The fact is, when I think about fairy tales, my mind goes instantly to their darkest corners. I loved scary stories when I was a kid, as much as I do now, and fairy tales feature some of the most hardcore horror you can find in the picture book section. We're talking cannibalism (The Juniper Tree). Serial killers (Bluebeard). Hansel and Gretel has BOTH of those, AND slavery, AND parental abandonment! Pretty Grimm, huh?
(I will never stop using that pun.)
It's more interesting to me to think about the lighter side of fairy tales: how they've been bowdlerized and why. I do love their flexibility: a dash of whimsy and you have Alice in Wonderland, an ounce of gritty realism and you have Pan's Labyrinth. We all know how fairytale mothers have become stepmothers and then witches, as generational narratives change. We decide which characters get to be animals, monsters, and human, depending on how we want to define humanity. (Was it purely for visual reasons that Disney's Beauty and the Beast changed the invisible human servants into visible talking objects?) In a lot of ways, fairytale sensibilities have been "lightened" according to what illusions our society most wants to protect.
Right now, we're invested in things like the innocence of children, the American work ethic, and that criminals must be punished, and those values show in the fairy tales we choose to tell and the way we choose to tell them, whether lightened or darkened. (Here's a whole blog post, in fact, on fairy tale villains that originally got away scot-free: http://onthebroomstick.blogspot.com/2013/03/wolves-and-witches.html)
That might be the most useful result of studying fairy tales in their originally-recorded forms and their worldwide variants. By being aware of the many elements that could fit into a certain tale's template, we notice which ones were chosen, and then we can wonder why. There are people getting doctorates in that stuff, and I'm only beginning to scratch the surface. But I'll keep trying--and to do that, I'll have to dig into what some call "the darker side of fairy tales."
Right where I want to be.
Witches have stories too. So do mermaids, millers’ daughters, princes (charming or otherwise), even big bad wolves. They may be a bit darker–fewer enchanted ball gowns, more iron shoes. Happily-ever-after? Depends on who you ask. In Wolves and Witches, sisters Amanda C. Davis and Megan Engelhardt weave sixteen stories and poems out of familiar fairy tales, letting them show their teeth.
About the Authors:
Amanda C. Davis is a combustion engineer who loves baking, gardening, and low-budget horror films. Her short fiction has appeared in Shock Totem, Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or read more of her work at amandacdavis.com.
Megan Engelhardt is a lapsed librarian who lives in a crooked little house in northeast Ohio. She loves shows about Bigfoot. Her work has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, The Drabblecast, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or visit her website at megengelhardt.com.