We grew up listening to them. Happy stories of heroes saving the world, of princes and princesses falling in love and stories of the bad guys defeated by a sword, a wand or some magical item. Is there anything better than a good old-fashioned fairytale?
In this article, we’ll be exploring the sick and twisted truth behind your favorite fairy tales.
DO NOT READ ON IF YOU DO NOT WANT YOUR FAVORITE CHILDHOOD FAIRY TALES TAINTED – you have been warned.
1. Little Mermaid
This one is pretty tame as horrifying truths go, but it still gets kind of twisted near the end.
The Disney version of the Little Mermaid goes like this: Ariel, daughter of Poseidon (also known as the Mer-King), is a free-spirited, young mermaid. Despite her father’s many warnings, Ariel would go near the surface of the sea and observe the outside world. One time, she spotted a handsome prince celebrating on a boat and was instantly besotted with him.
A violent storm that night led to the prince being tossed overboard, and the Little Mermaid saves him from drowning, except the prince never found out who saved him.
She then went to Ursula the witch, who cut a deal with Ariel to make her human for three days so she can pursue her handsome prince – in exchange for her voice. Long story short, the prince falls in love with Ariel and they combine forces and kill the evil witch Ursula. Yay! Everyone’s ecstatic (except Ursula) and they all live happily ever after.
The original version, written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen and published in 1837, reads a bit differently. The first part is more or less the same. Young, spirited mermaid is infatuated with the prince, saves him from drowning and cuts a deal with a witch.
However, the details of this arrangement are a tiny bit more deranged than Disney had us believe. In the original story, every step that the Little Mermaid takes with her human feet will feel like she’s stepping on knives. Not only that, but in order to not die and dissolve into sea foam, the Little Mermaid must obtain the true love of the Prince. Despite all the risk, the Little Mermaid agrees to the deal.
The Little Mermaid swims to the surface and then drinks the potion that’ll turn her temporarily human. She is found by the prince, who is mesmerized by her beauty and her dancing abilities. The Little Mermaid dances for him, despite being in excruciating pain every time she takes a step. Ultimately however, the prince marries a princess in a nearby temple.
The Little Mermaid feels defeated and heart-broken. Not only did she lose her true love, she is also on the verge of being transformed into sea foam. But before that happens, she is offered a chance at returning to her life under the sea. She is presented with a knife; if she murders the prince and lets his blood drip on her feet, she can return to her mermaid life.
Spoiler Alert: she doesn’t go through with it. But instead of spending her life as sea foam, she is instead rewarded for her selflessness and spends her days as a luminous earth-spirit.
2. Sleeping Beauty
The actual story behind the Sleeping Beauty is so unbelievably twisted that it is difficult to believe that this was made into a Disney film. Okay, the Disney version of the Sleeping Beauty had the princess Aurora pricked by a spindle of a spinning wheel and fall into a deep, never-ending sleep. This was until the handsome prince comes and kisses her, saving her from her unfortunate situation. And then they live happily ever after. Not bad, huh?
Here’s where you realize that Disney has sold you lies. The original story of Sleeping Beauty is credited to Giambattista Basile, for his story entitled ‘Sun, Moon and Talia.’ The sleeping beauty’s name is Talia.
The story begins when Talia’s father, a great lord himself, learned from astrologers and wise men that Talia will die from a splinter. The aforementioned splinter came back to haunt Talia and caused what appears to be her death. Her father, miserable, leaves her lying in a velvet throne and abandons his home as it reminded him too much of his beloved daughter. Pretty macabre so far.
It gets worse. One day, a king was walking by the abandoned palace where Talia was lying, presumed to be dead by her father. One of the king’s falcons flew in, and the king, wanting to retrieve his falcon, knocks on the door. Of course, no one answers. The king climbed in and found the Talia sleeping, but alive. He raped her- or as the book put it, ‘gathered the first fruits of love’- and then leaves. The still-sleeping Talia gave birth to twins, and woke up only when she felt one of her newborn children sucking on her fingers – it turns out the baby sucked out the splinter that was embedded in Talia’s finger all those years.
One day, the king decided he wanted to go visit the palace where he ‘met’ Talia. He went to find that she has become a mother to his twins. The king explained who he was and they grew close. The king left after a few days but promised Talia he will one day bring her to his kingdom.
One night, the queen heard her husband, now back in his kingdom, muttering something about Talia in his sleep. After threatening the king’s secretary, the queen found out the truth about Talia. She wrote to Talia, pretending to be the king, and asked her to bring the twins to the kingdom as he wanted to see them. Talia sends them over, and the evil queen tells the cook to murder the children and cook them into a meal, which she intended to serve to the king. The cook sneakily hides the poor twins and instead serves the king with lamb. The king finds out of the queen’s diabolical plan and orders that she be burned. He marries Talia and they live happily ever after.
3. The Hunchback of Notre Dam
The Disney version of this film is already pretty dark, but the original story just takes the cake. The Disney version goes like this: A group of gypsies try to illegally enter Paris, but are ambushed by Judge Frollo and his soldiers. One woman with a deformed baby attempts to flee, but is killed by Frollo. Frollo attempts to kill the baby, but a senior clergyman at the Cathedral convinces him to raise the child, to atone for his sins. Frollo then names the child ‘Quasimodo’.
Over the years, Quasimodo grows up to be an awkward, young man who has never quite fit in. He attended the Festival of Fools, where he was ridiculed for his deformity, and soon a riot began. Esmeralda, a kind gypsy, helps him with some magic and gets him out of trouble. Frollo confronts Quasimodo and orders him to go straight back to the cathedral. Esmeralda follows him into the cathedral, and Phoebus, a guard under Frollo, follows Esmeralda. Phoebus is supposed to arrest Esmeralda for committing witchcraft in the cathedral, but as the kind man he is, he has her confined inside the cathedral. Esmeralda meanwhile finds and befriends Quasimodo, who helps her escape the cathedral as a thank you for getting him out of trouble.
Long story short, Quasimodo falls in love with Esmeralda, who falls in love with Phoebus. Frollo instigates a city-wide manhunt, burning everything in his path. Phoebus is appalled and defies his orders, which leads to Frollo shooting Phoebus with an arrow. Esmeralda saves Phoebus. Through a bit of trickery and ambush, Frollo manages to capture Esmeralda and prepares to burn her at the stake. Quasimodo manages to rescue her. Epic scene happens. Frollo falls to his death. Phoebus and Esmeralda fall in love, with Quasimodo’s blessing. Quasimodo is hailed as a hero and finally integrates into the society that shunned him his entire life.
The real version goes a little bit differently. Frollo orders Quasimodo to kidnap Esmeralda. His plan is foiled by Phoebus and his guards. Quasimodo is sentenced to be flogged the very next day and then another hour of public exposure. During his public torture, he calls for water, and Esmeralda fetches him some water to drink. It was then that he fell in love with Esmeralda. Quasimodo later returns the favor, as he saves Esmeralda from being hanged after being falsely accused of trying to murder Phoebus, and carries her off to the cathedral. Frollo learns of Esmeralda’s location, and pretends to try to help her. Instead, he betrays her and hands her to the troops who want to kill her. He laughs as she is hanged. Quasimodo sees Frollo laughing and pushes him off the Notre Dame to his death. Quasimodo then dies as to truly join Esmeralda. Holy drama!
Not So Happy Endings
As we can see, not all our favorite fairy tales started off and ended as particularly happy affairs. In fact, most of them involved some pretty messed up stuff. These three famous fairy tales are just a select few of some of the most horrifying truths behind our favorite stories.