Ever wondered where fairy tales came from?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Once upon a time . . .

You probably think of fairy tales as being old stories that have been passed down from generation to generation. But would you be surprised to know that some classic fairy tales, including "Little Red Riding Hood," are more than 2,600 years old?

That was the discovery made last year by Jamie Tehrani, an anthropologist who studies people and cultures. He found 35 versions of the tale of the girl lost in the woods.

In China, for example, a tiger, not a wolf, tricks the young girl. In Iran, a little boy replaces the little girl in the forest. People brought the stories with them as they moved across continents and oceans, and the details changed a little bit here and there.

It was the changes to these stories that prompted two brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, to write down the classic German versions of these tales. The Brothers Grimm weren't the authors of the fairy tales, instead they were scholars who wanted the stories saved.

The Grimms' versions of the stories were, well, pretty grim. In fact, their versions of the stories could be thought of as the 19th-century equivalent of mature video games. Think about it: Snow White's stepmother wanted to kill her! And birds pecked out the stepsisters' eyes at the end of "Cinderella"!

This week, another version of the Grimm fairy tale "Rapunzel" will be told in the new movie "Tangled." We're pretty sure the brothers wouldn't recognize this hip, lively version of their story, considering that in theirs the prince goes blind for a few years and Rapunzel is left to raise twins by herself in the forest.

Of course there have always been different version of these tales. In a 17th-century French "Cinderella," the stepsisters ask Cinderella for forgiveness at the end of the story, and Cinderella lets them live in her castle.

Talk about a fairy tale ending!

- Moira E. McLaughlin


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