As I read the original tales of Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding hood, Cinderella and Snow White I couldn’t help but be remotely attracted to the sexual and violent thematic concerns that are found in the Grimm’s Collection. Each original fairy tale reminded me of every horror story that I’ve ever seen. For this essay I’d like to propose the following question, what is it about a gruesome tale that ignites our interest? I believe it is why we are a generation who are obsessed with the obscene. It is why we are attracted to law and order, horror movies, and late night scary stories. Just as the Grimm’s used violence to create an entertaining story, so do many authors. I believe that horror stories are merely fractured fairy tales. In this essay I’d like to compare Stephen King’s stories and how they relate to original fairy tales.
I can’t count the amount of times I’ve followed trails about mothers killing their infants, reading articles about mothers eating their babies because of drugs, or fathers molesting their children. I believe what makes the Grimm’s fairy tales so appealing is the idea that these twisted stories are not far from the truth. I believe that’s what creates such an intense horror story, that it’s not far from the truth. In Dissecting Stephen King: From the Gothic to Literary Naturalism , Heidi Strengell explains that “King has inherited fairy-tale archetypes from the Brothers Grimm and recast them in a particularly gothic format. King considers fairy tales the scariest existing stories, arguing that the stories for children from conduit leading to what adults call horror stories. Not only frightening in themselves, these stories also provide access to a time in our lives when we were more scared and more vulnerable than we are as adults. Just as a hypnotist is capable of hypnotizing a subject by using a special word, fairy tales perform a similar feat, making us regress instantaneously into childhood. King deliberately employs fairy tales in his fiction to evoke a specific effect.” Strengell then goes on by explaining that fairy tales and horror stories continually overlap because they have similar themes and primal phobias. Each fairy tale consists of a breakup of familiar relationships, death, and isolation and in both the reader is forced to confront these issues and participate in attempts to resolve them. Just as Maria Tatar explains that violence, incest, abuse, starvation and exposure are underlying themes in the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, King deals with all these themes and frequently follows the fairy-tale formula. Strengell also argues that …” King has merely changed the setting of the fairy tale and shows us the malignant forms not in castles or caves but in the contemporary settings.”
Don’t believe me? Think that King’s short stories and terrifying movie scripts can’t possibly be based on precious fairy tales? Let us consider one of King’s most famous works, Carrie. Carrie is merely a fractured fairy tale, a reverse spin-off from the original version of Cinderella. Carrie, an isolated teenager shunned from society because of her differences and abused by her religion-crazed mother finally gets to go to the prom (ball) but instead of living happily ever after is humiliated by her classmates, blahblahblah.. kills her mother and seeks revenge on those whose who have hurt her with her supernatural powers. The plot has the storybook feel because it plays out like a story. You have the main character, you have protagonists and antagonists, you have the setting, there are even supernatural if not magical powers involved, and an overall universal theme. It contains a didactic story about morality. Sure it may be unrealistic for a teenage girl to develop telepathic powers, but how realistic is it to turn mice into horses? Each fairy tale contains a universal message, we are merely more attracted to those that contain gore, and revenge.
Along with literary critics such as Strengell, I agree that King’s original plots contain a fairy-tale plot, just twisted and more violent to entertain his audience. He merely writes fairy tales targeted for adults to emphasize on a societal critique. The origins of children’s fairy tales states that “encasement of the instructive material that adults taught their children would need with an entertaining format that children might be supposed to want.” King simplifies his story but instead of creating an entertaining format for children, he creates them for adults such as the Grimm Brothers did. Consider his tale of Hansel and Gretel ,
“A good but rather weak man discovers that, because of inflation, recession and his second wife’s fondness of overusing his credit cards, the family is tottering on the brink of financial ruin. In fact, they can expect to see the reposition men coming for the car, almost new recreational vehicle, and the two color TV’s any day; and a pink warning-of-foreclosure notice has already arrived from the bank that holds the mortgage on their. The wife’s solution is simple but chilling: Kill the two children, make it look like an accident, and collect the insurance. She browbeats her husband into going along with this homicidal scheme. A wilderness trip is arranged, and while wifey stays in camp, the father leads his two children deep into the great Smoky wilderness. In the end he finds he cannot kill them in cold blood; he simply leaves them to wander around until, presumably, they die of hunger and exposure. The two children spend a horrifying three days and two nights in the wilderness… “
King creates this twisted but realistic fairy tale. He explains that “the mythic horror movie, like the sick joke, has a dirty job to do. It deliberately appeals to all that is worst in us. It is morbidity unchained, our most base instincts let free, our nastiest fantasies realized . . . and it all happens, fittingly enough, in the dark. For those reasons, good liberals often shy away from horror films.”
King elaborates on the importance of horror in fairy tales explaining “If we share a brotherhood of man, then we also share an insanity of man. None of which is intended as a defense of either the sick joke or insanity but merely as an explanation of why the best horror films, like the best fairy tales, manage to be reactionary, anarchistic, and revolutionary all at the same time.”’ I think the correlation between what qualifies a story as a fairy tale, and what is qualified as a horror story is how you precieve the characters.
Can you think of any horror films that are adaptations of original fairy tales? Do you feel as if these horror stories have more in common with the Grimm’s original version rather than the one created as a bed-time story for children?
Why do you think that we, as a society are attracted to gruesome and disturbing tales of incest, sexual abuse, and childhood neglect?
Can we analyze horror stories with psychoanalyst as we do with fairy tales?
Why do we crave horror stories just as children crave Fairy Tales? Does it open up a sense of imagination?
What do you think Stephen King was trying to when he created his modern version of “Hansel and Gretel?”
King, Stephen.“Why We Crave Horror Movies“ http://drmarkwomack.com/pdfs/horrormovies.pdf” Web. February, 6th 2013.
King, Stephen “Now You Take ‘Bambi’ or ‘Snow White,’ Now That’s Scary!”
http://jhampton.pbworks.com/f/Bambi+or+Snow+White.pdf Web. February, 6th 2013.
Strengell, Heidi. “Disecting Stephen King; From The Gothic To The Literary Naturalism.” University of Wisconsin Press, 2005. Print. .