Books + Comics

Once Upon a Time

The secret history of fairy tales.

Illustration by Leeay

About 10 years ago, I adopted one of the dorkiest imaginable of all human hobbies: reading about fairies. It started with a book I had picked up at the library for a research project—At the Bottom of the Garden by Diane Purkiss (if that doesn’t sound dorky enough for you, let me tell you the subtitle: A Dark History of Fairies, Hobgoblins, and Other Troublesome Things)—and gathered steam from there. I read Yeats on Irish mythology, contemporary storytellers on fairy lore and superstitions, and basically anything else I could get my hands on.

What addicted me to these books was that they revealed something to me that was absolutely fascinating, and that I had not previously heard: originally, long before Shakespeare’s Puck and Ariel, before Tinker Bell, and way way before Francesca Lia Block’s pastel fantasies, fairies were goddamn terrifying.

The idea of fairies, I learned, probably goes back to ancient Greece and Mesopotamia, and before the 19th century they weren’t pretty, tiny, winged girls who grant wishes and sprinkle magic glitter hither and thither—they were more like murderous kidnapping demons that eat babies. (The word fairy comes from the Latin word for the Fates, i.e., supernatural creatures who decide if you will live or die.) I also learned something even cooler: fairies, and the tales about them, are one of the oldest and most powerful secret codes that women have used to explain their lives.

***

Let’s backtrack a bit. First: fairies are not fictional characters, like Harry Potter or Captain Kirk, created from whole cloth by individual writers. Fairies are myths, like Zeus, or ghosts—people used to literally believe in them, and stories about them have been around so long that it would be as impossible to figure out who wrote the first fairy tale as it would to determine who told the first ghost story. The older the stories are (and the closer to a time when people actually believed in fairies), the more powerful and threatening the creatures tend to be.

For example: Tinker Bell, from J.M. Barrie’s 1904 play Peter Pan, comes by night to sprinkle pixie dust on children and enable them to fly to magical places. Puck, as rendered some 310 years earlier by Shakespeare in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is a fairy who ensorcells people in their sleep. He is basically helpful, but will sometimes “mislead night wanderers, laughing at their harm.” But Shakespeare didn’t invent Puck—the fairy started life in early Celtic and Norse folklore as a horse, called a puca or puki, that appears at night and tricks people into riding him, then takes them on long, dangerous rides from which they cannot escape. In some variations of the “fairy horse” myth he drowns his passengers, or eats them. (Incidentally, puki was a Viking term for the devil.) All of these are stories about magical creatures who show up after dark and lead you away from home, but the older the story is, the scarier that idea gets.

Fairy stories are horror stories, which are parables about real-world dangers—their monsters tend to symbolize whatever a given culture fears most at that time. Frankenstein is about the fear of science gone too far. The Exorcist is about the fear of girls going through puberty, and Dawn of the Dead is about fears of mindless consumerism. Vampires are amazingly adaptable; through the years they have represented such diverse menaces as the aristocracy, disease, and sex. Stories about fairies began during a time when the world seemed, to most people, to be subject to powerful, unknowable forces that could either help you or wreck your life, according to their whims.

But fairy tales are also fables; each comes with a lesson attached. And when you read a lot of them, as I did, you start to see that most of those lessons are warnings about the real-life horrors faced by girls.

There were stories about young girls (and particularly handsome boys) being seduced by the King of the Fairies, and having sex with him; and stories about girls being carried off by a young, good-looking stranger (who turns out to be a fairy) on a horse, and either never coming back, or coming back “cursed.” The moral: never trust a stranger. There were stories about fairies who are especially attracted to pregnant women and newborn babies—so, maybe keep an eye out for pregnant women and babies.

Women told these stories to one another not just to entertain, but also to instruct and explain. Since, conveniently, a lot of people at the time believed these stories might just be true, they also provided really good alibis. Let’s say your family has somehow discovered that you’re not a virgin. If you had sex with a guy, you’d be in trouble. But what if it was the King of the Fairies who led you astray? No one could blame you for being the victim of such a powerful, dangerous creature. Or let’s say you had a baby, but you didn’t want to have it, and there’s no such thing yet as reliable birth control or safe and accessible abortion. Well, it turns out the fairies stole your baby and replaced it with an evil duplicate, and your only option is to leave the evil baby in the woods and hope that the fairies switch the babies back. If not, you won’t find a live baby—but it’s not your fault; everyone knows that fairies are cruel.

