Politics and Fairy Tales: Early Versions of “The Three Little Pigs”

Recently, author Chuck Wendig got into a minor spat on Twitter with another Twitter user who insisted that stories do not have to be political. As an example, the Twitter user mentioned “The Three Little Pigs.”

My screams probably could have heard on the other side of the ocean.

So, even though Chuck Wendig already did a good job of explaining just why this story is perhaps not the best example of non-political storytelling, I thought it might be worthwhile to take a more in depth look at the tale here and its history. Even though I HATE THIS STORY. And even though many early versions don’t even MENTION pigs at all…

First, a general note: fairy tales are inherently political. Indeed, in many cases, authors deliberately chose fairy tale subjects in the hopes of making political points—sometimes subtly, sometimes obviously so, in the case of some satirical fairy ...

The Fairy Tale Trials of Younger Sons: “The Golden Goose”

Sometimes I’m astonished that so many youngest sons—especially third sons, or seventh sons—make it out of fairy tales alive, or don’t decide to just walk out of the fairy tale, deciding they’ve had enough abuse. I mean, sure, many of them end up married to lovely princesses, ruling over half a kingdom—though given that many of them have also barely met their brides before marriage, and have little to no training in administration, I find myself kinda wondering just how well they’ll do as kings.

And then of course, there’s everything that happens to them in fairy tales, with “The Golden Goose” as perhaps the shining example.

Forgive the pun.

Despite the title, “The Golden Goose,” collected by the Grimm Brothers, is less the story of a golden goose, and more the story of one of those younger sons. He is the third son of a man who seems to ...

A Gender-Bent Fairy Tale of Economics: Christoph Martin Wieland’s “The Philosopher’s Stone”

German writer and poet Christoph Martin Wieland (1733-1813) was the son of a pastor and received a thorough education and grounding in the classics, training that Wieland used to enter a literary and intellectual life. This included journeys to various literary salons in Germany and Switzerland, as well as stints as a philosophy professor, occasional tutor to royalty, and academic journal editing. He and his wife, Anna Dorothea von Hillenbrand, enjoyed an apparently happy marriage that resulted in fourteen children. That perhaps explains why Wieland never lost his love for fairy tales—and even tried to write a few gender-bending fairy tales of his own.

These days Weiland is probably best known for translating several Shakespearean plays into German; his epic poem Oberon (1780; heavily revised later edition 1796), later adapted into an opera by Carl Maria von Weber (first performed in 1826); and his Geschichte des Agathon (1776-1777), an ...

Abuse and Revenge in Grimms’ Fairy Tales: “The Juniper Tree”

In stark contrast to the long, intricate tales penned by other literary fairy tale writers, in particular those practicing their arts in French salons, most of the fairy tales collected and published by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm are quite short—in many cases, easily squeezed into just one or two pages, or even just a few paragraphs. One major exception: “The Juniper Tree,” one of the longest tales in the original 1812 Children’s and Household Tales, which also happens to be one of the most horrifying tales in the original collection.

In their notes, the Grimms gave full credit to painter Philip Otto Runge (1777-1810) for providing them with the tale. Although some scholars have argued that the story is an original tale penned by the Grimms, who were inspired by Runge’s paintings, the only other confirmed original tale by the Grimms, “Snow White and Rose Red,” did not appear ...

Fairy Tales in Conversation: “Princess Minute and King Floridor” by the Comte de Caylus

Anne Claude Philippe de Tubières-Grimoard de Pastels de Lévis, comte de Caylus, marquis d’Esternay, baron de Branscac (1692-1765), generally known by the considerably shorter name of Comte de Caylus, not only had the enviable honor of having about the longest name yet of anyone discussed in this series, but also of being the grandson of a first cousin of Madame de Maintenon, known to history as the second, secret wife of Louis XIV. This in turn ensured that he and his mother had access to the very cream of French society—and the French salons, where fairy tales still remained a prime source of amusement.

Caylus flourished in this atmosphere. After fighting in the War of the Spanish Succession from 1709 to 1714, an experience that caused him to avoid the military and further wars for the rest of his life, he chose to travel through Europe, eventually making his way ...

