My wife was born and raised in the US, but in many ways she was raised in another country. Her mother is German, and as a result my wife’s first language is German. When she first went to kindegarten they sent her home because she didn’t understand English. She had never eaten American style pancakes until we were dating, and had no idea such a thing existed. She also grew up learning the Brothers Grimm stories for children and young people. Many of these have familiar titles, but the stories themselves are very different than what you are likely expecting.
Take Cinderella, for example. The basics of the story are the same; poor girl with an evil step mother and step sisters who make her life miserable, a prince who uses her shoe to try to locate her after a surreptitious dance, etc. But in the Brothers Grimm version the emphasis is on her loyalty, humility, perseverance, and hard work instead of “just being” like girls are told in the Disney version. Hard work is a standard theme in Brother’s Grimm, and those who consistently embrace it without complaint are eventually rewarded.
There she had to do hard work from morning until evening, get up before daybreak, carry water, make the fires, cook, and wash. Besides this, the sisters did everything imaginable to hurt her. They made fun of her, scattered peas and lentils into the ashes for her, so that she had to sit and pick them out again. In the evening when she had worked herself weary, there was no bed for her. Instead she had to sleep by the hearth in the ashes. And because she always looked dusty and dirty, they called her Cinderella.
Instead of a fairy godmother, there is a tree she planted by her mother’s grave and watered over the years with her tears, and a bird who granted her wishes.
Cinderella went to this tree three times every day, and beneath it she wept and prayed. A white bird came to the tree every time, and whenever she expressed a wish, the bird would throw down to her what she had wished for.
When the time for the famous dance with the prince came, Cinderella first dressed her step sisters, and then pleaded for permission to go herself.
the stepmother finally said, “I have scattered a bowl of lentils into the ashes for you. If you can pick them out again in two hours, then you may go with us.”
Cinderella calls on the birds to help her sort the lentils, allowing them to eat any which aren’t good. She has to do this twice because her stepmother pulls the same trick again, the second time putting two bowls of lentils in the ashes and giving her half the time to complete it. But with the help of the birds, she again is able to complete the task on time. Once she finished this the stepmother went back on her word and took the two stepsisters to the dance without her.
Cinderella went to her mother’s grave and wished for proper clothing to attend the dance. Once at the dance, the story looks much like the version we more commonly hear. The prince is smitten with her and wants to know who she is, etc. However, unlike the version we know, there is no time limit on the spell (home before midnight or the coach turns into a pumpkin). And the slippers are gold instead of glass.
Who fits the shoe?
This is where the Grimm version takes a dramatic turn away from the version we know. This is a brutal world in which choices have consequences, either good or bad. In their effort to trick the prince into thinking they were the woman he was searching for, the stepsisters cut off parts of their own feet. The first one cuts off her big toe:
She could not get her big toe into it, for the shoe was too small for her. Then her mother gave her a knife and said, “Cut off your toe. When you are queen you will no longer have to go on foot.”
The girl cut off her toe, forced her foot into the shoe, swallowed the pain, and went out to the prince. He took her on his horse as his bride and rode away with her. However, they had to ride past the grave, and there, on the hazel tree, sat the two pigeons, crying out:
Rook di goo, rook di goo!
There’s blood in the shoe.
The shoe is too tight,
This bride is not right!
The same scene is played out with the younger sister, but she has to cut off her heel instead. Both times the prince is fooled and then warned by the birds at Cinderella’s mother’s grave. Eventually of course Cinderella is able to prove that she is the one who left the shoe behind at the dance, and the prince takes her home to marry her.
At this point many of my female readers are probably saying, finally we get to the wedding scene, where the two stepsisters marry dukes after Cinderella forgives them. Not in Brothers Grimm. This is a world of consequences, and the step sisters were evil.
When the wedding with the prince was to be held, the two false sisters came, wanting to gain favor with Cinderella and to share her good fortune. When the bridal couple walked into the church, the older sister walked on their right side and the younger on their left side, and the pigeons pecked out one eye from each of them. Afterwards, as they came out of the church, the older one was on the left side, and the younger one on the right side, and then the pigeons pecked out the other eye from each of them. And thus, for their wickedness and falsehood, they were punished with blindness as long as they lived.
Don’t you just love happy endings?