Ah, fairy tales. So popular among children and so often considered sweet and fantastical. You may be surprised just how dark and scary the origins of your favorites really are.
Hansel And GretelWikimedia Commons
The original version of this creepy German fairy tale features a starving family, childhood abandonment, and cannibalism. While Hansel and Gretel's family suffer during a famine, their evil stepmother plots to abandon the children in the woods. When Hansel overhears the plan, he leaves a trail of breadcrumbs behind to guide them home after they've been taken out into the forest and left to die.
Hansel and Gretel soon find themselves lost, however, as the bread crumbs they scatter are eaten by birds. They come upon a witch, who lures them into her house made of gingerbread, enslaving Gretel and imprisoning Hansel, fattening him up so she can eat him. Gretel outfoxes the witch and pushes her into the oven that she's been preparing to cook Hansel in, and the children rob her home and return to their parents. They find out that their evil stepmother has starved to death. So ... happy ending?
Sleeping BeautyWikimedia Commons
Also known as "Little Briar Rose," the fairytale may be enchanting, but Italian poet Basile's version contains much more violence than the one we know and love, which is based on the version by Charles Perraul.
In Basile's story, a beautiful princess pricks her finger on a spindle wheel and sleeps for 100 years. Instead of being woken by a gentle kiss, she is roused back to life after being raped by the King and giving birth to two of his children while still unconscious. The curse is lifted when one of the children suckles her pricked finger.
She falls in love with her rapist, but his wife becomes jealous and kidnaps her children, ordering the cook to kill and feed them to her husband. Luckily, the cook hides the children from the Queen and he serves two lambs to the King and Queen in place of the twins. During their meal, the wife tells the King he is eating of his own. When the King finds out the truth, he burns his wife alive, after discovering that she intended to burn his beloved Sleeping Beauty to death as well.
Little Red Riding HoodWikimedia Commons
We all know the tale of the little girl and the Big Bad Wolf who tries to trick her, but this French fairy tale has several alternatively eerie endings to the one we're most familiar with. Red Riding Hood takes a stroll through the woods to deliver some food to her sick grandmother, and in the Brother's Grimm version, is warned to stay on the path and not stray. On her way, she is stalked by a wolf who plots to eat her, and asks her where she is going. She tells him, and he runs ahead to the grandmother's house and swallows grandma whole. When Red enters the house, the wolf has disguised himself in bed as the grandmother, and, after noting what big eyes and ears he has, the wolf pounces and eats her as well.
In the original version of the story, this is the end, but in other versions, the antagonist is a werewolf or an ogre, and leaves the blood and meat of the grandmother for Red to consume and unknowingly cannibalize her poor grandmother. In some versions, the wolf asks Red to remove and burn her clothes in the fire. Some scholars claim that the story is symbolic of rape, or a metaphor for a girl's sexual awakening. Sweet dreams!
The Little MermaidWikimedia Commons
Disney took out the gore and turned this creepy tale into one with a happy ending. Unlike the version our kids know and love, the original Hans Christian Andersen tale about a young mermaid who dreamed of giving up her sea life for the love of a human prince did not end so happily.
Once she gives up her fins for legs and her voice for a life of muteness, she finds that she always feels like she is walking on two sharp knives, and her beloved prince makes his mute princess dance for him, causing her extreme pain as she feels as if she is dancing on two bloody stumps. But instead of marrying her, the prince marries another, and the little mermaid's heart breaks. She is then given a proposition by the Sea Witch who transformed her to kill her beloved prince and return to her happy life. The mermaid cannot bring herself to do this, and at dawn she throws herself into the sea as her body dissolves into sea foam.
Beauty And The BeastWikimedia Commons
The original version of this beloved French fairy tale is certainly not for kids. A once-wealthy merchant becomes lost in a forest and discovers a beautiful palace, where he receives warm hospitality and goes to pick a rose from the garden for one of his daughters. However, he is confronted by the fearsome "Beast," who tells him that he has taken his most prized possession and, in exchange, must return to the castle.
