The Wolf Ate Grandma
Copyright 2023 by Valerie Forde-Galvin
Photo by Philipp Pilz on Unsplash
my childhood, parents read bedtime stories to their children. In
theory, a child will fall asleep easily when listening to a familiar
soothing voice. In reality, the story choice makes all the
difference. So I have to ask why did parents chose fairy tales? What
were they thinking? Nothing was held back in these stories; nobody
seemed to realize that their content wasn't edited for children.
Today, because of its violent themes, my little book of fairy tales
would have been rated PG-13. At the time, I was six. I did not fall
asleep easily after bedtime stories.
not saying we should do away with fairy tales; they seem to have
universal appeal. Throughout history every culture had had its own
rich storytelling tradition. Scandinavian mythology is populated by
elves, giants, and Valkyries. Celtic folklore features a race of
otherworldly beings called the Sidhe, better known as fairies and
leprechauns. Every ethnicity has its own embedded belief in
supernatural creatures that inhabit the earth. Their adventures make
for a rich narrative passed down through the ages.
matter where you come from, storytelling is your heritage. And, if
you should care to investigate the folklore of your particular
country of origin, you might be in for a shock. The world of elves
and fairies is not a Disney movie. The plot lines aren't pretty,
often involving gruesome savagery, and I'm sorry to report that good
doesn't always triumph over evil. Like the Bible, fairy tales are
allegories that tell us: Life is tough but do your best and you might
have a shot at surviving.
grew up hearing fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm, nineteenth
century researchers who compiled an assortment of fables found in
German folklore. Bad things happened in these stories I mean
things. Hansel and
Gretel were abandoned by their parents and became lost in the forest.
You must understand that the primeval forests of folklore were
nothing like the manicured campgrounds maintained by today's Forest
Service. These dark woods were the domain of sinister otherworldly
creatures. A witch with a taste for human flesh lured Hansel and
Gretel to a magical gingerbread house where they were captured, caged
and fed in order to fatten them up for the dinner table. Only their
quick thinking at the last minute saved Hansel and Gretel from the
witch's fiery oven.
Among the the
beasts who roamed the forest, wolves were notorious for their bad
behaviors. Incredibly, one of these cunning animals managed to trick
Red Riding Hood by posing as her grandmother. The sudden appearance
of a huntsman rescued the girl from the wolf's jaws but only after
the nefarious beast had already feasted on Grandma.
Jealous of Snow
White's beauty, the evil queen wanted her stepdaughter killed but the
huntsman who was given the task took pity and told the girl to run
away. Again the forest played a part in the drama. Considering the
abundance of evil forest creatures, Snow White was lucky to have been
received into a household of kindly dwarfs. Much later, after another
murder attempt, Snow White was rescued by a handsome prince.
Sleeping Beauty had
been cursed by a spiteful fairy and was destined to die when she
pricked her finger. Mercifully a younger fairy modified the curse so
that the princess would fall into a deep sleep of one hundred years
only to be awakened. . . again by one of those handsome princes that
apparently roamed the forest in search of fair maidens in distress
and ranked just above the heroic kindhearted huntsman.
If you should find
these grim tales somewhat difficult to hear, you should realize that
these are the sanitized versions. The historical Hansel and Gretel
actually lived during a time of famine when, in order to survive,
people sometimes ate their own children. The hapless duo should have
counted themselves lucky to have been sent away.
speaking of cannibalism, the original wicked stepmother demanded that
the huntsman cut out Snow White's heart because she believed that
eating the heart would bring her immortality. However, having spared
the girl's life, the huntsman killed a boar and presented its
heart to the
evil queen instead.
White's household of seven dwarfs represented an ugly time in history
involving child labor. Undernourished children from destitute
families were forced to work in poorly ventilated copper mines. As a
result of malnutrition, strenuous physical labor, and environmental
conditions, their growth was stunted. It's doubtful that these
dwarfed individuals began their day with a robust rendition of Hi
ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go.
were not comfortable stories to hear. (I would remind you that the
wolf ate Grandma.)
Yet now I
wonder if these tales, passed along through the generations, might
have been our benighted parents' way of preparing us for a life that
sometimes takes no prisoners.
Fast forward to the
bland children's stories of today. Their lackluster narrative sends
the message that all is good, there are no obstacles to overcome, and
life is fair. I would argue that a life without challenge is just not
worthwhile. Perhaps the publishers of children's books would counter
argue that hardship doesn't sell in today's marketplace.
Even those children
today who do read books will spend much of their time focused on a
screen watching animation videos where lifeless characters act out
meaningless situations. These cartoons serve a dual purpose. While
the plot numbs its audience into a vegetative state, the screen's
sensory overload tends to reinforce the various forms of autism
prevalent among today's young people.
When we replaced
robust fairy tales with vapid stories and sterile cartoons, we lost
something of value. I believe that myths are present in the human
psyche. By abandoning the narratives of these fairy tales, aren't we
cutting ourselves off from our connection to the universal
consciousness? Are we then doomed to conform to a vacuous existence,
leading shallow lives lacking in creativity and imagination?
Alright, so maybe I
was traumatized by the brutalities inherent in my bedtime stories.
However I prefer to think that those fairy tales were a sort of
initiation for me. They provided me with a fuller understanding of
the world and gave me an edge. Steeped in the power of myth, I came
to see that life is full of possibility. I learned that there is
always the potential for good or for evil. Many times the proverbial
wolf has been at my door and many times I've defeated him.
Blandness is the
death of the soul; our myths make us more fully alive. It could be
that those allegories of my childhood sparked my creativity and
therefore enriched my life with a sense of magic. Is it any wonder
that I began to write? Thanks in part to the graphic imagery of the
Brothers Grimm, I now find myself engaged in storytelling. I continue
the tradition of those who came before me, weaving the myth.
And the beat goes
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
story list and biography
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