As we were backpacking this last weekend with a four-year-old (Ma-belle), we (her dad and I) started talking about fairy tales...don't worry, we were quite careful to make sure she wasn't listening as it probably would have crushed her heart to find out that living "happily ever after" sometimes just doesn't happen in the fairy tales. Generally speaking the fairy tales that originated in Germany are meant to scare the ever-living crap out of children so they'll do what their parents tell them to while the French fairy tales are totally raunchy and meant to entertain adults.
Here are some quick synopses of the original fairy tales:
Snow White (German): Disney was fairly accurate to the source material here; the evil stepmother queen has little (7-year-old) Snow White taken to the woods to be killed, but the hunter lets her go. Snow White lives with the dwarfs, and the queen tries to kill her 3 times; by poison laces, poison comb and finally poison apple (however, in the first two cases the dwarfs save her and in the last the apple essentially gets stuck in her windpipe). The dwarfs put Snow White in a glass coffin in the woods and the dashing young prince comes, falls in love and begs the dwarfs to let him take poor, comatose Snow White with him. During the move, the apple piece becomes dislodged and Snow White wakes up, falls in love with the prince and they marry. The evil queen goes to their wedding (not realizing that it's Snow White), and, at the wedding, is forced to wear iron shoes that have been placed in the fire until they were red hot. She either dances until she dies, or has a heart attack. In either case, I'm sure wearing the fire hot iron shoes didn't help any.
Sleeping Beauty (French): Again, Disney follows the source material at the beginning, but when Sleeping Beauty (who doesn't have a name, though her eventual daughter is named Aurora) is in her sleep stupor in the woods, the prince comes and rapes her, thus impregnating her. When the babies (yes, twins) are born they suckle on Sleeping Beauty's finger, thus dislodging the piece of poisoned wood that was embedded in her finger (apparently human babies now act like most other mammals where the babies must find their way to their mother's teat). Said prince keeps all this under wraps (as was the fashion of the times), but his mother finds out and plans to have the babes and Sleeping Beauty killed, prepared in a sauce Robert, and ultimately served to her son (to teach him a lesson I suppose?). In some way, shape, or form, it comes to pass that the cook tricks the mother by giving her prepared meats instead of the prepared humans. When the King finds what she's done (that she tried to kill the mother of his children and his children), he has his own mother thrown into a pit of vipers (Why'd it have to be snakes?).
The Little Mermaid (Dutch): The little mermaid goes to the water's surface on her 15th birthday and saves a prince from drowning. Since she wants to be human to be with the prince, she goes to the sea witch who agrees to give her legs in exchange for the mermaid's voice. The mermaid agrees even though the witch has warned her that it will feel like she is walking on swords, her feet will bleed, and if the prince doesn't love her, she will die. The prince falls for the little mermaid, but ends up marrying another girl at the behest of his father (it helps some that he thinks the girl he is marrying was the one who saved him from drowning instead of the little mermaid). On the morning after the wedding, the mermaids sisters come to the surface with a knife. If the little mermaid kills the prince, she will regain her fins and live on as a mermaid. In the end, she can't kill the thing she loves and so she dies and becomes sea foam.
Beauty and the Beast (French): Belle is actually a princess, who, to protect her life, is sent to live as a merchant's daughter. The merchant loses all his riches, and when he gets news that one of his ships has returned to port, he asks his daughters what they want for gifts. The two older sisters (who, by all accounts, sound about as nice as Cinderella's sisters), ask for finery while Belle asks for a rose. When the merchant finds that his ship has been taken to pay his debts, he can no longer afford to buy the gifts he promised. On his way home, he spends the night in a seemingly abandoned castle. He tries to take a rose from the garden and that's when the Beast makes him a prisoner who can only leave if he agrees to send his youngest daughter. Belle arrives at the castle and is well taken care of, but refuses to marry the beast (even though she dreams of a handsome prince telling her to marry the beast). At one point, she convinces the beast to let her go home to visit her family. He agrees but states that she must come back within one week. Belle's sisters trick her into staying longer, and when Belle arrives at the Beast's castle, he is almost dead from heartbreak. She agrees to marry him and he is magically turned into the handsome prince. They live happily ever after. It should be noted that the prince was turned into a beast because he refused to be seduced by an evil fairy (newer versions indicate that he was turned into a beast for not being nice to a homeless woman).
Cinderella (originally Greek):
Greek version: An eagle makes off with a maiden's sandal and drops it in the king's lap thus starting the quest to find the girl who owns that sandal.
French version: The Disney version (sans talking mice, and helpful birds)
German version: This is the version where the sisters cut off pieces of their own feet in order to get them to fit into the slipper. Pigeons alert the prince by pecking out the eyes of the sisters after their lies. (Sound familiar?) They spare the prince because he's just a dumb dumb.
And all this exercise really made me want to do is watch "Into the Woods." Most of these stories I pulled from Wikipedia and my memory from when I researched fairy tales for a history class project. We filmed the original Sleeping Beauty using He-man action figures and Barbies. Don't worry, we used a censored sign for the inappropriate scenes...though we did make reference to the JonBenet case, which was probably in bad taste.