Only in recent history have fairy tales been designated as innocent and magical childhood stories. This was in large part the doing of the Grimm brothers, who collected such tales from their homeland into the first official book of fairy tales. Though these original Grimm tales are much darker than the stories we recall our parents reading to us at night, the same is true for fairy tales throughout time and all over the world. Often, these are horrific stories that are either told among adults or as cautionary tales to children who will undoubtedly have nightmares (and hopefully learn a thing or two).
Culture to culture, the stories tend to deal with very similar content. Common themes include dangerous journeys into the woods, lost children or people seeking refuge, and monsters ranging from ogres to wolves to cruel parents. You’re also pretty likely to encounter blood, body parts, cannibalism, and captivity. Many of the tales are extremely gory, and often times there are no happy endings, even for the few characters who survive. So why are we letting Disney cut away all the good stuff? These stories all have the makings of a good horror movie; or, at the very least, a disturbing campfire tale.
15. Little Red Hat – Deadly Distractions
In this brutally violent Italian fairy tale, a young girl called Red Hat is tasked with bringing grandma soup. On her way, she meets an Ogre who asks where she is going and takes an alternate route to beat her there. Red Hat gets distracted by flowers and butterflies, giving the Ogre plenty of time to tear grandma apart. He pulls out her intestines and strings them to the latch of the door. He stuffs her teeth into food containers, chops her body into meat chunks, and puts her blood in a wine bottle. When Red Hat arrives, she is hungry. The Ogre, pretending to be a grandma, feeds Red Hat all of the various body parts before persuading her to lie naked in bed with him. It is at this point that Red Hat engages in the popular “Grandma, you have such big eyes” banter. When she gets to the big mouth exchange, she is told it comes from eating children – and then the Ogre eats Red Hat.
14. The Boy That Drew Cats – Avoid Large Places
This is another Japanese fairy tale about a boy given to the priesthood. The priest quickly realizes the boy is acting out by drawing cats all over the temple and kicks him out. As he leaves, the priest oddly utters the words “avoid large places, keep to the small.” That night the boy finds a new temple and when no one answers the door he enters. It’s dusty, full of cobwebs, and there are drawing supplies laid out. Unable to help it, he covers the temple in cat drawings and then tries to sleep. But he can’t, thinking he sees something moving in the shadows. Remembering the priest’s words, he hides in a small cabinet and listens to strange sounds all night. When it’s over, he opens the door to find the temple covered in blood and finds the body of a large rat-like beast. He looks around and sees that his cat drawings are now smiling at him, fangs soaked in blood.
13. Vasilisa The Beautiful – Cinderella’s Chucky, And The Witch
This Russian fairy tale is about a girl who is given a strange gift from her dying mother – a small wooden doll. Stranger still, she is instructed that if something bad ever happens, she should feed it and ask for help. When her father remarries a cruel woman with two mean, ugly, daughters and they start forcing her to do hard labor, Vasilisa tests out the doll. With food at its lips, it comes to life, eats, and from then on does all of her difficult chores (when fed). When her father goes on a trip and doesn’t return, the stepmother moves the family to the edge of the Forbidden Forest, claiming life will be more affordable there. Really, she wants to get Vasilisa eaten by Baba Yaga. When Vasilisa is sent on a fool’s errand to retrieve fire from the witch’s hut, she is caught and held captive. But when the witch discovers a blessed doll is helping her survive, she kicks her out, throwing a skull with eyes on fire at her. Vasilisa brings the skull home, where its eyes unexpectedly shoot fire at the stepmom and sisters, burning them to ashes.
12. Common Sense – Things Are Never As They Seem
In this fairy tale from Japan, a priest, and his accolade open the door to the temple one evening to find a hunter. Though he is just and ignorant man who kills for a living, the priest invites him in and offers the hunter the opportunity to stay the night and witness the Buddha, who has been coming for six nights now. The hunter agrees, and that night they wait outside for the Buddha who usually shows himself just after midnight. Finally, in the distance they see the Buddha coming towards them. But as he nears, a sudden arrow pierces his heart, soaking his robes in blood. The hunter has killed Buddha. Terrified, the priest and accolade try to escape the mad hunter, but he forces them to follow the Buddha’s blood to a nearby cave. Inside, a goblin lay dead with the hunter’s arrow in his chest. The hunter alone saw through the goblin’s deception because he knew an ignorant man such as himself would not have been worthy of seeing the true Buddha.
