“Once upon a time there lived a King and a Queen, and that Queen had a wickedly evil mother-in-law. When the King went off to war, the old Queen had her daughter-in-law locked up in a musty room in the cellar, and her two little boys were locked up with her. One day the old Queen found herself with a craving for human flesh and she thought, ‘I would love to eat one of those two little boys.’”
No, this may not be the best bedtime story for your five year old.
Grimm’s Grimmest is the R-rated edition of all those old folktales that we’ve heard and loved since birth. Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Bluebeard are all included in the gore-stained pages of this little collection, but they have been stripped of the euphemisms that we take for granted. Here, at last, are the original stories: bloody, sadistic, and surreal.
Consider, for a moment, the fate of a willful child. God’s displeasure with her behavior lets her become ill, and soon the child dies. You’d think the story was over, right? Not by a long shot. This little hellion’s “willfulness” is so appalling that, even when buried, she simply won’t do as she’s told, but keeps sticking her arm out of the ground. The mother is forced to beat the disobedient arm with a rod to make the girl obey. And some parents think spanking is uncalled-for.
In a bizarre twist reminiscent of Looney Tunes violence, Prudent Hans takes his lady friend home on the end of a rope, puts her in the stable, and casts sheep’s eyes at her. Literally.
The stories in Grimm’s Grimmest have been called the first urban legends and likened to tabloid journalism, but the most apt comparison may be with modern horror films. These seemingly innocent folktales are, in fact, the original slasher flicks; instead of using a screen to show the carnage, they project their blood-curdling images straight into the audience’s minds. Then, too, the stories of both Grimm’s time and our own rely on stereotypes. There is no such thing as a good stepmother, and witches are never nice people. The big-breasted blonde is always high on the victim list, and saying “I’ll be right back” is a sure-fire way to get yourself fragged.
Those who bemoan the violence and crudity of today’s media and point to the Good Old Days as a role model would do well to remember that fictitious bloodshed is not a twentieth-century invention. Throughout Grimm’s Grimmest, the reader finds herself face to face with incest, fornication, and mutilation; cannibalism is commonplace, and no punishment is too severe.
Warning: this is not for children.