Fables have been around for hundreds of years, but ever wonder where some of our favourite bedtime stories originated from and if there is a sinister history behind them? Let’s find out!
Image credit: Worthpoint
I loved fairy tales as a child. I would beg my parents to read me bedtime stories all the time. There are so many fairy tales around. From Cinderella to Rumpelstiltskin, Snow White to Sleeping Beauty. Whatever your favourite was as a child, it’s fascinating to look at the history of fairy tales, and where they actually originated from and the ideas behind them. Here are some of the most famous fairy tales and their background. I’ll be looking into all the famous stories, but after researching the ones listed here, I realised that there are simply too many to add into one blog, so keep your eye out for more fairy tales and the sinister truth behind them.
Written in 1812 by Brothers Grimm – German
Image credit: Bohemian Weasel
There has never been a dull moment from the famous brothers and their fairy tales. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs would have to be one of their most famous stories ever told. It’s believed that it originated from old European folk tales since the middle ages, and the brothers reinterpreted it into their own words and put their own spin on it. Some believe that part of the story was born from another fable called ‘A Young Slave’ by Giambattista Basile, but that’s another story for another time. Make sure you read my section about Sleeping Beauty in this blog though. You’ll get the gist.
Did you also know that in the Grimm original version, not only did the Queen poison Snow White with the apple, but she also made Snow White wear a corset that nearly choked her to death, and had her wear a comb in her hair that slowly poisoned her too? It wasn’t until she bit the apple that the Queen finally succeeded though. And unlike Disney’s version where she was 14, she was only seven in the true tale, which is the reason the apple piece is jolted out of her mouth when one of the dwarves trips while carrying the coffin, rather than the Prince kissing her, because a Prince kissing a seven year old girl would just be wrong right? We can thank good old Disney for bringing some romance into the mix.
Walt Disney released the movie in 1937 and made it world famous after that. It’s a timeless classic that we have been blessed with. Although it’s looked upon as pure fiction, legend has it that most of the story was actually based on a real Princess and an evil Queen, but it’s something we may never find out for sure.
Little Red Riding Hood
Written in 1695 by Charles Perrault – French
Image credit: The Design Inspiration
Isn’t it strange how we read our children scary stories without even thinking about them sometimes! I mean a story about a wolf that eats a little girl’s grandmother? What are we thinking? Charles Perrault’s story of Little Red Riding Hood is just that. A scary tale of death.
I actually find the original adaptation a form of pedophilia in a way. Maybe it’s just me, but the story is more of a warning for young girls to be weary of predators. What little girl roams the forest alone at night!
National Geographic suggests that it actually originated from an 11th Century Belgium poem written by a priest where a little girl in a red baptism tunic encounters a wolf. Some versions of the story even have the wolf eat the little girl, while others have her get away in very strange ways like pretending to go to the bathroom outside and tying the rope that she was led on by the wolf, to a tree while pretending she is still the wolf’s prisoner. Perrault’s version has her eaten up though.
Hansel And Gretel
Written in 1812 by Brothers Grimm – German
Image credit: Steemit
Hansel and Gretel was another tale to put the fear of god into children with. I sometimes wonder how scary it really was for children centuries ago, when parents had to tell them gruesome stories to keep them in line and staying at home. A witch that eats children? I’m starting to believe that there were more cannibals in the world than we realise.
The Grimm brothers travelled the world, collecting stories from fables told. It makes you wonder whether anyone ever tried to eat them up. I mean most of the fairy tales around have some kind of sinister message behind them.
This story is believed to date back as far as the Great Famine of the medieval period between 1315-1321, and the brothers turned it into a story. It would make complete sense that a starving old woman would lure two children into her path with her gingerbread house to fatten them up and then cook them to eat when there was no real food around right? Pook Press seems to think so too.
Written in 1812 by Brothers Grimm – German
Image credit: Grimms Fairytales UTube
The brothers were full of it! Full of stories that is. But with all their travels they did, these tales had to have some truth to them because they were stories that were heard from land to land. This story I believe, because so many families wanted their daughters to marry well so that they could climb up in social status through good marriage matches. Why not sell your daughter to the highest bidder by saying that she can spin gold from regular yarn. I mean who wouldn’t want a wife who can do that!
The story was altered as Jacob and Wilhelm travelled, but they seemed to keep to the story plot in some shape or form. But why the name?
The actual name ‘Rumpelstiltskin’, can be traced back to Johann Fischart‘s 1577 book, Affentheurlich Naupengeheurliche Geschichtklitterung. It means something along the lines of Glorious and Egregious Pseudohistories. With an experimental novel, he described a game called ‘Rumpele stilt oder der Poppart’. ‘Rumpeln’ translates into making noise and Stilskin was a noisy little bugger. ‘Stilzer’ is known as a limping man and ‘poppart’ is a goblin, so my guess is that this is where at least half of the story was born. And when you put a pretty girl together with a goblin, you get Rumpelstiltskin.
