“Fairy Tales” evoke thoughts of gentle stories with pretty princesses, handsome princes, and plenty of fluffy bunnies. But this isn’t always true.
The sanitized Disney whitewashes we see may be entertaining movies we can share with our children, but initially, fairy tales were much darker, serious stories designed for both children and adults.
In a time before the internet, before TV and movies, and even before most people had books, oral storytelling was both a means of entertainment and a vehicle for shaping morals. The characters often had some kind of moral dilemma to tackle or the person who was the out and about villain would get their comeuppance.
For example, in the original story of Snow White before Disney added twittering bluebirds and doe-eyed squirrels, the tale ends with the wicked queen inadvertently attending Snow White’s wedding to the prince. As a punishment for being such a bad person, the queen is made to wear a pair of shoes made of iron that has been heated to super-hot in the fire. The queen then has to dance in them until she dies.
Sleeping Beauty is even worse. The princess is asleep in the castle when a passing king finds her and has sex with her while she is unconscious. Nine months later she gives birth to twins, while still asleep, and one of the twins suckles on her finger, pulling out the mysterious splinter that kept her asleep. You can see why Disney chose a different ending really.
There are plenty of other examples of fairy tales you wouldn’t want to share with your kids. Here are some of them.
The Goose Girl
In The Goose Girl, a princess is sent off on a journey to marry a prince. The royal daughter rides a talking horse and is accompanied by her maid who has her own, not talking horse.
At one point on the journey, the princess loses the magical charm made from her mother’s blood and is left unprotected. The maid takes this opportunity to swap places with the princess and force her to make a solemn oath not to tell a soul.
At their destination, the maid, masquerading as the princess, marries the prince and kills the talking horse so he cannot tell anyone who she really is. The real princess gets a job as a goose herder and talks to the dead head of her horse that she persuaded the butcher to hand above the city gate.
The King heard of the strange girl who talked to the skull and asked her to tell him her story. He suggested she tell the stove and he eavesdrops, learning the truth and marrying her to his son. As a suitable punishment, the maid is placed in a barrel filled with spikes and rolled around the town by all and sundry until she dies. Night Night.
Hans The Hedgehog
A young couple is so desperate for a child that the husband prays to God and says he would even be happy with a hedgehog. Of course, his pleas were heard, his wife became pregnant, and she gave birth to a child who was human on the bottom half and hedgehog on the top. The parents named him Hans
Then, they did the only logical thing and hid him behind their stove, where he stayed for eight years before emerging and persuading his father to give him a rooster. Hans climbed aboard the rooster and rode off to live in the woods where he passed his time tending animals and playing his bagpipes.
One day a King stopped to ask for directions, and Hans gave them to him on the condition that the King gave Hans the first thing he said when he got back to his kingdom. The King tricked Hans and instead told his troops to kill any hedgehog boys riding flying roosters they might see approaching the city.
A second King stopped and asked Hans for directions and got the same deal. He, however, was a good King and the first thing he saw when he returned to his kingdom was his daughter, a beautiful princess and he kept his word.
Hans went to the first kingdom, lept over the troops and killed the first Kings daughter by impaling her with his hedgehog spines. He then went and married the second princess. On their wedding night, he peeled off his hedgehog skin and had the guards burn it, leaving him 10% human.
How Some Children Played at Slaughtering
There are two versions of this story, but you can have the best (for best read most gruesome) one.
Two little boys decide to play a pretend game where one is the butcher, and one is the pig. The butcher takes a knife and slits the throat of the pig, who just happens to be his brother. The older brother has forgotten the pretend part of the game, uses a real knife and actually slaughters the ‘pig,’ his little brother. The boy’s mom is giving the youngest child a bath when she looks out of the window in time to see son one kill son two by slitting his throat.
Mom flies down the stairs and out into the garden where she kills son one in a fit of rage. Mom then goes back inside to discover child three has drowned in the bath. Overcome with guilt and grief mom hangs herself.
While all of this has been happening, dad has been working in the fields, and he now returns to find his entire family dead. Overwhelmed with grief, he becomes depressed and eventually dies of a broken heart.
One day a rooster and a hen decided to go on an exciting journey. The rooster built a beautiful carriage with four red wheels and hitched four mice to it. The rooster and hen jumped aboard and went on their travels.
On the journey, they met a cat who asked them where they were going. “We are on the way to Herr Korbes house,” they said. The cat asked to come with them, and they invited her to climb aboard the carriage, but on the condition, she climbs on the back, so she doesn’t get mud on the pretty red wheels. The same thing happens when they meet a milestone, an egg, a duck, a pin, and a needle. These being the regular travelers you bump into on the road.
