Fairy Tales with a Grimm Twist

Horror TV is experiencing something of a renaissance with the firecracker popularity of American Horror Story and that other show Grimm. The latter sounded like it had a cool premise, perhaps something to replace the dying Supernatural, but after one episode I wan’t impressed enough to keep watching.

Still, the Grimm fairy tales fascinate me. Fairy tales are something we associate with innocence and childhood wonder, not grotesque visions of mutilation, cannibalism, and cruel magic. But that’s exactly what you find in a book of Grimm stories. Sure, most of them are still more or less tame and have happy endings, but you do get some really sick ones.

For instance, there’s one where the devil tricks a man into giving him whatever is behind him; the man, thinking it’s a tree, obliges, but it turns out his daughter is there. She ends up having to cut off her own hands to get out of the deal. Another spooky one has a physician whose godfather is death and who has the power to give and take life, until he tries to cheat death and his own candle is snuffed out.

But my favorite is called “The Juniper Tree.”

A man, with a boy from his previous wife, marries a woman with a daughter. But the stepmother hates the boy, so while he is leaning into a chest to get an apple, she slams down the lid and it chops off his head. Naturally, she doesn’t want to get caught, so she ties his head back on with a handkerchief and sits him on a chair by the door with an apple in his hand. Smooth, lady. No one’s going to notice that.

I can only imagine she was going for something like this.

The daughter comes up and asks him for the apple, but he doesn’t respond. Her twisted mother tells her to give him a box on the ear if he continues to ignore her. She does, and when his head rolls off, the girl thinks she killed her brother. Her mother comforts her and says they will make him into black puddings so that no one will know what the daugther did. So, letting the girl think she killed her brother, the mother proceeds to chop him into bits for dinner.

Father comes home and starts eating dinner with them. He says, “Ah, wife, how delicious this food is, give me some more.” If you’re not puking a little in your mouth already, he continues to eat the whole damn thing, throwing the bones under the table. The girl takes the bones outside and buries them by the juniper tree… where the dead boy turns into a bird, flies off, and sings a decidedly creepy little tune:

My mother she killed me,
My father he ate me,
My sister, little Marjory,
Gathered together all my bones,
Tied them in a silken handkerchief,
Laid them beneath the juniper tree,
Kywitt, kywitt, what a beautiful bird am I.

Seriously, dude? Who cares what a beautiful bird you are. Your father ATE you.

These aren’t exactly the type of stories you’re going to tell as you tuck your little ones into bed (unless your little ones are as twisted as I am), so who decided that fairy tales, which were originally gruesome morality fables, should be for children? When they turn dark, I think they’re even creepier because of the childish element of them.

Kind of like when you learned "Ring Around the Rosie" was really about the Black Plague. Keep dancing, children.

This happened with nursery rhymes too, which I think were invented to disturb the children who thought they were really about Jack and Jill going to get water and not King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette’s decapitation via guillotine. (“broke his crown” = had his head chopped off).

Queen “Bloody” Mary I shows up in a lot of nursery rhymes, like in the “Three Blind Mice” when she burned three men at the stake who were conspiring against her crazy ass. She’s also the Mary in “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary.” Her “garden” (cemetery) grows with “silver bells and cockleshells” (instruments of torture) and “pretty maids all in a row” (The Maiden, aka, the guillotine). What a sweet little rhyme… about grisly torture and execution.

I’m not sure why we do this to our children, but it’s got to be better than inundating them with unrealistic Disney princesses. So come on, kids! Gather round while I tell you a nice little bedtime story about how to pickle the eyes of your evil stepmother…

Categories: Literature


  1. As a child, I got upset after watching Disney’s The Little Mermaid, then read the actual story and found out there was no happy ending after all (the prince did not kiss her before her time was up, she died, and became sea foam — nice)! Didn’t know about the nursery rhymes about Queen Mary though. Suppose it was a clever way in those days to ridicule her without being found out.

    • Yeah, the real endings of those Disney movies are often quite unpleasant. The whole becoming sea foam is kind of weird, definitely turns the whole thing into a tragedy. Not sure how much of the nursery rhyme stuff is true, but you’re right, that would be a sneaky way of ridiculing psycho royalty… hah!

  2. thats so crazy!

  3. I think I read that story you mentioned somewhere…oddly enough I read a lot of fairy tales in their original forms as a kid and didn’t even think twice about it when Cinderella’s stepsisters cut off parts of their feet to fit the glass slipper and had their eyes gouged out by birds in the end. That’s didactic literature though – stories that teach lessons to children to be good or bad things will happen.

  4. i always took interest in stories with happy endings but i was always more drawn to stories with a scary twist……….

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