A Grimm Review: The Youth Who Went Forth to Feel Something

A Grimm Review: The Youth Who Went Forth to Feel SomethingA Grimm Review: The Youth Who Went Forth to Feel Something

The death of Robin Williams has been on my mind a lot the past few days. I’m usually not one to be sentimental about celebrity deaths, but Robin Williams really hits home. My childhood wouldn’t have been complete without Jumanji, Hook, Mrs. Doubtfire, Jack, Patch Adams and so many more great movies, even Aladdin, which I’ve seen about a million times. As I was thinking about Robin Williams, I realized I would be amiss if I didn’t write about the idea of mental illness in the Grimm’s Fairy Tales. It’s there. People have always suffered in their minds.

Mental illness in the Grimm’s tales isn’t something that’s right out there in the open, but it’s there. We have characters who seem to have some form of OCD. We have bullied and belittled characters. We have characters who are constantly made fun of. There is a story about a boy who just goes and lays down in a grave because his life is so bad. There are obviously psychopaths in some of these stories who are murderers. There are children whose parents try to abandon them or turn them into animals. If that doesn’t give you some kind of complex, I don’t know what will. The story that most sticks out at me is The Story of the Youth who Went out to Learn What Fear Was.

The story is a long story. It concerns one young man. His family is constantly making fun of him and belittling him. They make fun of him all the time. They tell him he’s stupid. They tell him to get his act together. His desire in life is to learn what fear is. He wants to be able to shudder. So he leaves home after severely terrible attempts to do something useful. He stays the night in a castle no one else can stay in because they’re so scared. He stays three nights. After three nights, the curse is broken. The king rewards him with riches and his daughter. Even after all these good things, the youth still wants to know how to shudder. Finally, his wife pours ice-cold water on him while he is sleeping and he does in fact shudder.

Think about depression. If you’ve been depressed you might see some parallels with this guy’s story. He feels like he can’t do anything right. Everyone is always telling him to perk up. They say that something is wrong with him. He wants to know fear, which is a very strong emotion. It’s not the same as being bemused or titillated; it’s a very strong emotion. It’s a primal emotion. There are some feelings you feel stronger than others. The basic idea is that he’s trying to feel something, anything, and fear is a strong enough emotion that it just might work.

He then goes an encounters all this other stuff that would scare the pants off anyone else, but does he feel anything? He’s numb. He’s not scared at all. He’s numb to one of the stronger emotions a person can feel. He puts himself in bad situations just to try to feel. He’s searching for any sign that he might be real or human, instead he’s just numb. He even gets some great things, but he still doesn’t feel anything. He gets to live in a castle and marry the king’s daughter and be rich, but he still wants to feel that strong emotion. He wants to feel something. Finally, his wife throws ice-cold water on him, which would make his body react even if his mind did not.

If you yourself are depressed or you know someone who is depressed, you will know that sometimes people who are depressed are numb to most emotion. They find ways to make themselves feel. A large majority of the time this is accomplished through cutting, but there are also the fear seekers who put themselves in harm’s way. If you look at our youth in this story, this is his story. He feels like crap; he wants to feel something; he performs destructive behavior so he can feel something. I think that if we would have followed this youth further after his adventure with the ice-cold water, we would find that he would continue his meetings with ice-cold water, or something more severe. Maybe he would go for hot tar or something else. His behavior and search for shuddering would continue to escalate.

The story ends up on a supposedly happy note with a supposed laugh, but underneath, I don’t think it was supposed to. I think the young man in this story would have continued to struggle. He couldn’t erase all those years of being told he was nothing overnight. Maybe finally being able to feel something helped him turn things around. Maybe he realized that he had all these great things and life was worth it and he didn’t have to go out searching for fear. That’s the problem with these stories though, they do end, and we don’t get checkups to see how our characters are doing.

As always, remember these stories were reflections of what was going on in the real-world, despite all the fairies, dragons, and strange creatures. In the real world people do struggle with mental illness and so too do our Grimm’s characters.

