Fairytales are supposed to end happily ever after.
But fantasy aficionados the Brothers Grimm sure seemed to hate neat and tidy endings. One might even say they hated happiness and good tidings even more, as the majority of their fairytales are horrifyingly gruesome. Their version of Beauty and the Beast, for example, was dark and haunting much like the lives of the real couple who were forced into marriage and studied like animals.
The original Brothers Grimm stories were scary, violent, sex-obsessed, and incredibly ill-suited for children. Some of their tales are better known than others but they're all cleverly crafted. If you're into brutal and provocative fiction, you'll love reading about these decidedly not-happy endings.
In this bleak tale from our favorite brothers, the wife of a rich man raises her daughter and stepson but is envious of the boy. She abuses him and makes him feel constantly afraid. The devil convinces the mother to kill her stepson and she does so by severing the young child's head with a heavy chest's lid. As if that's not depraved enough, the mother allows her own daughter to believe that she is responsible for killing her beloved half-brother.
The mother then cuts the boy into pieces, cooks him into a stew, and serves him to her husband for dinner.
The oblivious father decides the stew is delicious and asks for seconds and thirds.
The murdered child is allowed his revenge, though, and is magically transformed into a bird. He drops a huge rock onto his stepmother's head and the evil woman is crushed to death. The boy then rises from her ashes, in human form once again.
The ending in this Grimm fantasy is deserved, if not happy. The girl in "The Robber Bridegroom" isn't sure if she trusts her groom when she agrees to marriage but she goes to his house to learn more about him. When she arrives, she finds the house empty except for an old woman. The old woman tells the young bride that murderous men live there and hides her behind a barrel when the men approach. What she sees there is as bleak as only a Grimm tale could be.
"[The group of men] were dragging with them another maiden. They were drunk and paid no attention to her screams and sobs. They gave her wine to drink... and ripped off her fine clothes, laid her on a table, chopped her beautiful body in pieces and sprinkled salt on it. The poor bride behind the barrel trembled and shook, for she saw well what fate the robbers had planned for her. One of them noticed a gold ring on the murdered girl's little finger. Because it did not come off easily, he took an ax and chopped the finger off, but it flew into the air and over the barrel, falling right into the bride's lap. "
The girl and old woman are able to flee the house after the men fall asleep but the girl agrees to move forward with the wedding. At the ceremony, she tells the story and brings forth the severed finger as proof. The groom and his men are executed for the crimes.
In this story of mistaken identities and stolen courtships, we're introduced to a beautiful princess who is outsmarted and robbed by her chambermaid. The chambermaid pretends to be the true princess and is almost married to a prince as reward for her deception. When, finally, the true princess is able to relay her story, the king returns her former riches and finery. With her beautiful clothes returned, everyone is able to see her for who she is.
The chambermaid doesn't realize that her plot has been discovered and when asked how a thief and liar should be punished she answers in a most gruesome way. In turn when the king declares her a treacherous robber, her own words damn her.
She's stripped stark naked and then put in a barrel that is studded inside with sharp nails. This isn't the end of the lying maid's punishment, though. Her barrel is then hitched to white horses and dragged throughout the kingdom until she meets a painful death.
The brothers' "The Girl Without Hands" tale is about a poor miller who wants to give his daughter to the devil in exchange for riches. To make everything worse, the miller is instructed to chop off the girl's hands before the deal can be completed.
The girl, beautiful and pious, bathes herself and stands in a chalk circle on the first day that the devil tries to retrieve her. The fiend doesn't like her cleanliness, though, and he demands that the child be dirty when he returns. The miller follows orders but the depressed girl weeps into her hands, making them clean and further angering the devil. The miller is then given an ultimatum. He can chop off his daughter's hands so that she can't cry into and inadvertently clean them or he can go to hell in hs daughter's place. The selfish father makes his choice and it is hardly benevolent.
When the devil returns the next day, the girl has wept into her stumps so much that he still can't take her. He renounces his claim to her and the girl leaves home. She eventually happens upon a king who makes her silver hands but God blesses her with new natural hands in honor of her purity and piety.
Even more awful, the earliest version of this Brothers Grimm story includes an inter-familial relationship between father and daughter.