The Dark Side of Fairy Tales

Over the years, fairy tales have been rewritten and retold countless
times. But it is the Disney version of these fairy tales that live on in the
hearts of young minds today.

The sugar-coated version of these fairy tales is almost unrecognizable
from the original stories that were told by writers like the Grimm brother
and Hans Christian Anderson.

The Grimm brothers had published their first edition of “Nursery and
Household Tales” in two volumes aiming it at adults. But when the books
failed to do well in sales, they decided to tone down the material and
made it suitable for kids.

But these stories still retained many scary and disturbing elements. This
was because the stories were intended to educate children about the
consequences of evil deeds not to entertain them.

This article aims to explore the several disturbing dark themes that have
appeared in fairy tales rather than point out the darker versions of a few

1.Evil Step-Mothers

The moment I hear fairy tales it’s either Cinderella or Snow White and
their plight that comes to mind. Most fairy tales I had read had at least
one bad parent or at least bad parenting.

In the case of Cinderella or Snow White, their biggest enemy was their
stepmothers. Interestingly enough in the original versions of the Grimm
Brother fairy tales, there were no stepmothers, only mothers.

The 1812 version of “Hansel and Gretel”, the wife persuades her husband
to abandon their two children in the woods because they couldn’t afford to
feed them.

Snow White herself had an evil mother who grew jealous of her daughter’s beauty. The Grimm brothers in the later editions turned both these characters into stepmothers.

2. Rape

Unfortunately, our favorite fairy tales are not devoid of this horrific
element either. Charles Perrault’s Red Riding Hood was about the dangers
of sexual predators. Some authors believe the red cape to be a symbol of
sexuality and the wolf to be a sexual predator.

But the easiest quoted example of this trope would be the original version
of “The Sleeping Beauty”. Here instead of a prince, it is a king who
happens to find the sleeping princess. Taken with her beauty he tries to
wake her but she remains asleep.

Then he proceeds to rape her and leaves after he is done with her. She
only wakes up after one of the twins she gave birth to, whilst she is still asleep,
sucks out the flax from the spindle out of her finger. In the later versions,
the King gets replaced by a prince and the rape by a kiss.

3. Necrophilia

Among the disturbing themes already discussed and the ones yet to
come, necrophilia clinches the third position simply because of the sheer
popularity of the fairy tale this theme appears in is.

Most lovers of the fairy tale Snow White would be crushed to know that it
was not the kiss of a random prince that woke up the dead princess. In
fact, in the original story, the prince seeks shelter in the dwarfs’ cottage
and falls in love with now dead Snow White and her beautiful coffin.

He convinces the dwarfs to give him the coffin. His servants’ trip and drop
the coffin a little as they carry it away which dislodged the piece of apple
stuck in her throat which wakes her up.

4. Premarital Sex

The prince in the original version of “Rapunzel” impregnates Rapunzel
after they spend many days together living in “joy and pleasure”. In "The
Frog King” a princess spends a night with her suitor once he turns out to
be a handsome bachelor.

The “Hans Dumm” on the other hand manages to impregnate its princess
simply by wishing it. The Grimm’s got rid of the sex scenes from the later
versions and eliminated “Hans Dumm” entirely.

5. Mutilation, Cannibalism, Graphic Violence and Child Abuse

In “The Juniper Tree” a woman hacks up her stepson, cooks him and
serves him to his father. In “Snow White” the Queen demands the
huntsman to deliver Snow White’s lungs and liver.

In this scene, the girl is only seven years old. The girl in “The Handless
Maiden” has her arms chopped off by her father. A group of bandits hunt
down and kill women for fun in “The Robber Bridegroom”.

In fact, in one scene they drag a maiden into their underground hideout
and forces the woman to drink wine until her heart bursts and then rips
off her clothes and hacks up her body to pieces.

Hansel is put in a cage where he is being fattened up by the witch so that
she can eat him in “Hansel and Gretel”. In Cinderella, the stepsisters
chop of their toes to fit into the shoe and the Prince only notices when he
sees the blood pouring from the shoe.

They later have their eyes plucked out by doves. In “Snow White” the
wicked queen dies after being forced to dance in red-hot iron shoes.

6. Incest

A king, in the story “All-Kinds-of-Fur”, promises his dying wife that he
would only remarry if his new bride were to be as beautiful as her.

Unfortunately, the only woman who is as beautiful as his now-dead wife is
his daughter, who escapes the clutches of her father by hiding in the

7. Anti-Jewish Sentiments

The Grimms' worked in the early 19th Century, a time when European
nationalism was growing and they sought to compile most German of
German stories.

Therefore, both the fairy tales and the Grimm brothers were associated
with European Nationalism and the Nazi. During the Third Reich, the Nazis
used these fairy tales for propaganda.

They gathered over 200 stories, 3 of which contained Jewish characters.
The protagonist of “The Jew in the Brambles” happily bullies a Jew forcing
him to dance on thorns.

The man also insults the Jew and the Jew is later condemned as he turns
out to be a thief and is hanged. In another story, “The Good Bargain” a
Jewish man is portrayed as a swindler.

Written By - Christeena George

Edited by - Sandhya R