The 6 Creepiest Fairy Tales

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Today, when people hear the words “fairy tale,” they conjure up images of gentle woodland creatures, virtuous maidens, and (most of all) happy endings. But up until the Victorian Era, about 150 years ago, most fairy tales were dark and violent, and often loaded with sexual allusions that flew right over the head of the average six-year-old. Here are six classic — and classically disturbing — fairy tales that won't be adapted by the folks at Disney any time soon.

Sun, Moon, and Talia

This early version of “Sleeping Beauty,” published in 1634, reads like a medieval episode of "The Jerry Springer Show." Talia, the daughter of a great lord, gets a splinter while spinning flax and falls unconscious. A nearby royal happens across her estate and rapes Talia in her sleep (the Italian phrasing is more euphemistic: “He lifted her in his arms, and carried her to a bed, where he gathered the first fruits of love.”) Still in a coma, Talia gives birth to twins, then suddenly awakens and names them “Sun” and “Moon.” The king's wife abducts Sun and Moon and orders her cook to roast them alive and serve them to their father. When the cook refuses, the queen decides to burn Talia at the stake instead. The king intercedes, tosses his wife into the flames, and he, Talia, and the twins live happily ever after. Stay tuned for more after this commercial break!

The Strange Feast

“A blood sausage invited a liver sausage to her house for dinner, and the liver sausage gladly accepted. But when she crossed the threshold of the blood sausage’s abode, she saw a great many strange things: a broom and a shovel fighting on the stairs, a monkey with a wound on his head, and more...” How on earth did the folks at Disney overlook this obscure German fairy tale? To make an (already short) story even shorter, the liver sausage barely escapes with her casing intact as the blood sausage chases her down the stairs with a knife. Just throw in a song-and-dance number, and you have 90 minutes of mindless entertainment!

Penta of the Chopped-Off Hands

There's nothing like a little incest and bestiality to spice up a dull fairy tale. The heroine of “Penta of the Chopped-Off Hands” is the sister of a recently widowed king, who cuts off her own hands rather than succumb to his advances. The spurned king locks Penta into a chest and throws her into the ocean, but she's rescued by yet another king, who makes her his queen. While her new husband is away at sea, Penta has a baby, but a jealous fishwife alerts the king that his wife has given birth to a puppy instead. Eventually, the king returns home, discovers that he has a son rather than a pet, and orders the fishwife burned at the stake. Unfortunately, no fairy godmother appears at the end of the tale to give Penta her hands back, so the phrase “and they all lived happily ever after” presumably does not apply.

The Flea

In creative writing classes, students are taught to open their stories with a premise so shocking, so demanding of explanation, that it literally propels the reader forward into the thick of the tale. In “The Flea,” a king feeds the title insect until it's the size of a sheep; he then has his science project skinned and promises his daughter in marriage to whoever can guess where the pelt comes from. The princess winds up in the house of an ogre, roasting men's carcasses for dinner; she is then rescued by seven half-giants with skills as diverse as creating seas brimming with soapsuds and fields full of razor blades. Not until Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" (“When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin”) would a giant bug play such a central, yet such an oddly peripheral, role in a European fairy tale.


The fairy tale “Cinderella” has gone through many permutations over the last 500 years, none more disturbing than the version published by the Brothers Grimm. Most of the variations in “Aschenputtel” are minor (an enchanted tree instead of a fairy grandmother, a festival instead of a fancy ball), but things get truly weird toward the end: one of the heroine's evil stepsisters deliberately cuts off her toes trying to fit into the enchanted slipper, and the other slices off her own heel. Somehow, the prince notices all the blood, then gently fits the slipper on Aschenputtel and takes her as his wife. At the conclusion of the wedding ceremony, a pair of doves swoop down and peck out the evil stepsisters' eyes, leaving them blind, lame, and presumably deeply ashamed of themselves.

The Juniper Tree

“'The Juniper Tree?' What a lovely title for a fairy tale! I'm sure it has elves and kittens and an instructive moral at the end!” Well, think again, grandma — this Grimm tale is so violent and perverse that even reading its synopsis might drive you insane. Stepmom hates stepson, lures him into an empty room with an apple, and chops his head off. She props the head back on the body, calls in her (biological) daughter, and suggests she ask her brother for the apple he's holding. Brother doesn't reply, so mom tells daughter to box his ears, causing his head to fall off. Daughter dissolves in hysterics while mom chops up the stepson, bakes him in a stew, and serves him to his dad for dinner. The juniper tree in the backyard (did we mention that the kid's biological mom is buried under a juniper tree? Well, she is) lets fly a magical bird that promptly drops a large rock on stepmom's head, killing her. Bird turns into stepson and everyone lives happily ever after. Sweet dreams, and see you in the morning! 

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Strauss, Bob. "The 6 Creepiest Fairy Tales." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Strauss, Bob. (2020, August 27). The 6 Creepiest Fairy Tales. Retrieved from Strauss, Bob. "The 6 Creepiest Fairy Tales." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 8, 2023).