Hop O’ My Thumb by Charles Perrault

Hop O’ My Thumb is so similar to Hansel and Gretel you might wonder how both co-existed. Both stories have:

  • A time of famine
  • In which the parents decide to leave their children in the woods
  • A trail of pebbles
  • A second abandonment, further into the woods
  • A welcoming cottage in the woods
  • A cannibalistic inhabitant who wants to fatten the children up and eat them
  • Trickery and cunning on the part of one child as a means of escape
  • A home-away-home structure, in which the children end up (richer, in some versions) back home after an adventure
  • No mention of the trauma of abandonment that must surely have resulted after being abandoned — twice — by your very own parents.
This is the poster for the 2011 French film
This is the poster for the 2011 French film

The truth is, Hansel and Gretel is the version that survived the best in the English speaking world. How many people know the story of Hansel and Gretel but have never heard of Hop O’ My Thumb? That certainly described me until I recently made an effort to read some of the lesser known fairytales.

Hansel and Gretel by Anthony Browne

Hansel and Gretel by Neil Gaiman and Lorenzo Manzatotti

This tale is much kinder to mothers than to fathers, and far kinder to mothers than the Grimm brothers were. Here, the mothers stand up for their children while the fathers want to get rid of them. In Hansel and Gretel it is the other way around. There has been much psychoanalysis of that.

There are also elements of Tom Thumb in this tale (obviously, from the title!), though no mention in the actual story about Hop O’ My Thumb’s diminutive size. Nonetheless, almost all illustrators depict not only the titular character but also the brothers as very tiny.

Hop O My Thumb Poucet woods

I’m also reminded of Jack and the Beanstalk when the ogre arrives home to his cottage in the wood and sniffs out the children to eat.

His seven daughters are somewhat vampiric, with their pointy teeth. They have already started sucking on the blood of babies, we are told.

What can I say? This story has it all.

 

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Charles Perrault’s Fairytale Morals: Rewritten For A Modern Audience

When Charles Perrault wrote down the fairytales he’d collected from the wider culture, he ended each one with a summary which summed up the moral. In many cases, his take on the moral was pretty far from earlier tellings. Perrault wrote in a tongue-in-cheek manner — that much is clear. But as with any kind of humour, his basic beliefs about life and humanity shone through. Perrault was a man of his time. He joked about misogyny, but I believe he meant every word.

Sleeping Beauty Angela Carter

THE SLEEPING BEAUTY IN THE WOOD

When choosing a life partner, look carefully at his family.

See also: Sleeping Beauty And Cannibalism

LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD

If you think you might assault someone, stay out of the fucking woods.

See also: The Evolution Of Little Red Riding Hood

BLUEBEARD

Ladies, trust your instincts. If you think that old man next door is creepy, don’t let anyone talk you out of it. Also, if your new husband treats you like a child and starts playing mind games with you, get out of there before the shit really hits the fan.

See also: Bluebeard by Charles Perrault, a breakdown of the story structure

 

THE FOOLISH WISHES

When arguing with the most important person in your life, be careful what you say. Words once uttered can affect your relationship forever.

 

THE FAIRIES

When women are judged mainly on their looks, it’s not really all that surprising if the most beautiful daughter in a household is ostricised by her embittered female relatives. Nor is it surprising that these women, after a lifetime of discrimination, have become embittered.

It doesn’t matter if pearls and rubies fall out of your mouth; as long as you a beautiful your prince will find you. You don’t need to make any special sort of exertion; just leave home and go wandering through the woods.

 

HOP O’ MY THUMB

If your own parents are so nasty that they’ll take you and your siblings into the woods and leave you there to die in a time of famine, you don’t actually owe them anything after that. Make like a Scientologist and cut your ties.

 

DONKEY-SKIN

If your father wants to ‘marry’ you, get the fuck out of there and everything will eventually be okay.

 

RICKY WITH THE TUFT

Although men need women to be beautiful (for ‘evolutionary reasons’ or whatever bullshit they feed you these days), women are not to expect their male partners to be equally good-looking. If you’re a woman, your beau can be the ugliest fucking bastard in the world, but as long as you really really love him, you’ll eventually realise, with no magic whatsoever, everything about him is hunky dory. In other words, women have to conform to the Beauty Standard, but men do not.

The history of fairy-tale selection and adaptation has given far more prominence to male beasts who are afflicted with monstrosity, and then has held up the promise of redemption through love for them: the beast himself from ‘Beauty and the Beast’, who is restored to his human shape, or ‘Riquet a la houppe’ (Ricky with the Tuft’), in one of Perrault’s stories, who teaches the giddy heroine to love him for his mind, in spite of his looks. In more recent interpretations, such as the film of The Phantom of the Opera, or Mask, and The Elephant Man (directed early in his career by the aficionado of the macabre, David Lynch), the ‘monster’ solicits sympathy in the midst of exciting distress, horror and alarm.

