The dark and sinister truth behind fairy tales

Ask anyone to name a few fairy tales and they will come up with an extensive list of short fantasy stories full of folklore characters, magic and happy endings.

Ask anyone to name a few fairy tales and they will come up with an extensive list of short fantasy stories full of folklore characters, magic and happy endings. Throughout the centuries, every culture has passed down its own tales and legends. Apart from the entertainment, their purpose was to serve as a moral warning in many cases. But fairy tales are not always what they seem. Before the 19th century, they were not necessarily aimed at children and featured elements of gore, violence and sexual content. Celebrating their 200th anniversary earlier this year, the first volumes of the Brothers Grimm featured stories full of cruelty, sex and rather gruesome endings. Under the façade of charming princes, gorgeous princesses, magical creatures and marvellous castles, sometimes we fail to notice the sinister details and dark mysteries in the tales. Beneath the blissful world of Disney, lies the bleak truth of repulsive actions, cold-blooded villains and not-so-innocent main characters.

When our eyes are not clouded by child-like naivety, we begin to the notice disturbing details of many children’s favourite bedtime stories. Yet the wicked origins of them should really make us question: why on the earth do we find them so entertaining?

Little Red Riding Hood

You all remember the brave woodsman who killed the wolf and saved Riding Hood and her Grandmother? To me, it always seemed like a late addition to in order to produce a happy ending. And this is exactly what happened. In the earlier version (which comes from two sources: The Grimm Brothers and Charles Perrault) Little Red and her Grandma are eaten and this is the end of the story. They are both dead because Little Red took advice from a stranger. Never mind the fact that wolves do not swallow food whole like a python, the woodsman then cuts the wolf’s stomach and gets them both out. This is pretty gruesome and not very believable, even for a fairy tale.

Another version, which fortunately only made its way into a few written texts, was even more frightening. It included the plot twist of the wolf inviting the unsuspecting Little Red for a dinner made from flesh of her dead grandmother before consuming her for dessert. Whether people found cannibalism fascinating hundreds years ago, I don’t know, but a story like that would surely ruin our childhoods with dreadful nightmares.

Snow White

One of the most memorable of Disney films, this tale retains more aspects of its original form than others. However, it is still sanitised and the details that would definitely add an ominous touch to the story are missing. The evil queen still asks the huntsman to bring back Snow White’s heart as a ‘proof’, which is fairly brutal, yet in the original the Queen goes one step further and also demands the lungs and liver – which will later be served for dinner. Another example of the fascination with cannibalism in the Brothers Grimm’s time! The accepted ending in which the evil queen falls off a cliff and ends up dead is also made much worse in Grimm. In a similar scenario to that of the heroine of The Red Shoes, the Queen is forced to wear shoes made from hot iron and dance in them until she dies. Now that is what I call karma!

Disney also omits the controversy regarding Snow White’s age.  The Grimm Brothers very specifically refer to her being seven years old at the beginning of the story. There is no indication how much time has passed, but it cannot be more than a couple of years, making Snow White very young to be receiving male attention. To top it off, in the original, the magical kiss to wake up the princess does not take place – she instead awakes in her casket that is being carried back to prince’s castle by horse. Bear in mind that prince assumed she was dead. Now what exactly would one be doing with a dead girl’s body, all alone in a castle? This fairy tale is a lot more sinister than it seems at first glance…


The embodiment of the Happily Ever After fairy tale, complete with the journey from rags-to-riches, the evil stepmother, the fairy godmother and iconic glass slipper. Once again the story remained true to the original except for a shocking variation made by the Grimm brothers. The nasty step-sisters actually cut off pieces of their feet to make their fat feet squeeze into the slipper. The mutilation, which is described in exquisite detail, is unsuccessful and the sisters are punished by pigeons that not-so-gracefully peck out their eyes.

If the gory twist of the German duet is not dark enough, Perrault’s version raised some questions after analysis too. I will leave you to decide whether the use of French world “verre” (glass) which is pronounced the same as “vair” (fur) was a coincidence or has a sexual implication (a prince looking for the owner of the perfect ‘fur slipper’ would surely excite Mr. Freud). Suddenly the fairy tale doesn’t seem so gracious and innocent anymore.

It is probably more convenient for all of us to stick to the commonly known versions of the fairy tales. They may be too idealistic to believe in, but at least they can inspire children and give them something to dream about. Early variations are certainly not the versions that your parents would want you to know about.