On a big bookcase in my parent’s living room, were two large, hardcover volumes: Grimms Fairy Tales and Anderson’s Fairy Tales, red and green, respectively. At some point, my mother had read my siblings and I every one of the stories in each of the books, even the ones that seemed like a very creative idea book for sadists. There are not too many stories in either volume that do not contain at least one action that would not send one to prison or a very secure psychiatric hospital for a long spell!
In fact, my father, a professor of criminal justice, had a project he assigned his students. Each student was to choose a well-known fairy tale, and list all the crimes committed in the tale. Both the “red book” and the “green book” served as excellent examples for everything from trespassing, to fraud, to unlawful imprisonment, child abuse, desecration of a corpse all the way up to flat-out murder. And everything in between. The assignment sometimes produced the strangest results (For example, Hansel and Gretel were, after all, trespassing, stealing and vandalizing the home of a senior citizen!)
Now, of course, the Walt Disney corporation cherry picks a few of the more benign Grimm and Anderson Fairy Tales and still has to clean them up pretty intensely in order to be eligible for a rating that allows an audience under seventeen. These animated features are all ones you know well: Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, and others. They had to take out the parts involving stabbing, amputation of parts of the foot, cutting out of the tongue, blinding by birds, poisoning…. all the good stuff.
However, there are some Grimm and Anderson Fairy tales that no amount of muriatic acid, industrial strength lye or a high-torque wire brush could clean up. No amount of finagling, retelling or sanitizing could make it Disneyworthy. Therefore it is a safe assumption they are irredeemable, and will never be screened or featured by Disney. For those of you who never read the “Side B” stories of Grimm and Anderson, I give you:
1. King Thrushbeard is the story of how a princess’s parents win the “World’s Shittiest Parents Award” in this tale of human trafficking, enslavement, domestic abuse, fraud and trickery.
Present in a lot of these fairy tales is a misogynistic undercurrent of evil stepmothers, evil queens, and haughty girls who, throughout the story, get taken down a peg. This Grimm fairy tale falls into the third category.
A king and queen were trying to get their princess daughter married off. As was the custom, they picked out several potential suitors, 100% of whom the princess rejected (because why wouldn’t you want your husband picked out by your parents? Which old, fat king do you want to marry, dear?) She particularly derided and rejected a king whose beard made him look like a thrush, whatever that means. His name, of course, was “King Thrushbeard.”
In frustration, her royal parents, vowed to give her away to the next beggar who showed up at the door (some parents, eh?) Well, the next beggar came, and it was his lucky day, because his crust of bread was going to come with a free princess.
So after the parents pawned her off on the poor panhandler in the worlds worst transaction, they called the priest, got her married quick and threw them both out of the palace (because they were now “poor people”)
The princess lamented that she should have gone off with the king with the weird beard. The old beggar was not too happy to have her constantly wishing for some other dude, so he took it out on her hide.
He put her to work scrubbing, cleaning, doing humiliating, menial tasks, all of which she was terrible at, being a princess and all, and all the while he grumbling what a liability she was. Kind of a 15th century version of “Overboard”.
Finally he got her a job as a kitchen wench in the very palace she had grown up in. She got in the habit of pocketing leftover food scraps to take home. At a grand ball, the food fell through her pockets, made a big, embarrassing mess in front of everybody, including people who once knew her.
As she is being mocked and derided by the rich people at the ball (the lovely people who once were her friends and family), and the soup is spilling is out of her pockets onto the floor, who should show up?
Yeah. King Thrushbeard (Who else?)
Turns out he had set the whole thing up together with her asshole parents, to “teach her a lesson”.
And what lesson would that be? Not to trust your parents to not sell you into slavery? To sleep with one eye open so your fraudster of a husband doesn’t try to kill you in your sleep?
And despite the sleazy sham he had pulled on her for two frickin weeks (false imprisonment, domestic abuse, fraud, enslavement) despite the utterly skeevy thing her parents did (human trafficking, exploitation of a minor, which she likely was), all was forgiven, there was a big wedding reception, and she lived happily ever after with the conniving bastard who couldn’t be bothered to trim his weird-ass beard.
2. The Mouse, The Bird and the Sausage is a disturbingly bizarre tale about two different animals live with a sausage and how they died.
