Stripping fairy tales and leaving them naked.

The Boston Globe writes about the new, sanitized versions of the fairy tales where there is no darkness. The witch is sweet, not wicked, and the prince comes to help her, not rescue her.

Yet something important is lost when a child’s introduction to fairy tales comes in such whitewashed form. It’s not just Rapunzel: In toys, movies, and books, the old fairy tales are being systematically stripped of their darker complexities. Rapunzel has become a lobotomized girl in a pleasant tower playroom; Cinderella is another pretty lady in a ball gown, like some model on “Project Runway.”

“Fairy tale” may be our shorthand for castles and happy endings, but these classic stories have villains, too – nefarious witches, bloodthirsty wolves, stepmothers up to no good. And scholars have come to see the stories’ dark elements as the source of their power, not to mention their persistence over the centuries. Rich in allegory, endlessly adaptable, fairy tales emerged as a framework for talking about social issues. When we remove the difficult parts – and effectively do away with the stories themselves – we’re losing a surprisingly useful common language.

The sanitized fairy tale is not useful to introduce literature, but the dirty, messy, scary one is.

3rd C British King

Among the earliest of those Roman “kings” to defend England against invading tribes was this one in particular.  His reign is mentioned briefly by two ancient writers: Geoffrey of Monmouth and Robert of Gloucester.


We see this third-century king as remarkable for his era in that rulers in those days had reputations for negligence, unscrupulousness, thievery and murder.


Not this king.


Geoffrey and Robert characterize him as brave yet even-tempered, as capable yet good-humored.  So respected, so popular was he that even his daughter’s accomplishments were recorded.  [She was a skilled musician.]  Little else is known of this beneficent king.


Who was he?  We wouldn’t know anything else, except that someone made up a rhyme about him.  It is a rhyme which has been remembered, translated into the tongue of the day, and passed down for seventeen hundred years.  It is a rhyme which is slowly falling into obscurity as we drop the orality of our learning more and more.  My students don’t know many of the fairy tales; they certainly won’t have learned this rhyme.  


But I learned it.  I liked it.  I remembered it.


And now I will pass it on to my Brit Lit I students.


Old King Cole was a merry old soul,

and a merry old soul was he.

He called for his pipe and he called for his bowl,

and he called for his fiddlers three.


The story is quoted from Paul Harvey’s The Rest of the Story.