Horrible Fathers in Fairy Tales

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Kiriki by Danny Elfman [IRIS soundtrack].

Let's start with the most famous fairy tale of all. Cinderella's daddy. Somehow he didn't notice the magical transformation in his new wife and the overt and clear physical and emotional abuse? Good gracious, man! Going back to early versions, if he hasn't been murdered or died off conveniently, then he was dominated by his wife to the point Cinderella refused to tell him because instead of believing her he would have scolded her because he was cowed by his wife. A little bit of spine on his part would have changed this story entirely. And probably saved this girl a lot of therapy.

Now we've got the meek variety covering the gamut of fairy tale fiction from The Fisherman's Wife to the dear father in Hansel and Gretel--talk about messed up. Agrees to leave his kids in the woods so that they, the adults, won't starve. Because his wife thinks it's a dandy idea. There may be some huffing and hesitation in some versions, but it really doesn't take long on his part to cave. That plus eating children--why is this in our commonly-read cannon again? I'm still trying to figure out what the warning is, other than… seriously don't trust the adults in your life? Two want to abandon you to save their own skin and the other wants to eat you. At least Gretel is smart enough to get them out of all their scrapes.

Then we just have the moronic. The miller in Rumpelstiltskin. He loudly (very loudly) proclaims his daughter can spin straw into gold. Uhhh… why? This isn't the kind of little white lie you can fake for very long. And when the king calls him on it, doesn't change his answer at all. Unbelievable. And the cherry on top? This man is never blamed for his imbecilic boasting. I've even read versions where he gets his land back or even comes to live at the palace.

Now for the creme de la creme. Have you ever heard of a fairy tale called The Girl without Hands? No? Oh, are you in for a treat. So get this. This father goes into the woods to fetch some wood and who but the devil shows up. So this guy makes a deal with the devil that he will get untold wealth if the man (devil in disguise) can but have what is behind his shed. And lo and behold what else could it be but his daughter? Silly man thought he was giving up an apple tree. So when judgement day comes and the devil comes by to pick the poor girl up, does good old dad fight for his daughter, say "take me instead?" Oh no. In fact he is absent for this part of the story. The girl draws a circle of chalk around herself and washes herself clean so the devil can't touch her.

The devil turns to the man angrily and demands that all water be taken from her so she won't be clean the next day when he returns. And the spineless wimp does it. So his daughter cried into her hands all night and is clean again and so spoils the devil's plan. And now since this is his last chance, he demands the father CHOP OFF HIS DAUGHTER'S HANDS. And you know what he says? Oh, this is too good. This deserves a quote, people.

"'How can I cut off my own child's hands?"
Then the Evil One threatened him and said: "If you do not do it you are mine, and I will take you for myself."
The father became alarmed, and promised to obey him. So he went to the girl and said: "My child, if I do not cut off both your hands, the Devil will carry me away, and in my terror I have promised to do it. Help me in my need, and forgive me the harm I do you."


Because he promised the devil? Holy [insert your own word here]. Forget saying "Oh, this was the deal I made, let me own up to it." And never mind the daughter actually lets him DO IT. That is a whole different post entirely. So she cries on her stumps again and the devil can't take her. AND THAT IS JUST THE BEGINNING OF THE STORY. Don't worry, she gets hands of silver later, and also a stepmother that wants to cut out her heart. You knew it was coming. :) And hey, at least the spineless sap offered to take care of her for what he did to her, but she said she could not stay there. DARN RIGHT YOU SHOULDN'T! RUN AS FAST AND FAR AS YOU CAN. And as far as anyone knows, he and his wife live in wealth to the end of their days. This kind of father is seen again in "Hans My Hedgehog" (actually, two horrible fathers. One of the kings, and Hans own father who gets welcomed with open arms at the end of the story. Gag me). Beauty's dad in Beauty and the Beast isn't much better. At least he protests and doesn't want her to go, but he still lets her go into what is by all appearances a free meal ticket.

But hey! We have at least one good father of the lot! The king in The Frog Prince. You teach that girl to keep her promises! Being a princess doesn't get you out of it, little snob! (Note: there is a *major* difference between keeping a promise to a frog who did you a favor and a promise to the devil, especially when it's someone else's LIFE is on the line). This is one kingdom where its subjects may actually fare decently because of their royalty. Good job, dad.

It is really sad that in a tradition of often vilifying the women who either gave birth or another who stole their father's affections, we often give a free "pass" to the men who just stands by and lets it happen or even encourages it. That is its own kind of disturbing. So in my book stepmothers get an unduly bad rap in fiction. There are a lot of horrible fathers out there in fairy tales too that go unnoticed.

Can you think of any other good or bad dads in fairy tales? These were just off the top of my head.


Kami said...

This was a funny post!

Cellophane Queen said...

Excellent point. One I've never heard before, but it's so true!

In 1001 Arabian Nights, Scheherazade's father (and the father of the hundreds of other girls put to death) don't seem to object at all. You'd think a whole lot of families would be moving to the next Sultanate rather than having the daughters killed.

Kimberly said...

Rapunzel. Steals, from a witch no less, then sells his baby to get out of being punished. Not impressed. There is a HUGE double standard in fairy tales. Ever notice how the women have to be especially clever to gain their happy endings, but often the guy does something wrong or stupid and ends up getting everything he wants. Jacked up.

Anonymous said...

The father in Donkeyskin, no question about it. Wants to marry his daughter. Yuck!