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.
A Stepson Gets Sweet Revenge After Being Beheaded
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.
An Old Lady Is Flayed Alive
The title of this Italian tale is "The Flayed Old Woman," and it certainly delivers on that name. Two old, ugly sisters live together near a king's castle. One day, the king goes for a walk, and hears one of the women singing. Her voice is so beautiful that the king assumes she is young and fair, and falls for her instantly. The women, realizing this as a chance for glory, attempt to fool the king into thinking they're young by sucking on their wrinkled fingers and only showing him those. Then, they pull back all of their saggy skin and approach him in complete darkness. Still, the king discovers their ruse, and throws one of the women from a tower.
She gets caught in tree branches below rather than dying, and she hangs there by her saggy skin, weeping. Some forest fairies hear her, and decide to help her out. They give her fine clothes, servants, anything a rich lady could ask for, and they make her young. The king sees her, and decides that even if she was an ugly old liar before, she's pretty and rich now, so he marries her.
So, happily ever after, right? Not quite. The other old sister is extremely jealous, and decides she wants to be young and beautiful, too. She demands her now-young sister tell her how she was transformed. The sister becomes so irritated with her questions that she says she flayed herself. The old sister believes the lie, and goes to a barber to be flayed. He's dubious, but eventually consents, and flays her alive. As the old woman bleeds out on the floor, skinless, she reminds herself that you must suffer for beauty. Then, she dies.
Rapunzel Is An Abandoned Single Mother
You've probably heard the tale of Rapunzel - but you likely don't know the horrifying original story. In the old Brothers Grimm version, Rapunzel's mother is having intense pregnancy cravings, so she steals herbs from a witch's garden. The witch responds by demanding the child as recompense. The parents agree, and the witch steals away the infant Rapunzel and locks her in a tower.
You know this part. Rapunzel grows into a beautiful young woman with long hair that the witch uses to scale the tower. But then a handsome prince sees her, and begins climbing up the tower every night to spend some "quality time" with Rapunzel. But here's the twist: Rapunzel becomes pregnant. She doesn't understand what's happening to her; she assumes her clothes just don't fit anymore. The witch knows exactly what's going on, and sends her out to the desert, where she gives birth, alone and confused, to a set of twins.
Meanwhile, back at the tower, the witch waits for the prince, Rapunzel's braid in hand. When the prince climbs up, he is confronted by the witch, and leaps from the tower. Unfortunately for him, he lands in thorns and is blinded. The prince wanders the forest, weeping for his lost sight and wretched life.
Eventually, the two reunite, and Rapunzel's tears restore the prince's sight.
A Woman Chops Off Her Hands To Be Less Beautiful
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.