Several Horrifying Truths about Classic Fairytales

As I go through rewrites on my sleeping beauty retelling, I’ve started to have one of those quiet writer-debates with myself on whether or not to put in the bramble forest.

You know, this one:

I had the magical means to do it, and it was certainly in keeping with the traditional legend, but it just didn’t make sense for my story. In the legend, the forest serves as a proving grounds, and only the princess’s true love can fight through the forest to reach her. I didn’t need that sort of thing, and in fact for several dramatic moments I needed there to be easy access to the castle.

But I had this nagging feeling about it. Why did the original legend include an impenetrable forest of thorns? Why did it detail so many men struggling to pass through it, their bones entwining with the vines?

At the same time, I was struggling to establish a dynamic between my heroine and the village of men around her. Yes, that’s right… she’s the only female around for hundreds of miles, and she’s living fear-free among strangers and self-admitted criminals. It’s very important to me not to have fear of men in this story, and to never have rape or sexual assault, even the threat of it, be any sort of plot point.

But I do think about it. And that led to my first horrifying realization that sparked off a chain reaction of others. Here are my thoughts:

Sleeping Beauty: You really want to know why they needed that forest of thorns? Think about it for a second… beautiful girl laying on a bed, all alone in a remote place, and she can’t wake up no matter what? Look, the evil fairy might be vindictive, but she’s not that cruel!

It gets worse as you read several versions of the legend and in some of them the princess’s true love DOES take advantage of her situation, and she only wakes up when she gives birth and the baby sucks the splinter from the spindle wheel out of her finger! What??

Snow White: This one’s too easy. She’s ‘dead’, right? Been ‘dead’ for a while. But this prince still kisses her. Totally gross. I think Neil Gaiman already came to that same realization. If you haven’t read his short story SNOW, GLASS, APPLES, you definitely should. It’s beautiful and disturbing.

Cinderella: It’s the shoe. The prince says, ‘go and find the woman I was dancing with, but don’t identify her by her face, only by her feet! Make sure her feet fit this shoe she was wearing!’ And then Cinderella is the only one whose feet fit.

Umm… what?

Are you telling me she’s the only person in the entire kingdom with feet small enough to fit in that shoe? Is she a little person? Or is she a child? And even if she is a child, there would be thousands of other kids who could also fit that shoe. It just doesn’t make any sense.

So we’ll just call the prince a pedophile and go with that.

(I know it’s just a fairytale, but seriously).

Beauty and the Beast: On the whole, awesome concept. But I always wondered why the prince answers his own door when someone knocks? That’s not my complaint though.

My complaint is that this story is about bestiality. I know she fell in love with him on the inside or whatever, but come on.

Runner up for disturbingness is East of the Sun, West of the Moon. I loved the story, and even the movie, as a child, but in hindsight… she married a polar bear. And then had sex with a man she never saw.

I’m going to go ahead and call Sleeping Beauty the worst of the bunch. And yes, I did finally give in and put that forest of thorns in the story. And allude as to why. But my MC never thinks about it so she has no direct fears of being raped in her sleep.

And everyone lived happily ever after, THE END.


Like most writers, when I was young I was a prolific reader. I inherited at least a dozen books about ‘beloved’ children’s stories and fairy tales, and read all of them. I can still very clearly remember reading fairy tale collections by nightlight, because I wasn’t supposed to be awake still.

I am also Swedish (though a half breed, lol), so my grandmother gave me books of Swedish legends, and thus I have a fond spot for trolls and gnomes.

I used to move about those worlds with freedom and excitement. How will the young hero outsmart the witch, or the giants? What will become of the human child adopted by trolls? How will the princess in disguise save herself from her curse? How will the young woman save her love after she violated the rules of their magical treaty?

For a long time I have wanted to write a YA or Middle Grade book that returns me to those ancient and wild worlds. I have flashes: rocks covered in moss in a pine forest; huge boulders guarding dark pools near waterfalls; giant trees alive with light; Baba Yaga’s house in a magical clearing; treacherous, gray mountain paths through troll-infested lands…

The thing about those legends and fairy tales is that they all used the same set of rules. It made me feel as if I would have a fighting chance if I were ever transported magically into that world.

Then, today, I found this video, narrated by Neil Gaiman, called ‘Instructions’, which creatively lists all the instructions that heroes and heroines must follow in these tales.

Suddenly I have a fierce hunger in me to dig up those old books and return.

Seriously. Go watch that video. Tell me if you don’t get the hunger inside to visit.