The Real Stories Behind Kids' Fairy Tales

The real stories behind kids' favorite fairy tales
The real stories behind kids' favorite fairy tales

I read lots of fairy tales when I was a kid and while I loved them,

some of them really scared me. My father (a known curmudgeon) has for years claimed that movies like Cinderella and The Little Mermaid are "social programming for children" and refused to let me watch them growing up. But the folk tales upon which they were based were sort of the same thing. They were cautionary tales to promote moral choices, used to scare children into doing the right thing.

Plenty of people other than my dad talk about how the modern, pop-culture versions of classic stories are somehow bad for kids, that they promote gender stereotypes or bad ideals. It leads to me to wonder about the older versions. So much of kid-culture is predicated on these stories by The Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Andersen. And yet some of those original stories are downright terrifying.

So I wonder, are the new versions really that bad? Especially in light of how scary the source material can be?


1. Rapunzel

I think between the original folk tale and the Tangled version of the story, I'll take Tangled. Why? Because you know what happens to Rapunzel? After the mean old witch figures out what she's up to with the Prince, she cuts off her hair and casts her out into the desert. Did I mention that Rapunzel is 12 years old? So she wanders the desert alone, pitiful and in pain for years - but that's nothing compared to what happens to the prince. When he climbs up into the tower and finds the witch holding Rapunzel's lopped-off ponytail? He falls out of the tower into some briars, which gouge out his eyeballs. Years later, after his own pitiful wanderings, he runs into Rapunzel and her tears restore her sight.

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That's something I want to hear just before bedtime. Who doesn't like a good eye-gouging?


2. Cinderella

In the Brothers Grimm version? EAU MAH GAH. It's gruesome. Each of the stepsisters tricks the Prince into thinking that they're his true bride. The first one gets the shoes to fit by cutting off her toes. Maiming yourself for a dude is a great lesson to instill in kids.

Then some pigeons tell the prince to check out all the blood seeping out of the shoes, so he takes her back home, where the second stepsister cuts off her heels to make the shoes fit. Then as the prince is driving away with her, the pigeons tell him again to look at the blood in her shoes. At this point, I'm thinking the prince is an idiot. I mean, after the first time, wouldn't you already be looking for that? It gets better, too: the step sisters come to Cinderella's wedding, where those same pigeons peck out their eyeballs, first the left and then the right.

The take-away? If you're wicked and false, scary birds will want to blind you.

Related: The 10 creepiest, weirdest books for toddlers

Hansel and Gretel
Hansel and Gretel

3. Hansel and Gretel

This is a flat-out horror story. First of all, they lay in their beds and listen to their stepmother convince their father to lure them out into the middle of the forest where they will either be killed by wild animals or starve to death - you know, just what you want to hear before falling asleep. Then, they stumble into the clutches of the witch with the candy house - who locks Hansel up in a cell in her stable and forces his sister to work as a servant.

As if that's not bad enough, the witch describes how she's going to cook and eat them both - and she's going to make Gretel participate in killing her brother. Thank goodness Gretel sees her chance and shoves that old witch into the oven, so that she and Hansel can delight in her torment as she burns to death in front of them. Because that's nice for kids.

Snow White
Snow White

4. Snow White

First of all, can we talk about the fact that in the folk tale version of the story, Snow White is 7?! Anyway, when she's lying there in the glass casket and the prince falls in love with her beauty, he's all: "I really want to passionately kiss the cold, dead lips of this beautiful second grader." Ack. I think the prince sounds like he has serious issues and probably needs palace supervision. Because that's horrible.

Next we have the evil Queen. In the Disney movie, she tells the huntsman to kill Snow White and bring back her heart as proof. In the story, she asks for the child's lung and liver, so that she can eat them. Then as the story reaches it happy ending, and pre-tween Snow White is marrying the Prince (in what is bound to be the creepiest royal wedding ever), her evil stepmother shows up.

Related: 13 empowering picture books for little girls

As punishment for trying to kill Snow White, they force the Queen to wear iron shoes that have been placed in the fire until they're red hot. And they make her dance in them until she falls dead in front of everyone. Now that's a storybook wedding.

The Red Shoes
The Red Shoes

5. The Red Shoes

This story by Hans Christian Andersen scared me so much when I was a kid that I couldn't even look at red shoes until my late 20's. The story is about a little girl who was vain. She tricked her mother into buying her a very fancy and pretty pair of red shoes. And she was unduly preoccupied with them, paying more attention to her fancy shoes than to the sermon in church. So that makes her … EXACTLY LIKE EVERY KID IN THE HISTORY OF EVER.

Related: 10 princess qualities I want my daughters to have

Her punishment for vanity and selfishness? The shoes began to dance and they don't ever stop. They dance and dance until she begs someone to cut off her feet. Which they do, with an axe. Except that's not punishment enough. Because wherever she goes, her amputated feet - still dancing in the red shoes - are blocking her way.

Worst children's story ever.

Red Riding Hood
Red Riding Hood

6. Red Riding Hood

The Brothers Grimm version of this story is only mildly disturbing. What with people being devoured whole, and the slicing open of bellies with scissors and stuff, I mean … That's not scary or anything. And according to a recent article, in the older folk tale upon which the Grimms based their story, Red Riding Hood was all: "Hey Big Bad Wolf, can you help me out of my corset before you devour me?" Say what?!

- By Julie Miner
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