Between the passage of time and the sanitization of Disney, most modern fairy tales are very different from the original stories. In celebration of October and creepy stories, we’re taking a look at our favorite childhood tales and their gruesome origins.
5. Hansel and Gretel: We’ll admit, this story is already pretty gruesome in its current form. However, an older version called “The Lost Children” manages to outdo it. Instead of a witch, the children are captured by the Devil, and he intends to bleed them on a sawhorse. The kids pretend not to understand how to get on, so the Devil’s wife shows them. Once she’s on the sawhorse, the kids slit her throat, steal the Devil’s money, and run back into the wilderness.
4. The Frog Prince: This is one story where the original is actually more satisfying. In the older version, the frog agrees to get the princess’s ball back (she’s quite young) in exchange for becoming her companion. The girl agrees, thinking that he’s just a silly frog. However, when he comes to the castle, she has to fulfill her end of the bargain. She is forced to share food from her plate with him, and then he becomes more demanding, insisting that he get to share her bed as well. Well, she says enough is enough and dashes him violently against the wall. And that’s what changes him back into a prince, not a kiss.
3. The Pied Piper: This makes the list for sheer brutality. In the modern version, the Pied Piper rids the town of rats, and when the villagers don’t pay up, he takes their children off to a mountain until he’s paid. In the original version, though, he straight up kills those kids by drowning them in a river. You really should not forget to pay the Piper.
2. Little Red Riding Hood: Turns out, there’s no miraculous huntsman to save Little Red Riding Hood in the original tale by Charles Perrault. Instead, the girl is tricked by the wolf, gets into bed with him, and is eaten. In some versions, she is also fed the body of her grandmother first. The original intention of the story was a fairly blatant warning for girls against losing one’s virginity – to watch out for the seductive wolf, or he’ll get you.
1. The Little Mermaid: The original Little Mermaid is a series of unfair and ultimately deadly situations. In order to win over the prince, she makes a familiar deal: she trades her voice for legs. In the Hans Christian Anderson tale, though, each step with her new feet feels like walking on knives, and if she doesn’t marry the prince, then she turns into sea foam. She dances for the prince through excruciating pain, but he decides to marry another. The only way to save herself, then, is to kill the prince, but she can’t make herself do it. She dissolves into sea foam, and the prince continues on with his life, probably happily splashing in the ocean with his new wife.
There are plenty more terrifying endings to old fairy tales — Cinderella’s sisters mutilate their feet to fit in the famous glass slipper; Rumpelstiltskin rends his entire body in half when his name is guessed — if only you dig a bit under the surface. Like all shared stories, fairy tales morph and alter to fit the morals and compunctions of the time period. Still, it’s a good afternoon of morbid fun to explore the dark undertones of our favorite elementary school characters.
by Arielle Yarwood