These stories aren’t your happy endings but rather sometimes gruesome and shocking tales. Fairy tales used to be stories aimed at both adult and child alike and the grown-up themes they portray is good evidence of that. We dug deep with this list to find where our common stories come from and what the original dark (very dark) stories really were. Hold on tight as we dive into these 25 Dark and Disturbing Original Versions Of Children’s Fairy Tales.
Italian Giambattista Basile’s version of Sleeping Beauty is really dark – the king who finds the girl rapes her while she’s asleep. She later on gives birth (while asleep) and is awoken only because one of the kids sucks out a splinter under her finger which was keeping her asleep. The king later kills his wife (who tried to get him to unknowingly eat the children) to be with Sleeping Beauty.
In Carlo Collodi’s original version, once Gepetto carves Pinocchio, the marionette runs away. He’s caught by the police who assume Gepetto has abused him and they imprison the puppet maker. Pinocchio goes back to Gepetto’s house that night and accidentally kills the wise talking cricket. He later gets hung from a tree and suffocates.
Peter and Wendy by J.M. Barrie has more adult themes than you’d guess. Peter brings Wendy to Neverland to act as a mother to the Lost Boys. With time, Wendy starts to fall in love with Peter and asks him how he feels for her. He describes himself as her faithful son – now that’s the strangest friend zoning we’ve ever heard!
The Three Little Pigs
Some versions of this English tale have the wolf eating the first and second piggies after he blows their weak straw and stick houses down.
The Little Mermaid
Hans Christian Andersen’s original story has the newly-legged mermaid walking but in excruciating pain with every step. If the prince married someone else, she would die and turn into sea foam. Spoiler alert: the prince married another. (In an attempt to save their kin, the mermaid’s sisters traded their hair for a dagger from the sea witch. If the mermaid killed the prince with it and drips his blood onto her feet, she would return to being a mermaid. Spoiler alert #2: she didn’t kill him.)
Aladdin is a Middle Eastern fairy tale in which Aladdin, then trapped in the magic cave, rubs a ring he wears and a lesser genie takes him back to his mother. His mother cleans the lamp and reveals a more powerful genie who gives Aladdin his wealth and palace. The sorcerer (not called Jafar) tricks Aladdin’s new wife, gets the lamp, and has the genie transport the palace to his home. Aladdin uses the ring genie to transport there, kills the sorcerer, and brings his palace back to where it was.
The Ugly Duckling
Hans Christian Andersen’s tale The Ugly Duckling is a famous story world-round. The real version has the little chick originally harassed incessantly by the other barnyard animals. He escapes and lives with wild geese and ducks who are soon slaughtered by hunters. An old woman takes him in, but her cat and hen harass him even more so he leaves again. After much abuse and spending winter alone, he joins the swans who return in spring.
The Frog Prince
In some versions, it’s not a kiss from the princess’s goodness that transforms the frog into a prince but chopping off his head. In the original Brothers Grimm version, the princess slams the frog into the wall to turn him back into a prince. Ouch! (A Russian folk version has a prince come upon a female frog/princess.)
Alice in Wonderland
Lewis Carroll’s version is odd throughout, including Alice finding a caterpillar smoking a hookah on a mushroom as well as her leaving the tea party ticked off at all the riddles and calling it the stupidest tea party she ever attended.
Beauty and the Beast
Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s Beauty and the Beast features Belle’s poor father first finding the mysterious castle and plucking a rose for his daughter. The Beast emerges, angry that after the food and drink he consumed he also takes the rose. The Beast allows him to take it if he returns, but Belle forces the story out of her father and goes to the castle. She stays there and the Beast continuously asks her to marry him. She keeps saying no until she finds him nearly-dead from heartbreak. Her tears over his body finally turn him into a prince.
In a Brothers Grimm version, Cinderella’s eldest sister, in an attempt to fit into the glass (golden, in their story) slipper, cuts off her toes. The second sister cuts off her heel. In both cases, two doves sent by Cinderella’s dead mother alert the prince of the sisters’ blood in the slippers. Though Cinderella was finally found to be the true owner of the slipper, during her wedding to the prince the doves return and poke her older sisters’ eyes out.
Puss in Boots
Charles Perrault’s Puss in Boots features a cat who wants to make his poor master rich. The cat continually catches rabbits in the forest and gives them to the king, courtesy of the fictitious Marquis of Carabas. One day, he steals the boy’s clothes while he’s bathing in the river and tells the approaching king the boy is the Marquis. After threatening townsfolk to say the boy is the Marquis less the cat turn them into mincemeat (and after tricking a shape-shifting ogre into a mouse form, at which point the cat eats him), the king is convinced and the boy is given the king’s daughter to marry.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
This Brothers Grimm tale paints a much darker story with the evil queen ordering the huntsman to take Snow White into the woods, kill her, and bring back her liver and lungs for the queen to eat. Later in the story, the prince and Snow White are getting married and invite all royalty in the land. The evil queen shows up, unknowing it was her stepdaughter’s wedding. When she arrives, she’s forced to step into burning-hot iron shoes brought from the fireplace and dance until she dies. That’s a hell of a tango.
