I've been working on GARDENSPELL for the past two weeks, which has been really fun because of all the research I get to do. And by research, I mean read lots and lots of fairy tales, folk tales, and fables. The other night, I cracked open a huge fairy tale volume I'd gotten as a gift and hadn't had a chance to read yet.
When it comes to the original Grimms, no matter how many versions you've read or how many times you've read them, they can be a little tough to stomach. My first thought was: "Cool, these are the really old versions of fairy tales." My next thought was: "He cut off her WHAT!?" And then: "She ate WHOM?!" And finally just: "..."
I made a list of some of the juiciest ones (for fun, not for inspiration, of course. I don't think an upper MG novel with murder, cannibalism, and incest will fly these days... just a gut feeling).
Here are a few examples:
The Juniper Tree
Once upon a time, a woman makes a wish under a juniper tree that she'll have a baby "as red as blood and as white as snow." Despite the fact that this is a recipe for one freaky-looking kid, she eventually gives birth to a handsome son, but dies shortly afterward and is buried under the tree.
Years later, the husband remarries. His new wife adores her own daughter, Marjory, but hates her stepson. So, in the great tradition of every Grimm stepmother, she decides to end him. When he reaches into the trunk for an apple (because who doesn't keep fresh produce in a trunk?), she slams the lid and decapitates him, then ties the head back on and props the body on the porch.
When Marjory tries to talk to her brother and he doesn't respond, she boxes his ear. The head rolls off and she freaks out because she thinks she killed him. She and her mom agree to keep it a secret from the father.
Dad comes home and is told that the boy has gone to visit his uncle. The stepmother cooks up a delicious meat stew, and Dad remarks that it's the best he's ever tasted. (Yep... she totally went all Sweeney Todd on the corpse.)
Meanwhile, Marjory is still feeling pretty crappy about her brother's death. She buries his bones under the juniper tree, and the next day, a strange bird appears and sings a song about what a jerk its stepmother is. Three people are moved by the "beautiful" song: a goldsmith, who gives the bird a gold chain; a shoemaker, who gives it red shoes; and a miller, who gives it a millstone.
The bird sings the song again right outside of Marjory's house. When the father comes out to listen, he is given the golden chain; when Marjory comes out, she gets the shoes; and when the stepmother comes out, the bird drops the millstone on her head and kills her. Then the brother miraculously reappears, and he, his father, and Marjory all go inside for dinner. One big happy family, y'all!
Once upon a time, there was this creepy old man who kidnapped young women. He would dress up as a beggar, knock on the door, and carry off any girl who answered it.
One day, he sets his sights on a house with three young and beautiful daughters. He kidnaps the eldest and brings her to his castle, where he leaves her with two warnings: don't go into a certain room, and keep a random egg safe.
Now this is the point in the story where the girl should get the hell out. But no, she immediately goes into the forbidden room and finds a huge, bloody basin filled with hacked-off female body parts. In her shock, she drops the egg (because the best way to keep it safe is to carry it around in your sweaty palms, obviously) and she can't wash the blood off it no matter what she does.
When the old man comes home, he butchers her. Then he returns to her house, carries off the second sister, and the same thing happens.
When it's the youngest sister's turn, she wisely puts the egg in a safe place before she enters the forbidden room. She finds her sisters' body parts, nonchalantly puts them back together, and they return to life (!?!). She tells them to hide inside a basket and covers the top with gold.
The old man comes home, all ready to marry her because she passed the test, but she tells him to first bring the basket of gold to her parents' house. While he's doing this, she takes a skull (from the one of the other victims in the forbidden room, maybe?), dresses it up, and puts it in the window. She then rolls in honey and feathers so she looks like a giant bird, and heads home.
Along the way, she runs into the people who are coming to her wedding with the old man. They call her "Fitcher's bird" (which is never explained), and she tells them that the bride is at the house preparing the wedding feast.
When the old man and the wedding guests go inside, thinking that the skull is the bride grinning down at them, her relatives barricade the doors and burn the house down, and everyone dies. The end.
The Maiden With the Rose On Her Forehead
Once upon a time, a prince and his sister liked each other. A lot. When he went away to war, he asked the princess to look after his rose garden. Several months passed, and she gave birth to a little girl (?!?). However, she was ashamed of her (probably because she was also her niece - very V.C. Andrews) and also because the girl had been born with a rose on her forehead. The princess raised her secretly, made her wear a hood to hide the rose, and warned her never to let anyone at school find out who she was.
The prince eventually came back and visited the school, bringing a present of cherries. The little girls got so excited that they started flinging around the cherry pits, and one of them got stuck under the rose girl's hood. When she came home, the princess found the pit and flipped out, thinking the child had removed the hood and revealed herself. So she kills her daughter, hides the body in an iron chest, and locks the chest in a secret room (not overreacting at all).
Unlike most of the Grimm villainesses, the princess is tormented by grief. Just before she dies of guilt, she makes her brother promise never to enter the secret room.
The prince keeps his promise, gets married, and tells his new wife not to enter the secret room. But she does, and when she opens the iron chest, she finds a beautiful young woman sitting inside. Jealous that the prince is keeping this girl for his amusement, she burns her all over with a hot iron and makes her work as a servant.
But the girl has a habit of talking to inanimate objects, and confesses her whole story to the bedpost while the prince eavesdrops outside her door. Furious, he orders his wife to be burned with a hot iron, kicks her out, and lives happily ever after with his daughter/niece.
What are some of the craziest, creepiest fairy tales you've read or heard of?
THREADS (YA Fantasy/Mythology) The themes of fate, loyalty, and humanity are explored in this retelling of Theseus and the Minotaur, from the perspective of a young Athenian thrown into the Labyrinth.
FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS (FOTL) (YA Epic Fantasy) An exiled princess searches for the five elements she needs to win the allegiance of the dragons and reclaim her kingdom from the grasp of an evil empress.
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