The merchant tries to keep this story from his daughter, Belle, but she pries it out of him and goes to the castle of the Beast, where she is given many luxuries and told she is now the castle's mistress. The Beast time and time again tries to coax Belle to agree to marry him, but she always refuses. She begs to be allowed to see her family for one week, and is permitted to, so long as she takes with her an enchanted mirror so that she will always know what is happening back at the castle.
When she returns home, her sisters are envious of her cushy new lifestyle, and try to convince her to stay in hopes that the Beast will become angry with her for leaving and eat her. But when Belle sees that the Beast is dying of heartache in her mirror, she returns back to the castle and cries over his body, saying that she loves him. Her tears transform him back into a handsome prince, who had been cursed long ago for refusing to let a fairy in from the rain. He and Belle live happily ever after.
Talk about Stockholm syndrome.
This popular European folktale continues to influence popular culture today, but the Brothers Grimm version is a bit more sinister than the story most kids know and love. After Cinderella's mother dies, her father marries another woman with two young wicked girls of her own. They call Cinderella "Ashfool," steal her clothes and jewelry, and force her to wear rags and do the worst work in the kitchens.
Cinderella remains good despite this, and regularly visits her mother's grave to cry and pray for better conditions. When the girls are invited to a ball hosted by the King, her stepmother refuses her because she has no clothes or shoes to wear. When Cinderella insists, the stepmother throws a dish of lentils into the ashes and tells her to pick them up, and when she does, throws another, and eventually takes her step-daughters away to the ball, leaving Cinderella crying behind. After returning to the graveyard where her mother is buried to ask for help, a white bird gives her a gown and shoes, on the condition that she must return before midnight. She returns to see the prince on three separate evenings, who is becoming enchanted with her and determined to have her. When she loses her golden slipper on the final evening, the prince proclaims he will marry the girl whose foot fits the shoe.
Cinderella's eldest stepsister is advised by her mother to cut off her toes in order to make the shoe fit, while the other sister cuts off part of her heel in an attempt to make a match. Eventually, Cinderella's feet are matched, and the birds that had helped her attend the ball peck out the stepsisters' eyes, forcing them to be blind and lame for the rest of their lives as Cinderella goes on to marry her prince. Be nice to your siblings, kids!
This scary French story by Charles Perrault tells the tale of a violent nobleman with a distinctive blue beard who habitually murders his wives. Yes, it's a fairy tale about a serial killer. A beautiful girl is persuaded into marrying Bluebeard and unknowingly becoming his next victim, lured into his world by all of the lavish parties he throws for her. She is forbidden from exploring the rest of his château, but, out of curiosity, ends of discovering the blood-soaked room where he keeps the corpses of his past wives, all of whom are hanging on hooks from the wall. Luckily for our protagonist, she is saved by her brother before her husband can cut off her head.
The Frog PrinceWalter Crane/Wikimedia Commons
Kiss a frog and magically transform him into a handsome prince—sounds like the stuff of fantasy, right? The Brothers Grimm, as they do, managed to make that seemingly sweet and simple tale into something far more twisted. In their version of the very old story, a spoiled princess meets the Frog Prince after dropping a gold ball into a pond. Instead of bestowing on him a gentle kiss, however, the princess throws the frog against a wall in disgust until he changes form. Talk about animal abuse! In other versions, she beats him, decapitates him, and even burns him in hopes of getting rid of the dark magic he holds over her.
Goldilocks And The Three BearsArthur Rackham/Wikimedia Commons
We all know the tale of the sweet little girl who breaks into the home of three bears and tries all their bowls of porridge before finding the one that's "just right." The tale was originally told by British author and poet Robert Southey, and in its original publication the cute little girl was an intrusive old woman. In one version of this classic tale, when the bears come home and discover the old woman sleeping in one of their beds, she is not able to escape and the bears maul her to death before eating her.