Remember when I wrote about Howl’s Moving Castle and fairy tale tropes? Yeah, I was writing about some of the PG-13 ones. But here’s a great article over on LitReactor about how we’ve taken the horror out of stories for children that used to be pretty damn terrifying!
Here’s a taste:
However, somewhere along the line, between Rousseau proclaiming the holy innocence of children (“there is no original sin in the human heart”), Disney changing the ending of Cinderella and missing children appearing on milk cartons, fairy tales lost their bite. Once-acceptable fairy tale tropes are now NC-17 restricted, adults-only, because it’s thought they damage tiny minds. Censorship battles rage over protecting children from the sex and violence rollercoaster offered by the internet, by cable TV, by videogames, by Hollywood output. “Children’s books” come in pastel colors, and feature soft-bodied anthropomorphs who never come into contact with sharp objects, let alone shed any blood. Cute, but they’ll never make your flesh run cold. Children themselves are walled up, fenced off, protected from any potential contact with stranger danger. They’re not permitted to venture into the deep, dark woods, because we fear they won’t cope.
By exorcising the horror from fairy tales, are we doing children any favors? By redefining fairy tales as happy clappy Disney adaptations, or glossy sword-and-sorcery action adventures that emphasize strength over cunning, we may be depriving the young audience of the really important parts.
Once upon a time, therefore…
Understanding came from fear. Wisdom was found in dark places. Courage came only from confronting the ogres, the trolls, the wolves, the goblins and maleficent witches. Transgression was punished, but led to redemption. Good struggled against Evil, but always won in the end. Victory came through intelligence, not brute strength. Those who sided with Good lived happily ever after, but those who cleaved to Evil were burned, pierced, broken, transformed and condemned, never to be seen again.
Children over the aeons have made no objections to the macabre details: the cannibalism, the bloodshed, the amputations, the kidnappings, the murders, or the red-hot iron torture devices. The more monstrous the threat, the more grotesque the punishment, the easier the lesson was to understand and remember. Grimm’s Fairy Tales is the original atrocity exhibition. Flipping through the pages, even the most seasoned horror maven might find the stuff of nightmares among the cruelty and gore.