The History of Spooky Fairy Tales
Updated: Sep 1, 2017
By Sarah Lyons
I loved watching Disney princess movies as a child and I enjoy sharing them with my kids. You may know that most Disney fairy tales are based on original stories from hundreds of years ago, but what you may not know is the original tales are very dark and even gruesome. Let’s do a quick comparison.
Disney movie - 1950
In the Disney version, Cinderella lives with her evil stepmother and two ugly stepsisters. A fairy godmother and animal friends help her attend the ball where her and Prince Charming fall in love. When the clock strikes midnight, she rushes out leaving her glass slipper behind. Prince Charming scours the land for the owner of the slipper. Eventually they are reunited and live happily ever after.
Original story by Brothers’ Grimm version - 1812
The story starts out similar, minus the fairy Godmother. Instead, Cinderella plants a tree by her mother’s grave and prays under it daily. The dress for the ball is found under this tree.The prince uses tar to set a trap for Cinderella and instead of getting stuck, she loses a shoe. In order to get the shoe to fit one stepsister cuts off her toes and the other her heel. The prince is told by doves that there is blood in the shoe and discovers the true owner is Cinderella. The stepsisters decide they should be nice to Cinderella, since she will be queen, and they attend her wedding where birds peck their eyes out. Harsh.
The LIttle Mermaid
Disney movie - 1989
A rebellious 16 year old mermaid, Ariel, wants nothing more than to become human. When she visits the surface, she falls in love with Prince Eric. She makes a deal with Ursula, the sea witch, and trades her voice for legs. Her voice will only be returned with true love's kiss. Ursula unsuccessfully tries to trick Eric into falling in love with her. Ultimately, Eric and Ariel fall in love and live happily ever after on land together.
Original story by Hans Christian Andersen - 1837
This story starts off the same as Disney’s version. She sees the prince from afar on a ship and rescues him from drowning. She visits the sea witch who takes her tongue in exchange for legs, a curse that can be broken if she finds true love’s kiss. Unlike the Disney version, she will not turn back into a mermaid if she fails, but will instead die. In the book she wants to become human, not only because she loves the prince, but because humans have eternal souls and mermaids do not. The penalty for having legs is excruciating pain with each step she takes. At first it seems like they will fall in love but he falls in love with someone else. The witch tells her that if she kills the prince she can return to being a mermaid, but she cannot go through with it. At the end, she throws herself into the sea and turns into sea foam, destined to spend eternity in purgatory where she has to do good deeds until she earns a soul which could take 300 years. I don’t think Flounder and Sebastian would approve of this version.
Disney movie - 1959
Baby Princess Aurora is given gifts by fairies. The evil witch, Maleficent, is struck with jealousy and curses the princess to prick her finger on a spindle and die at the age of sixteen. The last of the fairies changes the curse to a deep sleep rather than death. The curse will be broken by true love's kiss. After pricking her finger falling into a deep sleep the prince fights his way through the thick thorny forest to save the princess and defeat the witch who has turned into a dragon. The story ends with them dancing at their wedding and they live happily ever after.
Original story by Giambattista Basile - 1634
Sun, Moon, and Talia by Basile is the original version of Sleeping Beauty that both Brothers’ Grimm and Disney are based on. While the Grimm version is similar to Disney, the original is quite different. The story starts off the same and the princess is sleeping in a castle awaiting her true love. A king happens upon the castle and enters through a window where he finds Sleeping Beauty. He carries her to the bed and forces himself on her. Months later she awakens after birth to twins. The king returns and the two fall in love but he is married to someone else. When his wife finds out she is furious and tries to have the twins killed, cooked, and fed to the king and have the princess burned at the stake. She is unsuccessful and the king and princess do get married and live happily ever after. Although the king and princess end up together, I wouldn’t call this a happy tale.
Disney movie (Tangled) - 2010
Flynn Rider, a fugitive on the run, happens upon a tower hidden in the woods and decides to take refuge where he becomes Rapunzel’s captive. Rapunzel and her magical long hair have been trapped there for years and she is eager to explore. While her “mother” (who is really an evil witch) is away she talks Flynn into taking her on an adventure. They eventually fall in love, the evil witch’s deceit is revealed, and she is returned to her true family. Flynn becomes an upstanding citizen and they are later married and live happily ever after.
Original story by Brothers’ Grimm -1812
In the real version, Rapunzel becomes pregnant by the prince before they are married. The evil sorceress figures out she is expecting, cuts off Rapunzel’s hair, and throws her into the wilderness. The prince returns to see her and the sorceress dangles Rapunzel’s hair out the window to lure him into the tower. She tells him he will never see her again and, in despair, he throws himself out the window and lands in a patch of thorns, which cause him to go blind. He then wanders aimlessly through the forest. Meanwhile, Rapunzel gives birth to twins. He is eventually guided back to Rapunzel by the sound of her voice. Her tears restore his sight and they return to the kingdom and live happily ever after. At least it has a happy ending, right?
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
Disney movie - 1938
In Disney’s first animated feature, the jealous and wicked queen orders the murder of her beautiful stepdaughter, Snow White. She later discovers she was not killed but safely hidden among seven dwarves. The queen disguises herself as a hag and gives Snow White a poisonous apple which sends her into a death-like sleep that can only be broken by a kiss. Prince Charming arrives and saves Snow White. They are married and live happily ever after.
Original story by Brothers’ Grimm - 1812
In this version, the evil stepmother asks a hunter to take Snow White into the forest and kill her and bring back her lungs and liver. The man cannot go through with it so he brings her a boar’s lungs and liver instead, which the queen eats believing they belong to her stepdaughter. The queen later finds out she is alive and gives her the poisonous apple. Snow White faints and cannot be revived. She is placed in a glass coffin and the prince comes to take her away. The pallbearers slip and drop the coffin causing the bite of apple to become dislodged from Snow White’s throat and she awakens. Snow White and Prince Charming fall in love and get married. The evil queen is invited to the wedding and as a punishment she is forced to wear burning hot iron shoes and dance before them until she drops dead. Yikes!
Historically fairy tales were told to entertain, educate, preserve culture, and instill moral values. These traditional stories are not something we would share with our children in today’s society but they are interesting to look back on and study. Fairy tales have changed and evolved into versions we all love to share with our children. What stories do you love to share with your kids? Do you use stories to teach them lessons?
Bio: Sarah Lyons is a mother of six, including two year old triplets, who loves to share stories she loved as a child with her kids.