The Cannibalization of Youth in Classic Fairy Tales from Grimm, Dahl, and Others College

Cannibalism: it’s one of humanity’s biggest taboos. The word itself conjures images of horrific depravity to mind; scenes like the tribal rituals atop the pyramids of the Aztecs where human hearts were carved out and tossed to the crowd. But despite the horror the subject brings to mind when addressed, the fact remains that cannibalism is—and has always been—a subject of fascination to us. It’s present in our literature, our movies, and even our children’s stories. Fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel and Jack and the Beanstalk still feature cannibalism as an intrinsic element to the plot, and, before they were revised to be more “child friendly,” stories like Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White did too. But isn’t it strange that all of these children’s tales involve a topic as abhorrent as cannibalism? Most myths—however outlandish—usually serve to symbolize something literal about a culture's specific circumstances at the time, or seek to explain an unfortunate reality with the fantastical. So could it be that the myth of cannibalism in these fairy tales is intertwined with an unfortunate reality? Could they be intertwined with the ‘darker’ side of history—a history in which children, while not literally eaten, were subjected...

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