A mouse, a bird and a sausage lived together. Now aside from the idea that two different species live with a stick of meat and don’t eat it ( and according to the tale, the sausage is a “her”!), each one is assigned to a household chore. The bird has to go gather wood for the fire. The mouse has to gather water and build the fire. It is the sausage’s responsibility to prepare the meal (naturally!), which includes jumping into the soup to stir it around and make it sausage flavored! (from herself, which I assume she also ate. I leave you to form your own troubling visual)
One day they all decided to switch jobs.
The sausage went out to gather wood, and was promptly eaten by a dog. Because, what else?
The mouse prepared the food, jumped into the boiling pot to stir the soup, just like the sausage had done, promptly burned her skin and fur off and drowned. No mouse flavored soup for anyone that night, but plenty of “Dead Mouse in my Soup” jokes!
The bird tried to start the fire with the little amount of wood that was lying around (because the sausage was busy being digested by the dog at this point) but didn’t do it right and set the house on fire. He then went to get some water, but he fell in the well and drowned.
3: The Girl Who Trod on the Loaf is not the sequel to any story involving a dragon tattoo or a hornet’s nest. It is about an unduly harsh life-sentence for the sin wasting food.
Hans Christian Anderson apparently had a very complicated relationship with women. A favorite topic of his was proud, haughty girls who met their come-uppance and atoned for their proud haughty ways.
Such is the story of the Girl who Trod on the Loaf.
This girl, named Inger, by all accounts was an awful child, who, among other things, enjoyed torturing insects by pulling their wings off or impaling them with a pin to watch them squirm. As she got older, she was still a proud and haughty girl, but managed to get a job as a servant for rich people.
At some point, the rich lady she worked for suggested she go to see her mother, who was poor, and bring a loaf of crusty bread. As Inger is walking on the path towards her mother’s hovel, she reaches a mud puddle. Instead of walking around the puddle, which she could have easily done, she throws the loaf of bread into the mud puddle to use as a stepping stone to avoid getting mud on her shoe.
And she and the loaf sink down to the bottom of the mud puddle where she stays for the rest of her life. Not only that, but all the flies and bugs she tortured to death crawl over her face.
And if that weren’t bad enough, everybody in the village found out what she had done. She became an object of folklore and a song was made about her, all of which she could hear from down in the swamp.
Finally after a lifetime of listening to bawdy songs and nasty stories about her, the only person who pitied her plight now dies of old age. This triggers a chain of events, where she turns into a bird and flies up from the swamp. She then has to pick up crumbs to give to other birds, and is only allowed to die and go to heaven when she has picked up the weight in crumbs of the loaf she threw into the mud.
4. The Red Shoes , by Hans Christian Anderson, is a grisly story involving foot amputation, and how the amputated feet continue to haunt the amputee, all for the sin of wearing the wrong color shoes to church.
In his oft repeated theme, this one is about a vain girl who met her comeuppance (and atoned and was redeemed)
A poor girl named Karen was adopted by an old lady who was colorblind. The time came to buy the girl shoes for her confirmation. Confirmation, of course, was a very serious event, and required serious clothes and shoes. Since the old lady was colorblind, Karen pulled a fast one and picked out a pair of red dancing shoes (HINT: the wrong color shoes for confirmation, as we will learn later)
She wore them to the confirmation anyway, and because she liked them so much, she was not paying attention to the churchy stuff, and instead thinking about how good she looked in her red shoes (that’s a sin, ya know! Pride/Vanity! A deadly one, too. according to Thomas Aquinas).
Eventually, the old colorblind lady found out Karen had worn her red shoes to confirmation, and insisted she never wore them to church again. But how could the old lady enforce it? She was colorblind. And Karen did it again.
As she entered the church, an old man offered to shine Karen’s shoes. While he was polishing, she did not hear him cursing the shoes. And this is where the story gets interesting.
On her way out of church (where she was sinning again: thinking about her shoes instead of paying attention to Mass!) she took a couple of dance steps. And BAM! This caused the shoes to dance, with her feet in them, and she can’t stop. She finally managed to get the shoes off, and locked them in a cabinet.
Now a short while later, the old, colorblind lady was on her deathbed. There also happened to be grand ball in town. Karen was supposed to be taking care of the old lady. But did she? Nah! She went to the dance. In the red shoes.
Well, at the dance, the shoes started dancing with her feet in them and she had no control over what they did. She also couldn’t get the shoes off.
The shoes danced her out the door, through the graveyard and to the church door, where an angel with a sword damned her to dance forever without rest. The shoes danced her to the door of the executioner who said something like, ”I cut the heads off evil people, and I feel my axe tingling!”