A Grimm Review: Little People are not Nice

A Grimm Review: Little People are not NiceA Grimm Review: Little People are not Nice

In former times, we would have called a Little Person a midget or a dwarf, which isn’t very nice. We’ve moved towards the term Little Person to describe someone possessing one of several forms of dwarfism. Yes, there are multiple forms of the genetic condition. The Grimm’s Fairy Tales were not that nice. The Grimm’s tales often described little people as “manikins.” Yes, the word does roughly look like the word mannequin, which is what we call the creepy human-like forms we put clothes on in stores to demonstrate how the clothes you’re looking at would fit on a plastic person with no bones or muscle tone.

In the Grimm’s tales little people come in one of three varieties. A little person can be Thumbling; a little person can be Rumpelstiltskin, but the most common type of little person in the Grimm’s Fairy Tales is the little person who is black. I wish I was joking about that, but I’m not. No skin color is mentioned for Thumbling or Rumpelstiltskin, but any other mention of a little person in the Grimm’s tales is described as “a black manikin.”

Obviously dwarfism wasn’t unheard of to the Bavarian people because they created Thumbling and Rumpelstiltskin, but it wasn’t common. It’s still not very common today, but we have learned enough about the condition to be able to classify it into several types, treat related health problems, and prolong the lives of anyone who happens to have been born with one of the varieties. We’re more aware of it today, but people back in the day just weren’t as knowledgeable about the wider world, but even so, they had probably heard of pygmies.

Pygmy is really a catch-all term. When someone says pygmy it doesn’t mean one specific people. It may actually refer to different peoples from all over the world. Pygmies were first described by Homer in talking about a certain tribe of people in India. Homer lived a long time ago so we know this word has been circulating around for a while. As people traveled the world more and explored, they came across all kinds of other people. When they found an especially short native tribe, they called those people pygmies. Pygmies always have darker skin, they’re not all necessarily African, but they do have dark skin. I’ve never encountered any reference to a short group of people of European descent. People argue over what the correct definition of pygmy is. Some people say it’s when the average height for men in the group is only 4’11” and others say it’s when the average height is only 5’1″. Essentially, we’re looking at a native group of people who are quite short.

I explain all of this because this term started circulating around. Everyone didn’t travel, but stories of travel traveled on their own. When sailors came home and talked about the black pygmies they saw in “insert country here” everyone told two friends and those friends told two friends, until lots of people knew that pygmies were a thing. The idea was exotic and even if it wasn’t true, people probably would have taken it for the truth because it was so exciting. When they told their stories they inserted the idea of the pygmy into those stories. They didn’t know anything about these people other than they were short and dark-skinned. That’s why we get so many random descriptions of what these little people can do in the Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

I have now explained the “why” as to why most of the little people in the Grimm’s Fairy Tales are black, so let’s move onto the post topic. I mention that little people are not nice. That’s not true, we know that, but in the Grimm’s Fairy Tales it certainly seems that way.

We have Thumbling who is a young person, but he’s constantly getting into all kinds of mischief. He causes his parents to worry without need. He plays tricks on people, all the time. He’s not really nice to anyone.

Then we have Rumpelstiltskin, who will do you a favor, but then demand your first-born child. That’s just not very nice. Can’t a favor just be a favor? Then he’ll play a wild guessing game with you and get so ticked off in the end that he rips himself in half.

Then we move onto our black manikins, or pygmies as the case may be. These little people aren’t nice. They’re always performing some type of enchantment to trap a person. They taunt people. They beat people up. They hold people captive. The list goes on and on and on. If you read a story with a black manikin, he’s not going to offer to walk your dog for you.

I don’t know why the people who created these stories felt the need to make little people jerks. I may not have a lot of experience with little people, but I’ve never once come to the conclusion that they’re not nice. They don’t have to be nice all the time; they’re people and they have fluctuating emotions just like the rest of us, but never have I had reason to believe little people go around being complete jerks to everyone they come across, but for some reason the good people of Bavaria thought that that’s how little people behaved.

I don’t know if this is a case of one little people giving all little people a bad name. It could be something like that. We can be prone to make assumptions on entire groups based on the actions of one person from that group. We’ll probably never know why this assumption was floating around, unless someone has a TARDIS we can borrow. If that’s the case, we can totally hop in that TARDIS and travel back to the time in which these stories were created and ask a person why they thought little people were jerks.