11. Grimm’s Rapunzel – Bitter-Sweet Endings
This well-known fairy tale has been co-opted by Disney and other children’s venues over the years, but like most fairy tales, the original story is quite dark. In it, a father trades his unborn daughter for unlimited access to the plant, rapunzel, which his pregnant wife is desperately craving. The witch keeps the girl, named Rapunzel, locked in a tower and raises her in utter ignorance. When a Prince catches a glimpse of her, he sneaks up, imitating the witch’s call for her to let down her hair. They begin a love affair and when the witch catches them, she throws him from the tower. Soon after, she realizes Rapunzel is pregnant and angrily casts her out. Rapunzel is forced to live alone on an island; destitute, with her twins. Years later, the Prince happens upon her. He has been blinded by his devastating fall from the tower, but at least they can be together. In a bitter-sweet ending, she gets to live in the castle with the father of her children, but will never know her real parents.
10. Beauty and Pock Face – Spirits and Slaughter
This Chinese fairy tale is very similar to Cinderella, but with some strange and dark differences. In it, a young woman named Beauty is mistreated by her stepmother and stepsister, Pock Face. Eager to go to the theater, she is told she must first complete impossible tasks. Luckily, the spirit of her mother lives on in the family cow and helps her in secret. When the stepmother finds out, she not only slaughters the cow but serves it up to Beauty for a “special” dinner. In tearing apart the home in grief, Beauty finds a beautiful dress and shoes – a final gift from her mother’s spirit. All dressed up, she heads out for the theater but drops her shoe in a ditch. A series of men passing by propose marriage in exchange for helping her reach her shoe. She finally says yes to the third man, since he is the most prestigious yet. A jealous Pock Face throws Beauty down a well, where she hits her head and drowns. Her spirit enters a sparrow and taunts Pock Face until she kills the bird. In the end, though, the ghost of Beauty is brought back to life, and she gets her revenge.
9. Urashima Taro – Be Careful What You Wish For
In this old Japanese fairy tale, a young fisherman who is known for his kind heart rescues a turtle from a group of boys torturing it to death. After returning it to the sea, he thinks about how much he wishes he could live 10,000 years, as turtles (apparently) do. As if hearing his thoughts, the turtle tells him about the realm of the Sea King at the bottom of the ocean and takes him down. He spends three days underwater, before deciding he should go home and tell his parents he is alright. Only, when he returns to the surface, the world is completely unfamiliar. He goes to his parents’ home, but a strange man opens the door. When he claims to be Urashima Taro, he is told that is the name of a boy from a legend who disappeared 300 years ago. Distraught, he opens a box given to him by the Sea Princess and when he does he is hit by a purple cloud which returns his 300 years to him, causing him to wither and die.
8. Grimm’s Snow White – Cannibalism, Slavery, And Revenge
This is a French fairy tale that has been greatly watered down by Disney. In the original, there is no evil stepmother; the Queen is Snow White’s biological mother. She is jealous of her seven-year-old daughter’s beauty, so she hires a huntsman to track her down, kill her, and bring her the liver and heart so she can eat them. The kind-hearted hunter tricks the Queen with a deer’s heart and liver, and Snow White takes cover in a hidden hut which belongs to seven dwarves. They tell her she can stay, as long as she does all of the chores and cooking. Meanwhile, the Queen figures out where her daughter is and comes by daily until she succeeds at tricking her into swallowing a poison apple. The dwarves keep her in a glass coffin for many years, during which time she ages. A Prince passing through is struck by her beauty and buys her. The coffin being moved dislodges the poison apple, and she awakes. At her wedding, she gives her mother a pair of burning shoes, in which she makes her dance until she dies.
7. Blue Beard – The Curse Of Curiosity
This French fairy tale is really well-known but no less horrifying. In it, a bored new wife can’t help but wonder what is inside a secret closet in her new house. Her husband is away, and though he made her promise not to open the door, she does. What she finds is a closet full of dismembered women – his former wives. There are blood and guts smeared everywhere, and she scrambles to lock up behind her with the now blood-soaked key. Her husband arrives home early, just in time to catch her red-handed (pun somewhat intended). She is given seven and half minutes until he will behead her, but her brothers show up just in time and kill the vicious man before he can hurt their sister. She goes on to inherit his riches, remarries, and otherwise lives happily ever after.
