About the warning role of fairy tales

Seminar Paper, 2020

17 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The Brothers Grimm
2.1 Violence in Grimm's fairy tales

3. Theories about the role of violence

4. Change in the representation of violence in fairy tales
4.1 Example of Cinderella

5. Horror genre intoday'sfairy tales
5.1 Example of Rumpelstiltskin

6. Conclusion

7. Works cited

1. Introduction

The role that fairy tales once played is no longer the same today. When the first fairy tales were written, the authors also pursued the intention to convey moral values and virtues in addition to the aspect of entertainment. Therefore, violence and brutality have often been used to warn of possible dangers and emergencies and also to provide a deterrent example of what can happen if someone acts inappropriately. However, the use of violent and brutal acts helped to emphasize the fairy tale's warning role. Thus, fairy tales also positively contributed to the upbringing of children by teaching them how to deal with basic human conflicts, desires, and relationships.

As fairy tales have become increasingly interesting to society in recent years, they have been rewritten, turned into movies and also modified or adapted to today's times under different circumstances. Nevertheless, many ideas were lost from the original versions and can no longer convey the same values that they were supposed to in the past. Violence and brutality made an important contribution in the original versions and created an appealing effect for the viewers, which no longer completely exists in its intended form.

In this paper, I will compare some of the original fairy tales with their new versions and analyze how the decrease in violence and brutality affects their meaning. Therefore, I will refer to fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm, such as Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel or Snow White and provide details on how violence contributes positively to the storyline of their fairy tales in general. In addition, I will deal with the change in the depiction of violence in fairy tales and show the consequences that arise from the transformation of their original plot.

The following chapter provides some basic information about the Brothers Grimm, their works and other achievements. In order to understand how violence and brutality were portrayed at the time the first fairy tales were written, it is important to take a closer look at some examples from their stories to get a brief insight into thier way of writing.

The third chapter deals with theories about the influential role of violence in fairy tales and focuses on how and why the original versions are, from today's perspective, seen as much more meaningful and educationally valuable. I will therefore refer to theories of the literary scholars Jack David Zipes, Maria Tatar, and Michelle Ann Abate.

The fourth chapter contains information and examples of the change in the representation of violence in fairy tales and shows an example based on the "sanitized" story of Cinderella.

In contrast, chapter five provides an insight into the change in fairy tales to the horror genre and depicts to what extent these new stories still resemble the original ideas or represent their values.

2. The Brothers Grimm

The two German brothers Jacob Ludwig Karl Grimm (1785-1863) and Wilhelm Carl Grimm (1786-1859) were philologists, literary scholars, linguists and also among the first and best known German fairy tale authors, especially in the early 19th century.1 They both studied German folklore and oral traditions at the University of Marburg and later published a collection of stories that is known as 'Grimms’ Fairy Tales' which includes a decent amount of narratives, only about half of which are still commonly known today.2 Between the first published edition of their fairy tale collection of 1812-1815 and the seventh (and last) edition of 1857, they revised their collection several times so that it grew from 156 stories to more than 200.3 Apart from that, they also made an important contribution to the development of the German dictionary, expanded it with new terms and generally restructured it. Additionally, they wrote books about mythology and published scholarly works on linguistics and medieval studies that were increasingly growing in importance after their death.

The "original" fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm were partly rewritten versions of already existing works by Italian and French authors, such as Giovanni Francesco Straparola or Charles Perrault. The Brothers Grimm changed some passages from the fairy tales of these authors, since the first variants were considered too dark and not "Christian" enough by the church.4 Although their first collection was originally titled "Children's and Household Tales" (German: Kinder- und Hausmärchen), these fairy tales were not intended for children, as they often included sex, violence, incest, a great deal of brutality and death.5 At that time, these slightly modified fairy tales were still better received by society than the original versions because the basic idea of the stories remained the same. Nevertheless, these fairy tales have become increasingly unrealistic over the past few centuries and would no longer receive the same level of attention in their original form as they did in the past. It was therefore necessary to adapt the stories in order to consérvate the message they were supposed to convey. Due to the rapid technical progress in recent years, this has been realised with a broad variety of new stories in books and movies.

2.1 Violence in Grimm's fairy tales

Since fear and violence have always permeated societies all over the world in many forms, it is no surprise that these themes are prevalent in folk and fairy tales like those of the Brothers Grimm. Although they did not invent the stories themselves, their minor changes to the original plot of some fairy tales still contain numerous violent and brutal scenes.