Yet again, we have an example of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales being extremely politically incorrect.


 

A Grimm Review: Let’s Hang Out with the Lord

A Grimm Review: Let's Hang Out with the LordA Grimm Review: Let’s Hang Out with the Lord

First of all, I’m sorry if I’ve already stepped on all ten of your toes. Second, let’s talk about God and the Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

The Grimm’s Fairy Tales are not short on mentions of the Lord, The Virgin Mary, St. Peter, and even St. Joseph. There are all kinds of religious references in these stories. They’re just everywhere. Even if the story doesn’t specifically mention God, there are some very strong parallels between certain stories and parables of the New Testament. Everyone is always going to church. People are tricking the preacher. Girls are praying at the chapel. You definitely can’t argue that the Grimms tales are purely Pagan.

Now, God is mentioned quite often in the Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Sometimes he’s actually in heaven, but there are quite a few times where he’s on the Earth. Stories keep saying, “When the Lord walked the Earth.” In a couple of the stories, we’re actually reading about the Lord down on the Earth taking a stroll or doing some sight-seeing. The Lord tends to walk among men like a normal guy in these stories. He asks for shelter for the night. He does people-like things. He’s a guy you could hang out with and maybe you did, but you didn’t realize it was him because he didn’t come out and say, “I’m God,” not that you would have believed some stranger who came in off the street into your house and proclaimed he was God.

I have already mentioned the tendency of people to make things relatable to them. It’s all about trying to understand. We understand what we know and we can better understand things we don’t know if those things are at least a little bit like the things we do know. ¿Comprende? God was this entity up in the sky and he was supposedly watching you. How were you supposed to understand that? How were you supposed to even begin to grasp this concept of an omnipotent being that watched over the entire Earth? …Superman? I’m joking, not really, I’ve actually already mentioned how the story of Superman is a blatant type of Jesus Christ.

People said that God walked the Earth in these stories because they wanted to make him more human and therefore more understandable. If he’s a guy like you and me, then it’s not so difficult to get this whole God thing. Of course God wanted to come in your house and stay the night, he’s a normal guy.

With all that being said, there are some people who don’t like the idea of God being human. God is supposed to be divine. He’s not going to come to your house and ask to stay the night. He’s not going to go around walking on the Earth period. Doesn’t he teleport or something? God doesn’t need to use his feet. God doesn’t need to eat. God would never be caught dead hanging out with us in our sinful ways. People can get upset that you would even entertain the thought that God is like us at all. He’s God and you’re all going to burn in Hell because he expects perfection.

Most of us are somewhere in between the two extremes. We don’t expect God to come hang out at our house and watch a movie, but we also don’t expect him to turn up his nose at us when we’re in need of help.

In the Grimms stories we have a case of people desperately trying to make sense of God. You do have to remember that there had been a religious upheaval. Prior to Martin Luther and other key players in religious reformation, everybody was Catholic or something very similar to it and they liked it, or they were supposed to. There wasn’t really a choice. You didn’t get to say, “I want to be a German Baptist now.” There wasn’t such a thing. Martin Luther wasn’t all that distant from the time in which these stories were created. Just enough time had passed to where people were both more enlightened and more confused. Religion was still going through a transformation, but in these tales we were starting to see how people came to understand God.

These tales were just before another religious upheaval in the United States. In the beginning of the 1800s there was something called The Burned Over District in New York. A hotbed of religious fervor cropped up there and churches were popping up like crazy. So we’re not only seeing these people trying to make sense of God, we’re seeing their stories right before another wave of religious questioning hit them, and it did eventually reach Europe, which is actually kind of neat, historically, if you think about it.

So if you think it’s weird that God hangs out with you in the Grimm’s stories, well, that’s your business. If you think it’s great, that’s also your business.


A Grimm Review: The Virgin Mary isn’t as Nice as You would Expect

A Grimm Review: The Virgin Mary isn't as Nice as You would ExpectA Grimm Review: The Virgin Mary isn’t as Nice as You would Expect

In my mind, I see the Virgin Mary as this demure woman. She’s pretty quiet. She’s a good mother. She’s really nice and so on. My view of her is pretty flat; by flat, I mean that she’s kind of boring and rather inhuman because she doesn’t possess all the characteristics you or I would possess. I know religions such as the Catholic church have a broader view of who Mary is.

