McDonagh on fairy tales and cruelty

I got the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales recently. When I was starting out, trying to write short stories and such, most of those were fairy-tale-like stories… Then I started getting into trying to retell the fairy tales I’d remembered as a kid, but to tell them in a more truthful way than I remember them having been told. There’s something dark about them that doesn’t quite come through. I tried to go down that corridor of thought, in whatever way the fairy tale, in my memory at least, had come. In re-reading the Grimm’s, they’re pretty bloody dark. It was interesting to compare my memory, what I remembered about the fairy tales, and then to see the actual text. To be not quite sure if you were told a cleaned up version of it or if your child’s memory cleaned it up yourself... Little Red Riding Hood is a bloody dark story. And in the original it’s quite horrific at the end; they cut the wolf open. I like the details. They cut the wolf open, took out Little Red Riding Hood and her friend. They put rocks in the wolf’s stomach, and sewed him back up with green wire. They watched him as he awoke, and waited until he jumped out of bed in fright at everybody watching him, and dropped down dead ‘cause the stones were grating against his intestines! I would love to write something as horrific as that if I could.

Excerpt from an interview with Martin McDonagh, Fintan O’Toole, BOMB Magazine, 1998.

Well, we’re all cruel, aren’t we? We’re all extreme in one way or another at times, and that’s what drama, since the Greeks, has dealt with. I hope the overall view isn’t just that, though, or I’ve failed in my writing. There have to be moments when you glimpse something decent, something life-affirming even in the most twisted character. That’s where the real art lies. See, I always suspect characters who are painted as lovely, decent human beings. I would always question where the darkness lies.

Excerpt from “The Wild West,” Sean O’Hagan, The Guardian, 2001.

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