Once upon a time, there were stories known as fairy tales with roots in the folk tradition as well as told to generations. They were usually told in a more spare and laconic style with characters defined by their actions and their motives described as short and simple. Almost every culture around the world has them and have widespread variants yet only a handful are known today. Still, while the notion of “fairy tale” means an idealized romance or ending, many of the classic tales we’re told as a child are much darker than what many people realize and wouldn’t be seen as Disney material. Yet, without further adieu, here I will discuss some of the older versions of the stories you all know and love (though this will take a series).
How you know it: Middle Eastern orphaned homeless bum with a heart of gold but dreaming of riches is manipulated by an evil Grand Vizier into retrieving a magical lamp in a cave. With the Genie’s help and three wishes, he defeats the evil vizier, wins the heart of a princess, and finds relative security.
The Original Version: Contrary to the Disney movie and other popular adaptations, Aladdin and most of the characters in the original story was supposed to be Chinese. Yet, this can be forgiven since the story’s setting is completely Islamic anyway and doesn’t seem to bear any resemblance to China. Still, this tale wasn’t included in The One Thousand and One Nights or in any other documented source until the 1710 French translation by Antoine Gallard who claimed to have heard it from a Syrian storyteller but many speculate that he made the whole story up since there’s no hard evidence on that claim either (same goes for Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves).
Not only that, but by the time the story takes place, Aladdin’s mother is still alive while his dad died of disappointment when Aladdin preferred being a juvenile delinquent to following his old man in the tailoring business. Nor is he homeless since he still lives with his mom as well who is the first to rub the magical lamp that releases the lamp Genie. Not to mention, he could ask the lamp Genie for an unlimited number of wishes and gets the Sultan’s blessing to marry the princess once he sees the extent of Aladdin’s bank account, granted by the Genie. He also marries the princess early on though he has the Genie kidnap her from her fiancé as well as torment them both every night until they conclude their marriage is cursed and split up where Aladdin then swoops in and romances her. How romantic! Not to mention, he has his own palace before the lamp is stolen. Oh, and Aladdin not just has a magic lamp but also a magic ring he uses to release another Genie who gets him out of the cave as well as transport him to his palace, free his wife, beat the bad guys, and gets his lamp back. Yeah, there are two genies in the original story but the Ring Genie is the main one while the lamp Genie is far more powerful. Oh, and the Magic Ring and Magic Lamp also helped inspire the Green Lantern.
As for the Grand Vizier in the original story, he’s more of an obstructive jerk politician than a devious villain but like the Disney version he does want to get rid of Aladdin yet more because he wants his own son to marry the princess (not himself and he’s justified as well). And he tries to do so by stating that Aladdin’s riches and the incredible things he could do must’ve been the result of black magic. The sultan just writes him off for being a sour puss over his own son being passed for Aladdin. Oh, and the Grand Vizier isn’t even the main villain of the original story nor does he steal Aladdin’s lamp. That honor belongs to the evil Moroccan sorcerer named Maghreb who manipulates Aladdin into entering the cave to retrieve the lamp (though we don’t know why he was the only one to enter it. Oh, and he tricks him by saying that he’s his long lost uncle on his dad’s side). He also steals the lamp by simply tricking Aladdin’s wife in to trading the old lamp for a new one and she didn’t know that her husband’s lamp contained a very powerful Genie. He then proceeds to wish for Aladdin’s palace and wife to be moved into his possession. Oh, he has a more evil brother who kills an old woman and dresses in in her clothes but he’s vanquished from the Lamp Genie. Not only that, but Aladdin had to drug the evil sorcerer to get his lamp back.
Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves
How You Know It: Wood cutter stumbles onto a cave containing a thieving gang’s treasure stash that is opened by saying the magic words “Open Sesame.” He takes some treasure and becomes rich. Later his brother hears about it, makes his way in the cave but is murdered by the robbers due to his greed and short term memory problems. Ali Baba finds his dead brother, retrieves his body, and the thieves go after Ali Baba, too. Yet, they are repeatedly foiled by him and his friends while all the thieves are defeated. Thus, Ali Baba and his associates live happily ever after.
