There is something about folklore that gets at the heart of the people. Every culture has their own folklore, their stories that have been passed down through the centuries that reflect each individual culture. Part of that folklore is change and as the years grow so do the stories. Names change, situations change and details are made to change with the times. The main source of that change becomes the keeping up with what the culture is into at that time.
This then explains how now a days folklore and mythology has been dumbed down, even sugar coated to be presented to the masses. Stories that were once dark and horrible have become light and fluffy, always with a “They Lived Happily Ever After” at the end. Most of this can be chalked up to the Americanized versions of these stories.
Take the great fairytales for example. The Grimm brothers in Germany came up with these elaborate and sometimes gruesome stories to scare children into obeying their parents. Little Red Riding Hood is a prime example of this. She wanders into the forest meets a wolf and later the wolf turns into her grandmother and gobbles her up. Now in the Americanized version of this story the woodsmen then comes along and cuts little red riding hood out of the wolf, the grandmother is found alive in the closet and all is well. The real ending though goes more like this: Little Red Riding Hood is eaten up, never to be seen of again and the grandmother is found dead, mauled by the wolf. The moral then becomes don’t talk to strangers otherwise there will be consequences.
Now the real story seems to drive home the point more than the sugar coated one. The reason for the nicer version? To not give the kids that are told it nightmares. But isn’t that the whole point? To scare the children into doing the right thing, to not talking to strangers or whatever the story is trying to deter. It has worked well in other cultures that unlike ours haven’t turned their folklore into Happy little fairytales.
The word fairytales in general invokes the image of princesses in pink dresses and woodland creatures frolicking around the happy forest. The image of a fairy even is a cute little human like creature that has beautiful wings and lives in tree villages. This image in other cultures is very different.
Case in point the Celtic version of the Faerie (notice even the spelling in different). The faerie is a tricky creature who likes to play around with the other entities including humans. It is a mischievous creature who delights in the pain of humans and feeds off of mayhem and sometimes even death. Now there are some good faeries as well, that help out humans, acting as guides, or helping out the priests and priestesses with spells.
The children in Celtic Ireland were then warned of these creatures and were told to stay away from the woods at night. The more popular of these “fairytales” that was told to children was the one of the Changeling, a faerie who took the guise of the child to feed on the parents. Children were told not to venture into the woods, or a Changeling might snatch them up and switch places with them.
Another culture that was notorious for not sugar coating stories and using them to scare children into obeying their parents was the Russian culture. Their famous story was the story of Baba Yaga, an old woman who lived in the woods in a house that was on chicken legs. Baba Yaga would lore children into her house promising them food or candy, and then she would make them into stew and eat them.
If this story sounds familiar, it’s because it almost mirrors the Hansel and Grettle story, the real one anyways. See all cultures have the same archetypes in their stories. The individual stories might be different depending the culture, but the characters for the most part are the same. One thing that remains constant through the different cultures is that these folktales, or fairytales, or mythology, whatever the term is used in the culture, they’re all used to explain things or to prevent people from doing things.
Now the American culture is a strange one, since we pull from all different cultures. As stated before most of our “fairytales” are not ours, but were taken from other cultures and sugar coated and changed. The majority of the Disney movies that we have grown to love (Cinderella, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, etc) come from Germanic, Russian and other stories. Once again these stories are changed to be happy stories of love and life, not at all what they were originally intended for.
This is why the phrase “Fairytale Ending” is sort of a paradox since most of them ended in death or hardships. The point of the old “fairytales” was to teach life lessons so most of them ended horribly. Of course there were exceptions, some that did end well, with the prince rescuing the princess and them getting married at the end, but it was always at a price.
In the Russian folktales, a lot like Celtic folktales if the story didn’t end with death or some other bad sign, then it ended with everyone drinking themselves away. Now in today’s world those endings would never go over, now everything has to have that happy ending where everything had to work out and come together.
Now a lot of other cultures around the world have kept their original stories even though over the years they have changed slightly. For the most part it is only in America that we feel the need to give everything a happy ending or make it “politically correct.” It is true though that a lot of cultures have taken their darker tales and made them a little less dark. In ancient times these stories were all about death, destruction and mayhem because the stories reflected the times. Now that the mayhem has passed (for the most part anyways) the stories have become a little less gruesome but still retain the message.
One the other hand there are some stories that have become so distorted that they lose almost all of their original meaning. The prime example of this is the story of the genie. Usually when one thinks of a genie an image is conjured up of a woman or man that lives in a lamp and grants three wishes to whoever rubs the lamp. The real story is a far cry from that. The story of the Djinn comes from Islamic culture that tells about a creature who steals the souls of humans by granting their wishes. The person then who calls it forth has three wishes before this creature is let out of hell and free to wreak havoc on the masses. The moral of this story, is obviously be careful what you wish for, not only because bad things can happen, but you can unknowingly let a Djinn out of hell.
Now recently in the past few years horror movies have been surfacing that exposes these fairytales and folktales for what they really are, while obviously taking liberties of their own with the writing. For example the Djinn was the focal point of the Wishmaster movies by Wes Craven.
We even see some spins on tales that aren’t meant to be gruesome but turned gruesome anyways, such a Darkness Falls. This movie is about a witch who sneaks into kids bedrooms when they are sleeping and takes their teeth. Sound familiar? Well this is a spin on the “tooth fairy” legend. In this version the kids aren’t allowed to look when the “tooth fairy” comes otherwise she will kill you. But if you look and she doesn’t kill you? Then you will be hunted for the rest of your life in the dark. So the moral of that story is that you should always listen to the “rules” in this case don’t look otherwise you’ll be sleeping with a night light for the rest of your life.
So all in all it is safe to say that fairytales, stories, legends, folktales or whatever else you want to call them have all changed over the centuries. Some have changed for the good, other for the not so good and even others have changed the stories completely. The archetypes though remain the same and the basic story is there. Whether or not it ends it total death for the characters or shows the characters for who they really are is what has seemed to really change. On this note I would like to say that I believe you can’t beat the original and I think everyone should hear the real tales behind these so called “fairytales.”