He agreed not to chop her head off, but instead chopped off her feet. The shoes danced away with her bloody foot-stumps still in them. Next, the executioner made her a pair of wooden feet, and off she went to the church to repent for the awful sin of wearing the wrong color shoes to church.
And at the door of the church, what did she find? The shoes, with her feet still in them, still dancing, blocking her entrance into the church. She attemped it a week later, with the same results.
She became a servant at the parsonage, where she worked and prayed and was afraid to go to church (who can blame her?). While the family was at church, and she was praying and atoning, the angel with the sword came again, and this time, teleported her to church, where she promptly died of a heart attack and ostensibly went to heaven, despite her utterly grave sin of wearing the wrong color shoes!
Great Claus and Little Claus is another Anderson Story about fraud, assault, kidnapping, desecration of a corpse, accessory to murder, murder (the killing of one’s grandmother with an axe) and….uh…. trespassing.
Great Claus is rich farmer with four horses. Little Claus is a poor farmer with only one. Once a week, Little Claus borrows Great Claus’ four horses to plow his field.. It gives Little Claus an ego trip to pretend all the horses are his, but for whatever reason, it bothers Great Claus, who threatens that if he does it again, he’ll kill Little Claus’ one and only horse.
Little Claus does it again and Great Claus makes good on his promise and clubs the horse on the head.
Little Klaus then skins the horse, puts the pelt in a sack and heads to toward town to sell it. The pelt makes a sound if one squeezes the bag, and because of this convinces some poor fool there is a genie in the sack, and manages to sell it for a large number of gold coins. (Fraud)
Great Klaus finds out, and when questioned, Little Claus tells him the gold was from selling the horse’s pelt. Great Claus goes home to club his four horses, skins them and takes the pelts into town, asking the same price for each that Little Claus got for his. The townspeople are so outraged, they give him a public flogging (that’s how they rolled back then)
Great Claus goes home to exact revenge on Little Claus. Little Claus’ grandmother had just died, so he laid her body in his bed (what else would you do with a dead person?). Great Claus comes into Little Claus’ house with an axe and kills the grandmother, thinking it is Little Claus (murder).
The next day, Little Claus sits his dead grandmother up in his wagon, Weekend at Bernie’s style, and rides into town (somewhere along the line he must have gotten a new horse). He stops for a glass of mead at the inn, and the innkeeper brings a glass out to the dead grandmother. He asks her a question and when she doesn’t answer, because she’s dead, he loses his temper and throws the glass in her face.
Little Claus comes out and accuses the innkeeper of killing his grandmother, and points to the hole in her head “You did that!”
In exchange for Little Claus not having him arrested, he agrees to bury the grandmother, AND give Little Claus another large sum of gold. (Somehow, I think selling your dead grandmother is also a crime)
When Little Claus comes home, Great Claus is amazed at both the gold and that Little Claus is still alive. Little Claus reports that it was his grandmother that Great Claus hit, and he had sold his grandmother’s corpse for that amount of gold.
So what does Great Claus do?
You guessed it. He goes home, takes an axe to his grandmother (this now makes him a serial killer), and takes her corpse to the doctor to sell. The doctor, of course threatens to have him arrested.
Now Great Claus is really mad, and vows revenge. He decides to drown Little Claus in the river. He manages to put Little Claus into a sack and rides his wagon to the river. On the way there, he stops by a church to pray (because I guess that’s what you do before you commit your third murder).
While Great Claus is praying in the church, Little Claus is complaining from inside the sack that he is going to die young. It just so happens, an old man leading a head of cattle overhears and laments he is old and wants to die and go to heaven. So they agree to switch places if Little Claus will take his cattle. Little Claus helps the old man into the sack, ties it shut, takes the cattle and walks down the road. (Fraud and accessory to murder)
Of course, further down the road who should he run into but Great Claus, who had dumped the old man into the river, believing it to be Little Claus.
Little Claus explains it away, telling him that in this is a special river where he won’t drown, but there are lots of “river cattle” down there, which he can take for free. Great Claus decides he wants some river cattle, too, so he asks for Little Claus’ help in putting him in a sack, weighed down with a stone, and with Little Claus’ help, jumps into the river. (Fraud and murder)
The story ends with Little Claus saying, ”I’m afraid he won’t find any river cattle down there”
And I leave you to tally up the body count.