Our favourite fairy tales - and our fear of sight loss

02 March 18

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Press Office

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We know from survey data that sight is the sense people fear losing the most. It's no wonder, as for most of us it's hard to even imagine navigating a world we can't see.

But this fear is not new and on World Book Day it's interesting to remember that some of the most loved stories we have – stories we grew up with and heard as children – reflect those fears with the taking of sight often used as a punishment or a curse.

For instance, almost everyone has seen the movie Frozen (and then struggled to get the songs out of their head…). Most people know the movie was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, The Snow Queen. But not everyone knows that the original version of the story includes a plot point with a magic mirror distorting the appearance of everything it reflects. In this early version of the story, the mirror shatters and splinters of glass are blown by the wind, getting into people's hearts and eyes, freezing of hearts like blocks of ice and making people's eyes like the mirror, seeing only the bad and ugly. There was only one way to get it out. Can you guess? Only when the two separated loves are reunited.

Spoiler alert – in the unlikely event you don't know the ending to Cinderella, look away now…

The Cinderella story does not have a happy ending in every version. The Brothers Grimm concluded their account during Cinderella's wedding. Her stepsisters, walking down the aisle as bridesmaids, are attacked by birds which pluck out the two stepsisters' eyes, leaving them blind as a punishment for their cruelty towards Cinderella.

Versions of Rapunzel also feature the curse of blindness, although not the latest iteration – if you've seen Tangled, you'll have missed this plot strand. In early versions of the story, the prince's attempt to rescue Rapunzel ends in a face-to-face meeting with the witch, still masquerading at Rapunzel's mother. He falls from the tower in shock and lands on some thorns, which blind him. Only his reunion with Rapunzel can restore his sight.

Happily, treating blindness or sight loss as the result of a curse is not that common anymore. And if it was we would probably fund research into how to overcome such things!

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