The Original Version: Like Aladdin, this wasn’t included in the original One Thousand and One Nights and in any other documentation before Antoine Gallard’s 1710 translation, and it’s likely he made this one up, too. Oh, and you had to use “Shut Sesame” to close the cave before you left as well. Also, in the beginning of the story, Ali Baba is an older man with at least adult son and he’s only the main character until after he retrieves his brother’s dead body which was cut up into quarters and hung up at the cave entrance to warn others. The hero in the later part of the story is actually his young slave girl named Morgiana (who’s sometimes seen as his wife in some adaptations even if she wasn’t in the original) who stitches Ali’s brother back together for the funeral as well as thwarts the thieves who try to infiltrate Ali Baba’s house by filling up the large jugs containing the other thieves with hot boiling oil. Still, at least she gets rewarded in the end by marrying Ali Baba’s adult son (which earns her freedom in the process) while Ali ends up with his widowed sister-in-law.
Beauty and the Beast
How You Know It: An ordinary village girl ventures to a mysterious castle (owned by a menacing beast cursed with his form by ignoring an old beggar woman) where her dad is found trapped in after seeking shelter from a winter storm. Girl agrees to be the Beast’s hostage in her dad’s place. While there she finds the Beast develops a romantic attachment to the girl and doesn’t seem so bad as she grows fond of him. One day she asks the Beast to go home to see her sick dad, and he reluctantly agrees but is hampered by people who want to keep her and the Beast apart. Meanwhile the Beast almost loses the will to live before the girl comes back and says she loves him which breaks the spell and turns him into a handsome prince.
The Original Version: There are actually two literary versions of the tale I’ll get into from the 18th century with both of them written by French women as propaganda piece for girls to accept arranged marriages. Of course, since this tale has outlived the practice, its meanings are far more romanticized in later adaptations. The 1740 version was by Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve and this story is a sprawling and convoluted story filled with contrived coincidences and last minute exposition in which both Beauty and Beast were revealed to be double first cousins, half-fairy (on their mother’s side), and royalty (on their father’s side). It also includes a love triangle in which Beauty is conflicted between the Beast and the handsome prince before finding out that they’re the same person. Also, she has twelve siblings.
The second version was written in 1756 by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont which is moderately close to the Disney version. Yet, there are differences in this version. For one, the heroine was literally named Beauty instead of Belle but since the story takes place in France, this wasn’t much of a change. Still, in Beaumont’s version, her dad is a rich merchant falling on hard times who was on his way home after a trading scheme gone wrong. She also has two materialistic scheming sisters who are the main villains instead of a jealous suitor. Oh, and the two sisters try to keep Beauty home longer than a week after she comes back from the castle simply out of jealousy of her good looks and how well she bears under her various misfortunes as well as conspire to try to get her eaten alive. Yet, they get punished by being turned into stone statues. Not to mention, Beauty volunteers to stay at the Beast’s castle after her dad returns home.
As for the Beast, while unlike in the Disney version, he’s actually nice to Beauty from the very beginning in the Beaumont version, despite threatening to kill her dad. And his house isn’t a bad place either, which includes a garden and everything. Oh, and he keeps asking Beauty to marry him even though she keeps saying no like every night. Yet, she does agree to do so when she realized that the Beast is a kind and caring man which breaks the spell.
How You Know It: Young noblewoman’s mother dies and father remarries a total bitch with at least two equally bitchy daughters of her own, then disappears (either he dies or is an absent parent to his daughter). The girl’s new stepfamily turns out to be vindictively cruel and makes her work as a servant just for kicks earning her nickname “Cinderella.” When the local prince holds a kingdom wide ball, the they refuse to let her attend. Yet, Cinderella calls on a spirit helper which could be her fairy godmother or a representative of her dead mom who takes pity and prepares her for the ball in which she manages to outshine almost every girl there and win the prince’s heart. However, the spirit’s help comes with a cache is that Cinderella must return by midnight yet when the time comes she rushes off and leaves her slipper at the castle. The prince tracks her down the next day through the lost slipper and once reunited they marry and live happily ever after.
