Fairytales may seem like innocent stories used to instill good virtues and help children develop a sense of morality, but they’re not always as harmless as they read. Behind the picture-perfect cartoons popularized by Disney, many of the most famous children’s fairytales have much more sinister undertones, born from shocking tales of blood, guts and gore.
The Brothers Grimm are responsible for popularizing some of these stories. In the early 1800s — determined to preserve oral storytelling — they wrote and revamped hundreds of age-old myths and legends about real historical events. While the ominous metaphors are well-hidden, if you look deep enough they’re still present in many modern adaptations. The sheer brutality surrounding these cautionary tales may seem a little unnecessary, or even barbaric, in modern society, but in their purest form, their message remains the same: the righteous live happily ever after and the evil are punished. So the next time you sit down to read your child a bedtime story, you better do your homework to ensure the content is appropriate for a young’un!
10. Little Red Riding Hood
In the earliest versions of Little Red Riding Hood, which can be traced back to the 10th century, the wolf kills the old lady and leaves her flesh on the dining room table. After the little girl unwittingly cannibalizes her own grandmother, the wolf asks her to take off her clothes and climb into bed; which is where he eats her and the story ends. In the Middle Ages when a girl lost her virginity she was said to have “seen the wolf” — a phrase which stemmed from this highly explicit version. Although the wolf represents a sexual predator in contemporary takes on the story, they tend to be slightly less graphic.
9. Sleeping Beauty
In 1634, the Italian poet Giambattista Basile, wrote Sun, Moon and Taila — an early form of Sleeping Beauty. In his version, as the pervy king gazes down on the sleeping girl, Taila, he begins to “grow hot with lust.” In an even darker twist of events, it’s not a kiss that wakes her up; he sexually assaults her. Afterwards she gives birth to his children and falls madly in love with him. This leads the jealous queen to kidnap her husband’s children and order them to be cooked and fed to him. Luckily, the king has his wife burnt at the stake instead.
8. Beauty and the Beast
Beauty and the Beast reinforces age-old family values that have no place in modern society — “learn to love.” In the original story the beast spoils Belle with food, clothing and all the material goods one has to offer. He asks her to marry him every day, but she refuses. Eventually he releases her so she can visit her family, who persuades her to stay. However, when Belle looks through her enchanted mirror, she discovers that the beast is dying of a broken heart. Realizing the error of her ways, she rushes back, declares her love for him, and he turns into a handsome prince.
There are over 345 versions of Cinderella, and few of them share the same endearing qualities of the Disney classic. In the Brothers Grimm version — known as Aschenputtel — there are no merry little mice or a charming fairy godmother; it actually gets quite bloody. At one point the stepsisters try to cut off Cinderella’s big toe and part of her heel to make it fit inside the slipper. While they may sound like an evil pair, Cinderella herself also has a bit of a mean streak. When she walks down the aisle on her wedding day, her minion birds peck out her stepsisters’ eyes, leaving them both blinded.
6. Hansel and Gretel
While it’s one of the only Brothers Grimm stories to have a happy ending, the meat and bones of Hansel and Gretel is certainly one of the most disturbing. In one version of this fairytale, rather than the two children stumbling across a gingerbread house, their father is forced to abandon them by his heartless wife and leave them in the “care” of a child abusing witch who plans to eat them. Eventually they manage to escape by burning her alive in an oven. In a more gruesome French version of the story, the children slash her throat when she is asleep in order to make their escape.
5. The Little Mermaid
We’re all familiar with the Disney ending, when Ariel and Prince Eric fall for each other and live happily ever after (as humans); however, the Hans Christian Andersen version is a much more cynical tale about social class and doomed aspirations. After Ariel gains Prince Eric’s love, he is forced to marry another in an arranged marriage and falls deeply in love with his intended. In the end, Ariel’s sisters rise from the water and give her a knife. She is told that if she kills him she will once again become a mermaid and live a full life in the ocean. Seconds before she stabs the prince to death, her un-reciprocated feelings take over and she chooses self-sacrifice instead.
4. Snow White
An 1810 version of Snow White — also known as the peasant version — was so shocking that it never made it to print as it conflicted so heavily with Christian values. Originally, Snow White wasn’t an adult, but a girl of seven; her stepmother tries to murder her three times; and the Prince was a pedophile necrophiliac who insisted on having the coffin so he can keep Snow White’s body. In other versions of the story her father himself was so infatuated with her beauty, he drove her away from the castle, leading her into the company of the seven dwarfs.
This French fairytale is loosely based on the trial of Gilles de Rais, who was hanged and burned for murdering between 60 and 200 children in the 15th century. In the story, Bluebeard is an aristocrat who wins the affection of a beautiful girl after she’s persuaded to marry him. When he leaves to go abroad, he gives his wife the keys to his home, but insists that she must not enter one of the rooms. When curiosity gets the better of her, she peaks inside and discovers the murdered bodies of Bluebeard’s former wives. The next day, Bluebeard returns home and, upon discovering blood on the key, attempts to behead his wife for breaking her vow.
2. The Frog Prince
There have been multiple versions of The Frog Prince over the centuries, and in most of them the frog doesn’t transform into a handsome prince after being kissed by a princess. In the Grimm’s version of the story a young princess is out playing in the woods and looses her golden ball. While in her distraught state, a frog offers to retrieve it for her on the condition that he may share her bed. She agrees, but never actually intends on honoring her commitment. Eventually, after being angered by the frog’s persistence, she throws him against the wall, which dispels the magic. In another, even more sinister version, the princess burns and decapitates the frog.
1. The Pied Piper
The year is 1284 and the town of Hamelin is suffering from a severe rat infestation. Luckily, the Pied Piper promises to solve the problem. After luring the rats into the Weser River, the mayor refuses to pay him, so he seeks revenge by luring 130 children into a cave, where they are never seen again. In other versions of this twisted tale, he either drowns the children in the same river as the rats or takes them up onto Koppelberg Hill to have his “wicked way” with them.