It has been 779 days since Emma Watson announced she would be playing the role of Belle in the new live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, 701 days since Josh Gad posted a photo of the cast on set that sent die-hard fans into a tizzy of hopefulness and dedicated accuracy, and in merely hours the wait will finally be over — but who’s counting? Today, Disney’s newest live-action remake is set to take to the silver screen, and the anticipation is high, especially among fans of the original. This is a film that has based much of its promotional advertising on accuracy and dedicated reproduction: A quick Internet search of “Beauty and the Beast side by side trailer” brings up uncanny comparisons to the 1991 classic. But that is as far as the comparisons really go. This new live-action film is set to bring Disney’s animated classic to life, but just how accurate was Disney’s story to begin with?
Beauty and the Beast, after all, was based on a story written long before Disney Animation set forth to tell the tale as old as time, and like any good regurgitated fairy tale, liberties were taken and changes were made. Did the original tale feature nightly advances and marriage proposals? Was the inventor’s daughter really a more superficial and materialistic child? Was the “Beauty” not a well-read girl named Belle at all, but instead a dancing barber named Dan? Could any of these be the original plot? Would any of these have resulted in the happily ever after that contemporary audiences crave?
Some of our modern interpretations of fairy tales stick closer to their original source material, but other originals may prove to be more shocking than finding out that your candlestick can sing and dance! So what better way to celebrate the release of Beauty and the Beast than to take a look back before the “Once upon a times” and delve into the dark underbelly of some of our favorite fairy tales that we thought we knew and loved.
Aladdin (pre-18th Century)
Translator: Antoine Galland, One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights), story added in the 18th Century
Once Upon a Time: Aladdin is a lazy boy in a city in China who one day meets a man pretending to be his uncle and convinces Aladdin’s mother that he will set him up as a merchant. This man turns out to be a magician from Africa who really wants Aladdin’s help to retrieve an oil lamp from a dangerous cave. The magician tries to double-cross Aladdin who ends up trapped in the cave. Aladdin happens to be wearing a magic ring that the magician loaned him, and when he rubs his hands together, he brushes against the ring and a genie appears and helps Aladdin escape the cave. He returns to his mother and still has the oil lamp as well. His mother cleans the lamp and a second, more powerful genie appears and is bound to whoever has the lamp.
This genie helps Aladdin appear rich and powerful in order for him to win the heart of the sultan’s daughter who he has seen in passing and fallen in love with. The princess, however, is already in an arranged marriage with the royal vizier’s son. Aladdin tries to ruin this arrangement by having the genie steal the princess from her bed and bring her to him nightly, until she finally falls in love with Aladdin instead. They marry and the genie builds them a beautiful palace to live in. The African magician hears about Aladdin’s good fortune and knowing he must have the lamp, returns to try and steal it again. He tricks the princess into giving it to him by showing up and offering to exchange new lamps for old. Not knowing the importance of the lamp, she hands it over to him readily, and he orders the genie to transport the entire palace and its contents to Africa.
Aladdin, using the less powerful ring genie, transports himself to Africa and tricks the magician, gaining back his lamp and slaying him in the process before returning the palace to China. The magician’s even more powerful brother hears what happens and goes to China disguised as a healer woman to try and avenge his brother. His disguise works on the princess who lets him stay in their palace, but the genie of the lamp warns Aladdin of the trick, and Aladdin slays the magician in disguise as well. Aladdin goes on to take over as sultan one day and happily rules the kingdom with his bride.
Hey, This Is for Kids! The modern-day retelling of Aladdin is only slightly related to the original tale. Firstly, today’s story takes place in Agrabah, a fictional Middle Eastern land, not China. In this version, the magician and the royal vizier are melded into one as Jafar, and the vizier becomes a much more villainous role as opposed to being fairly neutral. The lamp genie also happens to be the only genie, and his wishes are limited in number. The ring genie seems to have become the magic carpet, in a way, who helps Aladdin in a more minimal sense.
