The Gruesome Origins of Classic Fairytales: Chicken Little
In today's installment of The Gruesome Origins of Classic Fairytales we are covering Chicken Little or Henny Penny as it is otherwise known as.
Chicken Little is based on the old English folktale sometimes called Chicken Licken or Henny Penny. When a piece of sky falls on the head of Chicken Little, no one believes him. However, his friends trust him and together they save the world from ending. In the Disney version Young Chicken Little throws his small town into panic by claiming the sky is falling. Unable to find the piece of "sky" that hit him, he earns the town's scorn. A year later, outcast Little tries to redeem himself by joining the baseball team, helping to win a crucial game. Later that night he is hit on the head again and discovers that the "falling sky" is actually from a UFO. Now, Little must convince the skeptical town that an alien invasion is about to happen.
There are several Western versions of the story, of which the best-known concerns a chick that believes the sky is falling when an acorn falls on its head. The chick decides to tell the king and on its journey meets other animals (mostly other fowl) which join it in the quest. After this point, there are many endings. In the most familiar, a fox invites them to its lair and then eats them all. Alternatively, the last one, usually Cocky Lockey, survives long enough to warn the chick, who escapes. In others all are rescued and finally speak to the king. In most retellings, the animals have rhyming names, commonly Chicken Licken or Chicken Little, Henny Penny or Hen-Len, Cocky Locky, Ducky Lucky or Ducky Daddles, Drakey Lakey, Goosey Loosey or Goosey Poosey, Gander Lander, Turkey Lurkey and Foxy Loxy or Foxy Woxy.
The moral to be drawn changes, depending on the version. Where there is a "happy ending", the moral is not to be a "Chicken" but to have courage. In other versions where the birds are eaten by the fox, the fable is interpreted as a warning not to believe everything one is told.
The story was part of the oral folk tradition and only began to appear in print after the Brothers Grimm had set a European example with their collection of German tales in the early years of the 19th century. One of the earliest to collect tales from Scandinavian sources was Just Mathias Thiele, who in 1823 published an early version of the Henny Penny story in the Danish language. The names of the characters there are Kylling Kluk, Høne Pøne, Hane Pane, And Svand, Gaase Paase, and Ræv Skræv. In Thiele's untitled account, a nut falls on Kylling Kluk's back and knocks him over. He then goes to each of the other characters, proclaiming that "I think all the world is falling" and setting them all running. The fox Ræv Skræv joins in the flight and, when they reach the wood, counts them over from behind and eats them one by one. Eventually the tale was translated into English by Benjamin Thorpe after several other versions had appeared.
Walt Disney Pictures has made two animated versions of the story. The first was Chicken Little, a 1943 animated short released during World War II as one of a series produced at the request of the U.S. government for the purpose of discrediting Nazism. It tells a variant of the parable in which Foxy Loxy takes the advice of a book on psychology (on the original 1943 cut, it is Mein Kampf) by striking the least intelligent first. Dim-witted Chicken Little is convinced by him that the sky is falling and whips the farmyard into mass hysteria, which the unscrupulous fox manipulates for his own benefit. The dark comedy is used as an allegory for the idea that fear-mongering weakens the war effort and costs lives. It is also one of the versions of the story in which Chicken Little appears as a character distinct from Henny Penny.
The second Disney film was the very loosely adapted Chicken Little, released in 2005 as a 3D computer-animated feature. It is an updated science fiction sequel to the original fable in which Chicken Little is partly justified in his fears. In this version, Foxy Loxy is changed from a male to a female, and from the main antagonist to a local bully.
Hopefully you enjoyed today's post. This one was a little harder because really it's not a gruesome origin story but rather a story with a very good lesson.