Today, fairy tales are fun and enjoyable stories that we tell our children when they are little. Contemporary editions of these age-old stories almost universally have a happy ending and shy away from any realistic depictions of violence or trauma.

To us, this is natural; why would one ever want to expose children to graphic depictions of violence in stories that are supposed to comfort them.

We expect our fairy tales to tell us how the beautiful princess and dashing knight fall madly in love with each other and how they live together in a beautiful castle living a carefree life after the events of the tale.

However, this fascination with happy endings is a distinctly recent mode of thinking. In fact, many of the fairy tales we still tell today have much darker origins.

First composed centuries ago, they were strictly morality tales used to expose children to the realities of the world and teach them lessons about how to behave in the world.

Rather than serving primarily as tales of fantasy that whisk children away to a magical world, the fairy tales of centuries ago were meant to be teaching devices. By adding in gruesome elements to the story, it emphasized the importance of the lesson being taught.

This fundamental difference in the role of fairy tales within society can be understood as the reason why fairy tales changed from the violently realistic and gruesome originals to our sanitized modern stories.

Without further ado, let us jump into the origins of some of the most popular fairy tales today.

10 The Pied Piper

We all are familiar with the tale of the Pied Piper. When a small village is overrun by an infestation of rodents, a mysterious figure known as the Pied Piper offers to rid the town of this problem—for a fee. His methods are unquestionably unorthodox.

The Piper has a special pipe that can make the rats follow him when he plays it. True to his word, the Pied Piper plays music on his flute to draw the rats out of the town. They follow him past the borders of the town and do not return after the Pied Piper stops to play his tune.

The villagers, however, refuse to pay up when the Pied Piper returns to the city. To exact his revenge, he plays his pipe again, this time forcing the children of the town to follow him.

This is where the original and contemporary versions of the story diverge. In the modern version, the Pied Piper simply leads the children to a cave and releases them when the villagers agree to pay the previously agreed-upon price to the Pied Piper. The original story is much darker. The Pied Piper was no longer interested in the villagers’ money, and instead led the children to a river where the all drowned.



9 Little Red Riding Hood

Another classic to read to your children, Little Red Riding Hood is the story of a girl whose grandmother was eaten by a wolf. When visiting her grandmother, Little Red Riding Hood is tricked by the wolf who had dressed just as her grandmother used to and wanted to lure the girl into the house so he could eat her too.

In our modern version of the story, when it seems as though all hope is lost, a mysterious woodsman enters the house, kills the wolf posing as Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother and saves the day. However, this version of the story diverges sharply from the original French tale.

In this version, Little Red Riding Hood was not even a young girl, but rather a noble woman who was out travelling to see her grandmother. During her journey, she stopped to ask directions of a wolf on how to best go visit her grandmother.

Following the instructions she received from the wolf, she is eventually led astray and eaten alive by the wolf. This tale must have scared younger children out of ever trusting or asking directions from unknown strangers and rather relying upon trusted friends and family for advice.

8 The Little Mermaid

This fantasy tale was popularized by the famous Disney cartoon from the 1989. The bright colors and sanitized version of the original tale appealed to children, making their animated feature a modern staple.

Their version of the fairy tale tells the story of a beautiful mermaid, Ariel, who falls in love a human, Eric. This tale has a happy ending in which Ariel is magically transformed from a mermaid into a human, and she and Eric have a picture-perfect wedding that is celebrated both by the humans and the residents of the sea.

Hans Christian Andersen’s original version of this tale is decidedly darker. The two share a common premise—a mermaid Ariel who falls in love with a beautiful human prince.

However, there is no magic in Andersen’s tale. Realizing that she will never be able to be with Eric, Ariel despairs and chooses to kill herself rather than live a life in which they cannot be together. When given the chance to kill Eric, she chooses not to and instead dives into the sea, which turns Ariel to froth.

Even a modified version created by Andersen himself is unable to result in a totally happy ending. Rather than turning to froth, Ariel becomes a spirit of the air. The end result, however, is the same—Ariel dies at the end of the story.

7 Snow White

Another fairy tale made hugely popular by the original Disney cartoon, Snow White tells the story of a beautiful girl whom an evil queen orders dead. The clean Disney version tells us that the Queen tasked a huntsman with killing Snow White, ordering him to bring back her heart as proof that Snow White was dead.

The original Grimm fairy tell does not deviate too much from this original story, but contains several more gruesome details that Disney left out. Rather than telling the huntsman to return with Snow White’s heart, the Brothers Grimm wrote that the queen told the huntsman to bring back liver and lungs to be used in preparation of a feast in the castle later that night.

Furthermore, the Grimm version did not feature Snow White waking up from a kiss, but rather waking up after being shaken while on the prince’s horse. Finally, the conclusion of the original Snow White recounts the evil queen forced to dance to her death while wearing shoes made of red-hot iron.

6 Sleeping Beauty

Continuing with our theme of old fairy tales revitalized by Disney animated films created during the twentieth century, the gruesome features of the original Sleeping Beauty has been toned to meet our contemporary sensibilities. The modern tale is sweet—a beautiful woman is put to sleep by accidentally pricking her finger on a spinning wheel.