Fairy Tales in Conversation: “Princess Minute and King Floridor” by the Comte de Caylus

Anne Claude Philippe de Tubières-Grimoard de Pastels de Lévis, comte de Caylus, marquis d’Esternay, baron de Branscac (1692-1765), generally known by the considerably shorter name of Comte de Caylus, not only had the enviable honor of having about the longest name yet of anyone discussed in this series, but also of being the grandson of a first cousin of Madame de Maintenon, known to history as the second, secret wife of Louis XIV. This in turn ensured that he and his mother had access to the very cream of French society—and the French salons, where fairy tales still remained a prime source of amusement.

Caylus flourished in this atmosphere. After fighting in the War of the Spanish Succession from 1709 to 1714, an experience that caused him to avoid the military and further wars for the rest of his life, he chose to travel through Europe, eventually making his way ...

A Fish Out of the Ocean: Finding Dory

Given the success of Toy Story 2, it was perhaps not surprising that Disney started making plans for a sequel to the even bigger blockbuster success Finding Nemo before that film even hit theaters. Growing tensions between Disney and Pixar during and after Finding Nemo’s release meant that Disney’s original plan was to produce and release the sequel without Pixar’s involvement. After Disney acquired Pixar in 2006, however, all Disney animation came back under the control of John Lasseter, who cancelled the plans for a Disney sequel to Finding Nemo, but kept the idea of a Pixar sequel open. If, that was, writer/director Andrew Stanton could be persuaded to come back on board.

That was a pretty big if. Not only was Stanton already fully booked with work on Wall-E, Toy Story 3 and a live action film, John Carter, he was also less than excited about ...

The Dangers of Propaganda, Flattery, and Violence Towards Cats: “Prince Desir and Princess Mignone”

Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont is best known to English readers for her compact retelling of “Beauty and the Beast,” which, with a few small edits from Andrew Lang, became the best known version of that tale, and more recently, the basis for a film that brought in more than one billion dollars at the box office even though Angela Lansbury failed to appear in it.

But Madame de Beaumont—frequently desperate for cash—did not content herself with writing just one fairy tale. She wrote seventy books, including Le Magasin des Enfants (1756), a collection of didactic fairy tales aimed at older children. In “Beauty and the Beast,” she stressed the need for girls to distinguish between appearances and reality. In another tale in the collection, “Prince Desire and Princess Mignone,” she took another look at this theme—this time, warning against the dangers of flattery and self-deception.

It all starts with an ...

Fairy Tale Towers and False Brides: “Maid Maleen”

As we’ve previously discussed here, the practice of locking women up in towers of one sort of another was not exactly unknown in the European Middle Ages and Renaissance. In some cases, the women entered willingly, interested in pursuing a religious life—out of either genuine religious devotion, or interest in the opportunities offered by cloisters, which included education, culture and the opportunity to avoid the risks of childbirth. In other cases, the women did not enter willingly at all, but found themselves forced into prison and death. Some for crimes they committed; some for purely political reasons; and at least two because if you’re going to marry six women but not do that all at once you have got to hurry up the process by imprisoning and then executing them in towers.

Not at all surprisingly, this historical reality bled into fairy tales. Rapunzel and its variants are probably the ...

A Tale of Artistry and Unfairness: Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Ugly Duckling”

I may tell you unpleasant truths, but that is a proof of my friendship.

Most of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales deal with some sort of magic—witches, or fairies, or mermaids, or tiny girls who can fit inside a flower and set off for adventures. But a few of his stories contain realistic settings—including one of his most famous and influential tales, “The Ugly Duckling,” originally published in 1843.

“The Ugly Duckling” starts off on a rather unusual theme for a fairy tale—a voiced resentment about motherhood and its duties and restraints. Most women in fairy tales long for children, to the point of voicing spells or rhymes requesting them, or even visiting fairies or witches to ask for help in conceiving a child. “The Ugly Duckling” starts off on a completely different note, with a mother duck sitting on eggs, tired of waiting for the eggs to hatch. After ...

Fairy Tales of Magical Abductions and Sudden Coups: “The Blue Light” and “The Tinderbox”

Hans Christian Andersen is primarily known for his original fairy tales, which borrowed images from the stories told to him by his grandmother and other elderly people in childhood, but used their own plots and characters. But from time to time, he also worked with existing fairy tales, adding his own touches to both obscure and better known tales, as in his story, “The Tinder Box,” one of his very first published fairy tales, based on a tale so well known that the Brothers Grimm also collected a version, “The Blue Light,” making this one of the few fairy tales to be both a Grimm and Andersen tale.