In our modern retelling, Princess Jasmine is a princess looking for adventure and trying to escape the palace walls. She is a heroine striving for independence, but in the original, the princess plays a very secondary role and seems to be more at the root of problems rather than trying to be powerful or independent. The new version also makes the genie into a character we like and cheer for with one goal of being free from the lamp, where he is a much more frightening power in the original tale. The modern tale has less revenge and despair, and Aladdin is a confident orphan rather than a lazy child. The story contains less death and less retaliation, making our modern retelling an even bigger transformation than Aladdin to Prince Ali ever was!
Beauty and the Beast (1740)
Author: Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve
Once Upon a Time: In Villenueve’s original fairy tale, Beauty, the youngest daughter of a formerly wealthy merchant, asks her father to bring back a single rose to her as a gift from his recent travels. Thinking this to be a humble token, Beauty is overcome to learn that his plucking of a rose for her from a palace garden causes him to be imprisoned, and she selflessly trades herself to a Beast living in a castle in return for her father’s freedom and riches for her siblings.
Beauty spends her days alone wandering the castle, playing with birds, and catching glimpses of hidden portraits of a prince that she falls instantly in love with and consequently dreams about at night. Each evening, the Beast comes to dine with Beauty, and before bidding her goodnight, he requests her hand in marriage. Since Beauty is in love with the Prince in her dreams, she rejects these advances time and again. In her dreams, the Prince comes to her and tells her to follow her heart and ignore appearances, a warning she does not understand. After much time has passed, Beauty misses her father, asks the Beast if she can visit her family, and is granted a short leave. He gives her a magical ring that will bring her back to his palace when she is done and asks her to not be late or he will die.
When Beauty returns back home, she is adorned with the Beast’s jewels and her sisters grow jealous. They conspire to trick her into staying too long with them so that she may no longer live the lavish lifestyle they desire. While with her family, Beauty no longer dreams of her Prince, but instead has a dream where the Beast is dying. When she wakes up, she uses the ring to rush back to the palace where she finds him near death. She admits she has grown to be in love with him, and the Beast suddenly transforms into the Prince in her dreams.
Hey, This Is for Kids! While the version we have grown to know in modern day isn’t drastically different from the original, there are several key differences. Belle goes looking for her father after his horse, Phillipe, returns without him, while in the original tale she is actually the cause of her father’s imprisonment by requesting the rose that he unknowingly steals and offers to go to the castle herself somewhat out of guilt. The rose in our modern version has become a type of hour-glass figure, dropping petals to mark when the Beast will be permanently transformed, but plays no further role beyond the catalyst of the merchant’s imprisonment in the origin tale.
Additionally, some of the most well-loved characters from the story of Beauty and the Beast that we grew up with are not even a glimmer in the source material: Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, Chip and all the other enchanted objects are nowhere to be found before the Disney version. Even everyone’s favorite vainly ill-suited suitor was an invention of our modern-day retelling. We can thank Disney Studios for Gaston and his loveable sidekick, LeFou! Of course, in the modern retelling, Belle chooses brains and heart over outward appearance and rejects Gaston, eventually seeing something she hadn’t seen before in the Beast. The modern version paints Belle as a more independent and strong-willed woman of valor, rather than the original which characterizes her as more innocent, passive, doting, and eventually, debatably, succumbing to Stockholm Syndrome.
Authors: Ye Xian (Duan Chengshi 860 China), Cenerentola (Giambattista Basile 1634 Italy), Cendrillon (Charles Perrault 1697 France), and Aschenputtle (Brothers Grimm 19th Century Germany)
Once Upon a Time: The story of Cinderella is so old and has so many different countries of origin that it’s hard to choose just one to be the basis of the fairy tale. With over 700 variations worldwide, the first recorded version of the story is from circa 860 China, which retells the story of a girl who befriends a fish that ends up being the reincarnation of her mother. Her stepmother and stepsisters kill the fish, but its magical bones create an outfit for her to wear to the New Year’s Festival. It is here that she loses her slipper and the king uses it to find her and marry her.