Having slept for a hundred years, a handsome prince arrives and kisses her sleeping figure. Awoken by his kiss, Sleeping Beauty falls in love with the prince and the two get married and live their happily ever after. Naturally, the first version of this fairy tale is far more brutal.

Sleeping Beauty is indeed put to sleep, but rather than a curse forcing her to sleep, a prophecy has foretold it. Once she has fallen asleep, a king comes in and sees her sleeping body. When the king sees her unconscious, he decides to force himself upon her and r*pe her sleeping body.

This causes her to get pregnant, and she sleeps throughout her full term of pregnancy. After nine months have passed, she gives birth to twins.

One of the twins crawls over to her finger and sucks on it, removing a small piece of flax covering the prick she received from the spinning wheel, thereby breading the curse and waking Sleeping Beauty. Rather than waking to see a handsome prince waking her, the original version of Sleeping Beauty awakes with finding herself violated and with two crying children.

5 Rumpelstiltskin

In a twist, this fairy tale was modified by the original author. Rather than deciding that his first version of the story was too gruesome, the author found it too clean, so he decided to make an updated version with an appropriate level of violence.

His original tale tells the story of a craftsman who is able to spin straw into gold. He makes an agreement with a young girl who has been sentenced to death unless she can perform the same feat that Rumpelstiltskin can. In return, the craftsman demanded her firstborn child.

The girl agrees, but when she has had her first child, she is unable to bring herself to part with her baby. Rumpelstiltskin offers her another chance—if she was able to correctly guess his name, he would release her from the agreement. Miraculously, the girls was able to do so, and Rumpelstiltskin lived up to his word, despite being upset that he lost this challenge.

However, the original author found this too tame and modified the tale so that, upon hearing his name guessed correctly, Rumpelstiltskin drove his right foot into the ground, reached down to grab his left foot, and yanked so hard that he tore himself in half.

4 Goldilocks And The Three Bears

With Goldilocks and the Three Bears, we return to a story that has been sanitized from its original version.

In our modern version, Goldilocks sneaks into the house of a family of three bears and eats the food they have left out. Tired from digesting their food, she falls asleep on the bed of the smallest bear, only to awake when she hears them returning. Terrified, Goldilocks escapes out a window before the bears can return to the house and discover her.

There are two versions of the original version, both of which are far more gruesome than this iteration. In the first, the bears simply discover Goldilocks and eat her. In the second, Goldilocks is not a young girl, but rather an old hag.

Like the modern version, the hag tries to escape out the window when sensing the bears’ return, but the fall breaks her neck and kills her. Either of these endings create a tale that is much more violent than the version that we know today.

3 Hansel And Gretel

With the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel, we return to an ancient tale that has since been modified heavily to remove the graphic depictions of violence. In the version of the fairy tale that we still tell today, two siblings, Hanse and Gretel, are out walking in the forest when they get lost. After wandering around for some time, they come upon a gingerbread house belonging to an old witch.

The evil witch enslaves Hansel and Gretel, eventually planning to eat the two children. However, Hansel and Gretel figure out a way to escape from the witch’s house and throw her in the fire, running away back into the forest.

The original telling of this tale replaces the witch with a devil who captures the children. Rather than falling for their trick, the devil catches on and quickly builds a sawhorse to put the children on.

Thinking quickly, Hansel and Gretel feign ignorance, prompting the devil’s wife to demonstrate herself. While she is lying on the sawhorse, the children slash the throat of the devil’s wife and use it as an opportunity to escape back into the wilderness.

2 The Girl Without Hands

Compared with some of the other tales we have discussed, the differences between the original and the modern versions of this story are relatively small. In the modern tale, the devil confronts an old man, promising him incredible wealth if he simply gives the devil whatever is behind his mill.

Thinking that there is nothing behind the mill than an apple, the old man agrees. However, he had forgotten that his daughter stood there. The devil tries to take the old man’s daughter, but she is so pure that the devil is unable to take her.

Unwilling to leave with nothing, the devil threatens the old man, saying that he will instead take him unless he cuts off his daughter’s hands. The old man agrees, leaving his daughter’s hands amputated, but the devil eventually leaves.

In the original version, however, the daughter chooses to chop off her own arms to make herself less attractive to her brother whom she has caught trying to force himself on her.

1 Cinderella

The final spot in our list goes to one of the most popular fairy tales every written—Cinderella. This is the story of a girl with two evil stepsisters who are trying to win the affection of a local prince. After a magical night at a ball, the prince falls in love with Cinderella and uses one of the glass slippers she left behind to identify who the mysterious girl was.

In our modern version, he finds Cinderella and the two step-sisters get to marry local lords. Everyone in this story has their own happily ever after.

In the version of this tale told by the Brothers Grimm, the sisters are so determined to fit Cinderella’s slipper on their feet that they even cut off their own body parts. However, the prince is alerted to their scheme by a pigeon who pecks out their eyes. When Cinderella fits into the slipper, she is swept away by the prince, leaving her two evil step-sisters blind beggars for the rest of their lives.

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