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.