Little Red Riding Hood
'Once upon a time, there was a little girl who lived in a village near the forest. Whenever she went out, the little girl wore a red riding cloak, so everyone in the village called her Little Red Riding Hood...' is the rather innocuous beginning to one of the most twisted bedtime stories there is. The sweet little girl in question secures a rather grisly fate for her poor defenceless grandmother when she blabs to a scary wolf she meets in the forest, telling him her grandmother's address and that she's not very well. The wolf knocks on grandma's door and impersonates Little Red Riding Hood's voice in order to get in, before gobbling grandma up in one go. Not content with his meal, he then takes up cross-dressing, adorning grandma's nightie, mob cap and glasses to await the arrival of her tasty young granddaughter before swallowing her in one go as well. Most modern versions would have you believe that a passing woodcutter heard the little girl's cries and slashed open the wolf with his axe to reveal the unharmed Little Red Riding Hood and granny. But the earliest known version by Charles Perrault (before Brothers Grimm) has no happy ending or retribution apart, perhaps, from a severe case of indigestion for the wolf.
The Three Little Pigs
The Wolf: "Little pig, little pig, let me come in!" Pigs: "Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin!" refrain is so well recognised, I defy anyone not to be mentally squaring up for the wolf's "I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down!" riposte. The Three Little Pigs is a classic, if animalistic, tale of what happens when children are cast out by their parents to seek their independence. The three brother set off into the woods to build their houses and the first builds a house out of straw, the second builds a house out of sticks, and the third builds a house out of bricks. It was all going rather well until a nasty wolf decided he fancied sausages for dinner and went after each of the three little pigs. He huffed and puffed and blew the straw house down, gobbling up its occupant. He then huffed and puffed and blew the stick house down and had seconds. But, still not full he went after the lone surviving pig in the brick house, but couldn't blow it down because it was too sturdy. Furiously the wolf clambered onto the roof and endeavoured to climb down the chimney in order to eat the pig. But the clever pig had placed a vat of boiling water on the fire ready for the wolf to descend into. He popped a lid over the wolf and ate him (and presumably the remnants of his devoured brothers) for his tea.
Beauty and the Beast
This classic fairytale is basically about a man who is willing to sell his daughter in exchange for his life. Having idiotically stolen a rose from the garden of a palace where he had taken shelter, an old merchant is confronted with a Beast who says that in exchange for the rose he must stay in the castle as his prisoner forever. When the merchant explains that the rose was taken as a gift for his daughter, the beautiful Belle, the Beast agrees to let him go only if he will send his daughter to him as his prisoner in his stead. The man agrees goes home to tell Belle that she must go become a prisoner at the castle. She is well treated by the Beast, given fine clothes and food. But every night he begs her to marry him and time and again she refuses. This story is not as bloody as some but it is frightening because it shows a willingness on the part of father to sacrifice the daughter instead of himself. In some versions there is a more complicated back story attached involving an evil fairy who fails to seduce a young prince and so turns him into an enchanted Beast. The same fairy then tries to murder Belle because she wants to marry her merchant father. More soap opera than blood curdling perhaps, but definitely more frightening than the Disney version.
The Little Mermaid
Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid is much darker than the Disney cartoon would have you believe. A young mermaid, who is entranced by humans living on the shore, makes a deal with a sea witch to change her fish tail for human legs. The witch gives the Little Mermaid a magical potion to drink in exchange for her voice, leaving her mute. As a condition of the magic the Little Mermaid will be capable of dancing beautifully but it will feel as though swords are constantly passing through her feet. Once on land the Little Mermaid is discovered by a prince who immediately falls in love with her. She dances for him despite her pain, but is unable to explain her condition as she has no voice. The prince's father has arranged for him to marry a neighbouring princess and despite his protests the marriage goes ahead, breaking the Little Mermaid's heart. She despairs but her sisters bring her a knife procured from the sea witch in exchange for their long hair. They tell her to stab the prince to death and let his blood drip on her feet so that her mermaid?s tail can reform and she can return to the sea. But the Little Mermaid cannot bring herself to kill the prince whom she loves so she hurls herself back into the sea and dies, her body dissolving into foam on the waves.
Don't believe the Disney version. Pinocchio in the original Italian by Carlo Collodi is a far more gruesome tale. The complicated plot sees child hating carpenter Geppetto tricked by his neighbour into carving a marionette doll out of an enchanted piece of wood. The puppet, which he names Pinocchio, is mischievous from the onset, kicking his carpenter father as soon as his legs are carved. In the story which twists and turns through all manner of perils, Geppetto is imprisoned for child abuse, Pinocchio's feet are burnt off, he accidentally kills a talking cricket (by throwing a hammer at it) and he is nearly burnt as firewood by a scary puppeteer. His nose also grows in line with his mendacity, which is unfortunate. He is robbed, tricked by cat and dog bandits, hung from a tree, caught in a weasel trap, turned into a donkey and sold to a circus. All sorts of adventures prevail as Pinocchio works hard to become 'a real boy', but despite the eventual happy ending the tale is exceedingly fraught and by the end you?re in a right moral muddle.