The first recorded European version was written hundreds of years later in Italy. In the Italian version, a prince marries his daughter’s governess. The governess has several daughters of her own who abuse their new sister and make her work in the kitchen as a servant. One day, the prince goes off to an island and is given gifts from a fairy to bring to his daughter, including a date seedling. The daughter cultivates the seed into a tree, and when the King has a ball, the girl finds a fairy in the tree who dresses her. The king falls in love with the girl, but she runs away from him twice. On the third time, she loses her slipper and he uses it to find her and marry her.
That said, the two most popular and widely spread versions of the Cinderella story were those written by Charles Perrault in France and the Brothers Grimm in Germany. The Perrault story is noteworthy because it originates the pumpkin, glass slippers, and the fairy godmother aspects of the tale; however, most of the world’s strains of the story descend from the same version the Brothers Grimm recorded. In the Grimm version, Cinderella’s mother passes away, and not long after, her father remarries. Her new stepmother and stepsisters taunt and pick on her, forcing her to sleep by the cinders. One day, her father goes on a trip, and Cinderella requests he bring her the first branch that brushes his hat on the way home. He delivers her a hazel branch, which she plants near her mother’s grave, and her tears cause the branch to magically grow into a hazel tree. Doves begin to sit among the branches, and whenever she makes a wish under the tree, the birds throw her request to her and grant it.
When Cinderella eventually goes to the ball, it’s not the fairy godmother, but the birds who provide her gown and shoes, and after three days of dancing with the King’s son, Cinderella leaves the ball, but loses one of her golden slippers. The prince tracks the unknown maiden to Cinderella’s house and demands the slipper be tried on all the daughters. The eldest stepsister cuts off her toe to fit in the shoe and almost gets away with it until the birds and blood alert the prince of her trickery. The younger stepsister fits her foot in the shoe, but her heel is too large, so she cuts off a piece of her heel, and the birds alert him again. Finally, Cinderella is allowed to try the slipper on, and she marries the prince. At their wedding, the stepsisters try to get back in Cinderella’s good favor, but the doves show up and peck out their eyes, leaving Cinderella happily wed and the step-sisters blinded. A much more gruesome story, to be sure!
Hey, This Is for Kids! The Perrault version of Cinderella was the prime inspiration for the tale many of us know today. Disney utilized this reincarnation for the timeless animated cartoon and brought to life the pumpkin turning into a coach, the mice becoming horses, and, of course, the glass slipper. It is actually because of the Disney animation that Perrault’s story is so widely recognized today as the origin of the tale, even though prior to it the Grimm version was better known worldwide. Of course, when given the chance, movies would choose to have anthropomorphic sidekick mice rather than birds that peck out the eyes of people. Of course, the fairy godmother made for a better story than wish-giving doves and a magical tree. Cinderella’s savage undertones were quietly swept under the rug in favor of a more happily-ever-after ending. Cinderella the story, much like its namesake, certainly does clean up well!
The Little Mermaid (1837)
Author: Hans Christian Andersen
Once Upon a Time: Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid tells the tale of a mermaid and her sisters who live with their father, the Sea King, and grandmother. When mermaids turn 15 years old, they are permitted to go to the surface and see humans for the first time. The Little Mermaid goes to the surface and witnesses a prince’s birthday party on a ship, and she falls in love with him instantly. When a storm strikes and sinks the ship, the Little Mermaid saves the prince and brings him safely to shore without him seeing her. He wakes to see a young woman who has found him on the shore and knows nothing of the mermaid. In her sadness, the Little Mermaid asks her grandmother if humans live forever and learns that they have a much shorter lifespan than a mermaid’s 300 years. However, when mermaids die, they turn to sea foam and cease to exist while humans ascend to heaven and their souls live on.