[…]

A crucial distinction  between Renaissance grotesque and [the] Counter-Enlightenment derivative can be made in terms of the response. […] The grotesque style has undergone a change and expanded its reach. The treatment of monsters in fairytales, first fora n adult readership in the late seventeeth century, and progressively for a young audience thereafter, has contributed decisively to this shift in taste. The anti-heroes of popular stories, like the ugly suitor in Charles Perrault’s fairy tale of 1697 (Ricky With The Tuft), of the hissing Great Green Worm in marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy’s tale of that name, offer a vision of the monstrous redeemed by the grotesque. Fantasy beasts may ape human beings in order to mock them, but representations stage their presence in order to think with them, through them, about what it means to be human,

— Marina Warner, No Go the Bogeyman

CINDERELLA; OR THE LITTLE GLASS SLIPPER

You’re more marriageable if you’re both charming and beautiful. Even better if you’re rich, but two out of three will suffice. You may even attract a prince. But do you really want a husband who’s chosen you for your beauty, your lifelong acculturation as a compliant doormat, and your smaller than average feet?

See also: The History And Influence Of Cinderella

Breaking Bad And The Influence Of Classic Fairytales

Vince Gilligan broke new ground by writing a TV series about a good man turned evil. He also borrowed from a long history of storytelling. Walt White is a modern superhero archetype, but Breaking Bad also borrows from classic fairytales.

PUSS IN BOOTS

Walter White Boots

The unnamed cat in Puss In Boots is determined to make life better for himself and his underdog third son master. The first thing he does is pretty benign — he catches a rabbit with a lettuce leaf and sells it to the palace. But then he gradually turns into a lying, thieving, threatening, murdering little bastard. Puss ‘Breaks Bad’, in other words.

Things end better for Puss though, depending on which version you read. In one version he ends up as a pyromaniac, setting fire to his master’s house after the ‘Marquis of Carabas’ turns out to be ungrateful for all the help he’s had in securing the ogre’s house. Kind of like the final episode of Breaking Bad, in a way.

BLUEBEARD

Skyler

The wife in Bluebeard knows something’s going down, and she makes it her mission to find out once Bluebeard leaves town. So she finds out he’s lying, murdering scum and that her own life is in danger. What now? Unfortunately, Skyler doesn’t have two brothers to save her from her fate.

 

THE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

Breaking Bad Money

Walt actually thinks that as long as he gives his wife everything money can buy he is actually a good person. Doesn’t matter that he’s basically holding her captive, using the kids as bargaining chips.

I’m reminded too of the father of the girl held captive in Rumpelstiltskin, because who is worse in that story? Rumpelstiltskin, the greedy King, or the father who pawns off his own daughter?

 

THE SLEEPING BEAUTY IN THE WOOD

Jane death breaking bad

Jane. Sleeping. She’s not cursed by an evil fairy but by drugs. She used to be Daddy’s little princess.

Jane doesn’t have an ogre of a mother-in-law exactly, but she does have Walt — her boyfriend’s business partner. He doesn’t kill her — exactly — but lets something else do the job. Unlike Sleeping Beauty, however, Jane sleeps forever.

LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD

how you doing brock

The Brock storyline, perhaps. Not goodies, ricin. Walt is the Big, Bad Wolf.

Others have suggested that Little Red Riding Hood is Jesse, with the hint in his name: ‘Pinkman’.

 

CINDERELLA

Breaking Bad Grey Matter

This is the rags-to-riches ur-story that applies not to Walt but to his millionaire erstwhile business partner. Like Cinderella, Walt’s friend kind of struck it lucky and that’s how he got rich. Also like Cinderella, he is a good person. But Walt doesn’t think this in itself is what justice looks like. Walt is an Ugly Stepsister, perhaps.

 

 

 

 

The Foolish Wishes by Charles Perrault

The Foolish Wishes illustration_from_Fairy_tales_of_Charles_Perrault_(Clarke,_1922)

Also known as The Ridiculous Wishes or The Three Ridiculous Wishes.

This exact fairytale passed me by as a kid, but there are no shortage of tales about characters who are granted three wishes by some sort of genie/supernatural  being. I’d find myself thinking, “Don’t waste the last one! Just wish for more wishes!” I wonder if everyone listening to these stories thinks exactly the same thing, but I’m put in mind of my neighbour, who told me recently that when he was made to attend Sunday school as a boy, they were required to pray, but they weren’t to pray for selfish things such as ‘growing an inch taller over summer’ or ‘a bike for Christmas’. Their prayers had to be altruistic or they wouldn’t ‘work’.

I think perhaps there are some cultural parallels between the nature of religious prayer and fairytale wishing: They must be altruistic and they must come from a good place.

Content Note: After reading this story you may find you never feel the same way about black pudding again. Also, if you live in Australia, you may think of black pudding whenever you see a black snake.

Wasteful Wishing is a common trope of modern comedies. Wishing for food items is a common one. No doubt fairytales such as this one have been influential in the emergence of this trope.

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