Hansel and Gretel
This tale by Brothers Grimm is a story of maternal rejection and in some versions matricide. In the original it is the Hansel and Gretel's own mother (and not a wicked step mother) who tells their poor woodcutter father to take them into the woods and leave them there to die because there is not enough food to feed them all. Abandoned by their weakling father with no sustenance and no shelter the children are amazed to discover a house made of gingerbread and sweets in the middle of the forest. But the house is a trap set by a wicked cannibalistic witch. She keeps Gretel as her skivvy and puts Hansel in a cage, fattening him up for her cauldron. But Gretel is cunning and manages to murder the witch by pushing her into the oven and cooking her. She then frees Hansel from his cage and they attempt to journey home. The connection between the children's evil mother, who prizes her own hunger over her children's, and the wicked witch, who wants to eat them up, has not gone unnoticed by critical theorists. The death of the witch also signals the death of the children?s mother as when they return home to their father they discover that she has also died. Some versions suggest that the wicked witch was their mother in disguise making sure that they were unable to return home. Look for Anthony Browne's illustrated version if you want some spooky imagery to freak your kids out further.
Matilda, who told lies and was burnt to death
Every child should be warned against the perils of lying. But Hilaire Belloc's poem-come-bedtime story 'Matilda, who told lies and was burnt to death' is a bleak lesson in truth. The tale is about a little girl who "told such dreadful lies/ it made one gasp and stretch ones eyes". Like the story of boy who cried wolf it is a tale which has a moral circle, so that the lies the dreadful liar tells come true and bite the teller in the end. "Once toward the close of day/ Matilda, growing tired of play,/ And finding she was left alone,/ Went tiptoe to the telephone/ And summoned the immediate aid/ Of London's noble fire brigade." When the fire engines came screaming to her rescue and found Matilda and her aunt in absolutely no danger the disgruntled firemen had to be paid to go away and they went all over town telling of Matilda's wickedness. So when a few weeks later Matilda's aunt went off the theatre leaving her all alone (poor neglected child) to punish her mendacity a real fire did break out. "You should have heard Matilda shout!/ You should have heard her scream and bawl/" but it was all in vain "For every time she shouted 'Fire!'/ They only answered 'Little Liar!'" I think you get the picture.
Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves
Possibly the bloodiest story ever told to children to teach them a slightly backward lesson about theft. Ali Baba happens upon a group of 40 thieves and witnesses them opening a treasure trove with the immortal words "open sesame". He repeats the words once the thieves have gone and steals some of their gold for himself. His brother Kassim hears of Ali Baba's discovery and rushes to the cave to get some of the booty. But in his haste he forgets the words needed to release him from the enchanted cave and so trapped in there is discovered by the thieves upon their return. They kill him with their swords and cut him into lots of little pieces. Ali Baba discovers his brothers dismembered corpse and takes it to a tailor who sews it together so it can be given a proper burial. The thieves finding the body gone realise someone else must know how to enter the cave and they set out to track him down. But they are not particularly bright thieves and their attempts to kill Ali Baba are thwarted by a young slave girl called Morgiana , who kills them by pouring boiling oil over them. As with all good bedtime stories it ends with massacre and then a wedding as Morgiana and Ali Baba get hitched.
Serial killer before bedtime anyone? Bluebeard is a French fairytale by Charles Perrault about a fierce aristocrat with peculiarly coloured facial whiskers. He had been married several times but no-one knew what had happened to his wives. One day when he was between spouses he preyed on two sisters living in a nearby village, pestering them to marry him. They were revolted and tried to pass him of on each other but eventually the youngest girl caved and she and Bluebeard were married. Left alone one afternoon in their marital abode the girl was overcome with curiosity about a room in a remote part of the house which Bluebeard had told her she must never enter. Defying his warnings she went into the room only to find the walls stained with blood and the mutilated corpses of his previous wives hanging from hooks in the ceiling. Luckily the girl escaped and her brothers killed Bluebeard before he could put her on a hook too. Carol Ann Duffy's recent adaptation of the story is particularly gruesome, including the refrain: "Sharper, sharper, shiny knife; cut the throat of whiny wife... Sharper, sharper, knife so dear; slit her throat from ear to ear." French murderer Henri Desire Landru (pictured) who was executed for the murder of ten women and one boy in 1922, became known as Bluebeard.
The story goes that a local farmer tried to impress the king by boasting that his daughter was capable of spinning straw into gold. To test his claim the king summoned the farmer's daughter and imprisoned her in a tower with straw and a spinning wheel, giving her three nights to prove her talent or face execution. She sat by the spinning wheel sobbing in despair until a strange dwarfish creature appeared out of nowhere. He made a bargain with her to spin the straw into gold in exchange for her necklace the first night, in exchange for her ring the second night. On the third night the girl had no trinkets left to exchange, so the creature spun the straw into gold for her in exchange for a promise that she would give him her first born child. The king was so impressed with the gold spinning farmer's daughter that he married her. When their first child was born the creature appeared and demanded his prize. She pleaded with him not to take the child and he toyed with her again saying that if she could guess his name she wouldn't have to give up her infant. Unbeknown to Rumplestiltskin one of the girl's servants overhears him boasting: "To-day do I bake, to-morrow I brew/ The day after that the queen's child comes in /And oh! I am glad that nobody knew/ That the name I am called is Rumpelstiltskin!" When the girl guesses correctly Rumplestiltskin is so mad that he seizes his left foot with his hands and tears himself in two.
Remember the cosy nights of your childhood tucked up in bed as mummy or daddy read you softly to sleep?
Well have a read of this lot and you may discover that the tales you remember fondly are actually pretty gruesome.
From the Little Mermaid’s suicide to Geppetto the child hating carpenter in Pinocchio, the shine applied to the Disney adaptation wears off upon closer inspection.
Tales of fathers selling daughters, matricide, serial wife killing and cannibalism. Sleep well children...
>>Click on the image for ten bloody bedtime stories