Because she wants the prince and an eternal soul, the Little Mermaid ventures to the Sea Witch who gives her a potion to gain legs in exchange for her voice. The Sea Witch also warns that once she becomes human, she will never be able to return to the sea, she will forever feel like she is walking on knives, and she will only gain a human soul if she marries the prince. If he marries another, she will die of a broken heart and dissolve into sea foam at dawn the next day.
As a human, she becomes the prince’s closest companion, even though she is mute. One day, the prince’s parents begin to encourage him to marry the princess from the neighboring kingdom, but he confides in the Little Mermaid that he loves the girl he saw on the shore, who he believes rescued him. He soon finds that the princess is the girl from the shore, and they wed, breaking the Little Mermaid’s heart. The night of their wedding, the mermaid’s sisters bring her a knife that the Sea Witch sold them and explain that if she kills the Prince and lets his blood fall on her feet, she will go back to being a mermaid and live out her years happily. She is unable to kill him, and so at dawn she throws the knife and herself off the wedding ship and dissolves into foam.
Hey, This Is for Kids! In our modern interpretation of the Little Mermaid story, much of the same beginning occurs; however, the Little Mermaid has less concern over ascension to heaven and is purely love driven. When she becomes human, the story we have come to know involves a lot less pain and focuses, again, on the romantic love-at-first-sight aspect. She still deals with trying to win her prince; however, she only needs true love’s kiss to break the spell, rather than a marriage. A large difference between the original and the modern version lies in the Sea Witch, who plays a much larger role in the more commonly known retelling and not only takes the mermaid’s voice, but also transforms into the rival woman who nearly marries the prince. In the end of the story, not only does the prince not marry the girl he original thought had saved him, but he does marry the Little Mermaid who gets to stay on land with him and transforms into human form. In the end, she gets to live happily ever after with her Prince rather than the original mermaid death scene, and the only sea foam we see is from the waves on the ocean and not the heartbreak of our heroine.
Little Red Riding Hood (1697)
Author: Charles Perrault
Once Upon a Time: In the original story of Little Red Riding Hood, the heroine, so named because of the red hood she wears, takes a path through the woods to bring food to her sick grandmother. On the way, a wolf notices Red and follows her, stalking her around bushes until, finally, he approaches her, and she innocently tells him where she is going. He then convinces her to stop and pick some flowers for her grandma while he runs to the grandmother’s house first, pretending to be Red, and swallows the grandmother whole. When Red arrives, the wolf is dressed as her grandmother. She notices her grandmother looks different from normal, and after questioning her a few times, the wolf asks Red to climb into bed with him. He then reveals himself and eats her whole, too.
Hey, This Is for Kids! As the story has evolved over the years, it has significantly cleaned up and even got a new ending. Much of the original beginning still occurs, but after eating Red, a woodsman appears and cuts both red and her grandmother out of the wolf’s belly and saves them. Still, in other versions, Red never gets eaten at all, and the hunter shows up just in time to save her and then cut her grandmother out. They then fill the wolf’s stomach with rocks and sew him back up, so he is doomed to wander with a belly full of rocks for the rest of his life. And in still other versions, the grandmother isn’t even eaten at all and instead is just thrown into a closet and rescued after the huntsman saves Red. Lucky for Red and her grandma that modernized versions exist, huh?
Author: Carlo Collodi
Once Upon a Time: A carpenter in Italy begins carving a piece of wood for a table leg but is frightened when it starts speaking and instead gives it to his poor neighbor, Geppetto, who is a puppeteer. Geppetto carves a puppet named Pinocchio, who has a cheeky nature and whose nose begins to grow as soon as it is carved due to his childlike impudence. As soon as Pinocchio learns to walk, he kicks Geppetto and runs from the house, until he is caught, and Geppetto is imprisoned as a result for assumed mistreatment of him. With Geppetto gone, Pinocchio goes back to the house to find something to eat and meets a cricket who warns him not to be disobedient. Pinocchio is annoyed and throws a hammer at the cricket and kills it. Pinocchio falls asleep shortly after, with his feet on the stove, and wakes up to find his feet have burned off. Geppetto is released and makes new feet for Pinocchio, who promises to go to school. Geppetto even sells his only coat to buy Pinocchio a schoolbook.
