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The Grimm Brothers: Their Original Fairy-Tales Were Darker

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Read on to learn about the original versions of Grimm's fairy tales. You might be surprised by what you learn!

Read on to learn about the original versions of Grimm's fairy tales. You might be surprised by what you learn!

What Is Grimm's Fairy Tales?

In the 19th century, two German brothers named Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm collected the oral folklore of their country and published it in two volumes. The fairy tales contained within these books became pillars of popular culture.

We're most familiar with the Walt Disney versions of these tales, little knowing that Disney altered the originals to make them more family-friendly.

The Grimm Brothers' original publication was aimed at adults. When it didn't sell well, they republished it in child-friendly form, but the abridged version was still much darker than modern retellings.

Indeed, the beloved fairy tales of today initially featured acts of child abuse, extreme violence, anti-semitism and more. This article explores just a few examples:

6 Original Grimm Brothers Fairy Tales

  1. Cinderella and the Ruthless Pigeons
  2. Little Red Riding Hood and the Sexual Predator
  3. Hansel and Gretel Encounter Cannibalism
  4. Snow White and the Cannibalistic Queen
  5. The Jew in the Brambles
  6. Rapunzel and the Dangers of Premarital Sex

1. Cinderella and the Ruthless Pigeons

In the story we all know, Cinderella attends the ball with the help of her fairy godmother. She flees before the spell expires at midnight but leaves behind a glass slipper that the besotted prince discovers. He determines to find the woman whose foot fits the slipper.

In the original version, Cinderella's evil stepmother attempts to disguise her two elder daughters as Cinderella. She hands the eldest a knife and instructs her to cut off her toe. "When you are queen, you will never have to go on foot," she says.

The prince initially falls for the deception until two talking pigeons draw his attention to the woman's blood-soaked shoe.

But the evil stepmother won't give up so easily. She commands her younger daughter to cut off her heel. The prince again falls for it until the pigeons help him uncover the ruse.

Finally, the prince finds the real Cinderella. The two stepsisters attend their wedding and beg for forgiveness, but the pigeons attack them and pluck out their eyes.

2. Little Red Riding Hood and the Sexual Predator

Many already suspect that the Big Bad Wolf is a parable for those who prey on children, but few know how misogynistic the original tale is.

Both the Grimm Brothers' version, and that of French author Charles Perrault, imply that Little Red Riding Hood is the one at fault, not the wolf. She shouldn't have disobeyed her mother's orders by veering off the path, and she shouldn't have spoken to a stranger. The Perrault version actually ends with Little Red Riding Hood being eaten by the wolf; no one arrives to rescue her.

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In the Grimm Brothers' version, the woodcutter, fortunately, does arrive, although he must cut the wolf's stomach open to extract Red Riding Hood and her grandmother. He then fills the beast's stomach with stones and throws him into the river.

3. Hansel and Gretel Encounter Cannibalism

The tale of Hansel and Grendel was inspired by a great famine that devastated Europe during the 14th century. So severe was the starvation that parents were forced to abandon, kill, or in some cases, eat their children.

According to William Rosin in The Third Horseman: Climate Change and the Great Famine of the 14th Century, an Irish chronicle records that the people "were so destroyed by hunger that they extracted bodies of the dead from cemeteries and dug out the flesh from the skulls and ate it; and women ate their children out of hunger".

Hence, in the original Hansel and Gretel, the children's mother instructs their father to take them into the forest and abandon them. Hansel leaves a trail of breadcrumbs so they can find their way home, only for their mother to kick them out a second time.

The rest of the tale remains much the same in modern versions; the children stumble upon a gingerbread house and try to eat it, only for the witch to arrive and attempt to cook them in her oven. However, the story takes on a different context when one learns that people were resorting to cannibalism at the time.

4. Snow White and the Cannibalistic Queen

In the original version of the myth, Snow White's evil stepmother is actually her real mother, who sends assassins to kill Snow White so she can eat her liver and lungs. This brutal cannibalism will supposedly restore the evil queen's youth.

When the prince rescues and marries Snow White, her evil mother is forced to wear hot iron shoes and dance to death at their wedding.

5. The Jew in the Brambles

For some good old-fashioned European anti-semitism, we have the Jew in the Brambles, a tale that the Nazis would have been proud of.

A man receives a magical fiddle that causes anyone in earshot to dance so long as the fiddle plays. Along the path, he encounters a bearded Jew gazing at a bird. The fiddler kills the bird and then commands the Jew to go fetch it.

As the Jew crawls about in the bush to find the bird, he finds himself in a tangle of thorns. The fiddler chooses this opportunity to start playing his fiddle, forcing the Jew to begin dancing among the thorns.

The Jew begs him to stop, but the fiddler responds: "You have fleeced people often enough, and now the thorn hedge shall do the same to you."

The Jew offers the fiddler a purse of gold to stop playing, to which the fiddler agrees. After the fiddler leaves, the Jew runs to the town judge and tells him a man with a fiddle robbed him.

The fiddler is brought before the court and claims the Jew gave him the gold freely.

"I don't believe you," says the judge, "no Jew would give away money freely". He orders the fiddler be hanged, but the fiddler starts playing and everyone in the court, including the Jew, begins dancing themselves to exhaustion.

Eventually, the judge offers the fiddler his life if he'll just stop fiddling. The fiddler then forces the Jew to tell the court that he stole the money and that the fiddler earned it fairly, so the Jew is sent to the gallows in the fiddler's stead.

6. Rapunzel and the Dangers of Premarital Sex

The story begins in the way we recognise, with long-haired Rapunzel imprisoned in a tower by an evil witch. She lets down her hair so the handsome prince can climb the tower and woo her.

However, in the original version, the prince impregnates her. The witch finds out and banishes Rapunzel to the desert, where she wanders the wilderness, struggling to support herself and her newborn twins. The prince, overcome with despair, throws himself from the tower and lands in a pile of thorns that blind him.

Fortunately, the story does have a happy ending. The price eventually finds Rapunzel, whose magical tears heal his eyes. They return to the kingdom and get married.


2018, September 6. Original Grimm's fairy tales that are too scary for kids. Times of India.

Jesse Greenspan. 2018, August 22. The Dark Side of the Grimm Fairy Tales.

2001, February 5. The Jew in the Thorns. The University of Pittsburgh.

2003, September 21. Little Red Riding Hood. The University of Pittsburgh.

William Rosen. 2014, May 15. The Third Horseman: Climate Change and the Great Famine of the 14th Century. Google Books.

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