A well-known example is the fairy tale of Snow White. In the Grimm version, the Queen, also Snow White's stepmother, cannot bear that she is no longer the "the fairest one of all", as Snow White grows up and becomes more beautiful than her. Thus, she orders a huntsman to bring back Snow White’s internal organs, saying “Kill her, and as proof that she is dead bring her lungs and liver back to me.”6 As the huntsman is unable to fulfill the Queens order, he spares Snow White and brings the Queen the lungs and liver of a boar instead.7 Consequently, she tries to kill Snow White herself three separate times, who now lives in the woods together with the 7 dwarfs. The first time, she has Snow White try on a corset, which is so tight, that she passes out. The second time, she sells her a poisonous comb, which she puts in her hair, causing her to pass out. The third time the Queen tricks her with the same poisonous apple we can see in the today's Disney version. The first two times the dwarfs are still able to revive her. But after the third try, it needs a fortunate coincidence to revive Snow White again. This happens when one of the prince's servants trips while holding the glass coffin she lies in, which removes the piece of poisoned apple out of Snow White's throat. The prince is then able to awake her and it follows their wedding. Unlike in the Disney version, on Snow White's wedding day, her stepmother had to wear a pair of red-hot iron slippers and dance in them until she drops dead for the attempted murder of Snow White.8

Another example that shows the violent character of the original fairy tales is the story of Hansel and Gretel. In this plot, the second wife of a woodcutter, in this case also Hansel and Gretel's stepmother, demands from her husband that he abandons both children in the woods because they are a burden to them. As Hansel and Gretel cannot find their way back home after their father's third attempt to abandon them, they wander through the woods until they discover a gingerbread house.9 The witch that owns the house lures the children inside, with the promise of soft beds and delicious food. Unaware of what the witch's intention is, they enter her house. Later they find out that the witch intends to cook and eat them. But in order to do so, she firstly locks Hansel in an iron cage in the garden to fatten him up and Gretel becomes her slave. They manage to stall the witch for a few weeks. But as she becomes more and more impatient, she decides to eat Hansel, saying "be he fat or be he lean".10 While she heats the oven, she decides to kill and eat Gretel as well. However, Gretel manages to fool the witch and pushes her into the oven that she has prepared. Then she frees Hansel and both are able to leave the witch's house before it collapses.

One last example showing how violence and fear are portrayed in fairy tales is the story of Little Red Riding Hood. In this story, a little girl named Little Red Riding Hood is asked by her mother to visit her sickly grandmother with some cake and wine. Additionally, her mother orders her to stay strictly on the path.11 When she walks into the woods on her way to her grandmother's house, a wolf came up to her and asks where she is going. She naively tells him and he suggests her to pick some flowers as a gift for her grandmother before she visits her, which she does. In the meantime, the wolf goes to the grandmother's house and gains access by pretending to be her. He then eats her up and waits for the girl in her bed, disguised as the grandmother. When Little Red Riding Hood later arrives at the grandmother's house, she notices that the door is not locked, enters and finds her on the bed, giving her a strange impression. As she recognizes that the outer appearance of her grandmother is not the same "Oh, grandmother, what a horribly big mouth you have!", the wolf responds "The better to eat you with!"12, at which point the wolf jumps out of the bed and eats her, too. Afterwards he falls asleep and snores loudly. When a huntsman becomes aware of this, he decides to take look, steps inside the house and finds the wolf still sleeping on the bed. Hoping that he can save both Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother, he carefully cuts open the wolfs belly with a pair of scissors and rescues them. Then they fill the wolfs body with heavy stones and as the wolf awakes, he tries to flee. But due to the heavy stones he collapses and dies.13 In addition to the examples listed above, there are still several other fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm that are still considered brutal and violent by today's society. A large number of these fairy tales were also rewritten several times and, therefore, played down to a great extent, since many passages were not necessarily suitable for children. Nevertheless, the first new versions that emerged after the Brothers Grimm's fairy tales, retained much of the main plot and changed only a few parts of the story, whereas most of today's movies, which were inspired by these fairy tales, have barely any similarities to the original versions.

3. Theories about the role of violence

A great number of literary, social and educational scholars have dealt with the role of violence and its purpose in the first fairy tales. One of the world's foremost scholars in the field of fairy tale research is Jack David Zipes. He was born in New York City in 1937, received a B.A. in political science from Dartmouth College in 1959 and an M.A. in English and comparative literature at Columbia University in I960.14 In 1987, he also translated the complete 1857 edition of fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, and in 2014, he published the first edition of 1812 and 1815 as The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm along with a new study of the tales, Grimm Legacies: TheMagic Power of the Grimms'Folk and Fairy Tales}15

Given the issue of violence, Zipes dealt with several fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm and often compared them with their original versions, for instance by Charles Perrault. Through the example ofLittle Red Riding Hood, he describes the necessity of changing the original versions as follows:

“Obviously, The Grimms fround the Perrault ending too cruel and too sexual. However, what is most significant is that Little Red Riding Hood as Little Red Cap is transformed even more into the naive, helpless, pretty, little girl who must be punished for her transgression, which is spelled out more clearly as disobedience and indulgence in sensual pleasures.“16

Zipes also emphasizes that the Brothers Grimm keep Little Red Riding Hood alive in their fairy tale, whereas Perrault kills her, as the story ends after the wolf eats up both the grandmother and the girl. By changing the plot without removing the violent scenes, the Brothers Grimm also created different angles of view for the audience and were able to offer a renewed awareness. The moral that was understood by many people at that time was that mistakes, such as Little Red Riding Hood being disobedient towards her mother by leaving the path, do not always have to be punished to the highest degree.17 The means of punishment were, nevertheless, still existing, only in a way that the protagonist has a chance to learn from it. Furthermore, this also led to a change of the characters' role within the tale. There is an important moral lesson that, for instance, the wolf brings with him.