The next morning, Pinocchio heads to school but passes a marionette theatre and sells his book for a ticket to the show. The marionettes recognize him in the audience and shout out to him, angering the puppeteer who plans to burn him for firewood, but then gives him gold coins to bring to Geppetto instead. Pinocchio next meets a cat and fox who deceive him and con him out of most of his money. Despite warnings from the ghost of the talking cricket, the cat and fox attempt to rob Pinocchio, but he fights back and runs to a house where he finds a fairy who is dead and waiting for a hearse to collect her. The fox and cat catch up to him and hang him from a tree in the yard. After a while, they grow tired of waiting for him to suffocate and leave. The fairy gets Pinocchio down and sends for three doctors; the first two are unsure of his status, but the third is the ghost of the talking cricket who says the puppet is fine but was disobedient and hurt his father. The fairy gives Pinocchio medicine to heal him and asks where the gold went, and Pinocchio lies to her and his nose grows. She explains that his nose grows when he lies and gets woodpeckers to chisel it back down and then sends for Geppetto to live with them in the forest.
Pinocchio leaves the house again and once again encounters the Fox and Cat who this time take him to the City of Catchfools and encourage him to bury his gold so it will grow into more. They then dig it up and steal it from him when he isn’t looking. The City of Catchfools is a town full of people who have done foolish acts and now suffer because of it. Pinocchio reports the theft, and while the judge in the city sympathizes him, he is still sentenced to prison for being foolish but is released early and leaves the town. Pinocchio ends up on the seaside where he hears his father is making a boat to find him. Geppetto is swallowed by a Dogfish, and Pinocchio ends up on an island where he can get food in return for labor. He meets a woman who looks like the fairy, but who says she will act as his mother if he behaves and goes to school. She also hints that if he is good for a year, he will become a real boy.
After a year of doing well in school, the fairy tells Pinocchio he will be a real boy the next day and to invite all his school friends to a party to celebrate, but he gets distracted by a boy he meets named Candlewick who is headed to Toyland, where people play all day, and Pinocchio joins him there for five months. After a while in Toyland, boys who stay idle turn into donkeys, and this happens to Pinocchio who ends up being sold so he can be skinned and made into a drum. The man tries to drown Pinocchio, but when he goes to retrieve the donkey corpse, all he finds is a marionette. Then Pinocchio jumps back in the water and ends up eaten by the Dogfish and is surprised to find Geppetto inside. They escape together, and when back on land, they find the house of the Ghost of the Cricket and live there. Pinocchio works for a farmer and helps a sick Geppetto, and when he does a selfless deed, he becomes a real boy and Geppetto becomes better again.
Hey, This Is for Kids! In most people’s version of Pinocchio, the story tends to fall in a similar manner to the original; however, it is more condensed and cleaned up. Pinocchio doesn’t kill the cricket who voices his conscience, nor do his feet burn up. While he is foolish and bad-mannered, he is not as ill-tempered as in the original story version. The Cat and Fox still play a role in his follies, and he does end up turned into a donkey for acting like, well, a jackass, but he helps rescue his father from the stomach of the whale and does end up turning into a real boy with the help of the fairy and Jimminy Cricket in the end. The modern Pinocchio tale does follow a very similar path, but with less jarring plot advancements, and in the end, both leave us with the moral of behaving and being honest.
