"And they all lived happily ever after." At least that’s what the modern kid’s versions of fairy tales would have you believe. But there’s been a push in Hollywood lately to give the age-old tales a dark makeover, with effects and evil elements meant more for adults than children. The latest example? Snow White and the Huntsman, a film that has Snow White becoming a warrior to defeat her soul-sucking stepmother. This movie, along with other fairy tale reincarnations, such as 2011′s Red Riding Hood, and the upcoming Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, may give your kids nightmares, but these dark versions are actually much closer to the originals than you may remember. While we may associate cute songs and happy endings with fairy tales, the original tellings were far more disturbing. Take these seven stories for example; Snow White and the Huntsman won’t seem so dark after all.
Let’s just start with the inspiration for the latest film. This Brothers Grimm story wasn’t all songbirds and true-love kisses as we’ve been led to believe. The main story arc is the same, with the evil queen/stepmother trying to kill Snow White and a prince coming to her rescue, but some weird pieces didn’t make it into the version we know. In the Grimm version, instead of demanding the huntsman bring her Snow’s heart, the Queen actually wants the liver and lungs so she can eat them, but of course is tricked into eating boring ol’ pig liver and lungs. The band of dwarves basically forces Snow White to work for them in return for protection (and in the Albanian version, the dwarves essentially rape her). The Queen is almost successful in her mission with her trusty apple, but it isn’t a kiss that wakes Snow White up from her sleep. The handsome prince buys her corpse and coffin from the dwarves, and while he’s riding away with it, the piece of apple is shaken loose and she wakes up. Not quite as romantic. As punishment, the Queen is forced to dance herself to death in a pair of hot iron shoes.
Lessons learned: Be suspicious of gangs of dwarves. If a dude purchases your almost-dead body from your loved ones, only marry him if he’s a prince. Oh, and vanity and jealousy don’t pay off.
In the sanitized version you might be familiar with, the pied piper agrees to get rid of a town’s rat infestation in exchange for payment. After he lures the rats to their deaths with his pipe songs, the town refuses to pay. He leads the town’s children to a cave, holds them until he is given his payment, and then returns them safely. The original versions have the children following the pied piper and never being seen again or even drowning in the river. Even more horrifying is the fact that this story might have been based on actual events. Most scholars agree that something terrible happened to 130 children in the 13th century in Hamelin, Germany. Though magical flute music may not have been involved, it seems that the children were taken to the mountains and lost. The Grimm brothers are believed to have embellished the German legend, which has now been passed down as a mere fairy tale.
Lesson learned: Hold up your end of a deal or your kids will be murdered. Conversely, a mass killing will make you feel much better about getting ripped off.
If you’re a vengeful person, you may not feel like the ugly stepsisters in "Cinderella" really got what they deserved at the end of the story. Some versions even have the two marrying lords and also living happily! Where’s the justice in that? In the original Grimm story, the stepsisters really get what’s coming to them. When their feet don’t fit in the shoe, one cuts off her toes and the other cuts off her heel to fool the prince. He actually falls for it both times until some talking pigeons point out the bloody shoe. Once the prince has the right girl, those pigeons actually peck out the eyes of the stepsisters.
Lesson learned: If the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t wear it.
You know how the story goes: the beauty pricks her finger on a spindle and is awoken by a kiss from her brave and handsome prince. Surprisingly, this is actually the modified Grimm version of the story. Its predecessors were far more macabre. An Italian story by Giambattista Basile, called "Sun, Moon and Talia," has a married prince come visit the girl while she is in her magical sleep. He doesn’t kiss her, though; he rapes her! She gets pregnant and gives birth to twins while she’s still sleeping, and doesn’t wake up until one of them sucks on her finger and removes the poisonous thorn. Good morning! You’re a mother now! The prince’s angry wife orders the twins be cooked and served to her husband. The prince gets angry when she tells him what he’s eating and throws his wife into the fire, after which he learns that the cook substituted goat meat for the children. The formerly sleeping beauty then marries her rapist/baby daddy.
Lessons learned: A cursed sleep is better for birthing children painlessly than any epidural. If you feed your husband his own children, don’t tell him what he’s eating.
"Hansel and Gretel" is horrible enough in its familiar version from the Grimm brothers. Two kids get lost in the woods, eat someone’s house, and then are captured by a witch with plans to fatten them up and eat them. There’s no way they got out of there without being traumatized. A related variant of the story from France called "The Lost Children" includes the basic elements of the story, but instead of a witch that the pair of kids push into an oven or fire, the antagonist is the devil who can smell the children because they are Christians. He builds a sawhorse so he can bleed them (yep, bleed them), but the kids trick the devil’s wife (hey, even the devil needs love) to lay on it, and then slit her throat and escape.
Lesson learned: Don’t marry the devil.
We’ve heard a few different versions of this strange tale in our time, including endings involving the woodsman either finding the grandma in the closet or cutting her out of the wolf’s belly, or the more dire ending where Red gets eaten. But the early versions of the story take the creepy factor to a whole new level. The wolf (sometimes a werewolf or ogre) goes to Grandma’s house and eats her, but saves some of her meat and blood, which he gets Red to eat and drink when she arrives. Then the wolf makes Little Red Riding Hood take off all her clothes and climb in bed with him. When the girl realizes he plans to eat her, she says she needs to poop and doesn’t want to do it in the bed. The wolf ties a string to her so he can keep tabs on her when she goes outside, but she ties the string to a tree and escapes. That doesn’t save her from the fact that she cannibalized her grandma, though.
Lessons learned: Don’t talk to strangers and definitely don’t tell them where your poor, defenseless grandma lives. Visit your grandmother enough to know she doesn’t look like a wolf. Pooping is a brilliant excuse to get away from someone who wants to eat you.
The original "Little Mermaid" by Hans Christian Andersen tells a tale a little too true to life for anyone out there who’s had their heart broken. The little mermaid gets legs to be with her prince, but every time she walks or dances, it feels like she’s being stabbed. Of course, she dances for the prince anyway because she loves him and wants to make him happy (and because she’ll literally die if he doesn’t marry her). And yet, the prince still marries someone else. She’s given the option to stab the prince to become a mermaid again and thus save her life, but instead chooses to throw herself into the sea and become sea froth. Some versions have her becoming a daughter of the air, whatever that is, but we all know that’s nothing compared to getting true love.
Lessons learned: Love’s not worth the sacrifice. Stab the guy if you get the chance.