Why don’t we write like this anymore?

Ok, so a big part of trying to write Disney’s next fairy tale based blockbuster, is to, you know, pick a fairy tale.  And it turns out, there are a lot of fairy tales.  While we’re still trying to get logistics worked out– like how to get online to write a blog post and not reread all of XKCD (that may be mostly my problem)– Shannon polled a collection of friends for some fairy tales they always wanted to see as Disney movies.

The response was pretty great.  I decided to try the same thing with some of my friends.  They asked me if the Windows 2000 operating system manual counted.  That line of inquiry was quickly dropped.

At any rate, I’ve been reading down the tales I could track down easily (read as: find on the first page of Google when searching “[fairy tale title] original fairy tale”), and I have a very important question.

Why, in the name of all things good and grand, did we stop writing like this?

For example, take this excerpt from The Juniper Tree:
“Then the mother took the little boy and chopped him in pieces, put him into the pot, and cooked him into stew. But Marlene stood by crying and crying, and all her tears fell into the pot, and they did not need any salt.

Then the father came home, and sat down at the table and said, “Where is my son?” […]

Then he said, “Wife, this food is delicious. Give me some more.” And the more he ate the more he wanted, and he said, “Give me some more. You two shall have none of it. It seems to me as if it were all mine.” And he ate and ate, throwing all the bones under the table, until he had finished it all.”

Is that not the most chilling thing you’ve read all week?  In less than two paragraphs, about 6 sentences, the brothers Grimm have lived up to their last name.   It’s not only that a father ate his son, its that he ate his son and liked it to the point of not feeding his remaining child or wife.  Steven King doesn’t even write that dark.

Sometimes, the text his hilarious, as in Hansel and Gretel:
“The old woman had only pretended to be so kind; she was in reality a wicked witch, who lay in wait for children, and had only built the little house of bread in order to entice them there. When a child fell into her power, she killed it, cooked and ate it, and that was a feast day with her.  Witches have red eyes, and cannot see far, but they have a keen scent like the beasts, and are aware when human beings draw near.”

Oh.  Well, that would have made that entire witch burning sequence in Monty Python and the Holy Grail take a lot less time.  Also, thinking about old ladies being an entire separate genus and species away from homo sapiens is funny.  You think witches are descendant from monkeys as well, or do they come from, say, parasitic eels?  The fact that the eels are blind might explain the poor eyesight.

Also, I love how the text is so mater of fact.  Everyone already knows that witches have red eyes, for the love of– stop asking bad questions, Jimmy.

From The Nightingle:
“But when he came to the words, “the nightingale is the most beautiful of all,” he exclaimed, “What is this? I know nothing of any nightingale. Is there such a bird in my empire? and even in my garden? I have never heard of it. Something, it appears, may be learnt from books.”

Oh, snap, son!  There was a point to all that book-learnin’ nonsense in school after all!  Awwww, yeah.  Book throw down!  Boom!

Also, of note, is the extra special opening (this is the first sentence):
“In China, you know, the emperor is a Chinese, and all those about him are Chinamen also.”

Thanks for clearing that up.  I wasn’t aware.  Also, you get an extra star for probable racist connotations, if I can find one… I can’t.  Sorry.  You want a homophobic rainbow instead?

I’m not just pointing out these quips in language to make fun of them, however.  Fairy tales are short.  Really short.  I’ve read longer poems (and I’m not cheating and talking about The Odyessy).  As such, if we’re going to adapt a fairy tale, we’re going to need to draw inspiration from every line and really wring the tale out to dry.  Even these bizarre lines matter.

Sure, the father eating his son is very over the top, but that gives us indication on tone.  The Juniper Tree is an over the top fairy tale.  Perhaps its silly that the witch is described as a some sort of exotic creature, but if we were to adapt Hansel and Gretel, by that line alone I would argue the witch, as a villain, would sit closer to the Horned King than the Evil Stepmother.  In The Nightingale, we get an interesting point about the world.  The Emperor likes books, most of his court does not.  That’s a quirk of the setting.

But yeah, I’m just making fun of the Chinamen line.  How can you possibly not?

Addendum:
I actually had this post sitting around for a few days to help keep a steady flow of blog posts rather than lump a bunch at once.  I read this bit from The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids, after writing the above post:

“And when the baker had rubbed his feet over, he ran to the miller and said, strew some white meal over my feet for me. The miller thought to himself, the wolf wants to deceive someone, and refused, but the wolf said, if you will not do it, I will devour you. Then the miller was afraid, and made his paws white for him. Truly, this the way of mankind.”

Amen.

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About relimited

Sup. I'm a computer science grad student out in California currently reading fairy tales rather than writing a strong testing framework.

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