Author: Friedrich Schulz
Once Upon a Time: In the original story of Rapunzel, there is a husband and wife who desperately want a child, and one day, finally, they become pregnant. The wife, upon spying some leafy greens outside her window in a walled-in garden, suddenly craves a salad and begs of her husband to get some for her. The husband sneaks into the garden twice, and on the second trip is met by a sorceress who allows him to take her leafy greens, specifically the rapunzel plant, if in return she gets to keep his child when she is born. The sorceress takes the child, names her Rapunzel after the plant her mother so craved, and after her 12th birthday, she locks the beautiful girl in a tower with no doors or stairs. Rapunzel has the longest, most beautiful hair that she tosses from the window and allows her false mother to climb up to visit her.
After many years, the king’s son is out riding in the woods and hears a beautiful singing voice that turns out to be Rapunzel in her tower. After some eavesdropping, the prince learns to call out to Rapunzel to let down her hair, and he makes his way up her locks into her tower. He treats her kindly and tells her that her singing enchanted him, and she agrees to leave with him if only they could create a ladder for her to climb down. Night by night, the prince sneaks silk clothes to her tower to be braided into a ladder. The plan goes well until Rapunzel unknowingly asks the sorceress why her clothing feels tighter and in doing so accidentally reveals that she is pregnant.
The sorceress, in her anger, cuts off Rapunzel’s hair and forces her from the tower to roam for the rest of her life in the wilderness. That same evening, the prince arrives and climbs up Rapunzel’s hair only to be met by the sorceress using the cut hair as a trap. The prince leaps from the tower and, though still alive, is blinded by the thorny bushes surrounding it. The blinded prince wanders for years in misery until one day he hears the beautiful singing voice he once knew and follows it to find Rapunzel and their twin children. Rapunzel weeps when she sees him, and her tears magically heal his sight, and the family returns to his kingdom to live happily ever after.
Hey, This Is for Kids! The more modernized, family-friendly version of Rapunzel, Tangled, is one of the looser reinterpretations. In the modern version, Rapunzel is the one born into royalty before being stolen by Mother Gothel, and her suitor is not of royal descent. Again, Disney does away with several of the more gruesome or unorthodox moments from the original story, and so Rapunzel does not get pregnant, nor does anyone end up blinded by thorns. Instead, Rapunzel does escape the tower and gets to watch the flying lanterns that glow every year on her birthday in hopes of summoning the lost princess home. Her long hair in the modern retelling is magical and youth-giving and also has healing powers. When her hair is cut off in the end, it is not by Mother Gothel, but by Flynn Rider who wants to set her free from the clutches of Mother Gothel. And in the Disney version, Flynn Rider does get injured, and Rapunzel’s tears do heal him, but it is far from being blinded by thorns at the bottom of the tower. The film version ties everything up nicely with the lost princess returning home with Flynn and the kingdom overjoyed.
Sleeping Beauty (1634)
Author: Giambattista Basile
Once Upon a Time: Talia, the daughter of a great lord, is born, and the astrologers predict that she will one day be harmed by a splinter of flax. To combat this happening, her father commands that no flax be allowed in his house. One day, Talia meets an old woman spinning flax on a spindle and asks if she can try. As soon as she begins, a splinter of flax goes under her fingernail, and she drops to the ground, apparently dead. Talia’s father can’t bring himself to bury his child, so he leaves her body in a country estate. One day, a king is hunting near the house and stumbles upon Talia’s body. He tries to wake her and is unsuccessful, but a lust overtakes him, and he beds her. When he is done, he goes back to his kingdom.
Months pass and Talia, still asleep, gives birth to twins. One day, her daughter tries to nurse, but unable to find her breast, she sucks on her finger and, in doing so, removes the splinter from her nail. Talia awakens and names her children Sun and Moon. Eventually, the King returns to the house and finds Talia awake with children, but he is already married to the Queen. In his sleep, the King calls out the names of Talia, Sun, and Moon, and his wife hears them and investigates, finding out about his secret family. In a rage, the Queen sends a letter and requires the children come to court where she has instructed the cook to cook them for dinner. The cook disobeys and protects the children, but the Queen does not know and taunts the King while he eats the meal she believes to be his children.