These are harsh stories, but they come from a harsh time, in which being a woman was even more dangerous than it is now. If there’s a common message to all these stories, it’s that there are things in this world with more power than you; danger is all around, so watch your back.

***

The fairy tales we tell today, the ones that are made into Disney movies and rom-coms, are different. They don’t tend to involve capricious demons that can curse you at will, for no apparent reason at all except for fun. They don’t teach you how to deal with an unwanted pregnancy, or a wanted but not sanctioned sex act. The standard feminist take on modern fairy tales is that they have one job, and they’re really good at it: teaching young ladies that they should just sit there and be really nice and pretty and eventually they will marry a rich man. Sleeping Beauty, for instance, is so pretty and nice that even when she’s in a coma a dude wants to marry her. Her only task in life, literally, is to lie there and wait for a guy to show up.

We get a lot of these stories through the work of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, German brothers who made it their life’s work to collect and record old European folktales. Maybe you grew up with their two-volume set Grimms’ Fairy Tales, which includes such classics as “Rapunzel,” “Cinderella,” and “Snow White.”

They did this work during the 19th century, when women were taught to be pretty, nice, and passive (I mean, even more than we’re taught that today). So it’s not that surprising to learn that when they were collecting their fairy tales, the Brothers Grimm made some interesting choices: including loads of stories where girls are rewarded for being nice and passive, and punished for being anything else; and leaving out a ton of old German folktales about active, more heroic girls. But if you look closely at even the stories that made it into Grimms’, you’ll notice little girl-friendly messages peeking through the narratives that the bros weren’t able to completely erase.

A bunch of the Grimms’ stories have a common narrative arc: There is a very nice girl who does all of her chores and works very hard and always makes the right decisions. Sometimes, this is enough to save her, and she gets to marry a prince, or a king, and live happily ever after. But very often, there’s a point where she meets a wise older woman who gives her the tools or the instructions she needs to survive. So it’s not the dude who saves her; it’s a old matriarch, passing down information—hey!—which is how these stories began in the first place.

Like, in the story “Mother Holle,” which comes from an ancient German myth, a nice, poor, hardworking girl gets dumped into a well by her family for losing a spindle. Down in the well, she meets a magical old woman who asks her to do some chores, and when she shows herself to be a hard worker, the old lady not only releases her but also magically makes her rich. (Side note, her family can suck rocks.) While “The Goose-Girl,” on the surface, is a horrifying parable about how servants should know their place (summary: a princess’s chambermaid tries to take the princess’s place but don’t worry, everything is righted at the end—the princess marries a king and the chambermaid is violently murdered). But ho, what’s this? The only reason the maid is able to steal the princess’s identity in the first place is that she has snatched a handkerchief that holds three drops of blood from the princess’s wise old mother; without that handkerchief the princess is literally powerless. It’s only when her mother’s blood is returned to her that she can even be recognized again. So while her “reward” might be marriage to a rich dude, her power comes from an older woman. And then there’s “The Devil and His Grandmother,” in which we learn that even Satan can be defeated, if you obey his very nice grandma. (Apparently those ancient storytellers didn’t care much about subtlety.)

The heroes of these stories aren’t the young, malleable princesses, nor the handsome princes who carry them off into the sunset. They’re grown-up women, who have become wise and powerful enough to help the princesses out, and if they take these women’s counsel, the princesses might become wise and powerful too one day. And yes, maybe married to a rich guy. But, more important, the wise thing. ♦

49 Comments

  • litchick January 10th, 2013 7:21 PM

    This is so interesting! Thanks, Sady.

  • AineFey January 10th, 2013 7:37 PM

    “The standard feminist take on modern fairy tales is that they have one job, and they’re really good at it: teaching young ladies that they should just sit there and be really nice and pretty and eventually they will marry a rich man.”