She’s got this back story. Her mother was named Anne. She had a couple of sisters. She did this thing or that thing. I simply am not familiar with the Virgin Mary that the Catholic church knows. If you do a little digging into religious experiences, the Virgin Mary is all over the place. People claim that a statue of her is crying or that it’s weeping blood. They claim to have seen her. They claim she did this thing or that thing. Mary really has developed into this deity unto herself in many aspects.

The Grimm’s Fairy Tales have a view of the Virgin Mary that I did not expect. In most aspects she is not referred to as the Virgin Mary; she is referred to as Our Lady. She is mentioned in several tales in the Grimm’s collection. The most prominent tale of Our Lady is called Our Lady’s Child. For parts of the story Mary is in fact nurturing. She’s a motherly figure, but in other parts of the story she seems downright mean.

The premise of the story is that she takes a young girl with her to live in heaven. This young girl peeks into a room that Mary tells her not to peek into. The girl is then kicked out of heaven for not confessing that she had done this thing. Mary makes it where this girl cannot speak. She cannot speak to defend herself or express her desires. It comes down a point when this girl, now a woman, might lose her life, but Mary still keeps her lips sealed. It’s only at the last possible moment that this girl confesses and is saved from being burned alive.

To me, it sounds like this was a lesson that was taken to the extreme. Sure, sometimes our mothers give us some tough lessons, but I can guarantee you that none of them were anywhere near what this poor girl goes through. The image I had in my head of this loving woman being the Virgin Mary is shattered by this image of the Virgin Mary being a complete stickler for the rules. What happened to all that forgiveness talk that’s in religion?

I know we have this thing we say. We say that we’re only enforcing rules on our children because we love them. We’re only punishing them because we love them. We’re only grounding the kids because we love them. In that logic, Mary only made this girl suffer because she loved her. I don’t have kids, but I don’t entirely agree. Punishment is a form of training and it is necessary. You cannot raise up a child into society without having trained them how to act. You’re going to catch a lot of flack for it and so is your kid when said kid is old enough to realize that people are making fun of him/her behind his/her back. Part of training a child to be an adult is teaching children lessons. Those lessons aren’t always “2+2=4.” These lessons can sometimes be very difficult and fraught with consequences.

Generally, following that logic, there is a certain amount of teaching that is necessary before a child learns their lesson. If you were in fact teaching a child about “2+2=4,” you would know they had learned their lesson when they could tell you that 2+2=4 and why. If you’re teaching a moral lesson, you would know your child had learned their lesson when they had experienced a certain amount of consequence and tell you why their actions were wrong. If your kid fibs to you, just one little lie, there are probably going to be consequences you have set. After those consequences, you would ideally explain that lying is not nice for whatever reasons you prefer. You could then have your child explain back to you why lying was bad. Everybody gets it and now this kid can go and be a kid again, end of story, until the next thing.

In this story, Mary beats a dead horse. I’m pretty sure this poor girl gets that lying is bad, she probably got that the first minute she woke up in a forest alone and couldn’t speak. You would think that would be punishment enough, but no, not for Mary. Mary wants to drive that point home and she keeps driving the point for years and years. I feel so bad for this girl.

Mary makes another appearance in a short story about a man who breaks his cart. She tells him that if he gives her some wine, she’ll get the cart out of the rut. I have never imagined Mary to be much of a wine drinker, but whatever. I don’t think the wine drinking incident is nearly as bad as the years and years of punishment that Mary dishes out to a poor girl.

Part of me wonders if people thought that Mary would be such a stickler because she was Christ’s mother, after all, he was perfect he never did any wrong. Maybe they attributed his clean record to Mary’s stern rule.

Mary honestly sounds like the cliché nuns who teach Catholic school. To them everything is punishable. They think you’re done something bad when you haven’t. They have their eye on you. You’re a sinner and they’re going to beat it out of you. This is a sin. That’s a sin. You’re a sinner. He’s a sinner. You’re all going to burn in Hell, that sort of thing.

