Not all stories that get lumped under the fairy tale umbrella (didn’t Mary Poppins have one of those?) necessarily contain magic and supernatural happenings. One of the stories in Charles Perrault’s collection, for instance, was a tale of a woman discovering her husband was a serial killer, and having to use her own wits (well, and family connections) to escape. The husband is a rich merchant known as Bluebeard because…well, I think you can figure that one out. When leaving home, supposedly on business, he gives his new bride a key a little room at the end of the gallery, and tells her not to open it. She opens it, obviously (who wouldn’t?), and finds it full of the corpses of Bluebeard’s previous wives. When the merchant returns, he tries to kill her as well, but she gets away by stalling him until her brothers show up. Perrault’s moral suggests that the wife’s curiosity was a problem, but what husband would set up a treacherous test like that? The obvious comparison to the Garden of Eden story doesn’t tell me that the wife is a second Eve, but rather that Bluebeard has a God complex. If she hadn’t looked, I doubt it would have made any difference in the end. The dude was a serial killer, not a man making a reasonable request! Besides, as I’ve seen pointed out in several places, he obviously had some other excuse for butchering his first wife. Perhaps Perrault even realized this himself, as he offers a second moral saying, basically, “Good thing husbands aren’t like that anymore, huh?”. Perhaps the real lesson to learn is that a husband who blatantly keeps secrets isn’t a good prospect. Sure, it’s probably just a stack of old Hustlers in that locked room, but why take the chance?
As with many figures of folklore, Bluebeard has become somewhat of a household name, albeit perhaps not as much of one as characters in less gruesome tales. Beth, who likes to read about serial killers, told me about a book that used “Bluebeard” as the term for men who murdered their wives (the female equivalent is a Black Widow). And I remember a collection of fairy tales edited by Jack Zipes including a few different variations on the Bluebeard story, including one that presented him as a victim of circumstance unfairly maligned by literature, sort of like Macbeth.