I remember as a kid I was a voracious reader. By the time I was 6 or 7 I was reading from a big book of fairy tales.
I remember standing in the kitchen of our flat in Tunbridge Wells and reading to the man who had come to repair our gas boiler. I can’t remember his face, but I remember the blue overalls – not a ‘uniform’ I had been aware of up to that point in my life. I adored this guy, he was friendly and patient and kind, and he told me about his dog. He dated my mum for a long while and I hoped they’d get married so we could be a family and live happily ever after. Sadly that didn’t happen and we moved away, which broke my baby-heart.
But he always used to say how much he enjoyed me reading the stories to him. Sometimes he had to stop his work to help me with the tricky words that were extra long or that I hadn’t seen before.
A while ago, I thought, let’s have a read of those old stories. I was in for a bit of a shock.
They are gruesome, aren’t they? And brutal! I can’t believe anyone ever thought they were suitable for a small child to read. (Not mentioning any names, but I’m looking at you over there in the corner, Brothers Grimm!) Were they cautionary tales to frighten children into good behaviour or what? yes, I know kids go through that gore-is-good phase but honestly!
People got chucked into barrels which were nailed shut and they were thrown into the sea. They got fed to wolves either deliberately or accidentally. Dropped into cauldrons of boiling water. Thrown down wells. Made to climb ridiculously high beanstalks. People’s bones were ground to make someone’s bread. Or people were locked into cages by witches and made to stick a finger through the bars so she could decide if they were fat enough to eat. Turned into swans. Turned into frogs. Turned into pretty much anything as a matter of fact.
But the characters of the stories try to do what they think is good: they turn sick people around in their beds to trick the devil, they try to get good fortune from fish, but still they get turned into roses and chandeliers, or have to run for their lives. And there are the musical animals or tiny people who can make shoes… but even so…
I mean, that’s dark, isn’t it? Mwah ha ha!