‘Once upon a time’ represents a common theme and ideal in modern society. Fairy tales are a simplistic, and often entertaining, way of imparting lessons in morality to children. The basic concept of the good being rewarded in the end and the wicked being punished is steadfast in its popularity. Large entertainment companies find no fault in adapting these timeless tales into feature films, picture books, and various forms of merchandise. Due to marketing success almost anyone can claim to know the story of Snow White or Cinderella, however unbeknownst to many they have received a censored variant of their ‘favorite’ fable.
In reading the original written versions of fairy tales one of the few constants is violence. When an antagonist reaches their ‘just reward’ it is most often horrific and gruesome, their fates usually more abominable than the transgressions they’ve been condemned for. An example of this can be found in Snow White, when the evil Queen, unwittingly, attends Snow White’s wedding and is promptly captured. The queen is forced to wear a pair of hot iron shoes and made to dance in them until she falls down dead. The great disconnect between what is commonly known and what is truly written has inspired my work. I sought to illustrate the graphic scenes censored from the popularized versions of fairy tales currently in circulation and scenes from those stories deemed too disturbing to market as movies for adolescents.
In my drawings I wanted to highlight the darker aspects of our beloved fairy tales, the scenes that have been casually discarded over time. Each drawing, depicting a gruesome scene, is done in graphite, a medium that reflects the shades of gray once present in the fabled characters and now squandered by censorship. I have chosen to use red watercolor to highlight the violent nature of each tale, applying small amounts of the macabre color in select areas to emphasize the horrors within. Working on a large scale the viewer is forced to witness what media has denied them, and allowing little respite.
In preparation for my foray into the world of fairy tales I decided to research some of the illustrators who have tackled fairy tales, which includes Arthur Rackham, Kay Nielsen, James Jean, and Gustave Dore. I also delved into a cacophony of fairy tales and their multiple incarnations. I decided to focus in on three writers for my inspiration; the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault- the men who are responsible for writing the best-known versions of the stories.
Through the voice of ‘word smiths’ such as Grimm’ and Perrault I am able to bring attention to the harm of literary censorship. The mutilation of these fairy tales illustrates only a small portion of what society takes away in the name of morality; looking into the past almost every book that has been banned by government is now considered one of the greatest novels of our time. The next time a individual picks up their copy of Cinderella or Snow White I hope they will take into consideration that not everyone always lives ‘Happily Ever After”.