In search of a decent fairy tale

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.

About Molly Newman

Writer, cook and trivia/spelling bee hostess, living it up in North Portland.
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10 Responses to In search of a decent fairy tale

  1. summer says:

    I am on the search for something of that ilk as well. I had a book similar to that, that my mother got at an estate sale when I was very small. I always loved those stories, and that’s why I jumped at the chance to do “Into the woods” and play one of the Stepsisters that goes blind…comical yes, but I remembered it as being true to the actual story.
    I am on the hunt as well, and my old D and D pal from college is looking out in L.A. too, so I will keep ya posted.

  2. Kelz says:

    pls post when you find a decent fairy tale tome. i love the ever-so-dark real tales… true ‘bedtime’ stories to be intertwined with the laura ingalls wilder (my boys both adored ‘farmer boy’) for a little variety.

  3. Jennifer Adams Donnelly says:

    I just saw an big fat unabridged Grimm edition… it’s got to have been at Borders, that’s the only place I’ve been lately. I can go back and look for it if you like. Another great one is an old Reader’s Digest compilation that was pretty gory, I loved it as a kid and I’ve tracked down a copy for my own family:
    I don’t let my boys have tv/movie tie-ins either, but the problem I’m finding right now is that my beginning reader is bored by the Level 1 readers- he likes lots of real details in his bug and lizard books, he just gets frustrated by all the long words. So I’m tempted to let him have a few tie-ins until his skills mature and his patience increases.

  4. Beth says:

    Happy Hunting on the fairy tale front. I began looking several years ago for my own selfish interest, as I was a die-hard fairy tale fan as a youngster, but I had no luck finding the hard-cover deliciously illustrated tomes of my youth.
    I must ask – where in Colorado do you live? You mentioned Tattered Cover, which grabbed my attention because I was wearing my Tattered Cover t-shirt at the time. I’m thinkin’ you must be near Denver. My family (self, husband and 4 boys) lived in Castle Rock from 1997 – 2002, and we miss it more than I can appropriately say.
    I do love chewing on the thoughts you post. Onward!

  5. Jeannie says:

    I came across this same issue back in the day of 1984…I ended up finding books on Ebay thirteen + years later, but in time for my sons..who of course had no interest in fairy tales; but I ramble.

  6. Amy Sorensen says:

    Nearly every time I go to my mom’s house, I thumb through another closet, hoping against hope to find my copy of Grimm’s. The real one—gore included. I don’t want to buy a new one, I want MY copy that I doodled in, with cookie crumbs caught between some of the pages. I’d like to say that kids will turn out just fine even with the gory details, although I’m not the best role model. 😉

  7. Charlene says:

    Reading your post, I turned around and grabbed up my fat, hardback, small print, single volume of all of the Grimm’s tales. I got it 12-15 yrs. ago at the cheap stacks at either B&N or Borders. No illustrations at all but The Pink and 210 other tales are included. The ISBN is 0-88029-519-8 and several used copies are available at Hope this is what you’re looking for.

  8. Herm says:

    Ooooh, Grimm. Clever Greta and the cheese! I still would like to get a black standard poodle and name him The Pink. Bricklebrit (or bricklebit?)!

  9. Jill S says:

    There is a bookstore in Pasadena, CA called Vroman’s ( and I’ve had good luck ordering obscure out of print things from them before. It might cost you $$$, but they will help you find what you want.

  10. Rob Heggen says:

    Hey Molly – I have a Ralph Manheim translation of Grimm’s that I’m pleased with, “Grimm’s Tales for Young and Old – the Complete Stories”, Doubleday, 1977. No goofy illustrations but very satisfying amount of gore, murder, incest, retribution, bizarre happenings and arbitrariness.
    And no parent with an interest in fairy tales should miss Bettelheim’s fantastic book, “The Uses of Enchantment” about the nature and reason for fairly tales and the oral story-telling tradition.
    Just my .02

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