From Rags to Witches: The Grim Tale of Children’s Stories

6th July 2018

The Rags to Witches exhibition, located in Lakeside Arts on Nottingham’s University Park campus, explores the development of fairy tale stories over time, not shying away from their more brutal aspects. The collection displays some of the earliest surviving written versions of fairy tales, including accounts where Cinderella plans the brutal murder of her stepmother, Red Riding Hood gets eaten and summarily digested by the wolf, and Rapunzel’s Prince is blinded by some particularly thorny bushes.


The content isn’t just medieval, though. The exhibition explores Victorian children’s stories, which largely do away with fairy tale creatures in favour of rigid morality tales, focusing on religion, class and gender roles. A tale that particularly stood out to us was that of the untimely death of Henry King who chewed bits of string until they tied in ugly knots inside. Unfortunately it seems Victorian medicine wasn’t up to the task of saving him from his fate.


We were lucky enough to speak to Kathryn, who worked to set up the exhibition and revealed that it had been curated by staff from Manuscripts and Special Collections at the University of Nottingham. Taking us through the exhibition, she explained the way that fairy tales have changed and adapted from archaic to present-day, and explored the transition from literature to other types of media, including film and music. Kathryn explained how children’s stories often came to represent the ideals of the day, and how the remain a representation of morality for children to internalise.


Though small, the exhibition was hugely interesting, and jam-packed with gruesome details guaranteed to make even the biggest Disney fan squirm.