Most people have read some of Grimm's Fairy Tales during their lives, or at least have seen Disney adaptations of the most popular stories. However, many readers don't know how terrible and creepy fairy tales can really get. Pages of these classic books are peppered with murder, incest, anthropomorphic sausages, and even dismemberment just for fun. While many of these scary fairly tales come from the Brothers Grimm, some of them go back farther. They're enough to make you wonder why fairy tales are ever considered okay for children.
To be clear, there are some stories here that do have childish themes. They feature silly games, fairies, and even little songs and poems that are sung by birds. But in each one of these stories, some darker theme emerges. Often those innocent plot points end up seeming all the more morbid.
The worst things that happened in fairy tales aren't for those seeking happily ever after. Even the ever-optimistic Cinderella would have run from most of the princes in these stories.
The Italian tale "Penta of the Chopped-Off Hands" opens with Penta happily growing up as the sister of the king. Then, the king's wife dies, and the only woman nearly as beautiful is his own sister. He decides to marry her, but Penta disagrees. She decides to make herself as ugly as possible, by cutting off the part of her the king liked the most: her hands.
The king is horrified at what Penta has done, so he stuffs her into a crate and throws it into the ocean. She's initially helped by a kind fisherman, but his wife still finds her too beautiful, and Penta is once again tossed in the sea. At last, Penta's crate washes up on the shores of a wealthy kingdom, and she is taken in by the queen. When the queen dies, her husband remarries Penta.
Penta gives birth to the king's child while he's away at sea. But the fisherman's jealous wife intercepts the message intended to inform the king that he's a new dad, and changes it to say that Penta has given birth to puppies. The king decides to accept this twist of fate, but Penta is banished before he arrives home. Eventually, with the help of a sorcerer, she's reunited with her king and given new hands. The fisherman's wife is dipped in wax and burned to death.
In the Brothers Grimm's "The Juniper Tree," a husband and wife have a lovely little son, and they're quite happy - until the mother dies. She's buried under a juniper tree, and after some time has passed, the widower remarries and has a daughter. But the stepmother absolutely hates the little boy, and abuses him. She tells the little boy to go get an apple from a chest, and when he leans in to grab one, she slams the lid shut, decapitating him. The stepmother tries to put the head back on, but her daughter knocks the head back off. She pins the whole murder on her daughter, and makes the boy's body into stew to feed to her husband. The daughter, who actually liked the boy, buries his bones under the same juniper tree his mother was laid to rest under.
But the story doesn't stop there. The boy is reincarnated as a beautiful bird who sings a morbid song about his own murder. The villagers all start giving him gifts in exchange for hearing this song, and he even manages to get a millstone. The bird-boy flies to the house, where he gives some gifts to his sister and father, and sings his song until his guilty stepmother is driven to madness. She runs outside, but the bird-boy crushes her with the millstone. The boy resumes his original form, and he and his father and sister live happily ever after.
In the Grimm's tale "Hans-My-Hedgehog," a peasant couple has a son who is born with the top half of a hedgehog. They name him Hans-My-Hedgehog, and then ignore him as he stays behind the stove for years and refuses to die (though they really want him to). One day, in his infinite kindness, Hans's father asks him if he wants a gift. He asks for bagpipes and a rooster to ride, and he leaves his parents' house.
One day, the king rides by and hears Hans playing his "beautiful" bagpipe music. The king asks if he knows the way back to the palace. Hans tells the lost king that he'll take him there, under the condition that he gets the first thing he sees. Upon their arrival, the king's beautiful daughter runs out to greet her father. The king doesn't want to give his daughter to a hedgehog boy, and he orders his guards to attack Hans. But they can't kill Hans, and he demands to be paid what he is owed.
At last, the king gives in, and the princess rides away with Hans. However, Hans stops, rips off her clothes, and sticks her with his spines until she is a bloody mess. He tells her that that was for her deceit, and that she must return to her father to live out her days in ugliness.
This same thing happens at a second kingdom, but this time, the girl agrees to be with Hans. The hedgehog boy tears off his hedgehog skin and has it burned, and is transformed into a handsome prince. He even returns to his parents' house with his new bride to rub it in their faces.
In a Grimm fairy tale called "Fitcher's Bird," a rich man has made a habit of going around capturing beautiful girls. When he comes across a household with three daughters, he dresses himself as a beggar, gets inside, and steals one of them away with him into the forest. When the rich man reaches home, he gives his new lady everything she's always wanted. He tells her that she can go anywhere she wants... except for that one locked room.
The girl eventually gets curious, and ventures into the locked room. She finds the walls caked in blood and the floor covered in buckets of body parts from previous wives. There's also a bloody axe and chopping block, which she figures is meant for her.
Horrified, the girl plans to escape before her wedding to the rich man by dressing up like a bird. She dips herself in honey, rolls around in feathers, and puts the skull of one of the former wives in the window, so her groom will think she she's still inside. Then, she leaves. Arriving wedding guests assume she's a bird, and even her own groom doesn't recognize her.
Later, her brothers show up to save their sister, and burn down the house with the guests and groom inside.