I think I like my rather one-sided view of Mary better. While it is true that the Grimm’s stories give her a little oomph, she just seems too edgy for me.


A Grimm Review: He’s a Prince, Honey

A Grimm Review: He's a Prince, HoneyA Grimm Review: He’s a Prince, Honey

Some people marry for love and some marry for money. Generally, we have this cliché that if a woman dates a doctor, that’s the one. Doctors make good money. A woman could say that maybe this doctor of hers has bad hygiene or that he watches sports all day when he’s not working, but someone will always refrain, “But he’s a doctor, honey.” The doctor card seems to trump all other cards.

In the Grimm’s Fairy Tales there are lots of princes and kings. Now, I would like to go on and on about all the qualities these princes and kings have, but I can’t. I can’t do that because the Grimms stories never really say what these princes and kings do besides be princes and kings. Does he play any instruments? Is he a good cook? Is he intelligent? Is he free of STDs? We don’t know. Their main attribute is that they’re a prince.

We talked earlier about women in the Grimms stories only being valued for their beauty and this is the male side of that scenario. He’s a prince; who cares what else he might be or might not be?

Despite the fact that princes have been known to be a bit on the slutty side, as mentioned in a previous post, that doesn’t mean that’s all they are. We know these guys are more than just princes and walking carriers for STDs. They would have had educations and talents that they practiced. They would have known how to speak this language or that language. They would have known how to write. They would have been instructed in poetry perhaps. They would have been taught how to dress and how to behave like a gentleman. They would have been taught how to joust. They would have been taught how to sword fight. They would have been encouraged to pursue something.

The point of all of this is that these men were more than just a prince label. They had hopes. They had talents. They had dreams. They had things they liked to do. They had people they cared about. The only thing we get from the Grimms stories is that they’re a prince. Maybe one of them happens to be brave enough to slay a dragon or perform various tasks, but can he speak French? It doesn’t matter he’s a prince. For all the Grimms stories care, he has an IQ of 87 and spends all day picking his nose. The title “prince” seems to negate other qualities or lack of qualities.

It’s not fair. It’s not fair that these stories value women only for their beauty, but it’s also not fair that these men are only valued because they’re princes. Shouldn’t there be some other qualities to consider? Shouldn’t we praise this prince because he can speak Latin or play the lute?

This is basically the Medieval equivalent of, “He’s a doctor, honey.”

As it may be, marrying a doctor might be pretty nice, maybe I should have done that. Doctors make enough money to provide for you and your family. You wouldn’t have to worry about holding down a full-time job if you didn’t want to. Marrying the doctor is kind of like the potential spouse jackpot. We’re talking about real-life though, where people have problems and marriages aren’t perfect. Maybe that doctor has a terrible porn addiction. Maybe that doctor does heroin on the side. Maybe that doctor is secretly gay and only gets married so his patients will feel more comfortable around him, as he perceives all his patients to be fuddy-duddies. Maybe that doctor is addicted to gambling. Maybe he’s just a jerk. Whatever woman marries this guy despite all the, “He’s a doctor, honey,” is going to have a rough life.

It’s just the same for these girls in the Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Maybe their prince is really great, or maybe he’s a jerk. They have to live with whatever he is, even though people pushed her into this marriage because he’s a prince. He’s a prince for crying out loud. It doesn’t matter if he’s mentally handicapped.

On that note, Catherine the Great’s husband, Peter III, was supposedly a little dim. Sure, he was a prince, but come on. Then of course there was Louis XVI of France. Yeah, he and Marie Antoinette didn’t have sex for the first seven years of their marriage because he couldn’t quite figure it out and was reluctant to have a medical procedure that would solve the problem. Is the idea of a prince worth all of that trouble? I don’t think I could have put up with Louis XVI. Seven years to have sex and then I get beheaded for all my troubles. No thanks.

These stories act like the prince is the man to have, but they neglect to mention anything of his character or any of the problems and difficulties that would go along with being married to a prince. This isn’t just bad for the prince; it’s bad for everybody.