hanging. It’s inside his jail cell, waiting for the executioner, that the boy plays the instrument and makes everybody start dancing. The boy naively demands the man to say he is guilty of the crime. The man, not being able to stop dancing or obeying, ends up being hanged for a crime he did not commit.
“The Robber Bridegroom”
A maiden is content to be married to one of her town’s most eligible bachelors. She decides to pay a visit to his cabin in the woods after a woman tells her she should leave because her future husband kills women and then eats them. She does not believe the story and waits for her beloved, but something about the woman’s words convince her to remain hidden and allow another lady pass as her. The groom murders and commits cannibalistic acts before his bride’s eyes. The terrified woman runs home, and casually invites her husband-to-be for dinner, to bring an end to his dark deeds by getting him arrested.
A lovely tale for the whole family, at least, when we think of what that implied in the nineteenth century. A woman wishes with all her strength to have a beautiful child. Her dream comes true, but she dies during childbirth. The father mourns the loss of his wife but soon marries another woman with whom he has a daughter. The stepmother hates the boy for being the heir instead of her daughter. So one day she offers him an apple in a chest and proceeds to cut off his head. If you think that’s too sadistic, she sows his head back on, and makes her daughter believe she’s murdered her brother. The woman then cooks her stepson’s body in a stew she gives to her husband. The man claims it’s the most delicious dish he’s ever had. Not long after that, two birds sit in the tree where the first wife was buried and sing beautifully. Everybody is mesmerized by their song and when the stepmother walks outside to see the birds, a stone falls on top of her, creating a bizarre sort of justice in the world of the Brothers Grimm.
If there’s one story that no animation powerhouse could turn into a film, it’s this one. An orphan boy (Dickens and the Grimms have a penchant for orphans) is adopted by a wealthy couple. After enduring hunger and suffering his whole life, the boy feels his luck is about to change. But the insane couple makes him undergo bouts of more hunger, and when they catch him eating without their permission, they inflict even more horrible punishments. Sick of being under such cruel tutelage, the boy chooses to end his life with poison. When he overhears his stepmother saying she has some deadly liquid in a bottle, he sneaks over to drink it. But it turns out to be honey instead which ends up filling his belly. The feeling is foreign to him but he realizes he’s not dying. He remembers his stepfather mentioning a bottle of poison beneath his bed so he finds it and drinks it. But instead of poison, the bottle is full of wine. Drunk and not hungry he sets out for his grave, where he dies do to exposure to the cold. This could be the ending to a tragic story, but the Grimms decided to give the horrible couple an unhappy ending. When hearing of the boy’s death, the husband is worried about having to face court for the child’s fate and his wife, in an effort to comfort him, accidentally sets the house on fire. So they live miserably ever after.
The Brothers Grimm compiled these stories between 1812 and 1850 and they’re certainly nothing like the children’s tales we see today. Blood, mutilation, vengeance, and so much more, these tales that children where told before bed are worthy of a Tarantino film. But just like the brothers’ retellings are quite creepy and insidious for modern times, there may come a time when the current stories we tell will be thought up as abominations as well.
Translated by María Suárez