I have read fairy tales since I was a child. Grimm’s Fairy Tales entered my life when I was about 10 and they fascinated me. All of Grimm’s were delightfully dark, with the evil getting their comeuppance. In reading them again as an adult I realized that these teach rather egregious things. Here are some of them. Please keep in mind that this is what I’ve gleaned from Grimm and not my own opinions. J
Lesson one: racism. Jews are always conniving, liars and cowardly. Don’t be a Jew. Similarly, if you are black, that’s bad. Black means ugly. For some reason dwarves are more often than not portrayed as black. There were several instances in which women were cursed with being black (in one case, by God himself) and must be saved by some cleansing ritual. Clearly, black is associated with being unclean.
Lesson two: sexism. There are two things a woman should be: beautiful and pious. The women have no power and are generally not smart. There are times when the female will do all of the tasks assigned to the hero and he gets to take all the credit, so there’s that. Only the man is allowed to be unfaithful and/or forget his betrothed. The woman is supposed to stay faithful to the very end.
Lesson three: intelligence. You know how I said that women are usually not smart? Well, there is a series of stories called “Clever Elsie” in which the heroine does stupendously stupid things in spite of her name. The takeaway from this is that if you are to be clever, be a boy. If you are a simpleton, you should also be a boy (pretty much, just be a boy). A simpleton who is still truthful and kind will prosper and will probably end up either rich, married to a princess, or both. On the other hand, being clever as a boy is the best thing you can be. Lying, cheating, fraud, and stealing are all fine as long as you are smart enough to get away with it. I have to say, this was the weirdest thing I noticed in my reading. In most stories, being pious, good, etc. is the end goal. But in a subsection of tales, the hero acts in immoral ways yet is extolled as an example to follow.
Lesson four: Salvation. Many fairy tales involve saints, angels, God, and the Devil. For the most part, the message to take away is be pious and good. However, there are a number of stories that involve good, pious people making deals with the Devil. This struck me as odd for a few reasons. First of all, why would good people deal with the Devil at all? Most of the time, they are driven to it out of necessity, but this doesn’t seem compelling to me. Secondly, getting the better of the Devil seems to be incredibly easy. I am guessing this is to make the Devil less frightening than he would be to the readers at the time. This makes sense but allows for a lot of absurdity.
Lesson five: vices. There are three main vices or sins decried in the Tales: greed, jealousy, and pride. Greed is the most nuanced of the sins, in that it depends on who is being greedy. If you are a peasant and are greedy, you will come to no good end. But if you are a king, you can safely be greedy and covetous and nothing bad will happen to you. This is a reflection of the reality of the times and less a moral teaching but I found it interesting. Jealousy is bad. Don’t do it unless you want to end up inside a barrel full of nails rolling down a hill. The worst sin, though, is pride. Pride will get you mutilated, turned into an animal (or a black person), killed, and damned to hell.
So those are the lessons I’ve “learned” from Grimm’s Fairy Tales. There are a few other thoughts I had while reading. First of all, always be kind and truthful to strangers because they are probably magic. Magic can do good or ill, so it’s better to be on the safe side when dealing with suspected witches and fairies. Speaking of witches, what’s with the evil step-mother thing? I’m sure that countless children with step-parents have been scarred for life thanks to Cinderella.
Finally, if you are a king, don’t offer your daughter to anyone who can solve a riddle. You will realize as soon as a poor peasant claims his bride that you have made a terrible, terrible mistake.