7 stories that show the twisted truth behind fairy tales

Young Woman Walking on Path into Enchanted Forest
WASHINGTON — Today, Feb. 26, is Tell a Fairy Tale Day. In honor of it, we’re sharing some fairy tales. In fact, we’re sharing the morbid reality behind some of the oldest and most loved fairy tales.

Be forewarned; these stories aren’t the kind you tell your kids. Death, abuse and the weird are common throughout. Though there are many sources of fairy tales, the selected ones here are from the Grimm brothers, who started writing  “children’s” stories in the early 1800s.

Here, we offer you the quick, concentrated version, focusing on the darkness rather than the happily ever-after. (Photo credit: Thinkstock)

Illustration depicting fairy tale of
Little Brother Little Sister — Grimm’s Fairy Tales

This story starts out with a brother talking to his sister about how their parents are dead, their stepmother abuses them and they only get bread crusts while the dog gets the good stuff. So he takes his sister and runs away.

Eventually, the brother drinks from a stream that was cursed by his stepmom, who is also a witch, and he turns into a buck. His sister bawls her eyes out and they go to live in a cottage. They are discovered by a king who marries the sister and lets the deer run around the palace.

When the witch stepmom hears about this, she’s not too happy. And neither is her birth daughter — who, by the way, is hideous and one-eyed. Somehow, she devises a plan to lock up the sister in a bathroom shortly after she gives birth. The witch lights a fire and the sister suffocates. The witch then turns her own daughter into an image of the queen, except for that missing eye. It won’t go away.

Unfortunately for her, the true sister/queen’s ghost visits the baby, and the king sees her. He has the one-eyed bride torn up by wolves and the stepmother burned alive.

Then the sister comes back to life and the brother turns back into a human. They lived … happily ever after? Click here to read the full story.

(Photo credit: Thinkstock)

Rendering depicting
Little Red-Cap (Little Red Riding Hood) — Grimm’s Fairy Tales

We all know this story, but this is a little more gruesome. Basically, Red loves anyone and everyone who looks at her, and they her — her granny most of all. Granny had made for her the beautiful red velvet cap (or cape, as it became) she was known for.

On her trip to grandmother’s house, she runs into a wolf. Immediately trusting, she tells the wolf where her grandmother lives and he devises a plan to eat them both. He heads to granny’s and devours her, then puts on her clothes. Unfortunately, when Red arrives, he eats her, too. Luckily, a passing huntsman thinks Granny is snoring too loudly and goes to investigate.

Once inside he realizes something is wrong. With a pair of scissors, he cuts the wolf’s belly open. Luckily, Granny and Red are fine, of course. They fill the wolf with rocks (he sleeps through this) and sew him up. When he wakes up later, he tries to stand but falls down — and that’s when he actually dies.

Later, another wolf tries to eat them. But they trick him into drowning himself. So that’s great. Click here to read the full story.

(Photo credit: Thinkstock)

circa 1955:  The Gingerbread House where the old witch lives in the tale of Hansel and Gretel.  (Photo by Evans/Three Lions/Getty Images)
Hansel and Gretel — Grimm’s Fairy Tales

This story starts out with Hansel and Gretel’s mother forcing the father to abandon them in the woods. Hansel overhears these plans in the night (he’s awake because the hunger pangs were so bad he couldn’t sleep). He goes out and gathers pebbles in his pocket to leave a trail back home. In the story, the mother calls the kids “sluggards,” which I find particularly amusing.

Anyway, let’s fast forward to the good stuff. The children find a house made out of bread and cake. Jackpot. They began to eat it … but they really eat it. In the story Hansel rips off an entire chunk of the roof. Gretel breaks off a window pane. (Really, they were being kind of rude.) Then the witch comes, hobbling on two crutches. But she’s friendly and asks the kids to come inside. There were pancakes, milk, even clean beds for each. But, of course, it’s too good to be true. Eventually she locks Hansel up and makes Gretel help her make him fat. The witch couldn’t see very well, so she makes made Hansel give her a finger so she can see whether he’s fat. He gives her a bone to feel instead.


Anyway, they end up tricking the witch, shoving her in the oven and listening to her screams as she burns to death. After, they steal her pearls, ride a duck across the stream and go back to their father. And by then, the mother is dead.


Click here to read the full story.

(Photo credit: Getty)

Misty Overgrown Cemetery
The Poor Boy in the Grave — Grimm’s Fairy Tales

In this cheerful little tale, the boy’s parents are dead and he’s sent to live with a rich couple. But despite taking in an orphan and having wealth, they aren’t nice. For example, one time they beat him so badly he couldn’t get out of bed for two days. All he did was lose a chicken because a hawk took it.

Once he was well, he tries to tie all the chickens together so he won’t lose any. I guess you can guess what happens there. He loses all the chickens.