Then she writes and has Talia brought to the court and orders her to be burned on a great fire. Talia asks if she can remove her clothing before going into the flames and screams out as she takes off each article. The King hears her screaming and finds the Queen preparing to burn Talia. The Queen then explains that the King ate his children, and the King commands the Queen and cook be burned instead. The cook reveals that he protected the children and lied to the Queen, and so the cook is rewarded and The King and Talia finally marry.
Hey, This Is for Kids! The modern representation of Sleeping Beauty is an interesting hybrid of some of the more popular European versions of the tale. While the original story, Sun, Moon, and Talia, is the first telling, Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm published two of the most popular variations of their day. For many, however, our modern spin on how we imagine the story of Sleeping Beauty comes again from Walt Disney and the 1959 animated feature, which combines the stories of both Perrault and the Brothers Grimm. In Perrault’s version, Sleeping Beauty names her daughter Aurore, and in the Grimm version, Sleeping Beauty’s name is Briar Rose. Disney took aspects of both and named the Princess Aurora and the hidden peasant girl with the fairies Briar Rose.
Our modern version of Sleeping Beauty again eliminates any of the more controversial aspects of the story — no rape, no children — and adds new characters who grow to become some of the most popular in the tale: Maleficent and the fairies. While, these characters were present as minor characters in the Perrault and Grimm versions, they became forefront through this retelling and, consequently, key players for the modern interpretation. The Princess lives with the fairies in order to stay safe from Maleficent, but of course she eventually does prick her finger.
In the modern version, the story ends when the Prince awakens her. It is interesting to note that some of the most well-known scenes in our mind’s eye from Sleeping Beauty were never in the original — the Maleficent dragon, meeting the Prince earlier in the woods while hiding as a peasant, and of course there was no ‘Make it Pink! Make it Blue!’ in Perrault or Grimm’s renditions. That said, our modern version is a melding together of the two most popular variations of the tale and in a very ‘Make it Pink! Make it Blue!’ moment, Walt Disney made it both.
The Snow Queen (1844)
Author: Hans Christian Andersen
Once Upon a Time: The Snow Queen is one of Hans Christian Andersen’s longest and most beloved stories. Kai and Gerda are friends who grow to love one another like siblings. One day, they hear the story of the Snow Queen, who is the ruler of the ‘snow bees’ — large snowflake clusters. The children are frightened of her, and Kai even spots her once out a window and runs from her. At the same time, a mirror is made by an evil troll that reflects none of the good in people and maximizes the bad. This mirror shatters and the pieces float across the earth and land in the eyes and hearts of people, including, eventually, Kai, who turns angry and forgets his love for Gerda. The only thing he finds beautiful now are the tiny snowflakes.
The following winter, while out sledding, he is unknowingly kidnapped by the Snow Queen who reveals herself to him and then numbs him from the cold and removes his memory of Gerda and his family. Gerda spends a lot of time searching for him because, while the townspeople believe Kai to be dead, she believes he is alive somewhere. After many adventures, she meets a little robber girl who has information about where Kai is and helps Gerda reach him with the help of her reindeer. Gerda reaches the Snow Queen’s ice palace and defeats the snowflake defense by saying a prayer. She then finds Kai sitting immobile on a frozen ice pond doing a puzzle the Snow Queen gave him. If he completes the puzzle, he will be free from the Snow Queen. Gerda runs up to him and kisses him and the spell is broken. She then cries and her warm tears break the mirror splinters from his eyes and heart, and when they begin to joyfully dance, the puzzle solves itself and he is free from the Snow Queen at last. They then go back to their town where it is finally summer.
