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The emerging duality of fairy tales in the modern world

"The Company of Wolves" 1984
"The Company of Wolves" 1984

Another collection featuring Grimms' Fairy Tales is coming out this 2010, The Grimm Reader: The Classic Tales of the Brothers Grimm by Maria Tatar.  Since 1812 when Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published a volume entitle Children's and Household Tales, fairy tales have undergone a transformation, often becoming darker and more sexually explicit in addition to a changing audience.  While the Brothers Grimm were not the first to publish volumes of folktales, their versions of the tales are arguably the most popular today.  When one recalls a specific fairy tale the name Grimm typically comes up first and it is to the Brothers Grimm that many a budding folklorist goes.  However, the 21st Century has seen a rise in popularity concerning the hidden meanings behind fairy tales and their original adult nature.

In The Witch Must Die: The Hidden Meaning of Fairy Tales author Sheldon Cashdan analyzes the many overtly adult themes in fairy tales, most of which the Brothers Grimm chose to either omit or enhance in their collections.  The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales by Maria Tatar focuses on the background of the tales the Grimms reworked, interpreting the changes made by them.  The Brothers Grimm removed sexually explicit scenes from the tales they chose, occasionally upping the level of violence instead.  In the case of Cinderella the Ugly Stepsisters are said to cut their heels and toes off in order to wear the glass slipper.  Later, along with the Stepmother, they were attacked by birds who pecked their eyes out--cheery details not featured in earlier versions of the story.  In the story of Red-Riding Hood the main character originally did a strip tease and tossed her clothes into the fire before jumping into bed with the wolf.  The earlier versions also ended the tale after the girl was eaten, Charles Perrault's own version addressing how women should be wary of the ways of men.  From its first incarnation, the story of the girl eaten by a wolf is sexually charged; this element has been enhanced in both book and film adaptations of the tale, including the 1984 gothic horror film The Company of Wolves which was itself based on Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber.  The sexual undertones of the tale have since then become more pronounced as the fairy tales have found an older audience.

Fairy tales have undergone changes since the Brothers Grimm in that they are once again considered more suitable for adult audiences.  Older audiences, specifically those in their late teens and early twenties, are becoming the primary consumers of fairy tale fiction.  This is likely due to many parents now considering old fairy tales too mature and scary for their young children, as was the case in a poll issued by  The poll stated that most parents woudl rater read The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle to their children than Snow White.  As one article on The Baby Website states fairy tales are capitvating a much older audience than has been seen prior to the Brothers Grimm.

While the Brothers Grimm continue to remain the top fairy tale tellers, their audeince has shifted from parents reading to their young children at night to teenagers and adults.  Although they upped the violent elements of several of their tales, they lessened the sexual undertones which until now was largely ignored by fairy tale consumers.  As these stories become darker as the years go on, will fairy tales continue to remain on children's bookshelves?