6. Firebird – A Journey Into The Forest
In this Slavic fairy tale, a Prince named Ivan makes the ill-advised choice to venture into the forest on a quest for a bird on fire that has been robbing his father; a quest from which neither of his older brothers has yet returned. Lost in the forest, Ivan is met by a giant wolf with glowing eyes who immediately devours his horse, and disappears. That night Ivan is sure he will starve to death, but the wolf comes back and offers to help him. Ivan manages to find the bird, but its owner will not give it up unless Ivan kidnaps the woman he wants to make his wife, and brings her to him. He agrees but falls in love with the woman instead. Again, the wolf steps in to help; he shape-shifts into the woman and lets Ivan deliver him in her place, then escapes that night. Things are looking up for Ivan, who is sure to become his father’s heir until his brothers find him. Enraged that they will lose their birthright, the eldest brother stabs Ivan and leaves him for dead in the forest.
5. Ghostly Lover – A Dying Wish Fulfilled
In this Native American tale, a young womanizing warrior is looking for a place to sleep when he happens upon the teepee of one of the many women he had once promised to marry. Wondering if she is still as beautiful as he recalls, he decides to stop in, with a false story about having been kidnapped before he could return to her those many years ago. When he sees her, he is happy to find she is as beautiful as he remembers, and even more elated to see him than he had expected. They spend a romantic night together, swapping stories and making love. In the morning, though, the warrior is confused by how old and tattered the teepee now looks. He turns to ask his companion what happened but finds he is sleeping next to a rotting corpse. She died waiting for his return, and when she did, her spirit created an illusion so she could spend one last night with him. Realizing he slept with a dead woman, the warrior goes mad.
4. Three Skeletons – Haunts, Humour, and Irony
This is a Native American tale about three skeletons who make a game of trying to frighten the bravest man in the world. One by one, they approach the man on a dark winter road, but each time they find themselves ridiculed and broken to pieces by the man. Without hesitation, he beats them at their own game and seems to enjoy it. Eventually, the skeletons give up, deciding he has earned the title of the bravest man in the world and can keep it. However, some time later the man is sitting nearby a young girl, and she points out that there is a spider on his shoulder. It is at this point that the man jumps up, screams, and begs the child to help him. Spiders, as it turns out, are his greatest fear.
3. Dhon Cholecha – Demons
In this Nepali fairy tale, a young girl, Maincha, is mistreated and malnourished by her stepmother and ugly stepsister. She is forced to take care of the nanny goat, but the nanny goat takes care of her too. Seeing that she is not well fed, the goat vomits a meal for Maincha each day. When her stepsister sees this, she tells her mother, who decides she will slaughter the goat and make a feast of it. In her grief, Maincha is told by the goat that she should plant her bones and a fig tree will grow to keep her fed. She does this, and while in the fig tree she is approached by an elderly couple who offer her a nice home. She leaves with them, only to find out they are demons who plan to eat her. The mouse that warns her gives her instructions on how to get out with their jewels, and she does. But when her stepsister tries to emulate the ordeal, she fails to listen to the mouse and is eaten to the bones.
2. The Fox Sister – One More Liver
This is a Korean fairy tale, that unfolds when a six-year-old girl spends an afternoon lost in the woods but is soon found by her devoted father. From that moment on, a cow dies each night. One son keeps watch, and witnesses his young sister killing the cattle, and eating its liver. The father refuses to believe him and has the next son keep watch. Both claim the same thing, and both are disowned. They seek help from a monk, who warns them that a demon is in their home. They return to find the livestock and family all dead, and only the sister alive. The brothers are tricked into believing a demon has been imitating their sister, but the minute they let their guard down, she attacks. Their sister, it turns out, never made it out of the woods that day, and has been inhabited by a fox-demon ever since. She explains that she only needs to eat one liver to become human. Fighting for his life, the last brother burns her alive.
1. Beauty And The Beast – Twisted And Convoluted Desire
This is a French literary fairy tale that has been severely edited into the popular version we know today. The original has a poor merchant enter the home of a Beast and indulge in its many luxuries. Lastly, he steals a rose for his daughter, Beauty. But the Beast stops him and tells him if he wants to spare his life, he must send him a daughter who will agree to be his captive. Beauty agrees, but each night when the Beast proposes marriage, she refuses. And each night, she dreams of a handsome Prince. She grows to like the Beast, and he permits her to visit her family. However, he warns if she does not return in two months, he will kill himself. Pitying him, she returns to find him dying and confesses her love just in time. They marry, and when she awakes the next morning, he has turned into the handsome Prince from her dreams. He explains that he was a Prince raised by an evil fairy who cursed him when he refused her romantic advances. Meanwhile, another fairy arranged an elaborate meeting between him and Beauty, who doesn’t know she is really his cousin and a Princess.