When the unlikely group arrives at Herr Korbes house, he is not there, so they settle down in various places around the house.
Her Korbes gets home and goes to the fireplace to build a fire. The cat is in the fireplace and throws ashes in his face. He runs to the kitchen to wash his face, the duck is in the sink, and it splashes water on him. Herr Korbes grabs a towel to dry himself, but the egg is hiding there, rolled against his face, broke and glued his eyes shut.
Exhausted and confused he sat on his chair where he was pricked by the pin, so in a rage, he threw himself down on the bed, dropped his head on the pillow and was pricked by the needle. He ran from the house screaming, and as he ran through the front door, he was struck and killed by the milestone.
As justification for this frenzy of torture and death, the story ends with the line “Herr Korbes must have been a very wicked man.”
The Three Snake Leaves
A beautiful and strong-willed princess declares that she will only marry a man who will agree to be buried alive with her after her death. Meanwhile, a young peasant boy becomes a war hero and is rewarded with great riches, land, and a knighthood.
The boy falls in love with the princess and agrees to her terms. They marry and live happily ever after until she dies. He is placed in the tomb with her corpse and while he waits to starve to death a snake slithers in. Killing the snake to protect his wife’s body the husband is considering eating it when a second snake appears with three leaves in its mouth. The second snake drops the leaves on the first and brings it back to life, so the husband tries the same thing with the princess, and it works.
The couple charter a ship to travel home but the princess falls in love with the ship’s captain and they plot to kill her husband by throwing him overboard. The husband is rescued by a crew member who overheard the plot and they manage to get to the kingdom first and tell everyone what happened.
When the princess and the captain arrive, they are sentenced to death and pushed out to sea in a boat full of holes so they can drown.
There once was a beggar who passed his time traveling the countryside kidnapping young girls. One day he tricked his way into the house of three sisters, touched the eldest and forced her to climb into his backpack. The beggar took her to his golden house and promised her anything she wanted if she would stay and marry him.
Before the wedding, he went on a trip, gave her an egg to hold at all times and forbade her to enter a specific locked room. When he was gone, she went into the room and discovered a chopping block, an axe, and the mutilated remains of young girls. In her terror, she dropped the egg which bled and could not be cleaned. When he returned, the beggar knew she had been in the room so killed her and chopped her up. The same thing happens with the second sister.
When he tried the same thing with the third sister, she left the egg outside and upon discovering the pieces of her sisters she put the body parts back together and brought them back to life. When the begger returned the egg was clean, so he asked what she wanted in order to marry him.
The sister asked for a giant basket of gold to be delivered to her father, his the sisters in it and helped them escape. Then she put a skull on the window sill to make him think she was watching him, covered herself in honey and feathers and hid in the trees like a bird while she made her way home.
When the beggar and his wedding party returned home, the sister’s brothers set fire to the house and burned them all to death. Sweet dreams.
The Mouse, The Bird, And The Sausage
In this tale, a mouse, a bird, and a sausage all live together in a house, and each one of them has a specific daily chore. For the mouse it is collecting the water, the bird gathers firewood, and the sausage cooks and seasons the meals.
Everyone is happy until one day the bird is collecting firewood and is ridiculed by another bird for working too hard. The trouble stirring second bird tells the first that he is going out to do all heavy lifting while the mouse and the sausage sit at home doing nothing so the first bird goes home and demands they take turns at the jobs.
The sausage and the mouse are surprised by this sudden desire for change but agree. When the sausage goes out looking for firewood he gets eaten by a dog who tells th bird that the sausage was carrying forged papers. When the mouse tries to cook, he falls into the pot and is boiled to death. The bird is so upset he throws firewood all around the house and accidentally sets it on fire. In he gets caught on the well rope while trying to get water, falls into the well and dies.
The Girl Without Hands
A miller chopping trees in the woods is promised great riches by an old man if the man can have what is behind the mill. The miller knew there was just an old tree behind the mill and agreed but then discovered his daughter was there.
When the old man, who was actually the devil, comes to collect the daughter she has washed herself and is standing in a chalk circle making her too pure for the devil to touch. He makes the miller withhold water form her so she gets dirty but the girl cries and tears wash her hands clean. So, the devil makes her father cut off her hands, but her tears wash her stumps clean, the devil gives up and leaves.
Sometime later the girl leaves the house, walks well into the night and is struck by an all-consuming hunger. She discovers a castle garden full of juicy fruits but protected by a moat. At this point, an angel appears, drains the trench, and the girl picks a pear to eat. The next night is the same, and people report seeing a mysterious ghost-like being n the garden.
