The Dark History Behind Disney Princesses

Each title in my Disney Dismembered series is a pun, and set to be related to the folklore origin stories of each princess which will be explained in a brief summary alongside each portrait. I think this learning about each's history to be very valuable in bettering an understanding of each painted figure and so have also listed them below:

'Eat My Heart Out' - Snow White

In the Disney adaptation, the evil-queen requests the huntsman to take Snow White’s heart as proof that she is dead. However, in the original Grimm brothers’ tale she actually wants her liver and lungs to be served for dinner. The story’s villain is also given a much crueler fate, as when the Queen is invited to Snow White and her prince’s wedding she is given a pair of hot iron shoes and forced to dance to death in front of the wedding party. The Grimm brothers first published this in 1812 however this European folk story has been in existence since the Middle Ages and is believed to be based off the life of Margarete von Waldeck, the German countess born in 1533. Margarete's father owned several copper mines that employed children as quasi-slaves. Those that survived the poor conditions had severely stunted growth and deformed limbs from malnutrition and the hard physical labour. As a result, they were often referred to as the ‘poor dwarfs’.

'The Mysterious Death of Lady Rebecca Rolfe' - Pocahontas

This romanticized Disney tale of colonialism is already troubling, but the real story of Pocahontas is heart breaking. Pocahontas was a child, born in 1595, when she met John Smith, the Englishman depicted as her love interest in the film. The historical accuracy of whether Pocahontas intervened in stopping Smith's execution by her father has been disputed. We do know that she was captured by colonists, converted to Christianity and baptized under the new name of Rebecca, and married off to another Englishman John Rolfe. She was brought to England as a symbol of "the tamed savage" with her husband using her in a propaganda campaign to support the colony of Virginia. On the way back to America, she became violently ill and began convulsing, dying at the age of 22. Many suspect poison to be the cause of her death.

'Sinderella' - Cinderella

In the1812 “Grimms’ Fairy Tales” original version of the story, Aschenputtel (Cinderella) and her prince also lived happily ever after but her stepsisters met a bloody, horrifying end. One of them cut her toes off to fit in the golden slipper, while the other sliced off her heel. Also, during their wedding, Aschenputtel’s enchanted doves fly down from heaven and peck out her stepsisters’ eyes. One tale even suggests that the princess murders her stepmother by breaking her neck with a large wooden lid of a cooking pot.

'Poor Unfortunate Soul' - Ariel

The story of the little mermaid, written by Hans Christian Andersen in 1837, is a lot more somber than the popular Disney adaptation. When the mermaid goes to see the sea-witch, rather than taking her voice she cuts out her tongue so she cannot speak, and then gifts her with feet that made her feel like she was walking on sharp knives every time she took a step. She silently endures this pain for the prince that never falls in love with her. If the price had married her, his kiss would breathe part of his soul into her body, allowing her to have an afterlife— on the day of his wedding, she flung herself into the sea and died, turning into sea-foam.

'Conceal, Don’t Feel' - Elsa

In the original 1844 Hans Christian Andersen tale, The Snow Queen, now globally known as Elsa, is actually a villain who kidnaps the little boy Kai. The story is centralized on the struggle between good and evil, as Kai is pierced in the eye and heart by shards of a Goblin’s mirror that fails to reflect the good and beautiful aspects of people and things, while magnifying their bad and ugly aspects. Kai becomes aggressive and cruel towards his friend Gerda, before the Snow Queen holds him captive, alone and immobile on a frozen lake after numbing him to the cold and making him forget about his family.

'Once Upon a Dream' - Aurora

In Giambattista Basile’s 17th century tale, “Sun, Moon, and Talia,” the prince didn’t kiss Talia when he found her sleeping — he was a king, and took advantage of the sleeping princess. She awakens after she gives birth because one of her twins, Sun and Moon, sucks the spindle splinter out of her finger. Talia got her happily ever after once she was reunited with the king, but only after the current queen tried to have the twins killed, cooked, and fed to the king, and also tried to burn the princess at the stake. He threw her in a fire and married Talia as punishment. In the Brothers Grimm variation of Briar Rose, a thick hedge of brambles surrounds the sleeping princess. Over the hundred years, many young men try to visit the sleeping princess and die slow miserable deaths by getting trapped by the thorns of the thick bramble.

'Love is Blind' - Rapunzel

In the original 1812 fairytale by the Brothers Grimm, Rapunzel becomes pregnant with the prince’s children, and after innocently remarking that her clothes feel tight around her belly, the angry witch, Dame Gothel, cuts off her hair and banishes her to a barren, far away land. Distraught, the prince tries to commit suicide by jumping from the tower, but instead survives and has his eyes torn out by the thorns at the bottom. Blinded and hideously depressed, he wanders the forests and deserts moaning the loss of his beloved, only surviving on roots and berries. Similarly Rapunzel is forced to beg for food after giving birth to her twins in the desert.

I found all this researching very interesting...but it's not for the faint of heart!

- A


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