This morning, it was Hansel and Gretel. Here's Rumpelstiltskin.
I don't have any feeling either way with the series's sanitizing fairy tales to make them "appropriate" for the youngest of "readers." We've been doing that for centuries now, ever since fairy tales started to appear in print. It's the decision of a discerning parent if he or she wants to expose little ones to the sometimes scary realities of fairy tales--because in truth, that's what fairy tales do. Expose us to realities (good and bad, the depraved and the beautiful) that we aren't mature enough to understand, or may never really understand.
But these stories have so very little in common with the eerie and sublime fairy tales from which they take their names. Why bother calling them retellings at all? Why not make the final jump and change the name of the characters? It's not like a candy-made house or a difficult to pronounce name, in and of themselves, are an intrinsic part of fairy tales.
And that's just it. I'm not offended that my beloved fairy tales have been altered beyond recognition. I just don't consider them fairy tales.
As for my son, I continue to read fairy tales to him, in children's books that loyally translate the Grimm's versions into easy-to-digest prose, with pictures. Straight from my collection of Hans Christian Anderson. And from my own memory.
(Do click on the picture to enlarge it; it's extraordinary.--C)
It is important to me that he is told fairy tales. Not a neat lesson wrapped up in a fairy tale package, but the real, true, uneasy experience. I'm not going to shelter him in this sense, and I don't think I need to.
The uneasiness seems to come to older children or adults who have not been read Grimms, Perrault, or Anderson, when they first hear about them. Or to adults who sit down to analyze their favorite childhood fairy tales for the first time.
Young children who are exposed to fairy tales for the sake of hearing fairy tales, on the other hand, handle them pretty well. Witch cannibal in an oven? Natural. Queen forced to dance in hot iron shoes? What else would you do with a sociopath stepmother? Let her plead insanity and sentence outpatient services?
Chesteron, as usual, sums up my entire feeling on this in one phrase: "Children are innocent and love justice. Adults are wicked and prefer mercy."