Hey, This Is for Kids! One of the looser retellings of a fairy tale, the movie Frozen tells a very different version of the Snow Queen. In our modern retelling, Kai and Gerda become Elsa and Anna, respectively; however, Elsa leaves of her own accord since in this version she also takes on the qualities of the Snow Queen herself. In a way, the robber girl and her reindeer become Kristoff and Sven, helping Anna to find Elsa after she disappears. Kristoff’s troll family, I suppose, is a slight nod to the trolls who made the mirror, but they bear no further resemblance beyond being trolls. And the love triangle between Anna, Hans, and Kristoff is pure Disney storytelling. Olaf is a total figment of the modern tale as well, a very slight nod to them returning home in summer, I suppose? More than anything else, Frozen manages to pay homage to The Snow Queen creator through character names themselves: Hans, Kristoff, Anna, and Sven blend together to sound like Hans Christian Andersen, clearly recognizing that it is based off a story by the author, but much of the rest is severely changed, keeping the original tale, ahem, frozen in the past.
Snow White (1812)
Authors: The Brothers Grimm
Once Upon a Time: Snow White is a beautiful child whose mother dies, and her father, the king, remarries a wicked and vain woman. The new Queen asks her mirror every day who is fairest of all and always hears the reply that she is, but as Snow White gets older, the mirror begins to praise Snow White’s beauty, and so the Evil Queen asks a huntsman to take Snow White into the woods and kill her, bringing back her organs to prove the deed is done. The huntsman tries, but is unable to harm Snow White and tells her to run away. He returns to the Queen with the heart of an animal instead. Snow White wanders the forest until discovering a tiny cottage that she learns belongs to seven dwarves. She eats their food, drinks their wine, and eventually falls asleep in their beds. When the dwarves return, Snow White tells them what happened, and they let her stay in exchange for her housekeeping and warn her not to let any strangers in the house while they are off at work.
The Queen asks the mirror again who is fairest and finds out that the huntsman lied to her and sets out to kill Snow White herself. She first dresses as an old peddler woman selling lace bodices, and she laces Snow White into one so tightly that she faints and the Queen leaves her for dead. The dwarves loosen the bodice, and she revives when they come home. When her mirror again reveals that Snow White is still alive, the Queen disguises herself as a comb seller and poisons the comb she uses to comb Snow White’s hair. Again, Snow White faints, but again revives when the dwarves remove the comb from her hair. When the Queen learns she is still alive, she decides to visit her a third time with a deadly poisoned apple. Snow White eventually takes a bite from the apple and falls into a deep sleep that the dwarves cannot wake. Assuming she is dead, they place her in a glass coffin.
One day, a Prince comes across the coffin and instantly falls in love with Snow White. He asks the dwarves if he can have her, and as he lifts the coffin to take it with him, the piece of apple falls out of her mouth and she awakens. The Prince declares his love for her, and they prepare to marry. Meanwhile, the Queen again asks her mirror who is fairest, and this time it tells her the new queen is so she decides to go to the wedding only to find out the new queen is her stepdaughter who she thought dead. So astonished, the Evil Queen chokes and falls down dead. Snow White and the Prince marry and rule their land happily.
Hey, This Is for Kids! The version many of us know of the tale of Snow White is not so different from the original Grimm version, but it is more concise. Snow White was the first Disney full-length animation, and whether it be for time’s sake or animating purposes, the Queen’s repeated attempts were cut short to only her final poisoned apple scheme, which is what most people know the Evil Queen for in the modern era. Additionally, our modern perception of Snow White is one that is very much reliant on the idea of true love, but the original story didn’t even involve the Prince kissing Snow White to wake her. Instead, he was taking her body home with him, almost as a keepsake of the beauty he longed for, and dislodged a poisoned apple. It is interesting to know that many people’s perception of a classic fairy tale love story was barely that until the re-envisioning. More so, the dwarves of today were given specific personalities and became relatable characters who sing and dance, but they were originally just a group who watch over Snow White without much differentiation or specific personality. Our modern thought of this tale is certainly more romantic, more free-spirited, and less gruesome over all.