Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition

The other night I presented a reading for the Playwrights Unit, something I have been working on, on and off, all year. At the moment it’s brief, the reading took a little over a half hour, a collection of folk tales adapted for the present time. Not like, say, Thurber’s Fables For Our Time, but actual Grimm’s fairy tales, re-imagined for the present.

Not the most original concept, I’ll grant you. My own discoveries, just fucking with these bizarre stories is what has kept me interested. For Christmas I received a copy of the newly translated first edition of Grimm’s tales … what most of us know as Grimm’s Fairy Tales are actually an edition that the brothers – who were sociologists, not writers – had published after forty years of cultural anthropology and editing. What you might call bowdlerizing.

For example, in the later Rapunzel, she accidentally tells the witch about the Prince’s visits. In the original version, the witch doesn’t know what’s happening until Rapunzel becomes visibly pregnant.

Many of these original drafts make no sense, stuff just happens. Transgressing children get their comeuppance, except when they don’t. Justice is arbitrary. Kind of like life, I guess, but what is the point?

Having several talented actors read the six scenes I have created (to date) was extremely valuable for two main reasons: I was heartened to know how funny the funny parts are, and also how horrible the horrible parts are.

One notable observation was how urban legends are our modern folk tales. There’s really only one lesson: Fear. Fear everything. Fear travel, fear strangers, fear your food, fear your government, fear Bill Cosby.

But folk tales have the same basic message. Reach above your station, you will suffer. Disobey any small part of what your parents tell you, you will get pregnant and die. Actions may arbitrarily be rewarded with treasure of slow, painful, grotesque punishment. Stay home. Keep your head down. Don’t make waves.

The play, such as it is, is currently a jumble. With more stories, it will become more coherent. But even this brief, enjoyable read inspired some challenging discussions. Folks were generally troubled with the scene about rape, as well they should be. But they were debating what it meant, and what is the truth, and while there were some who felt the mood went far-afield from the general sense of silliness that was prevalent in other stories, that just reassured me I was on the right track.

I do not know where that track will lead but I may follow it where it takes me.</metaphor>

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