It had been ages since I'd read a fairytale, but my daughter is now old enough to get among them so I bought a big colourful collection (which, shamefully, attracted GST) and set about frightening the bejesus out of her.
I hadn't intended to frighten her. My memory recalled fairytales as happy stories with rainbows and frogs finding their inner prince. Not a lot of real life going on there. But do four-year-olds need real life or a protective coating to the harsher realities that await them when their parents no longer cut the crusts off their lunch?
The excitement was tangible. My daughter devoured her dinner on the promise of the new book and put her head on her pillow with such enthusiasm that I questioned the whole book at bedtime routine as a means of inducing sleep.
I had barely begun reading a few lines when I remembered that most fairytales have savage beginnings or overtones.
"Daddy, what's an overtone?''
"It's a bedtime drink, sweetheart. Let's move on.''
At her request I started with Cinderella. Two lines in there is mention of a dead mother. Four lines in the father carks it. Cinderella remains alone in the company of an evil stepmother with eyes that glow in the dark and two stepsisters who taunt and tease at every opportunity. But apart from that brat pack and a bastard cat things turn out pretty well for ole Cinders.
The following night, Cinderella again, I decided to skip the word "died'' and replace it with "went on a long holiday to Barcelona''.
A tug at my sleeve.
"Daddy, what does 'died' mean?''
She misses nothing. NOTHING!
"It's what happens when you, um, er . . . I know, let's read Snow White!''
I had no recollection of my plan B fairytale other than it contained fruit, which all children should eat. Well, not all children it seems. Particularly Snow White, who is poisoned by a red delicious given to her by a deranged queen whose mirror said Snow White is hotter than her and so she ordered her servant to take the child into the woods, slay her and bring back her heart as proof of her death.
"I know, let's read Sleeping Beauty.''
Again, my recollections of plan C were sketchy other than the princess sleeps for a long time. And I hoped my daughter would soon follow suit. Not for 100 years. Just eight hours would be great.
Things were whistling along early, with a feast to celebrate the birth of the queen's daughter. Happy days. Then on page three an evil fairy who is peeved at not being invited to the feast puts a spell on Sleeping Beauty that will cause her to "fall down dead'' at age 16.
"I know, let's read The Pied Piper of Hamelin!''
I seemed to recall that the worst thing in that is a nasty rodent or 10,000. Maybe the piper would even encourage my daughter to play a proper musical instrument one day rather than settle for Guitar Hero.
Another memory fail on my part. By way of revenge for the town councillors cheating the piper out of his payment for ridding Hamelin of its rat problem, he relieves them of their children by leading them off to inside of a mountain, never to be seen again.
Traumatised -- me, not my daughter -- I raced for the safety of Hansel and Gretel. I couldn't recall the whole tale but remembered a gingerbread house. What could possibly be sinister about a gingerbread house?
Unlike the Pier Piper, the brutality kicks in early in Hansel and Gretel. On page two the stepmother answers her woodcutter husband's question on what they should do with the ever-hungry nippers thus: "Tomorrow morning we shall take the children into the thickest part of the forest. Then we'll go off to our work and leave them alone. They won't be able to find their way home and we shall be rid of them.''
There is one "M'' too many in Brothers Grimm. Tonight I'm going to read my daughter American Psycho. Surely there are fewer deaths.
I get the whole "happy ending in spite of adversity'' thing, and I do catch my daughter singing Cinderella's mantra -- "if you keep believing, your dreams will come true''. But I've binned the fairytales for the moment. She can watch Tom and Jerry beat the shit out of each other for a little while longer.