Fairy tales were not intended for children.
I repeat that, fairy tales were NOT intended for children.
Just take a look at the Kay Nielson illustration for Cinderella above. Despite the name, Kay is a he, a classically trained Danish artist who worked heavily during the first half of the 20th century. The moment depicts Cinderella in her finery meeting the Prince at the Royal Ball she has been forbidden to attend. But the meeting is… questionable, let’s say. For a start, the Prince looks awfully feminine with his slim legs, high heels, and heavy-lidded eyes. Perhaps he’s meant to be besotted with her, but by the way he’s grabbing the item from the leering, slinking Negro servant on the right, he looks about to offer poor Cin a date-rape drug as she (futilely) attempts to fend him off. The other ball attendees look equally decadent with their powdered faces and high wigs, whereas Cinderella is tiny and helpless, trapped in her immense ball gown. The whole scenario speaks of an innocent wandering into exploitation.
Well, I could just be talking out my ass here, but at any rate, I’ve wanted to showcase Nielson’s art forever, and this post seems as good a way as any to do this. The stylized ink illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley were a big influence, obviously, as well as Art Nouveau and the vogue for stylization inspired by the off-kilter compositions of Japanese woodcuts, all of which Nielson likely absorbed. He did many other fantasy illustrations and even worked for Disney for a while, supplying sketches for Fantasia. I first encountered this picture on the front of a greeting card in Seattle’s Pike Place Market decades ago, and I had to buy it. I still have it, even though it’s now widely disseminated on the internet.
Back to the idea that fairy takes were meant for adults: what we think now of fairy tales are part of the folklorish tradition which includes myths, legends, and morality tales, all of which were passed down orally in cultures from generation to generation. It’s only in recent times that a “fairy tale ending” meant a happy one with everything tied up neatly and sweetly. In some of the original versions of Cinderella, for example, the stepsisters mutilate their feet to fit them into the glass slipper of the Prince, one cutting off her toe and the other her heel; the deception is noted only when blood drips out. And the other great Disney Princess-inspiring tale, Sleeping Beauty, has been seen through the lens of sexual awakening and rape.
The delightful thing about all of these tales, however, is the creativity and outlandish nature of their names. Like the ones I created for an imaginary version of 1001 Arabian Nights, these were fairly easy to generate. And who knows, the titles might inspire some real-life stories.
Unwritten Fairy Tales I
|The One-winged Partridge
The Cripple and the Sausage
The Tongue with No Smile in It
The Boy Who Tried to Catch the Sunset
The Widow and the Crystal Blackbird
The Sky Brother and the Fire Sister
The Two Curious Charwomen
The Three Greedy Monks
The Dutiful Squire
The Iron Prince of the Sea
The Widow Who Wasn’t Crippled Enough
Emperor of the Fortunate Isles
The Child Born of a Loaf
The Boy Who Thought He Was a Goose
The Story of the Two Cursed Cabbages
The Scholar Who Taught the Chicken to Squawk
Why the Clouds are Always Youthful
Pretty Little Hungry-Eyes
The Princess Has No Stockings
The Magical Onions
The Misadventures of Prince Benjamin
The Wise Simpleton
Snow Blue and the Ten Brides
The Bad Gift of the Fisherwoman
The Donkey Husband
The Pavilion Made of Glass
Jack the Unicorn-Killer
The Little Monk Boy
The Clever Little Hermit