Fairy Tales or Horror Stories?


Who would have thought that the innocent and charming fairy tales that you read to your children actually have older versions with far more sinister meanings.

I recently read a couple of fairy stories to my two daughters, both were older editions of the usual gentle and innocuous versions that I’m used to. I certainly wasn’t prepared for some of the graphic content! This made me investigate a few other gruesome fairy tales with some horrific content involving rape and murder! Not so much fairy tales, but horror stories!

  • Red Riding Hood

Newer versions of this tale mostly see the wolf being caught before he has a chance to eat either the grandmother or Red Riding Hood. So I was a little stunned when, in the older version I was reading to my daughters, the wolf first gobbled up Grandmother and then RRH without a pause for breath. Luckily my daughters didn’t seem too bothered by this and so I carried on reading only to be greeted with the savage picture shown below of the woodcutter swinging his axe to cut open the wolf and pull out his eaten relatives.

IMG_5945 IMG_5946

Whilst relieved that there were no images of a bloody RRH or a half-eaten Grandmother, I was still a bit shocked to be reading such a graphic version. My daughters however seemed to take it all in their stride asking various straight forward questions like “How did they get out?” “Did he actually cut the wolf?” Leaving me to navigate some careful answers.

It seems that the original version by Charles Perrault in 1697 was even less sympathetic with no happy ending. The wolf represents a sexual predator and in those days when a girl who lost her virginity was said to have “seen the wolf”, Perrault gives an explicit moral ending to the tale.

  • Rapunzel

Last summer, my eldest daughter received a pretty looking Rapunzel story for her 4th birthday which tells the story we all know about Rapunzel being whisked off to a high tower by an evil witch. A prince eventually finds her and woos Rapunzel. In this version of the book, the witch discovers what has been going on, pushes the prince from the window of the tower where he falls into a thorn bush and is blinded. It all ends happily when the prince and Rapunzel are reunited and her tears cure his blindness. Phew! That’s all right then.

Again, a slightly more frightening version than the more innocuous Disney film and usual book versions that I’m used to, but again both kids didn’t seem bothered in the slightest.

It seems the original written in 1698 is fairly close to the version that I read but the only difference is that she becomes pregnant whilst in the tower and even innocently remarks to her captor that her clothes are becoming too tight.


  • Sleeping Beauty

I think this original tale has to take the biscuit for most gruesome. Rather than pricking her finger on a spinning wheel, the princess gets a splinter under her finger nail and falls asleep. A prince finds the sleeping princess and when he can’t wake her up, rapes her whilst still unconscious. She then goes onto give birth to two children whilst unconscious and one of the babies sucks her finger breaking the curse. The princess wakes up and wants to be with the prince but as he is already married he burns his wife alive so that they can be together. Not before the wife tries to first kill and eat the babies.

What can you say to this?!  Can you imagine even attempting to read this version to your kids? It’s so gruesome it makes me wince!


  • Cinderella

Practically all versions follow the same story of the prince trying to find his true love by asking women to try on a shoe. The original story by Brothers Grimm in 1812 is a bit more horrific which sees the stepsisters cutting off part of their feet to try and get the glass slipper to fit. And whilst Cinderella gets to marry her prince and live in luxury, the step sisters have their eyes pecked out by a couple of doves and spend the rest of their lives as blind beggars.

  • Snow White

In the original Brothers Grimm version of Snow White in 1812 the wicked queen was actually Snow White’s real mother. The queen sends out the huntsman to bring back Snow White’s liver and lungs for her to eat. Snow White actually dies rather than falls into a sleep and is only woken by accident when the apple is dislodged by the prince’s servant. The queen attends the wedding but is forced to wear iron shoes that have been cooking in the fire and then dances until she falls down dead.


Through The Years

It’s fascinating that for hundreds of years we continue to read these fairy tales to our children, they form part of our heritage and our culture. And yet it’s bizarre that they could have started out so gruesome and with such sinister meaning. Could they really have been read to children all those years ago or were they merely for the entertainment of adults?

The fact that my children didn’t even flinch on the more explicit story and image of Red Riding Hood makes me wonder if we nowadays go too far the other way covering up certain gruesome facts from kids. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no way I would ever consider reading them the original version of Sleeping Beauty, but have we watered things down too much? Kids are inquisitive and are not stupid. As we as a family have witnessed only too well last year, they understand pain, death and cruelty much more than we give them credit for.

It’s only natural as a parent and carer to want to shield our children from harm. But they are far more resilient than we think.

Having said that, I’ll still be checking any old versions of fairy tales before I read them out loud, if only to prepare myself and prevent my gasps of horror whilst reading!


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0 thoughts on “Fairy Tales or Horror Stories?

  1. Really interesting post Cheryl. I think in the 1600s children would have been much more used to death, seeing it in their families often enough as lots of babies didn’t survive their first year. Life would’ve been hard and scary and I guess the stories helped prepare them for what they might have to face. Yes I think we are probably too protective of children now but that’s because we all have easier, more comfortable lives and even as adults we find the brutalities of life hard to deal with. Well done, good research here!

  2. Very interesting post Cheryl, well done. Agree with Sheila’s post that maybe we are too protective of our children these days

  3. Really interesting. I’ve read a few things about how fairy tales have changed over times and how some got dropped from the next editions of collections as attitudes about what was suitable for children changed over time.