The king of the castle stands watch, sees the girl and they fall in love and get married. He makes his wife a pair of silver hands to replace the old ones.
The devil was furious when he found out, and when the king went away to war, the devil forged a letter to the king’s mother ordering her to kill the girl and their child. The king’s mother couldn’t do it, and so instead she ordered the girl and the child to run away and sent a deer tongue and eyes to the king to ‘prove’ she carried out his order.
The king realized what his mother had really done and pledged not to eat or drink until he found his hidden wife and child. He wondered for seven years before finding them, not recognizing his wife at first because her hands had grown back.
The Juniper Tree
As tends to happen in fairy tales, a king and queen desperately want a child. When she finally has a baby boy, she dies of joy, and the king takes a second wife. The second wife is, of course, an evil step-mother who hates the boy and one day in a fit of rage she cuts off his hands.
The step-mother does the only thing she can think of and kills the bot and cooks him in a stew so his father won’t find out what she did. While unknowingly eating his son the king says “You two aren’t having any. I’ve got a feeling that this is all for me.”
The boys’ half-sister buries his bones under the juniper tree where his mother’s remains were buried. He turns into a vengeful bird who constantly sings at the step-mother pushing her to the very edge of insanity. Before she can go right over the edge, the boy/bird drops a millstone on her head to kill her. Her death gives him life, and that’s the end.
Walt Disney presents Princess Donkeyskin is never likely to happen. It features a king, a queen, and their daughter, all of whom are healthy, wealthy and very happy indeed. Oh, and they have a donkey who poops gold.
The queen is suddenly taken ill, and on her deathbed makes the king promise he will find someone as beautiful and clever as she, marry them and continue the royal bloodline. After much searching, the king discovers the only woman as fantastic as his dead wife is their daughter and rather than break his deathbed promise he tells his daughter they are to be married.
The princesses fairy godmother tells her to make an impossible demand which must be met before they can be married, so she demands three of the finest quality dresses, one the colour of the sun, one the color of the moon and one the colour of the sky. Oh, and she also wants the gold pooping donkey slaughtered, skinned and the skin given to her.
King dad turns up with a white dress, a yellow dress, and a blue dress in addition to the dead donkey skin. Horrified at having to marry her father, perform “all wifely duties” and bare his children, the princess runs away, covered in the donkey skin, so everyone who sees her thinks she is just a mad old bag.
Princess Donkey skin gets a job in a bakery, and a prince happens to see her trying on one of the beautiful dresses, which she had brought with her. He asks Donkeyskin to bake him a cake, she drops a ring in it, and he declares he’ll marry whoever fits the ring. They end up married, returning to her kingdom where her dad apologies for trying to marry her and make her give birth to her half-siblings and they all live happily ever after.
Every morning Hans’s mom asks where he is going and every morning he tells her he is going to see his fiancee, Gretal. Instead of taking his girl gifts he asks for something from her each day.
The first gift is a needle, Hans puts it in a haystack, and that evening his mother tells him he should have stuck it in his sleeve. The next day he asks for a knife and sticks it in his sleeve, but his mom says he should have stuck it in his pocket. Day three is a goat he brings home in his pocket and day four is a ham he leads home on a rope. On day five he brings home a calf, carrying it under his arm as he should have with the ham but when he gets home the calf kicks him and runs away. His mother tells him he should have tied it up in the stable.
On the final day, Gretel gives herself to Hans who promptly ties her up in the stable. Hans’s mother, having not noticed how her son takes her advice tells him to “cast your adoring eyes upon her” so he gouges out the eyes of all their livestock and throws them at the tied up Gretel.
The story ends there with the line, “And that’s how Hans lost his bride.”
The Hare’s Bride
There was once a mother and daughter who grew cabbages in their garden. A hungry hare cam along and started eating all of their crops to the mother told the daughter o get rid of him. Two days in a row the girl went out, the hare invited him back to his place, and she refused. On the third day, the girl went with the hare who told her that now she had to marry him.
The hare placed her in the kitchen and demanded she cooks endless amounts of food for the wedding party who were all hares, except the fox sexton, and the crow parson. Three times he banged on the door demanding she open it and feed the guests but the girl would not open up because she was sad and all alone.
The girl made a straw doll, dressed it in her clothes and stood it next to the stove in order to make it look like her cooking before returning home to her mother. The hare let himself into the kitchen and smacked the doll he thought was the girl, around the head and knocked off its hat.
He saw his bride had left and ‘sadly went away.’