Hansel and Gretel
The story of Hansel and Gretel may seem benign enough, but it may have referred to the many parents who deserted their children during a major European famine in the 14th century. Or, it might refer to a famous baker whose rival was so jealous of the ginger bread cookies she made he told the town she was a witch; they chased her down and burned her in her own oven.
Chu Renhuo’s version of Mulan has the warrior come home from war to find her father dead, her mother remarried, and the khan calling her to be his concubine. As it’s all too much for her, Mulan kills herself.
The Brothers Grimm’s Rapunzel still features a beautiful girl with long hair trapped in a tower by an evil witch. In their version the witch finds the prince has been visiting Rapunzel (who is pregnant); she cuts off the girl’s hair and banishes her to the wilderness. The prince returns that night and crawls up the hair only to find the evil witch. She pushes him off the tower into thornbushes which break his fall but stab his eyes out.
Little Jack Horner
The story goes that King Henry VIII was confiscating Catholic lands in England after breaking away from Rome. A bishop, trying to keep his abbey, tried bribing the king with 12 estates in return for not taking it, hiding the deeds in a pie crust to keep them safe from thieves. The king had the bishop quartered and hung but his servant Jack Horner escaped with the pie crust and the deeds.
The famous trickster Brer Rabbit actually has origins in Cherokee or African stories. (Though the Akan people of West Africa usually mention a trickster spider named Anansi, the stories are nearly identical.) Some academics say the American version of Brer Rabbit is an allusion to the African slaves who used their cunning against their slave masters.
The Goose Girl
The Germans love their fairy tales dark. In this one, a maid tricks her princess into changing identities with her so she can marry a prince. The maid kills the talking horse with them to keep evidence from getting out and the princess-turned-maid gets a job taking care of geese. Thankfully, the maid eventually received justice when she was thrown, naked, into a spike-filled barrel and rolled around town til she died.
Going under the original name Henny Penny, the original story of Chicken Little features the paranoid chick gathering up other animals on its way to tell the king the sky is falling (after an acorn fell on its head). Most endings have a fox invite the animals to its home where it eats them all.
Another Charles Perrault piece, Bluebeard tells the story of a wealthy, ugly, blue-bearded man who has been married many times; trouble is, no one knows what happens to his wives. After convincing one of his neighbour’s reluctant daughters to marry him and her moving in, he leaves for a while. He leaves all the chateau’s keys in her possession, including one to a door she’s forbidden to open. Curiousity gets the best of her and she opens the room, finding the bodies of his ex-wives hanging from hooks on the wall and the floor pooled with blood.
With a gruesome ending, the Brothers Grimm’s Rumpelstiltskin tells the story of an imp who makes a deal with a miller’s daughter. Her father tells the king she can weave straw into gold (she can’t) so he puts her to it, saying he’ll kill her if she doesn’t do it by morning. The girl meets an imp and they make a deal: he’ll weave the straw into gold if she gives him her firstborn. When the child is born, she can’t give it up. He agrees to relent if she can guess his real name. The girl snoops at his house and overhears him singing it. Next day, she tells him his true name and, in a fit of rage, he drives his right foot into the ground then grabs his left foot and tears himself in two.
The Fox and the Hound
American writer Daniel P. Mannix’s The Fox and the Hound isn’t originally so much about friendship. In it, the fox purposefully leads one of a man’s dogs onto railroad tracks where it’s hit by a train and dies. Furious, the master trains a dog (the one who befriends the fox in the Disney story) who finally chases the fox so much that the fox collapses from exhaustion and dies. The dog is close to death too, but its master nurses it back to health before later taking the dog out back and shooting it because he can’t have a dog in the nursing home.
The Pied Piper of Hamelin is a story which tries to account for the strange disappearance or death of most of the town’s children. The true story goes that the piper agreed with the mayor to get rid of the rat infestation. He did, luring the rats to a watery death in the river. However, the mayor refused to pay the full amount so the piper later returned and lured the children away. Some people believe the children may have been led away to participate in a children’s crusade.
Little Red Riding Hood
Yes, off to grandmother’s house she went, but in some original versions, the wolf arrived to the house early and chopped up the grandmother, putting her flesh in the pantry and blood in a wine bottle. He tells Red to have something to eat; she does, unknowing they are her grandmother’s remnants. Some also include the girl stripping naked, burning her clothes, getting into bed, and being eaten by the wolf.