5 Horrifying Origins of Popular Fairy Tales

Popular fairy tales are part of the collective web that unite many of us, teaching us about mystery, morality, magic and wonder. Thanks to Disney and modern storytelling, many of us have been spared the deeply disturbing truth about these fairy tales; that they are so horrific in their original form that they would scare even the biggest horror fans.


rapunzel-dame-gothel-popular-fairy-tale-originsIn the original story of this popular fairy tale, a witch called Dame Gothel keeps Rapunzel trapped in a tower alone with all of life’s luxuries, periodically visiting her by climbing the tower using Rapunzel’s hair. Despite Dame Gothel’s best efforts, Rapunzel is visited by a prince with whom she falls in love. On one of her visits, the witch discovers that Rapunzel is pregnant, throwing her into a wild rage in which she cuts off Rapunzel’s hair and banishes her. In the evening, when the prince comes to visit Rapunzel in her tower, he finds Dame Gothel instead who pushes him out of the tower window, causing him to be blinded by thorns. He wanders through the wasteland for months, blindly searching for Rapunzel. Eventually, he is reunited with her and her tears restore his sight.

The Little Mermaid

Image credit: Edmund Dulac

In this story favorite, the little mermaid visits the sea witch and swaps her tongue for feet so she can see the prince she fell in love with after rescuing him. But every step she takes feels like a thousand knives plunging through her and her toes begin to bleed. As if this weren’t an excruciating enough turn, she’s told that if she doesn’t convince the prince to marry her, she will die on the first dawn he spends married to another. Unfortunately, the prince thinks another woman is responsible for saving him and marries her. In a desperate effort to save her life, the little mermaid’s sisters exchange their hair for a knife from the sea witch. If the little mermaid kills the prince before dawn and pours his blood on her feet, she doesn’t need to die and will be restored as a mermaid. The little mermaid can’t bring herself to kill him and dies instead. As you can see, this popular fairytale had deeply sad beginnings.

Sleeping Beauty

sleeping-beauty-grimm-disturbing-fairy-talesThis popular fairy tale has many wonderful versions you can see in story and film, yet none even begin to touch the bizarre and disturbing original form. In the original tale, a king finds the protagonist sleeping and is so overcome with lust that he rapes her! She bears him 2 children whilst still asleep. One of the infants, trying to suckle her breast, suckles her finger instead, pulling out the splinter and waking her from her deep enchanted slumber. The king’s wife learns about her husband’s deeds. In a murderous rage of jealousy, she tries to cook Sleeping Beauty and the children she bore the rapist king but, before she can succeed, the king murders his maddened wife instead.


pinocchio-scary-popular-fairy-talesIn the original version of this popular fairy tale, when Pinocchio is given feet, he runs away. He then causes people to think Gepetto is abusing him leading to Gepetto being jailed. When the Talking Cricket advises Pinocchio to go home, the animated marionette accidently kills him with a hammer! The cricket then returns as a ghost to guide Pinocchio. Despite this, the gullible puppet is eventually tricked into believing that he will grow a gold tree if he plants gold coins. The people who tricked Pinocchio then hang him by a rope from a tree, vowing to return when he’s dead in order to steal his gold coins. Ultimately, Pinocchio learns the error of his ways and returns to take care of his father.

Red Riding Hood

little-red-riding-hood-scary-fairy-talesIn this original tale, the wolf kills Red Riding Hood’s grandmother, draining her blood into a wine jar and preparing her meat to offer to Red Riding Hood upon the poor girl’s arrival. Unlike events in modern versions of the popular fairy tale, the wolf, dressed as the grandmother, convinces Red Riding Hood to undress, throw her clothes on the fire, and get into bed, at which point he eats her!

These classic fairy tales were rooted in brutality as a means to dissuade children from actions that were potentially dangerous, much like the cautionary nature of many horror films from modern times. Now that you know their true origins, don’t forget to cast a thought to their horrific beginnings the next time you stumble upon a lighter version of one of these popular fairy tales.


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