The Grimms told their version first, publishing it in the second volume of their first edition of Children’s and Household Tales in 1815 and then, in typical Grimm fashion, rewriting and expanding the tale in later editions. (Most online English translations tend ...

Dinosaurs, Westerns, and Cars Don’t Mix: Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur

Disney had never had much luck with animated dinosaurs. The dinosaurs of Fantasia had been one of the most critically panned parts of that otherwise astonishing film, and Fantasia itself needed several rereleases before it turned a profit. Dinosaur was a minor box office success, but a dull movie that earned little critical praise and was soon forgotten. (It didn’t help that it was not even recognized by Disney as a Disney animated film for a few years after its release.)

Still. Rival Universal Studios continued to have amazing success with films that focused on dinosaurs eating people, and the dinosaur attractions at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and even—to a lesser extent—the dinosaur attraction at Epcot remained popular with tourists.

If Disney couldn’t exactly make dinosaurs work—well. Perhaps Pixar could.

They could—but at least some of their artists really wanted to work, not with dinosaurs, but on a Western.

That ...

When the Evil Stepmother Has a Cinderella Story of Her Own: Danielle Teller’s All the Ever Afters

It can be rather difficult to summon up any sympathy for the stepmother in most versions of Cinderella. Oh, she may not be the worst of the evil stepmothers out there—after all, she never tries to kill her young, beautiful stepdaughter, unlike a certain Evil Queen with a poisoned apple fetish. And she seems motivated, at least in part, with the purest of motives: to help her own daughters achieve a brilliant marriage, and thus, a happy ending. Still. Against this, she turns her stepdaughter into a servant, blatantly favors her own daughters, and—in many versions—quite possibly robs her stepdaughter of her inheritance. And, of course, she famously refuses to let her lovely stepdaughter go to a ball.

No wonder we mostly cheer for Cinderella.

But what if we heard the stepmother’s side of this tale. Would we still cheer as hard?

This is the question brought ...

When the Evil Stepmother Has a Cinderella Story of Her Own: Danielle Teller’s All the Ever Afters

It can be rather difficult to summon up any sympathy for the stepmother in most versions of Cinderella. Oh, she may not be the worst of the evil stepmothers out there—after all, she never tries to kill her young, beautiful stepdaughter, unlike a certain Evil Queen with a poisoned apple fetish. And she seems motivated, at least in part, with the purest of motives: to help her own daughters achieve a brilliant marriage, and thus, a happy ending. Still. Against this, she turns her stepdaughter into a servant, blatantly favors her own daughters, and—in many versions—quite possibly robs her stepdaughter of her inheritance. And, of course, she famously refuses to let her lovely stepdaughter go to a ball.

No wonder we mostly cheer for Cinderella.

But what if we heard the stepmother’s side of this tale. Would we still cheer as hard?

This is the question brought ...

The Original Story of “Jack and the Beanstalk” Was Emphatically Not for Children

If, like me, you once tried to plant jelly beans in your backyard in the hopes that they would create either a magical jelly bean tree or summon a giant talking bunny, because if it worked in fairy tales it would of course work in an ordinary backyard in Indiana, you are doubtless familiar with the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, a tale of almost but not quite getting cheated by a con man and then having to deal with the massive repercussions.

You might, however, be a little less familiar with some of the older versions of the tale—and just how Jack initially got those magic beans.

The story first appeared in print in 1734, during the reign of George II of England, when readers could shill out a shilling to buy a book called Round about our Coal Fire: Or, Christmas Entertainments, one of several self-described “Entertaining ...

