A trend that’s developed in recent years is to produce gritty reboots of classic fairy tales, which amuses me because in many cases, it’s hard to get grittier or more frightening than the original stories! Children’s book and movie adaptations often give us the impression that fairy tales are lighthearted moral tales. What’s more, the original Grimms’ Fairy Tales were actually titled Kinder- und Haus Märchen which translates as Children’s and Household Tales. In fact, the collection compiled by the brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm consists of old German folktales and they were meant to be passed down to children, so they could pass them down to their children, but that didn’t mean the tales were lighthearted!
One of the best known of Grimm’s Fairy Tales is “Schneewittchen” or “Little Snow White.” In 2002, I purchased a copy of the tales in German which included the original notes. I was writing a lot of my vampire tales at the time and I couldn’t help but notice how vampiric the Snow White story is. In the story, Snow White’s mother pricks her finger while doing needlework. A drop of blood falls on new-fallen snow covering an ebony window pane which makes her wish for a pale child with lips bright as blood and hair of ebony. I realize that in medieval times, pallor was considered a sign of wealth, but the pale creature associated with blood made me think vampire almost right away. In the original notes, the Grimms describe a romantic sleigh ride with Snow White’s mother and father. The blood on the snow with the ebony almost takes on the connotation of black magic.
Later, Snow White’s step mother demands her heart as proof of her demise. This scene is even in Disney’s version. When Snow White does bite into the poison apple, she’s laid to rest in a glass coffin. In the Grimms’ original, the wicked queen actually kills Snow White three times. She’s resurrected not by a handsome prince’s kiss, but instead when the handsome prince’s men drop the coffin, dislodging the apple piece in her throat. I took these vampire-like elements, emphasized them, and wrote them as “The Tale of Blood Red” which appears in the collection Blood Sampler available in print from Alban Lake Publishing. You can also find the ebook at Amazon.
Another story I’ve been thinking about lately is “Der Teufel und seine Grossmuter.” The most straightforward translation of the title is “The Devil and His Grandmother.” In the story, interpreted this way, the devil appears before three runaway soldiers and gives them a whip that can produce gold from thin air. In seven years’ time, the devil will return and pose a set of three riddles. If the soldiers answer correctly, they can keep the whip. If they fail, they will be carried off to Hell to serve as the devil’s minions. This deal-with-the-devil story is pretty heavy stuff for a kid’s story. Not to mention the whole theological implications that the devil has a grandmother!
Now, “der Teufel” can also be translated as “dragon.” This is most pronounced in translations of the Biblical book of Revelation where Teufel is used both for Satan and the metaphorical dragon in St. John’s vision. When der Teufel appears in the story, he flies in on wings and breathes fire. To me, that seems more like a classical dragon than a devil, so I translated the story as “The Devil and his Grandmother.” Not too long ago, I gave the story a steampunk twist, set it in India and mechanized the dragon. “The Steam-Powered Dragon and His Grandmother” will appear in the anthology Gaslight and Grimm coming from eSpec Books. They are running a Kickstarter Campaign right now. Please click the link and check it out. There are some awesome rewards and it’s the best way to find out how a mechanical dragon can have a grandmother any more than the devil himself!