Written in 1697 by Charles Perrault – French
Image credit: Arthive
This one has a very dark tale behind it. I myself am quite shocked with what I found. Did you know that the original story was about a beautiful sleeping Princess who was raped and impregnated by a King? I didn’t think so.
I know fairy tales come from somewhere, but this one is truly shocking. The original was actually written by Italian author; Giambattista Basile in 1634, and he had other interpretations on stories like Rapunzel, Snow White and Cinderella too. And let me remind you that this happened before Perrault and the Grimm brothers told their versions, so the truth is finally exposed! I guess we have to thank writers like Perrault and the Grimm brothers for at least making them beautiful in some way though.
Back to Basile’s version, as this is important: the Italian version finds the king (who had a fetish for raping sleeping women), at an abandoned palace where he finds his beauty sleeping. Her name was Talia, and she had a spell put on her to sleep eternally. The King has his way with her and she becomes pregnant from the ordeal. Nine months later, she gives birth to twins (a boy and a girl), and I might add that she’s still sleeping at this point, although anyone who’s given birth has to wonder how she slept through that!
The legend goes that two fairies came and took the twins away while Sleeping Beauty continued to wait for her Prince to rescue her. I guess the Prince was added by Perrault to save the Princess. But what happened to the children in the end I wonder, don’t you? Read Weird History’s take on this.
Princess And The Pea
Written in 1835 by Hans Christian Andersen – Danish
Image credit: Wyecliffe
So how does a Prince find a true Princess? By making her sleep on twenty mattresses with a pea under the bottom mattress of course, because only a true Princess could feel the pea right? To me, the Princess was more like a spoilt little rich girl that you don’t really want to marry, but anyway. We get to the Princess and the Pea and you’re wondering what sinister background this fairytale holds?
Andersen said that he heard it from childhood but there is no historical mention about such a story from Denmark. There is however a story that came from Sweden that had a Princess sleeping on seven peas recorded. In that story, the Princess was a poor girl who’s cat encourages her to sleep on peas, because the cat is convinced that her mistress is actually a Princess who was taken away from her rightful heritage, and it was actually the cat that wanted a better life.
Similar stories have come from India and Italy too, where Princes wanted sensitive women to marry, so they were put through tests like the pea test to see if they got hurt. To me it sounds like a case of women having haemophilia if they got bruised so easily but what do I know right! And why would a Prince want a Princess who is so easily bruised anyway. Do we even want to go there?
The Little Mermaid
Written in 1836 by Hans Christian Andersen – Danish
Image credit: DH Gate
Ok, so as beautiful as the Walt Disney interpretation was, the true story was not the same. Not only does the sea witch take the little mermaid’s voice, she also cuts her tongue off, and even though she gets legs, it feels like she’s walking on knives every time she takes a step. On top of that, if the Prince doesn’t fall in love with her, she will never regain her soul and will die and turn into sea foam unless she kills him.
Pretty morbid if you ask me for a children’s story. Watch “The Things’ video on this. Who would read such a story to their children? Walt Disney sure liked to sugar coat the beautiful films he made, but the truth is always so different.
Why do I sense that this story could have come from sailors who were prone to losing their lives on the deadly sea, and this was just a legend born from them getting their own back. A way to comfort them through the rough sea journeys they went on every day to provide for their families. So what is the real truth?
I think Andersen was swayed a lot by the story of the Sirens. Mermaids who lured sailors into the dark sea with their beauty.
Written in 1883 by Carlo Collodi – Italian
Image credit: Aliceink
Before I elaborate on Pinocchio’s story, don’t you think that this is a story to scare the bejesus out of your children to simply tell the truth? I know I used it a lot on my son when he was a little boy (He’s 12 now and still a child but almost taller than me), when he hid his school lunch under his bed and lied to me about eating it. We read Pinocchio together and he cried because of the cricket, mostly because he’s an animal lover but also because he told me that he wished he had a Jiminy Cricket of his own to help him be a good boy!
My question with this story, is why Gepatto forgives Pinocchio for killing Jiminy Cricket? Yes he was just a cricket, but he gave such good advice. That confused me as a child, but as an adult it makes sense. The cricket was just Pinocchio’s good conscience and Gepatto forgave him because that’s what it’s all about. Children fight with their conscience and make mistakes all the time, so we have to forgive them as parents. That’s the metaphor in this one. As messed up as his death was, it’s a learning curve for both children and adults.
Pinocchio’s growing nose was a reminder for bad choices he made, so the moral of the story is to learn from your mistakes and do better next time. I didn’t want to dig too deep with this one as I read the story as a child and it made me respect the truth so much, but I might dig deeper into the bad side of it down the track. Research can be deadly some times, and I have no doubt I’ll find history that will ruin this story for me and probably reveal that Jiminy was more than an insect! Read more at Today I Found Out.
If you have more to add to these fairy tales, send me a message and I will share your view in my blog and read more in the next fairy tale blog!