    I read a lot of books with faeries and books based on faery tales. I’m not sure which books you’ve read, but modern faery stories tend to have very strong female heroines. If you haven’t seen them, here are a few with strong female characters you might enjoy:

    1. Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr
    2. Tithe/Valiant/Ironside by Holly Black
    3. Ash by Malinda Lo
    4. Ice by Sarah Beth Durst
    5. Books of Bayern by Shannon Hale
    6. Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale
    7. Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore
    8. Lament and Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater
    9. The Blue Girl and Little (Grrl) Lost by Charles de Lint
    10. Cinder by Marissa Meyer

    There’s actually more feminism in the old stories than you give them credit for. Yes, a lot of them are warnings for girls not to have sex before marriage, or to wander too far from home or some other part that comes with growing up. But at the same time, a lot of the girls in the stories are stronger than they’re shown on the surface. Just because a story is a warning for an adolescent girl, doesn’t mean the main character is weak.

    • Blythe January 10th, 2013 7:54 PM

      Can personally vouch for 1 (politics and queens and STD tests!), 2 (awkward punk girls!), 3 (lesbians!), 4 (birth control!), 8 (JAMES YOU SEXY FUCKER), and 10 (Cyborg Cinderella!).

    • Katherine January 10th, 2013 8:52 PM

      I love the Books of Bayern and Rapunzel’s Revenge! Shannon Hale writes some great pieces on feminism on her blog, too.

    • Katherine January 10th, 2013 8:55 PM

      Ice is also a great book!

    • Kitri January 11th, 2013 1:05 PM

      Shannon Hale is absolutely the best! Holly Black is so much fun! I loved Malinda Lo’s take on Cinderella! Here are a couple more suggestions, because YA is so good. And YA + fairies, or fairy tales is like the best.

      Impossible, by Nancy Werlin
      East, by Edith Pattou

      And, ok, these aren’t traditional fairy tales, but they’re all about woman power and story power and they’re amazing, but the Chronicles of Lumatere, by Melina Marchetta.

    • Aimiliona January 13th, 2013 1:58 PM

      You forgot Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix! :D Love that book so much. I’ve always hated Cinderella by how bland and boring the plot/she is- and then I read this book, and now I love this side of her.

  • Blythe January 10th, 2013 7:53 PM

    Whenever I tell people I write stuff about faeries and they say “Like, Tinkerbell?” I say, “No, like nasty murderous Sidhe!”

    • Aimiliona January 13th, 2013 2:00 PM

      Ye-yeah! That’s totally how I am; I get so excited about the topic of the Irish Good People!

  • Tangerine January 10th, 2013 8:03 PM

    Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel by Susanna Clarke(sp?) has the old-school scary/totally insane kind of fairies in it. It’s a great book!

  • Lascelles January 10th, 2013 8:26 PM

    …I will never watch The Exorcist the same way again.

  • deepikasd January 10th, 2013 8:54 PM

    On a side note, the brothers Grimm also “cleaned” up and re-structured their stories. Take for instance the true story of snow white. In the first edition, you learn that it is not snow white’s step-mother BUT in fact her REAL mother who is the villain. In the second editions and following editions, they retold the story, which in the end resulted in the story we know of today. They also tended to give morals to stories, meaning that they would rewrite the story to give it a moral; this would result in the original story being dumped for the original one. Even Hansel and Gretel is changed. In the original, both parents were evil; there was no step-mother since she was a product of the brothers Grimm {http://tinyurl.com/b433qlf}. So I agree, the tales of old have totally been replaced by the gentler, toned down stories of what women were supposed to be like.

    • jenaimarley January 10th, 2013 10:17 PM

      What do the Grimm bros have against stepmothers is what I really am wondering…

      • raggedyanarchy January 11th, 2013 9:31 AM

        I think they were just trying to not have infanticide in the fairy tales. The Grimm brothers took a bunch of bawdy stories (it wasn’t just a kiss that woke Sleeping Beauty in the original around-the-campfire story, guys) told at drunken parties and wrote them down in a manner so that kids could read them.

      • all-art-is-quite-useless January 11th, 2013 12:07 PM

        No one’s real mother would abandon them in the wood or try to kill them because they’re too pretty. Real mothers are kind and loving and 100% maternal like every good woman should be. Fathers don’t try to kill their own children either – they’re too busy protecting them like big strong men until an evil lady comes along and bewitches him (because women are scary) until he just stops protesting and lets her kill his daughter or makes her live as servant.

