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Grimm and the Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault

on Mon, 09/03/2012 - 00:00

Although Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm are well known names when it comes to fairy tales, very few people are acquainted with Charles Perrault. Yet while Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published the first volume of Children’s and Household Tales in 1812, and Anderson followed in 1835 with the initial installment of Fairy Tales, Perrault released his own collection in 1697 under the title Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals. Although containing only eleven narratives, the volume includes such classics as The Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella that were later copied by the Brothers Grimm. For reasons never fully determined, Charles Perrault originally left his name off of Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals, crediting the volume as the “Tales of Mother Goose” instead.

In the NBC drama Grimm, the fairy tales of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm are alleged to have been true stories designed to assist future human protectors in their fight against the supernatural beings contained within Children’s and Household Tales. Portland police detective Nick Burkhardt is thus a direct descendant of the two brothers and follows a long line of “Grimms” who have the ability to see these creatures for what they really are and defeat them before they can unleash harm against mankind. While Grimm may be the title of the show, however, the creators of the series have borrowed from the stories of Charles Perrault in the same manner as they have with Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Not only have such shared fairy tales as The Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella been used as the basis for various episodes, but Perrault’s Bluebeard—which never appeared in Children’s and Household Tales—has also been adapted to fit the storyline of Grimm.

“There was once a man who owned grand houses in the town and country, gold and silver dinnerware, tapestries and gilded carriages,” the story of Bluebeard, as transcribed in The Complete Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault (Clarion Books, 1993), begins. “But, sadly, he also had a blue beard. This made him so ugly and frightening that women and girls fled at the sight of him.” Despite this deformity, the daughter of a nearby noble family agrees to marry him after visiting his estate and experiencing the wonders of its land. Shortly after the marriage, Bluebeard went on a business trip, leaving his wife alone in the mansion with only one rule—she was not to enter a solitary room in the basement. Curiosity soon got the best of her, however, and she unlocked the door only to find the rotting remains of Bluebeard’s previous wives and a floor covered with blood. When Bluebeard returns and discovers that she disobeyed his orders, he tells her that she must now join his former lovers in death.

In the episode of Grimm entitled “Lonelyhearts,” meanwhile, the death of a young woman—along with reports of additional missing women of the same age—leads Nick Burkhardt to a bread and breakfast establishment known as the Bramble Haus. The location is arguably just as beautiful as the lands owned by Bluebeard, including a garden filled with rare flowers and a majestic fountain in the center. While the owner of the Bramble Haus is not disfigured like the original Bluebeard, his meek demeanor hardly makes him much of a “lady’s man” just the same. It turns out, however, that he has abilities that go beyond outward appearances. In essence a goat-like creature known as a ziegevolk, he has the ability to secrete pheromones to attract members of the opposite sex. “They like to have a lot of females hanging off their every word,” Burkhardt’s supernatural ally Monroe explains. “Not exactly the monogamous type. They live for the rut, picking out the choicest females for breeding.”

Like the Bluebeard of Charles Perrault, the ziegevolk of Grimm also has a secret room in his basement that is kept locked at all times. Instead of dead bodies, however, it contains a number of women trapped inside cages, being held against their will so that the owner of the establishment can later use them for sexual pleasure. During the investigation, Nick Burkhardt discovers that there were similar occurrences in Detroit, Des Moines and Tucson. “So we’ve got ourselves a serial rapist, not a serial killer,” Portland Police Captain Sean Renard remarks afterwards. Burkhardt is ultimately able to rescue the women at the Bramble Haus but while the brothers of Bluebeard’s bride are able to both save their sister and kill Bluebeard, the ziegevolk of Grimm is merely arrested for his actions. “Let’s see how he likes being in a cage for the rest of his life,” Nick Burkhardt says at the end of the installment.

The classic fairy tale Cinderella is also given the Grimm treatment in the episode “Happily Ever After.” As told by Charles Perrault, the title character of the story was raised by a stepmother who “couldn’t bear the young girl’s goodness, for it made her own daughters seem even more hateful. She gave her the vilest household chores: it was she who cleaned the dishes and the stairs, she who scrubbed Madam’s chamber, and the chambers of those little madams, her stepsisters; she slept at the top of the house in an attic, on a shabby mattress, while her sisters had luxurious boudoirs, with beds of the latest fashion, and mirrors in which they could study themselves from head to toe.” On Grimm, meanwhile, the narrative begins after the female protagonist of “Happily Ever After” has been whisked away from such a life by a modern day prince of her own. When the young man faces a financial setback, he turns to his wife’s stepmother for assistance but is refused. The stepmother is soon found murdered afterwards, with the girl’s godfather emerging as the top suspect.

Grimm quickly turns the classic Cinderella fairy tale on its head, however, by making the appropriately named Lucinda the antithesis of her original namesake. “I kept watch on her all those years and made sure she never lost control,” the godfather tells Nick Burkhardt. “As long as she got everything she wanted, it worked. But she has no conscience. She’s uncontrollable and made those people’s lives miserable.” Thus instead of being the quietly suffering victim of Cinderella, Lucinda is the true villain of “Happily Ever After”—a materialistic and immoral individual who is not above murdering her stepmother and stepsisters in order to get what she wants in life.

Grimm likewise contains a narrative molded after The Sleeping Beauty, with elements of the fairy tale appearing in the final episode of the NBC drama’s inaugural season and first two installments of the second. At the start of the series, Nick Burkhardt is told of his Grimm abilities by his Aunt Marie before she succumbs to cancer. “I know you love Juliette, but you need to end it and never see her again,” she tells Burkhardt in regards to his girlfriend. “It’s just too dangerous.” Burkhardt does not take her advice, however, and instead attempts to shield his love interest from the horrors with which he soon finds himself entangled. Despite his best efforts to protect Juliette Silverton, she becomes an unwitting pawn when a former hexenbiest named Adalind Schade seeks revenge against Burkhardt for destroying her witch-like abilities.

In The Sleeping Beauty, an elderly fairy casts a curse on the newly born daughter of a reigning king and queen by declaring that the young princess would one day prick he finger on a spindle and die. The king did his best to protect his daughter by removing all spindles from the palace, but the girl nonetheless found one when she was sixteen years old and the curse was fulfilled—although it had been amended by another fairy to falling into a hundred year sleep instead of death itself. Adalind Schade uses a cat, meanwhile, to administer her own poison to veterinarian Juliette Silverton in the form of a scratch from the pet. The effect is the same, however, as Silverton falls into a deep coma that baffles the medical doctors at the hospital charged with curing the mystical “curse.” Much like the original Sleeping Beauty, Juliette can only be awaken by the kiss from a prince who is pure of heart—although it turns out that the individual in question is not Nick Burkhardt.

Fairy tales were originally an oral form of storytelling that goes back centuries before Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm collected them together in Children’s and Household Tales. Although Charles Perrault did not write such classics as The Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella per say, he was the first to transform them onto the written page and release them under the moniker of The Tales of Mother Goose. The NBC drama Grimm, meanwhile, has taken these fairy tales of old and placed them on the small screen, reinventing the genre yet again in the process. Although the series takes its name from the most famous collectors of fairy tales, the narratives of Grimm owe just as much to the works of Charles Perrault as they do the Brothers Grimm—even if he is better known as “Mother Goose.”

Anthony Letizia (September 3, 2012)

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