A Return to Artistic Triumph: Pixar’s Inside Out

Something seemed to be, well, off with the Pixar brand after the brilliant Toy Story 3 (2010). Perhaps, critics whispered, that something was parent company Disney, who had insisted that Pixar create a sequel to one of its lesser regarded films, Cars (2006), leading to the beautiful but largely bland Cars 2 (2011), and followed up with a demand for a Disney Princess film, Brave (2012)—not exactly in the wheelhouse of the male-dominated Pixar films. Or perhaps that something was the multiple demands on John Lasseter, still supervising Pixar’s creative team, but also charged with bringing the Disney Animation Studios back from the brink of yet another creative downturn. After all, the Disney Animation Studios were starting to produce films that felt rather like Pixar films—most notably with Wreck-It-Ralph (2012)—making it rather easy to assume that Lasseter’s attention was focused more on Disney than Pixar. Perhaps it was the absence ...

A Less Comforting Supernatural Guardian: The Grimms’ “Godfather Death”

It can be easier, I suppose, to imagine death as something a little less impersonal than, well, death. Say, something, or perhaps someone, almost human, or at least looking almost human, arriving more as an escort than a killer, pointing people to the next step – whatever that step might be. A little bit easier, maybe. For some people, at least.

This comfort perhaps explains why so many myths and folktales in western culture focus on the figure of Death – often inviting Death to enter their homes, or even almost join their families. “Godfather Death,” retold by the Brothers Grimm, is one of several typical examples.

“Godfather Death” first appeared in the 1812 edition of Children’s and Household Tales. As Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm remarked in their footnotes, their version of “Godfather Death” dated back to at least 1553, when it appeared in a popular song. It appeared in ...

The Brothers Grimm’s “Bearskin” Asks: What Would You Do for a Magic, Bottomless Purse?

After princesses, the most popular subject in western fairy tales might just be bears. Talking bears, transformed bears, bears able to use sign language, bears arousing questionable passions in young handsome princes, bears with somewhat questionable agendas, the occasional dead bear—you name the bear, and it’s probably in some fairy tale, somewhere. To the point where even a deal with the devil story ends up managing to involve a bear. A mostly dead bear, true, but, still, a bear.

Oh, and yes, make some indirect points about ensuring that soldiers receive some sort of income post-war and musing on the boundaries between humans, bears and monsters, but I choose to focus on the bear part.

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published the tale of “Bearskin” in their second volume of their first edition of Children’s and Household Tales in 1815. Like many of their tales, it was a heavily edited blend ...

Can Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time Possibly Live Up to the Book?

Tomorrow is the release date of Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time, based on Madeleine L’Engle’s classic children’s novel, A Wrinkle in Time.

I loved the book.

I loved Meg.

I—mostly—love Disney, in an off-and-on, “it really depends upon the last film and just how much are the theme parks charging for drinks right now” kinda way.

I am apprehensive.

Gulp.

(Spoilers for the novel.)

My questions start, but do not end with, these:

How much of the dialogue will be from the books? To be quite fair on this point, the novel probably doesn’t have enough dialogue to fill the film—not to mention that I’m expecting the film to considerably tweak Mrs. Who’s eccentric method of speaking through quotations.

Still.

I’ve always felt that one of the major strengths of A Wrinkle in Time is its dialogue—and most of the novel’s most memorable lines come from that dialogue. I ...

Departing from the Disney Message Just a Tad: Monsters University

Pixar Rewatch Monsters University prequel Monsters Inc.

If you’re not scary, what kind of monster are you?

The astonishing success of the 1999 Toy Story 2—a movie that managed to outgross its predecessor and earn even better reviews—made Disney even more eager for sequels. When, just two years later, Monsters, Inc. managed to outgross Toy Story 2, Disney believed that they knew what that next sequel could be, and told Pixar creatives to start brainstorming. Disney executives were so eager, in fact, that when Disney and Pixar parted ways in 2005, Disney announced that they would be going ahead with a sequel to Monsters, Inc.

It just wouldn’t be created by Pixar.

This week’s rewatch is very spoilery, since a part of the ending needs discussion.

Disney’s plan was to hand over the potential sequels to a new Disney division—Circle 7 Animation. Tasked with creating sequels to Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., and Finding ...

Pixar Rewatch Monsters University prequel Monsters Inc.
Pixar Rewatch Monsters University prequel Monsters Inc.
Pixar Rewatch Monsters University prequel Monsters Inc.
Pixar Rewatch Monsters University prequel Monsters Inc.
Pixar Rewatch Monsters University prequel Monsters Inc.
Pixar Rewatch Monsters University prequel Monsters Inc. librarian