Thursday, June 9, 2011

Best fairytales representing/depicting poverty and vengeance?

Not many of you check the SurLaLune Discussion Board these days, but Bill Willingham posted an intriguing question last night. I wanted to cross post it here to get more discussion. You can either reply in the comments here or on the discussion board itself.


I'd like your choices for best ever fairytale in two categories.

First: what do you think is the best ever fairytale depicting or representing impoverishment? So far I have Little Match Girl. Can anyone do better than that? Got a less popular favorite?

Second: what do you think is the best ever (scariest, most disturbing) fairytale depicting vengeance -- whether justified or not? I'm talking hellishly creative punishments, far beyond the scope of the initial crime -- baking the old man into a pie and serving him to his daughters sort of stuff.

Feel free to support your choices -- or not.



I know there are a few that came to my mind immediately with no titles, of course. Because my brain is tired and full of my current projects. Then there are the popular fairy tales that have these issues, too. As much as Little Match Girl gets pumped up as a poverty tale--no arguing against it--I always think of Hansel and Gretel since poverty is part of the reason why the children are abandoned in the forest. Child abandonment is one of the worst results of poverty and Hansel and Gretel gives us that.

As for vengeance, my mind first goes to Greek myth with Medea because child murder is about as horrible as you can get, too. Using innocents to exact revenge is always disturbing to me.

Of course, one of my favorite acts of vengeance in a fairy tale is found in The Unnatural Mother and the Girl With a Star on Her Forehead which I translated for Sleeping Beauties: Sleeping Beauty and Snow White Tales From Around the World. Snow White takes vengeance on her mother and shoots her dead. It's not a horrible vengeance but everyone else is feeling forgiving, so the Snow White character takes out a gun and shoots her mother. She came prepared to do it and does it and makes no apologies for it.

But most of the horrible acts in fairy tales I can think of are not motivated by vengeance. We have the many horrible Bluebeards and Robber Bridegrooms, Snow White mothers (one even kills her newborn grandchild in "The Magic Mirror" from Romania), Juniper Tree mothers, etc. But they are just mean, nasty folks acting out against innocent people for the most part.

Of course, in the just rewards category we have Diamonds and Toads in which I have always rather felt the bad daughter is overly punished. She is cursed with serpents and toads to fall from her mouth for the rest of what ends up being her very short life just for being lazy and rude? Not that I condone that behavior, but she isn't given a chance to repent or reform. Nope, she suffers and dies for rudeness. She didn't try to kill anyone. She didn't maim, pillage or plunder. She is simply a spoiled brat who never gets to grow up since some bouts of bad behavior send her to her doom. That is rather vengeful in a horrible way, isn't it? At least most of the evil fairy tale characters are truly such so we cheer their demise. But the bad sister is a bully. Perhaps for that reason we cheer her fate more for who hasn't suffered at the hands of a bully?

So since my brain isn't working well at recalling good examples, does anyone here have any to share?


  1. What about Sun, Moon, and Talia? The king's wife wanting to get back at him for not only raping another woman, but getting her pregenant by asking the cook to serve the kids to her has always given me shivers up my spine.

  2. OOps, I meant she asked the cook to serve the kids to him. Sorry about the typo.

  3. Veronica SchanoesJune 10, 2011 at 10:38 PM

    Isn't it in "The Goose Girl" where the false bride ends up being put in a barrel studded with iron nails and rolled down a hill? I must say, I always thought that was terribly gruesome and a bit over the top.

    "Hansel and Gretel" is what I think of too when I think of poverty. The protagonists of "The Red Shoes" and "The Girl who Trod on a Loaf" both start out quite poor.

  4. What about the Pied Piper of Hamelin? A whole generation of children lost from a village because the villagers try to cheat the Piper. A little extreme, you'd think.