According to Zipes:

"The wolf is sent to teach her and the audience a lesson. Her degradation and punishment set an example. Symbolically linked to the devil, the wolf is a powerful agent, but he was not necessarily used to punish "sinners".18

Taking this statement into account, Zipes depicts that the protagonist in a fairy tale would suffer a consequence for a behavior that seems undesirable. In this case, the moral is to show children, specifically young girls, how important it is to be careful when speaking or encountering with unknown individuals.19 Moreover, Zipes offers a scheme that can be used for many other fairy tales, based on which one can often recognize recurring elements in a story line. According to this scheme, the story's main protagonist is firstly confronted with an interdiction or prohibition which he or she violates in a certain way. Secondly, after a departure or even banishment, the protagonist is tested and moves on to battle or to perform a specific task. Thirdly, the protagonist suddenly faces a conflict, has to overcome obstacles, help another person or make the right decision. Fourthly, the villain is punished or the inimical forces are vanquished. Finally, the success of the protagonist generally leads to marriage, the acquisition of money, survival and wisdom or any combination of the first three.20


1 Wissen.de. “Es Waren Einmal Zwei Brüder - Die Grimm'sche Märchenwelt.” Wissen.de, Wissen.de, 21 May 2015, www.wissen.de/es-waren-einmal-zwei-brueder-die-grimmsche-maerchenwelt.

2 Wissen.de. “Es Waren Einmal Zwei Brüder - Die Grimm'sche Märchenwelt.”

3 The originalfolk &fairy tales ofthe Brothers Grimm: the completefirst edition. Grimm, Wilhelm, 1786-1859,, Grimm, Jacob, 1785-1863,, Zipes, Jack, 1937-, Dezsö, Andrea. Princeton [New Jersey]. 2014

4 “Brothers Grimm Saved Classic Fairy Tales by Changing ThemForever.” The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor, 20 Dec. 2012, www.csmonitor.com/Technology/Tech-Culture/2012/1220/Brothers-Grimm- saved-classic-fairy-tales-by-changing-them-forever.

5 Myint, B. “5 Facts About The Brothers Grimm.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 11 June 2020, www.biography.com/news/brothers-grimm-facts.

6 Jacob Grimm & Wilhelm Grimm: Kinder- und Hausmärchen', Band 1, 7. Ausgabe {children's and householdsfairy tales, volume 1, 7th edition). Dietrich, Göttingen 1857, page 264-273

7 Englishtranslation of the original: https://en.wikisource.oig/wiki/Grimm %27s_Household_Tales,_Volume_l/Little_Snow-White.

8 Grimm's Complete Fairy Tales, p 194, ISBN 978-1-60710-313-4

9 “Hansel and Gretel - Plot Synopsis.” Grimm'sFairy Tales, mysite.du.edu/~fdallas/its2410/hw3_grimms/hansel_gretel.html.

10 Hansel Und Gretel/Hansel and Gretel, germanstories.vcu.edu/grimm/haensel_dual.html

11 Jacob and Wilheim Grimm, "Little Red Cap“ p.l.

12 Jacob and Wilheim Grimm, "Little Red Cap“ p.2.

13 “Compare This Fairy Tale in Two Languages.” Grimmstories.com, www.grimmstories.com/language.php? grimm=026.

14 “Professor Jack Zipes.”ARU, aru.ac.uk/graduation-and-alumni/honorary-award-holders2/jack-zipes.

15 Bibliography of Jack Zipes, University of Minnesota (UMN) https://web.archive.Org/web/20170224092650/http://www.tc.umn.edu/~d-lena/Mythcon24%20Jack%20Zipes %20page.html

16 “The Grimms' Modification of Perrault's Version.” The Trials & Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood, by John David. Zipes, 2nd Edition ed., Routledge, 1993, p. 33.

17 Zipes, p. 33.

18 Zipes, p.33.

19 Zipes, p.35.

20 Zipes, Jack. “The Changing Function of the Fairy Tale.” The Lion and the Unicorn, vol. 12, no. 2, 1988, p. 10., doi:10.1353/uni.0.0236.

Excerpt out of 17 pages


About the warning role of fairy tales
Humboldt-University of Berlin  (Sprach- und literaturwissenschaftliche Fakultät)
Writing the term paper
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Fairy tales, Comparison to the present, Brothers Grimm
Quote paper
Steffen Kockel (Author), 2020, About the warning role of fairy tales, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1022886


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