The Singing Bone
In this gentle bedtime tale, a demonic giant boar is rampaging through the kingdom ruining crops and killing peasants. The king offers his daughters hand in marriage to whoever kills the boar.
Two brothers go out to find the boar from different ends of the forest. The younger brother comes across a dwarf who can tell he is kind of heart and gives him a magical spear to kill the boar, which he does.
On his way back to the castle he finds his brother in a tavern and the older boy offers, the younger a drink to celebrate. Of course, the older brother gets the little one drunk, murders him, buries him under a bridge, takes the boar and gets the girl.
They are happily married for many years when a shepherd finds a bone and makes it into a mouthpiece for his horn. The bone is of the younger brother and when the shepherd starts playing the horn sings a tales of murder and betrail.
The king is told, digs up the younger brothers bones, and has the elder brother sewn into a sack and thrown into the sea to drown while the younger brother is reburied in a beautiful graveyard.
Bluebeard was a wealthy nobleman who sported a full bushy black beard with hints of blue in it. Despite his riches, he appeared to be unlucky in love because his wives were always mysteriously dying.
One day, on a trip to a neighbor he asks to marry one of the neighbor’s daughters, who are all terrified and hoping they will not be the one he chooses. The youngest daughter is the unlucky winner and is taken away with Bluebeard to his kingdom.
Shortly after their wedding, Bluebeard has to go to war and leaves the keys to the castle with his wife. She is told she can go anywhere and do anything except open the door at the end of a particular corridor with the tiniest key.
Of course, she opens the door and discovers the bodies of Bluebeard’s previous wives hanging from hooks around the wall. She drops the keys on the floor where they are covered in blood and tries to clean them. The blood cleanses off of all the keys except the little one, giving away to her husband the fact that his wife had been in the room and seen the bodies.
He readied to kill her, and she begged for ten minutes to spend with her sister before dying, which is granted. The wife and sister see their brothers coming to visit, the brothers see what’s going on and kill Bluebeard.
The wife keeps the castle, and the riches, buries the unfortunate wives and shares her money with her siblings, eventually remarrying to someone who is not a serial killer.
A widow has two daughters, one her biological child who is lazy and mean and one her stepchild who is sweetheart and kind. Of course, as in all good fairy tales, the widow hates her lovely stepchild.
One day the stepdaughter drops her spindle in a well and climbs in after it. Instead of finding herself in a well she is in a beautiful meadow. The stepdaughter finds an oven full of bread begging to be taken out before it burns and an apple tree begging for her to shake the fruit loose and she helps them both.
Finally, she finds herself at a cottage owned by Mother Holle who asks the girl to clean for her. When the cottage is sparkling clean, the girl is rewarded by being dropped in gold and sent back to the human world.
Hoping for the same outcome for her biological daughter the widow throws her daughter down the well but the girl is so lazy she doesn’t take out the bread or shake the tree and barely bothers in Mother Holle’s cottage.
For her reward, she is covered in hot, sticky, burning pitch which stuck to her for the rest of her life. Take the hint kids, do your chores properly.
The Death Of The Little Hen
Little Hen and Rooster went up a hill to find nuts for dinner. They agreed to share whatever they found, but when Little Hen found a giant nut she wanted it all for herself, quickly stuffed it in her mouth and got it wedged in her throat.
Little Hen called out to Rooster and asked him to bring her a drink of water. He ran to the well and asked for water but was told he had to get a red thread from the bride first. He ran to the bride who said he had to get her wreath before he could have a thread. Rooster gets the wreath, runs with the red thread to the well, gets the water and takes it to Little Hen, who is by now dead.
Rooster wails in grief and all the animals come to mourn Little Hen. The mice build a carriage for her body, hitch themselves to it and Rooster drove to her grave site.
On the way, they meet a fox who asks where they are going and when he discovers what they are doing he asks to come along. Rooster directs him to the back of the carriage, so he doesn’t scare the mice. They were joined by the wolf, the bear, the elk, the lion, and all the animals in the forest and rode along until they came to a brook.
A straw offered to lay across the water for them to drive across, but as the mice stepped onto it, the straw was washed away along with the mice who all drowned. Then a burning coal offered to act as a bridge, but as soon as he hit the water, he sizzled and died.
A stone saw all of this happening and acted as a bridge. Rooster dragged the carriage across the stream, but it was too heavy. It slipped from his claws, and the carriage rolled into the river, and everyone drowned.
Rooster dug a grave and buried Little Hen. When he realized he was all alone he lay down on the mound and grieved so long he died.
The final sentence of the story reads “And then everyone was dead.”