Fairy tales have always been introduced to children at a very young age, regarding to their cultural background. An example of a Western fairy tale would be the famous Three Little Pigs, while an example of an Arabic fairy tale would be the One Thousand and One Nights. 

Most fairy tales are focused on stories between positively represented characters; ‘The nice and loving characters and the negatively represent characters; ‘The Villains’.’ Most of the plots are ended with the villains getting punished, as a consequence for their bad deeds. However, some of the endings are brutal and violent, and it can be seen from the older version of Three Little Pigs;

‘When the little pig saw what he was about, he hung on the pot full of water, and made up a blazing fire, and, just as the wolf was coming down, took off the cover, and in fell the wolf; so the little pig put on the cover again in an instant, boiled him up, and ate him for supper, and lived happy ever afterwards.’ (Joseph Jacobs, 1890)

Some caregivers are concerned about the possible negative effects the brutal ending of some fairy tales could have on children, and they think a more gentle ending should be appropriate. This leads to writers to edit the older versions of fairy tales, which can also be seen from the newer version of Three Little Pigs;

‘With a yelp of pain he sprang straight up the chimney again, and raced away into the woods. The three little pigs never saw him again, and spent their time in the strong little brick houses singing and dancing merrily.’ (Disney Book Club, 1972).  

Despite many caretakers would believe the more gentle ending will be beneficial to the children,  Ann Trousdale (1989) has reported that ‘two-and-a-half-year-old Christie,, had had several nightmares in which she saw the Big Bad Wolf , or the Big Bad Wolf had come to her house’, after reading the gentle ending Disney Version. Trousdale then conducted a study with two fairy tales on a little girl called Rebecca, and her respond has suggested that ‘she had a strong need to see  these dangerous impulses brought under control at the end of the story.’ This provided an implication in which Christie’s fear for the Wolf returning can be resolved by exposing to an ending which the treat gets eliminated. Later on, Trousdale introduced the original version’s ending of the Three Little Pigs, and the removal of the villain character had ‘put the Big Bad Wolf to rest. When asked, she says he’s not going to come back- but retells the story without the [first two] pigs getting eaten’. The changes of Christie’s behavior supports the research.

The research has demonstrated that the violent nature of fairy tales do not negatively affect children. However, it is important that any dangerous impulses at the end of story must be eliminated, as children are vulnerable to believe in the treat returning back to them some point of their lives. The study involves with ‘Christie’ provided valuable ideas in dealing with children feeling threatening after reading fairy tales, however it can be argued that child at that age would not be aware of the experimental settings she was going through. The consent was however given by her parents, and this allowed them to pull Christie out of the study if they feel not comfortable about it.


Jacobs, J., (1890). Three Little Pigs. English Fairy Tales.no 14, page 68-72.

Walt Disney’s (1972). Walt Disney’s Three Little Pigs (Disney’s Wonderful World of Reading).

Trousdale, A., (1989). Who’s Afraid of The Big, Bad Wolf? Children’s Literature in Education, Vol 20, No 2.


About eugenekitfung

An undergraduate student in Bangor University who lives in Normal Site. NORMAL SITE, TRA LA LA LA!

4 responses »

  1. cmcdermott17 says:

    I completely agree with you that fairytales can be very brutal and it is no wonder that young children have nightmares of the big bad wolf or other villains! Children are also likely to re-enact the scenes from such stories similar to Bandura’s (1963) bobo doll experiment as the children will model the characters. Another area that I thought I would research further into Is nursery rhymes as many of these are not as innocent as people might first think.

    Many nursery rhymes are powerful political, social or religious opinions (Hazlett, 2009). Simple rhymes such as humpty dumpty and ding dong bell, end with death so surely this isn’t what children should be reading? I was shocked when I analysed some of these rhymes to find the true meaning behind them and I don’t believe many parents realise this. A lullaby that shocked me was rock-a-bye baby as it is about an innocent helpless baby falling off a tree top (Fly, 2008) Surely this is not acceptable for children to hear and could give them nightmares! There is a whole list of nursery rhymes similar to these that end in tragedy or disaster.