The Original Version: This is a very old story with a lot of renditions, including a traditional Irish version with a guy with big feet named Cinderellis who steals a giant’s shoes. Of course, the most familiar version of Cinderella complete with glass slippers, fairy godmothers, pumpkin coaches, and such was written by a 17th century French guy named Charles Perrault (yet his story has two balls and a less bitchy stepsister while most modern versions have one and the stepsisters have no characterization). The earliest version from Ancient Greece written before the birth of Christ in which Cinderella is a Greek girl named Rhodopis kidnapped and sold into slavery in Egypt and is subject to constant harassment by her co-workers because of her lighter skin tone, sings and dances with her animal friends, has her old master give her red golden slippers, and manages to win the Pharaoh’s heart by having the god Horus steal one of them and drop on the king’s lap. And yes, though Rhodopis doesn’t attend the celebration the Pharaoh makes a decree that all maidens have to try on the slipper and the one whose foot fits would be his Queen. When he arrives at Rhodopis’ place she shows him the other slipper and they live happily ever after. Think of it as Cinderella meets Joseph and his Technicolor Dreamcoat but much less realistic (I mean there’s no way in hell a Greek slave girl could become Queen of Egypt, more like a Pharaoh’s concubine at best). Yet, this version may have very well been based on a true story by Aesop of a Thracian courtesan from the 6th century BCE.
There’s even a Chinese version from the 9th century in which Cinderella is named Ye Xian and is the daughter of a bigamous scholar so this means her stepmother’s daughter is her half-sister. Of course, her parents die from plague but her mother is reincarnated into a fish to watch over her little girl in a nearby lake (you could tell that some Buddhist wrote this one). When her stepmother learns of this, she has the fish captured and served to herself and daughter. Ye Xian collects the leftover bones and is told by the spirit to place them on the foot of her bed and her desires would be granted if she requests them of the bones. At the beginning of the Spring Festival, Ye Xian’s stepmother tells her to stay and clean as a spirit tells her to where to find clothes to wear to the event. She enjoys herself at the festival until she rushes home to avoid her stepmother’s detection yet, she leaves a golden slipper behind (notice that the slippers aren’t always glass). The slipper is discovered by a king who resolves to trace the owner’s identity and when he does, he takes Ye Xian as his wife to her joy while the vindictive stepmother and half-sister are crushed to death by an earthquake.
Of course, I couldn’t do a post on the original Cinderella without talking about the famous Grimm Brothers’ version, which contrary to popular belief isn’t the oldest version (since I said this story has been around before Jesus). It’s actually very much the same as most versions except that there are three balls, she is helped by a tree at her mom’s grave and a couple of doves, and what happens after Cinderella leaves her slipper behind. Let’s just say when the prince comes to her house, the stepsisters try to fit in the slipper by mutilating their feet hoping to fool him. Oh, and once Cinderella is whisked away by her prince, the stepsisters have their eyes plucked out by birds and are forced to live their lives as beggars. Of course, there are even some versions in which Cinderella kills her stepmother, one of them so her dad could marry a servant instead. Oh, and the said servant had a lot of kids, to boot.
The Elves and the Shoemaker
How You Know It: A poor struggling cobbler wakes up to find shoes he planned to create the next morning already made which leads better sales. One day he discovers a few elves carrying on in his workshop and decides to do something to thank them. Prosperity follows.
The Original Version: Unlike many adaptations, there were only two elves in the Grimm version and to show his gratitude, the cobbler decides to make clothes for them. The elves don’t come again but they ushered a new era of business for him. Still, the process of giving clothes to free house-elves in Harry Potter, comes from this tale. Oh, and the cobbler discovered the elves working in his shop on Christmas, which is another reference elves making stuff around the holiday.
The Frog Prince
How You Know It: Princess loses golden ball down a well and a nearby frog offers to retrieve it for her in exchange for a kiss. She agrees and they live happily ever after.
The Original Version: In the Pre-Grimm Brothers’ version there was more than one girl who encountered the frog but it was only the last one who kept her promise to marry him. In the Grimm version, there is just one. Still, the Grimm version doesn’t have the frog ask the princess to kiss him. Rather, he demanded that she kept him near her as a pet, share her food and drink with him as well as sleep on her bed (cue the sexual overtones here). She is repulsed but reluctantly agrees though she goes home without him after she gets her ball back. The frog turns up at the castle and has the king take his side. At first, it’s no problem but come nighttime, the princess refused to let the frog sleep on her pillow and angrily threw him against the wall (once again, cue the sexual symbolism, though in some early versions he’s either burnt or decapitated). To her shock, she finds the frog transformed into a handsome prince, they fall in love, marry, and live happily ever after. Oh, and during this whole time the frog prince’s servant Henry had his heart bound with iron straps to keep it from breaking while he was enchanted, which break in the end.