    • Elle January 11th, 2013 10:07 PM

      I read this article in the New yorker that was sort of about the changing of fairy tales a while ago called ‘The lure of fairytales’ it is really funny and well done (please read it).

      http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2012/07/23/120723crbo_books_acocella

  • llamalina January 10th, 2013 9:32 PM

    This is so great. and slightly terrifying. never even realized that “fairy tales” – as in, literally stories about fairies – dated back so long and were so….creepy back then. pretty cool.

    http://llamalina.blogspot.com

  • la fee clochette January 10th, 2013 9:48 PM

    check out the swedish folk tale collection; illustrations by john bauer

    • a-anti-anticapitalista January 14th, 2013 10:40 AM

      I love john bauer <3 I have one of his drawings printed and taped to my wall. i've never read the stories they are illustrated for though, i probably should.

  • jenaimarley January 10th, 2013 10:15 PM

    This is so interesting!
    It makes me kind of sad though that fairies are kind of portrayed here as either evil excuses or part of patriarchal plots. I feel like there are a lot of really beautiful stories (both old and new) that focus on and tap into fairy/goddess mystical power and magic away from that dichotomy altogether…
    Did anyone else grow up building fairy houses in the woods?
    I am also really into feminist retelling of some of the not-so-feminist fairy tales. For example, Shannon Hale’s retelling of the Goose Girl is pretty fantastic and works in a lot of cool pagan female controlling and becoming one with the elements themes.

    Anyway, thanks for the awesome article, Sady!
    <3

    • raggedyanarchy January 11th, 2013 9:36 AM

      And Selkies! They are literally captured and forced to be the wives of mortal men (I spend my free time reading Brian Froud’s numerous books on old folk tales, partially for his amazing illustrations) so that’s not quite a “way to escape patriarchal society!” And I was obsessed with faeries when I was little–I made a TON of little faerie houses and always left cake and cheese and things near woods and gardens. Sometimes, I would make a little table set out of twigs and leaves and acorn tops and put cake crumbs on the leaves and filled the acorn tops with juice!

      • jenaimarley January 11th, 2013 3:00 PM

        Totally!
        Thanks for that! I’ll have to check out Brian Froud!

        Aww me too! That makes me so happy! I would put berries and moss beds with leaves as pillows and little bark dance floors. I feel like fairy houses totally would fit into the crafty Wiccan-y culture of Rookie. Yay!

        • Lori January 12th, 2013 9:12 AM

          I remember when I was little we were showed Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book in school, except I didn’t know it was Brian Froud until I just looked him up now. We were told that the fairies were trapped in the pages of the book, and I truly believed it! I felt so sorry for all of the fairies because they had these shocked looks on their faces. It kind of scared me to be honest, but it was so fascinating and mysterious :)

  • Kori January 11th, 2013 12:00 AM

    Angela Carter does brilliant feminist retellings of fairy tales. Her most famous collection is called The Bloody Chamber.

    • birdyhilltop January 13th, 2013 8:05 PM

      I love the bloody chamber! angela carter is amazing.

      anne sexton’s transformations is also a retelling/reworking of fairy tales.

  • marthaflatley January 11th, 2013 12:15 AM

    brilliant! so true–the heroes are the wise old, and often magical, women who instruct the young girls. WOW!!! I was obsessed with fairy tales as a youngun’ so I know what you are talking about!!

  • AnnaH January 11th, 2013 4:24 AM

    I really loved this and I have been reading many feminist fairy tales in the last couple of month. I guess my favourite has got to be The Rose and The Beast: Fairy Tales Retold by Francesca Lia Block. The tales are pretty modern Sleeping Beauty for example picks her finger on a heroine needle & the wolf drom red riding hood is a molester and wife-abuser.

    http://cheekyprawn.blogspot.de/

  • NotReallyChristian January 11th, 2013 4:36 AM

    Lots of the Grimm’s fairy tales are also crazy anti-semitic …

  • Pearl January 11th, 2013 7:15 AM

    Really love the way you’ve shed light on the ancient myths of fairies or faeries. Also, the origin of these so called fairy tales. It’s made me think about how ingrained these fairy tales are in the fabric of our society & daily lives.
    http://www.pforpearl.blogspot.com

  • Mary the freak January 11th, 2013 8:28 AM

    James T. Kirk is not fictional. He’s living in his spaceship, duh.