  4. Very interesting post! I’ve long since been of the opinion that fairy tales (the ones I grew up with at any rate) were written by deviants. Having said that, maybe they are simply representative of the times in which they were written when society was very different to how we know it now. Children were treated badly and women were second class citizens. Makes you think doesn’t it? #abitofeverything

    1. Totally does make you think! I wonder what on earth those days were like. There would have been a lot more disease and death so perhaps the older versions were meant to prepare children in some way. Thanks for commenting. X

  5. I studied fairy tales for one my children’s literature classes years ago, where I discovered the true meaning of these stories. What my professor told us was that these stories were told to children to both scare them and prepare them for the harsh realities of life back then. Many of the stories were told to little girls to scare them into staying away from boys and men. It was to “scare them straight” so to speak. Little boys were scared too into behaving. If I remember correctly, the original version of Hansel and Gretel is the perfect story that parents liked to tell children to scare them into not running away because I am almost positive (my memory is a little off, so I could be wrong) that the children die in the original fairy tale. This is a great post! I’m a huge history and literature buff so now I have to go check this to see if my memory is right. LOL! We do coddle our children a little too much these days but what does a parent do when our first instinct is to shield them and protect them from any harm? Very interesting. I am really glad I read your post! #abitofeverything

    1. Oh thanks so much for your comments! I had a feeling that these scary older versions were told in a way to prepare children for the dangers of their lives back then. I’d love to know about what really happened to Hansel and Gretel! Let me know if you find out! Glad you find it as fascinating as I do! Thanks for stopping by. X

  6. omg i can’t believe that’s the original sleeping beauty!! I think that classifies as horror story for sure! I don’t like the way fairy tales are so dark on film. I haven’t shown them to my kids as I don’t think children need to watch violence. And honestly I don’t enjoy it! The written versions aren’t as bad. #abitofeverything

    1. I know Becky! I couldn’t believe it when I first found that out. My girls love the old Disney Sleeping Beauty classic, but there’s no way I’d let them see or hear anything close to the older version. Thanks for commenting. X

  7. I can not believe the original version of Sleeping Beauty! Why would anyone write that and then read it to children? I do think some of the modern Dinsey-fied fairy tales can be a bit too happy and give children unrealistic expectations for late life but I would take them any day over these old horror stories!I don’t think we should sugar coat everything for our kids but I really don’t think the themes in these original fairy tales are suitable for young children either xx #abitofeverything

    1. It’s a funny one Wendy isn’t? I agree that some of these typical modern versions make me sick with their boy gets girl ending, but the originals are too scary in the extreme! Surely there could be a slightly less sugar coated version! Thanks for commenting. X

  8. I’m not sure how but I knew the original fairytales, or grim stories in there original form. I think I read aesops Fables and others where the true meaning is revealed. Although I have never heard of the original sleeping beauty, that sounds a bit gruesome! I think the Disney versions of the books, and films are fine because they all end happily.

    The original stories were there to educate and prepare children for the inevitability of death and sadness. We live such an easy Life nowadays that it’s hard to contemplate reading these stories to children, but I do think that a suitable age the history of how children lived should be explained, so they can understand and have gratitude for what they have today xxx #Abitofeverything

  9. Sleeping Beauty! No! Really? I found this really interesting, I love finding out the origin of things – like children’s nursery rhymes and often they’ve got a really gruesome past. I knew some of these but not the sleeping beauty one. I am shocked! Fab post.

    1. Thanks Zoe I was really shocked when I discovered the origin of Sleeping Beauty too. I can’t see how that would ever be told to children! I’m the same, I find it fascinating. Will do another post soon on nursery rhymes. X

  10. I think a lot of kids prefer the gruesome versions (although Sleeping Beauty is going way too far!). The version of Little Red Riding I knew as a child involved Grandma and Red Riding hood being eaten and the wood cutter cutting open the wolf – I didn’t even know there was a nicer version lol! #TheList

  11. Great post. I worked on the rerelease of the Ladybird classics (the Red Riding Book you include was from that series) and it was in direction opposition to the more Disney-fied versions which were considered too sanitised and sexist. I had no idea about the gruesome origins of Sleeping Beauty!! Grimm indeed….

    1. I must admit I think this Little Red Riding Hood version is exactly right. Not too bad or too sugar coated. I just wish I’d scanned the book before reading it straight out to the kids! Xx

  12. Someof the more violent versions of the tales I was aware of, I remeber the rapunzel version as a child, but sleeping beauty……wow!! What else can you say…….
    Thanks for linking up with us, Tracey xx #abitofeverything

  13. Absolutely love this!! I knew of most of these. I’ve always found the true story of sleeping beauty really disturbing and morally wrong. I’ve always wondered though if this has meant that we over the hundreds of years have built a better moral compass that’s allowed us to correct these points. Fab post! #abitofeverything

  14. OH. MY. GOODNESS! The Sleeping Beauty one, I had no idea that is horrid. Wow great post. Thanks for linking up to #thelist x

  15. We own a Grimm’s fairy tale book with many of these original fairy tales. My then 7 year old son LOVED those stories. He preferred them to the Disney versions. #MMWBH

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