(It’s also worth mentioning here that the boy isn’t the brightest.)

Anyway, through the story the boy keeps doing stupid things and getting beaten nearly to death. So, finally, he decides to end it all. He finds what he thinks is “poison” under the couple’s bed. What he doesn’t realize, though, is that it’s actually wine.

Once the effects of the poison begin to sit in (also known as getting hammered), he thinks for sure the end is near. He lays down in an empty grave in the cemetery and falls asleep.

When the boy wakes up the next morning he hears church bells. He thinks it’s confirmation that he’s in heaven, so he just stays in his grave and eventually dies. Then his caretakers die too, because they accidentally set their house on fire. The end. Click here to read the full story.

(Photo credit: Thinkstock)

Unhappy bride
The Robber Bridegroom — Grimm’s Fairy Tales

OK, are you ready for this? Because this is terrifying.

So, this girl’s dad promises her to a rich man. She’s not keen. In fact, even thinking about this man she’s to marry horrifies her.

During their engagement he tells her she has to come to his home for a party. She does so reluctantly. When she gets to the home in the woods, she finds an old woman in the basement with a shaking head who informs her that she’s going to be cut into pieces and eaten by this dude. (Uh. OK, what?) Getting eaten by your fiance is scary enough, but can you imagine finding an old woman with a shaking head in a basement in a home in the woods? Yeah, OK bye.

The bride-to-be doesn’t have much time to process this because a bunch of people are headed back. She quickly jumps behind the nearest pig’s head. At this time, a bunch of drunk men enter the home, dragging a screaming girl with them. They force her to drink several types of wine, put her on a table, cut her open, add some salt and dig in. Yep.

Just when you don’t think it can get more traumatizing for our dear protagonist, one of the men chops off one of the dead girl’s fingers (to get her ring) and it goes flying across the room, landing in the bride-to-be’s bosom.

Anyway, eventually the old woman drugs the cannibals and they escape.

On the day of their wedding, the bride tells all of her guests about the story and shows them the finger … and everyone kills the husband and his friends. Another happy ending? Click here to read the full story.

(Photo credit: Thinkstock)


hands shake with tree
The girl without hands — Grimm’s Fairy Tales

In this story, a poor miller meets an old man who promises wealth beyond his imagination if he will give him whatever is standing behind his mill. Thinking it’s only an apple tree, he agrees. Joke’s on him: It’s his daughter. The old man (who is actually the devil by the way) says he’ll come for her in three years.

Three years later, the daughter, who is God-fearing and pure, draws a circle around herself with chalk. She’s protected, but the devil tells the father he would take him instead unless he cuts her hands off. So … he does: He cuts his daughter’s hands off. After this, the daughter leaves home. But eventually an angel finds her, and then a king, who makes her hands out of silver.

Anyway, while the king is away at war, and the girl has a baby. The devil (who is none too happy about her joy) intercepts a letter from her to the king and changes it to say she’d given birth to a changeling. The king writes back that he doesn’t care, but that letter is intercepted by the devil too. He changes it to say the queen and child should be killed and her heart given to the queen. Great!

But the servants can’t do it.  So they queen and baby go to the woods to hide.

Seven years later, the King finds them and the queen’s hands are replaced by real ones — a gift from god.

Somehow, this is the happiest of these tales. Click here to read the full story.

(Photo credit: Thinkstock)

Black crow
The Juniper Tree — Grimm’s Fairy Tales

In this story a couple wants a baby. While lamenting on this, the woman cuts her finger while paring an apple and the blood falls on the ground around the juniper tree. Nine months later, she has a son, white as snow and red as blood. But she dies. The man is sad but later remarries and has a daughter with his new wife. The new wife hates the boy as if possessed by the devil. This hate runs so deep that she tricks him into reaching into a chest of apples with an iron lid. She then slams the lid down on the boy and chops off his head.

The woman doesn’t want anyone to know she did it though, so she props the boy up and puts a handkerchief between his head and body and an apple in his hand. When her daughter complains to the mother that he won’t hand her the apple (she doesn’t notice he’s dead) mom tricks her daughter into boxing his ears, causing his head to fall off.

Oops. Anyway, they chop him up into pieces to make pudding. The little girl cried so much that they didn’t need salt.

In the end, the boy turns into a bird, crushes his step-mom with a rock, gives his stepsister some red shoes and his father a gold chain. They lived happily ever after — I think. Click here to read the full story.

(Photo credit: Thinkstock)



Young Woman Walking on Path into Enchanted Forest
Illustration depicting fairy tale of
Rendering depicting
circa 1955:  The Gingerbread House where the old witch lives in the tale of Hansel and Gretel.  (Photo by Evans/Three Lions/Getty Images)
Misty Overgrown Cemetery
Unhappy bride
hands shake with tree
Black crow

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up