    And this article is so amazing! I loved to read it. and Mother Holle’s place is like, paradise. I love fairy tales. Although this scared me a bit. Any the collage is incredibly awesome.

    http://birdiewearsatie.blogspot.com/

  • Pen Elope January 11th, 2013 8:32 AM

    I am from German and despite them causing some deep, deep fear of witches throughout my childhood (I suspected them everywhere and I thought just SEEING one would literally scare me to death, I was easy to impress I guess…), I have always loved the Grimm fairy tales.
    The more unknown ones are often much crueler, but they also contain practical lessons about life: I do remember one that starts with a mother bathing her baby and the two other children playing outside and ends with all of them being dead – including the mother, who is axe murdered by the father when he is back home, because she let the children die/killed them. Lesson? Watch your children, otherwise horrible, horrible things will happen!

    …I was just beginning to wonder why fairy tales are read to children at all =)

    • Pen Elope January 11th, 2013 8:43 AM

      Oh oh oh, I just remembered having a phase when I feard that flushing the toilet would summon a witch, or rather her head (she just needed to send her head to be terrifying, she’s a witch after all), to shoot out of the washing machine. When my brother asked me what her disembodied head would actually do to me, I was like “Well, she’d be a witch and she’d BE THERE, duh.”

  • Zingi January 11th, 2013 10:44 AM

    Two more recommendations:
    Kissing the witch, by Emma Donoghue
    Castle Waiting, by Linda Medley

  • SomePixie January 11th, 2013 11:13 AM

    You’re making me love faries even more.

  • all-art-is-quite-useless January 11th, 2013 12:19 PM

    I don’t know if this is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale, but a story I was told growing up contains a super wise and clever woman!

    She’s a mother goat who for some reason lives in a house with her kids (go with it) and one days she leaves the kids along while she runs an errand or something. Anyway, while she’s gone an evil wolf (totally a metaphor for a sexual predator, wolves always are) comes into her house and EATS all her kids. Except one. He – or she, I can’t remember – hides in a grandfather clock where the wolf can see him. When Mumma Goat the kid in the clock jumps out and tells her what happened. Meanwhile, the wolf is asleep outside. THIS IS WHERE MUMMA GOAT DOES HER AWESOME THING. She gets her scissors and cuts open Wolfie’s stomach – out pop the kids, alive and well! – and then fills it up with stones before sewing him back up. When he wakes up he doesn’t realise there’s no food in his stomach; he feels as full as he did just after eating. He goes to the river because he’s super thirsty (after all, stones are very drying on the palate) and drinks from it. But he slips into the water, but he can’t get out because he’s heavy from the stones so he drowns. The end. Day saved by quick thinking woman. Notice no mention of Pappa Goat…

  • ShockHorror January 11th, 2013 12:19 PM

    The Bloody Chamber – SECONDED!

    It’s very good.

    Also, the Wild Bride is a play I saw a while ago, based on a fairy tale.

    It’s about a young girl who is accidentally sold to the devil, and in order for the Devil to take her to hell he cuts off her hands, but she cries and her tears are so pure the Devil still can’t take her.

    Basically in the end the girl (now a woman, and she was played by three different women at 3 stages in her life) defeats the Devil through an amazing beating him up dance (the Woman would ‘actually’ kick the Devil and the two others would echo slightly behind her – it was really ace) and grows back her hands.

    So i loved how although all this stuff happens and she does fall in love with a Prince, the real victory was her saving herself.

    …turns out in the ACTUAL tale some angel dude just whisks her about from danger…

  • tilda January 11th, 2013 12:40 PM

    This article made some really interesting points, I’d never considered the use of fairy tales as woman to woman warnings and advice before. But it did annoy me how it claimed that some things had ‘definite’ meanings, like “Frankenstein IS about a fear of science going too far”. I’m sure Sady knows everything’s open to interpretation blah blah blah.

  • Kitri January 11th, 2013 1:09 PM

    Thank you for writing about the pet kernel of nerdiness deep within my heart. I love fairy tales and have always been fascinated by their importance in regards to feminism. You made some really great points!

  • Hecubot January 11th, 2013 1:32 PM

    I’ll third the recommendation for Angela Carter’s Bloody Chamber, one of the earliest feminist rewrites of classic fairy tales. (She preferred Perrault’s versions and edited a collection.)

