When we were growing up, one of my sister’s and my favorite books was our mom’s childhood copy of "Grimm’s Fairy Tales." It was printed on that delightfully yellowish non-acid free stock, with odd line drawings scattered hither and yon throughout. And the stories were pretty much true to the originals–lots of juicy details like Cinderella’s stepsisters getting their eyes plucked out by birds on their way to and from church… plus the best fairy tale ever, "The Pink," which climaxes in the evil chef being turned into a huge black poodle and forced to eat live coals from a shovel. Good times, good moral values for the under-twelve set.
So Rhys and I were at Borders today, looking for a new bedtime read-aloud book. (We just finished Farmer Boy last night). And I thought… hey, what could be better than a nice fat collection of classic fairy tales? A little Bros. Grimm, a little Andersen, perhaps a Perrault or two…
So while Rhys browsed the "forbidden" zone (Mama does not buy movie or TV-related books, but Rhys sure likes to hang around the racks wishing I did), I went over to the "fairy tale and mythology" section. My first tipoffs should have been: (a) they lump fairy tales and mythology together, and (b) said section takes up three teeny-weeny sections of shelves. There were a grand total of four books containing more than one fairy tale (not counting Best-Loved Princess Stories, oww, my aching fillings). Naturally, every single one of them had pastel-pukey, faux-Disney style illustrations, and not one contained either "The Pink" or any of the cool gory variations on the Snow White/Cinderella/whatever stories. (Forcing an evil stepmother to dance in red-hot iron shoes ’til she falls down dead. Now that’s literature.)
But on further reflection… Of course honest-to-goodness fairy tales are a dying breed. They’re too violent and un-PC for the Left, and they smack too much of magic and unholy nastiness for the Right. They don’t teach us a single thing about getting along with people from different cultures or pledging allegiance to the flagathaunidestays, about stewarding our environment or praising the Lord, about being strong empowered women or about minding our parents. Life in fairy tale-land is nasty, brutish and short, and the day goes to the cunning rather than to the kind or obedient. The only value of these stories is just that… they’re damned fine stories.
So the search goes on. Powell’s, Tattered Cover, Amazon… I will not rest ’til I find a big fat small-print collection of fairy tales in all their unbowdlerized glory. And then I will read them to the kids, or maybe I will hoard them for myself. And maybe some sunny winter Saturday I’ll find Fisher sprawled across the bed, absorbed in the tribulations of the prince who had to climb the Glass Mountain or shaking his head at the perfidy of the Twelve Dancing Princesses or heck… shuddering with enthralled disgust at the fate of the coal-devouring giant poodle.