The Brothers Grimm Vs Walt Disney

As part of our Spanish reading comprehension class, we were asked to read an article about the Brothers Grimm. The article: A Place Away from Literature by Spanish writer Ana Maria Shua, was published in the cultural section of El Pais newspaper on December 20, 2012.
Brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, were born in the years 1785 and 1786 respectively. They studied law in Manburg but worked as librarians in different cities to provide for their family. That’s when they got interested in German medieval literature and studied it closely. At that time, stories were not only written but passed orally by people from different continents, in different versions.
But the German brothers were adamant on reserving the purity of their tales. For example: they rejected the latest versions of Puss in Boots and Blue Beard for being ‘too French’.
They’d also published biographies that were considered by many as a work of fiction. Wilhelm suffered from asthma and a cardiac condition, yet he got married and had kids.
Jacob on the other hand never got married and many questions were raised: Was he in love with his brother’s wife? Was he too attached to his mother? I guess we’d never know. But the surprising part for me was knowing that the tales that I grew up watching as Disney cartoons, were mere adaptations of the original Grimm.
For example: in the original Cinderella, the step sisters mutilate their feet to fit the glass shoe (one sawing off her heel and the other her big toe!). Both sisters also become blind (after the pigeons peck their eyes) and end up living on the streets as beggars.
The worst was Sleeping Beauty, who’s abused by her father the king. She gets pregnant and delivers a child. When the child sucks her mom’s finger she wakes up, not by the prince’s kiss as in Disney’s.
As for Little Mermaid, when getting real legs walking on them becomes as painful as walking on broken glass. On top of that, the captain of the ship — who she’s in love with — marries someone else. She ends up dead and turns into sea foam. Like Sleeping Beauty, Snow White wakes up in a different way. While her glass coffin is moved to its final resting place, it shakes and the poisoned piece of apple falls out of her mouth.
It gets even better. On their wedding day, the prince orders the step mother to wear red hot shoes and dance in them as a punishment for her wickedness.
After listening to the teacher’s casual description of the tragic endings, I sat stunned for a few minutes not knowing what to think. The fairy tales that I heard from my mom and watched hundreds of times were different to what I grew up believing. It reminded me of the same disappointment I felt when I was 16, learning that I won’t grow taller and turn into a supermodel.
I searched the web later and the original stories came up, dark and unhappy. Some sites even accused Disney of chauvinism. Why did the princes end up married? Why did Belle read trash love novels? What about the provocative outfits that Ariel and Princess Jasmine wore? Why are the heroines submissive to the bad guys harassment? Why always wait to be saved by prince charming instead of reacting? These are questions that I never thought of while watching those cartoons, even as an adult. I wonder how many mothers nowadays do. Mine didn’t. We enjoyed watching cartoons together. Except for A Little Princess that I loathed and mom loved!
Rasha al Raisi is a certified skills trainer and the author of: The World According to Bahja.