The shocking true stories behind children's fairytales
We explore the spine-chilling origins of a few popular children's fairytales and uncover the shocking true stories behind them.
If you grew up familiar with classic children’s fairytales and now read them to your little ones at bedtime, you may be surprised to discover that the real stories behind these fables about princesses, wolves and evil stepmothers are far more sinister and shocking than the watered-down modern versions printed on the glossy pages today.
Professor Jack Zipes, a retired professor of German at the University of Minnesota and an expert on fairytales and their origins, believes folk tales exist to help people to pass on tips for survival to the next generations.
He says, “I suspect that humans were just as violent in 600BC as they are today, so they will have exchanged tales about all types of violent acts.”
We explore the dark origins of a few popular children’s fairytales and uncover the shocking true stories behind them.
Cinderella’s stepsisters had their eyes pecked out
The Grimm brothers’ gruesome version of this popular story tells of a girl named Aschenputtel, whose mother has passed away and her father remarries a cruel sadist with two equally horrible daughters of her own.
Aschenputtel (Cinderella) asks her father for a simple twig from one of his many business trips, which she then plants over her mother’s grave and waters it with her tears of sorrow, making it grow into a magical tree that can grant her wishes.
After attending not one, but actually three royal balls, she keeps playing hard to get with the prince – who is totally infatuated with her – so he sets a trap which causes Aschenputtel to lose one of her gold shoes behind.
Her two stepsisters desperately try to fit in the shoe so they can marry the prince, so one of them actually cuts off her own big toe and the other slices off a part of her own heel, but they both end up bleeding all over the place.
The prince eventually marries Aschenputtel and her over-protective feathered friends peck out the eyes of her stepsisters.
Twisted moral of the story: Alfred Hitchcock was right – birds are very scary creatures indeed.
Sleeping Beauty was violated in her sleep
One of the earliest versions of this classic tale was published in 1634 by Giambattista Basile as Sun, Moon, and Talia, and is about a princess named Talia who gets a flax splinter in her finger and mysteriously falls into a deep sleep.
A king who is out hunting in the woods one day chances upon her and decides to have his way with her while she is unconscious, then goes on his merry way.
She falls pregnant and eventually gives birth to twins (while still asleep!) and one of the babies somehow sucks the splinter out of her finger, which makes her wake up.
Princess Talia and her two children, named Sun and Moon, eventually end up at the baby daddy’s estate, but his wife is so jealous with rage that she actually attempts to have the little ones killed and cooked to be fed to the unsuspecting king.
But he discovers his wife’s evil plot so ends up burning her alive and then lived with Talia and their children happily ever after.
Twisted moral of the story: Apparently a good night’s sleep is even more effective than getting an epidural.
Keep reading for more shocking true stories behind classic children’s fairytales.
Little Red Riding Hood was eaten alive
A little girl goes out alone into the woods one day to visit her grandmother who was ill (like any normal child would).
But a big bad wolf has actually devoured poor old grandma and put on her clothes in an attempt to trick Little Red Riding Hood into thinking that he was in fact her grandmother.
However, Little Red is not convinced by his disguise and tries to escape, but he catches her and swallows her whole then promptly falls fast asleep (think food coma).
A huntsman drops by to check on granny and discovers the snoring wolf – he then quickly figures out that dear old gran had probably gotten eaten by the wild beast so instead of shooting him dead on the spot, he cuts his belly open and out jumps Little Red Riding Hood and her frightened grandmother.
They fill the wolf’s now empty belly up with stones and when he wakes up, he tries to run away but instead collapses to the ground and immediately drops dead, so they skin him for his fluffy fur and then celebrate with some cake. Nice.
Twisted moral of the story: Don’t overeat yourself into a food-induced coma because it’s not very good for your health. Or life.
Snow White was forced into slavery
Another take by the Grimm brothers on a European folk story, their German version of this iconic Disney classic titled Schneewittchen, was about a young fair-skinned girl who seeks refuge in the woods after narrowly escaping death (decreed by her wicked stepmother).
She meets a few dwarves who were actually child miners but grew up deformed due to their harsh working conditions, and they force her into being their domestic helper in exchange for their protection.
After eating a poisoned apple from the evil queen, Schneewittchen is supposedly dead and lays in a glass coffin, eventually discovered by a random prince who insists on taking her with him to give her a proper burial.
But during the rough journey, the coffin gets bumped hard enough for the sleeping beauty to cough out the piece of poisoned apple lodged in her throat and she ends up marrying the prince.
At their wedding, the dwarves force the horrible old stepmother to wear heated iron shoes and dance continuously for hours until she succumbed to her death.
Twisted moral of the story: You can most certainly play that funky music ’til you die.
Want to know about the bizarre history behind more children’s fairytales? Go to the next page to find out.
The Little Mermaid committed suicide
Originally written in 1837 by Hans Christian Andersen, Den Lille Havfrue was about a love-sick mermaid who made a big sacrifice to have her tongue chopped off so she is unable to speak, and trades her scaly fins and tail for a pair of human legs so she can walk on land.
But her new gams cause her a great deal of pain and it feels like a hundred knives stabbing her with each step that she takes.
The love of her life ends up marrying someone else, so much to her dismay she contemplates stabbing him to death hoping that his blood can magically transform her back to her former aquatic self.
But she eventually decides against it and instead, ends her own life by returning to the water, where she immediately dissolves into sea foam.
Twisted moral of the story: Great legs aren’t everything in a relationship if you can’t speak up for yourself.
Hansel and Gretel murdered someone
In the old version of this children’s fairytale titled, The Lost Children, French author, Antoinette Bon, writes about two young children named Jean and his sister Jeanette, who were intentionally left in the woods to die by their hen-pecked father, as instructed by their cold-hearted stepmother.
They stumble across a house owned by a devil and his wife who capture them and lock them up in cages, hoping to fatten them up and eventually eat them.
When the devil asks Jeanette to cut off her brother’s pinky so he could check if he was fat enough to eat, she chops off a rat’s tail instead, thus tricking him, but he soon finds out the truth.
He demands that Jean be made to bleed out dry on a sawhorse, but the quick-thinking siblings manage to trap the devil’s wife there instead and slit her throat.
After taking all the gold in the house, the siblings run away and the devil eventually drowns while trying to chase after them.
Once they got back home again, they discover that their cruel stepmother has perished from starvation (serves her right), and they happily share their loot with their father.
Twisted moral of the story: Knowing how to swim is a vital life skill.
Now that we know the gruesome original versions of these popular children’s fairytales, we’re glad that throughout the years they have been sanitised enough for our little ones to enjoy before bedtime without being plagued by frightening nightmares!
Which is your favourite children’s fairytale? Have you heard of any other classic fables with dark origins? Share your stories with us by commenting below.