The Gingerbread Man
How You Know It: A magical anthropomorphic gingerbread man comes to life out of the oven and runs away from the old couple who baked him. They chase him and fail to catch him and the Gingerbread Man outruns several farm workers and animals taunting them with the phrase “Run, run, run as fast as you can! You can’t catch me! I’m the Gingerbread Man!” Ends when the fox tricks the Gingerbread Man and eats him.
The Original Version: Actually not an old fairy tale but first appeared in an 1875 issue of St. Nicholas magazine. Yet, this was called The Gingerbread Boy. Still, despite the ending, the Gingerbread Man continues to make appearances in the Shrek movies.
Goldilocks and the Three Bears
How You Know It: A young blonde juvenile delinquent breaks into the residence of three anthropomorphic bears who were away but forgot to lock the door. Goldilocks proceeds to eat their food, sit on their furniture (destroying a chair in the process), and sleep in their beds. The bears return, see evidence of the break in, and chase Goldilocks out of Baby Bear’s bed when they find her.
The Original Version: This tale has evolved over the years. The original tale of the Three Bears, the bear family lived in a castle and the intruder was a vixen (like a female fox) named Scrapefoot. 19th Century English writer Robert Southey was the first person to publish the tale that he heard as a child yet he accidently thought that the intruder was the wrong kind of vixen who, in turn got changed into a lawless old woman who after not being invited around the bears’ place, decides to go see for herself. She falls out the window and is never seen again but it’s hinted that her fate isn’t good. Oh, and Southey’s three bears are actually all adult males sharing a house in the woods together named, “a Little, Small, Wee Bear, a Middle-sized Bear, and a Great, Huge Bear.” Goldilocks as we know her turned up twelve years later in Joseph Cundalls version just to stop the confusion with other old ladies in other fairy tales but she was called Silverhair for a long time. Also, she wasn’t the only little girl in the tale. Not to mention, the bears were changed into a family in Cundall’s tale since who knows what three bachelor bears living together would be up to.
Hansel and Gretel
How You Know It: Two kids are kicked out by their dad and stepmother and are forced to survive in the woods by themselves making a trail of breadcrumbs so they could come back (but the birds eat them). One day, they stumble onto a gingerbread house in the woods owned by a witch who is initially nice to them but they later find out that she wants to eat them and Hansel finds out he’d be dinner the next morning while Gretel is a servant. The witch asks Gretel to light the oven, she pretends she can’t. Yet, when the witch bends over, Gretel kicks her in the oven, rescues Hansel, and the two live happily ever after.
The Original Version: This tale may have originated during the Middle Ages at the time of the Great Famine of 1315-1317, when people were driven to desperate measures. Kids were abandoned to fend for themselves and there were many incidences of cannibalism. In the original Grimm version from 1812, the woman who drives Hansel and Gretel out was their biological mother and the father also shared the blame for abandoning the kids. There’s an earlier French version called “The Lost Children” where the main villain is the devil and his wife. Now the devil is tricked by the children in much the same way as Hansel and Gretel but the devil works it out and makes a sawhorse to put one of the kids on to bleed. The children feign ignorance on how to get on so the devil’s wife demonstrates (and she tried to help them earlier). When she is lying down helpless, the kids slash her throat, steal the devil’s money, and run off.
Jack and the Beanstalk
How You Know It: Poor guy sells the family cow for some magic beans to his mom’s dismay so she throws them out the window. Overnight the beans grow into a massive beanstalk that reaches up to the clouds. Jack climbs the beanstalk and finds a massive castle owned by a giant once he reaches the top that says, ”Fee-fi-fo-fum! I smell the blood of an Englishman. Be he live or be he dead, I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.” Jack makes a few trips the next few days and with the help of the giant’s wife, manages to bag the giant’s gold, the goose that lays the golden eggs, and the magic golden harp. Soon the giant chases him down the beanstalk yet Jack manages to reach the bottom first, grabs the ax, and kills the giant.
The Original Version: The oldest commonly known version was collected by Joseph Jacobs around the turn of the 19th to 20th century. Yet, this story seems to be an amalgamation of many giant killing stories such as “Jack the Giant Killer” (which has roots in Arthurian legend but different and more violent plot) and “The Brave Little Tailor.” It also bears striking similarities the Norse myth called “The Thief of Idunn” which a trickster travels to a giant’s lofty castle and steals a few magic treasures, only to be found out and chased back home, where the giant meets his doom.