    There is also a real meaning of many nursery rhymes such as ‘ring around the rosie’ which was a rhyme about the plague:
    “-“Ring around the Rosie”- refers to a red mark, supposedly the first sign of the plague
    -“A pocket full of posies”- refers to sachets of herbs carried to ward off infection
    -“Ashes, ashes”-either reference to the cremation of the plague victims or to the words said in the funeral Mass..”Ashes to ashes, dust to dust”. Sometimes line three is rendered as “Atischoo atischoo”- sneezing, another sign of infection.
    -“We all fall down”-The Plague was not selective in its victims; both rich and poor, young and old, succumbed “(Bracton 1997)

    In conclusion it is clear that nursery rhymes are violent and I feel more awareness should be made of this so that child friendly poems and rhymes become more popular. I do believe that lessons should be taught through nursery rhymes and fairytales however these can be done in a less sadistic way.


    Bandura, A., Dorothea, R., Sheila, R. A. (1963) http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/abn/66/1/3/

    Hazlett, L. A. (2009) http://forumonpublicpolicy.com/spring09papers/archivespr09/hazlett.pdf

    Fly, S. D. (2008) http://musicouch.com/musicouching/10-popular-nursery-rhymes-that-are-incredibly-depressing-terrifyingly-violent-and-disturbingly-tragic-for-children/

    Bracton, M. N. (1997) http://nicolaa5.tripod.com/articles/rosie.html

  2. rebeccag92 says:

    Whilst Tousdale’s findings are interesting and provide evidence suggesting that children are more comforted by a conclusive ending, even if it is more violent, they can not be generalised to all children as she only tested her theory on one child. Nor can it be concluded that fairytales do not negatively effect children. Research by Cantor and Wilson (1988) assessed the fright responses in children in regards to mass media stimuli; tv programmes, news events or films. They found that whilst the majority of their participants reported an intense fright response a significant minority suffered a significant stress reaction. This research would suggest that some children are negatively effected by frightening stimuli yet individual differences are a factor in children’s responses to such stimuli.
    However we can not be confident that either Tousdale’s or Cantor and Wilson’s research is valid as they did not account for extraneous and potentially confounding variables which may have effected the results; such as a child’s personality, amount of exposure to frightening stimuli and life experiences; a child who has suffered real life stress may be less sensitive to fictional stimulus; similarly a child who has had been exposed to such stimuli for a long period of time may be desenstised to the content and experience less intense reactions.
    The studies were also correlational so we cannot be sure that the stimulus in the fairytales and in the media caused the results rather than the confounding variables mentioned above.

    Cantor and Wilson (1988)

  3. It’s exactly what they did with the new version of Bambi. Although not exactly in the same way, but the original version was that Bambi’s mother got killed by a hunter. However in the new version, Bambi’s mother runs away and leaves Bambi to survive on his own. Is this really so much better.
    We know from development psychology that assigning attachment with a mother is vital for our survival and if this attachment is successfully formed then having this positive internal working model is advantageous in our development (Bowlby, 1980). However experiencing maternal deprivation can have adverse effects on the child’s later life (Bowlby, 1951). So in this new version of Bambi, mother, by running away either would have been really not caring about her offspring, therefore the attachment there would have either been non-existent or would have been insecure disorganized (Ainsworth and Bell, 1970) as the mother wouldn’t want to care for the baby, it could be very unhappy about having Bambi, and even abuse the deer. This is a much worse scenario than Bambi’s mother simply being shot by a hunter, because before the mum was show, Bambi would have had a secure attachment with his mum and therefore despite later his mum dying, he would still have a positive working model.
    On a final note, would you rather think that an evil man shot Bambi’s mum, or would you rather think that Bambi wasn’t love worthy, and his mum left him because of that?
    I just think they should have left the classic film in its original way.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s