    My wife is a big fan of the fairy tale Kate Crackernuts, which features a very helpful (not at all EVIL!) stepsister.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kate_Crackernuts#Commentary

    Tanith Lee also was an early recontextualizer of fairy tales, and was probably the first to note that that Snow White’s description (sounded suspiciously vampiric) in Red as Blood: Tales from the Sisters Grimmer.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_as_Blood,_or_Tales_from_the_Sisters_Grimmer

  • ♡ reba ♡ January 11th, 2013 2:55 PM

    My mum told me the other day that dragons symbolize the matriarchy. And it’s interesting if you think about how the many princes, knights, and saint george, of have to slay dragons….

    • ShockHorror January 11th, 2013 3:33 PM

      Whoawhoawhoa! I hadn’t thought of that before!

      Someone’s going to be researching this weekend!

  • ShockHorror January 11th, 2013 3:32 PM

    - – also Bloody Chamber, are they rewrites, or stories based on fairy tales?

    Some follow a well-known version fairly closely with some differences (eg, the Bloody Chamber is almost the same as Bluebeard), some have key differences ( – I would say the Company of Wolves has big similarities to the older version of Red Riding Hood, but obviously massive changes), but then Erl-King is based off the character of a forest spirit who lures travellers off the path but i don’t thing her own story comes anywhere specific?

    Or a mixture? :L

    • Sophie Juliane March 28th, 2013 4:32 PM

      Actually, “Der Erlkönig” is a prose-poem (a longer poem that tells a story, I don’t know the correct English term) by Johann W. Geothe, who is something close to the Shakespeare of German literature. It is a very dark and haunting piece.
      He based it on a danish legend about the “Ellerkonge” which simply means Elven/Fairy-King. You can read it here:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Der_Erlk%C3%B6nig

      This was a wonderful article! And special thanks for all the reading recommendations.

  • ryaners January 11th, 2013 6:32 PM

    I’m from Ireland, & it’s true that previous generations of Irish folk were terrified of fairies. They were seen as very real, mischievous and cruel creatures with magical powers who loved to torment people. They supposedly lived in fairy forts or rings, which were located in rings of trees or bushes or a raised ring of earth, and if you wandered too close to one you could be taken by the fairies and replaced by one of them – a changeling – or otherwise cursed. In fact, a man was convicted of manslaughter in 1895 for killing his wife, who he so believed had been replaced by a fairy changeling when she fell ill with fever that he killed her, trying to “cast it out” with fire. He was still convinced she was alive and being held captive by the fairies underground in the fort after her death. (You can read the Wikipedia entry about her here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridget_Cleary)

    They would get up to other generally disruptive tricks too, like making your livestock ill, causing nasty accidents or spoiling your food stocks. Basically, if something went wrong unexpectedly, chances were the fairies were screwing with you.

    So yeah, none of those pretty fairy-dust Tinkerbell-style stuff in Irish mythology!

    It’s also interesting to read that “puki” was a Viking word for the devil; the Irish word for ghost is “púca”, and I can’t think of it used in a positive context, though I’m not a native speaker so I can’t be sure on that. Hadn’t heard the evil-ghost-horse-kidnapper story before though – I’ll have to ask around ;)

  • mayaautumn January 13th, 2013 12:23 PM

    has anyone read ‘the various’ by steve augarde? that was a great book… so mystical and cute

    http://mayathapapaya.wordpress.com

  • Hedwig January 13th, 2013 8:45 PM

    Really interesting

  • Lirazel Vaissu March 31st, 2013 7:04 AM

    If one wants to get into Irish fairytales, where one should start? Which book is the best?

  • Cutesycreator aka Monica May 29th, 2013 1:11 PM

    What a fascinating subject and article! That gorgeous collage took my breath away too <3

  • Frotee June 8th, 2013 2:05 PM

    I don’t really get why everyone thinks of Tinkerbell as such a nice fairy – she did try to have Wendy killed, after all. But yeah, I find the mischievous and cruel fairies much better than the disney versions ;) It’s one of the reasons I like Holly Black’s Modern Tales of Faery so much (also because Kaye is the one doing the savings and such).

    I also agree on the really rather dark nature of many of the lesser known Grimm Fairy Tales – like the one with the seven ravens, which has the seven sons of a family sort of cursed to live as ravens because they were mean to their sister, and their sister in turn venturing out into the world to free and uncurse her brothers, cutting off one of her fingers to use as a key in the course of her adventure…

    Der Erlkönig was, incidentally, a poem I had to remember and recite in middle school – and also one of those I really liked :) I can’t get the whole thing together anymore, but I still remember the first and the last verse.
    Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind…