The dark inspirations behind five popular fairytales

The dark inspirations behind five popular fairytales

Fairytales are suppose to be innocent bed time stories we tell children to ensure they  suffer no nightmares. Fairytales are also credited as being timeless stories,  passed on from generation to generation. Every story starts somewhere and the true stories behind some of our fairy tales are… disturbing. Here are the dark inspiration behind five popular fairytales.

Trigger Warning

1) Peter Pan

The story you know.

Peter Pan and Wendy by J.M. Barrie

The story Peter Pan is one of my favourite fairytales. First appearing in 1902’s The Little White Bird but receiving the most recognition in the play Peter Pan in 1904, Peter is the boy who wouldn’t grow up. While attempting to capture his own shadow in London Peter encounters Wendy Darling and her brothers. Peter takes them to Neverland where they encounter mermaids, pirates and fairies.

The story you don’t. 

The term “The boy who wouldn’t grow up” came from the David Barrie, elder brother to the author of Peter Pan J.M. Barrie. David died two days before his 14th birthday in an ice skating accident. The boy’s mother entered a deep depression and in a desperate attempt to please her Barrie dressed up in his dead brother’s clothes. To his mother, David was the boy who would never grow up. Barrie had to add the element of Fairy-dust (also called pixie dust) into the play to stop children injuring themselves while attempting to fly.

In the Peter Pan universe there is a lot of questionable content. For example In The Little White Bird Peter flies away from his home aged seven days old and crash lands in Kensington Gardens. When Peter finally returns home he discovers his mother has replaced him and barred his bedroom windows.

There are also numerous links to death in Peter Pan. Neverland has lots of similarities to Heaven, children can fly like angels, the world is powered by imagination and the no-one ages. During the final battle between Peter Pan and Captain Hook the captain commits suicide by jumping to the crocodile and upon entering never land Wendy is almost killed by the Lost Boys.

The extract that causes the most controversy is below:

The boys on the island would vary of course, as they are killed and and so on… and when they seem to be growing up, which is against the rules, Peter thins them out. 

Peter and Wendy  – J M Barrie (1904)  

This very heavily implies that Peter Pan kills the Lost Boys when they reach the age of thirteen. At the start of the play mrs Darling refers to Peter as an angel of death that guides dead children to heaven. It is also stated in the novel that when fighting pirates Peter would sometimes swap sides to make things more interesting, attacking members of his own troop.

Peter Pan
Behold the face of a murderer

The key flaw to this theory is that at the end of the novel the Lost Boys do grow up. They return to London with Wendy and are adopted by the Darling family. Regardless, is Peter Pan really such innocent story?

2) The Little Mermaid


The story you know.

The Little Mermaid is best known for her Disney animated film which is based off Hans Christian Andersen’s story. To Disney’s credit they follow Anderson’s story very closely, a mermaid wants to become human and walk on land, the mermaid saves  prince from a sinking ship without being seen, she visits a Sea Witch who grants her legs in exchange for her voice…

The story you don’t. 

Meremaid statue
The Little Mermaid Statue in Denmark

In the original story if the mermaid doesn’t kiss the prince she’ll die where as in the Disney story she’ll simply transform back into a mermaid. Also when the mermaid is transformed into a human every step she takes is agony. Unfortunately the Prince, not knowing it was the mermaid who saved him from drowning, falls in love with another girl. The Mermaid talks to the Sea Witch who offers her a second deal. She can kill the prince and become a mermaid again or she can die. The mermaid can’t bring herself to kill the innocent Prince and flings herself into the ocean where she is turned to sea foam.

3) Snow White

Snow White

The story you know.

Snow White lives in a cottage with her evil stepmother (in some version she lives with an  evil queen) The stepmother, fearing that one day Snow White will become more beautiful than her asks a huntsman to lead Snow White into the forest and kill her. The huntsman agrees but finds himself unable to complete the task. He advices Snow White to flee. Snow White discovers the home of the seven dwarfs and befriends them. When the stepmother discovers through her magic mirror that Snow White is still alive she transforms herself into an old woman and when the dwarfs are out at work, tricks Snow White into eating a poisoned apple. Snow White seemingly dies but when a passing prince finds her body in a glass coffin, made by the dwarfs, he kissed her and brings her back to life. Then they all live happily ever after.

The story you don’t. 

In the original Brother’s Grim story when the evil stepmother orders the huntsman to kill Snow White she asks him to bring back Snow White’s lungs and liver as proof the kill. The huntsman brings back a boar’s lungs and liver instead which the stepmother eats. After multiple assassination attempts against Snow White the stepmother tricks her into eating the poisoned apple. When the prince arrives he wants to take the deceased Snow White back to his castle (Why? Seriously why would you do that?) but the coffin is dropped which dislodges the apple core from Snow White’s throat. Snow White and the prince get married and at the wedding the stepmother is forced to wear burning-hot iron shoes and dance until she dies.

The Brother’s Grim story is based off a real person. The real Snow White was Margarete von Waldeck, a 16th century noblewoman. Margarete grew up in Germany, her brother used children to work in his copper mines which supplied her family’s fortune. Severely deformed because of the physical labor the mining required, they were mockingly referred to as dwarfs. Margarete’s stepmother sent her away to the Belgium court intending to use her as a pawn to increase the family’s political standing. Unfortunately Prince Philip the Second of Spain started an affair with Margarete that the King of Spain disapproved of.  The King had Margarete murdered when she returned home. Margarete eat a poisoned apple one of the many tainted fruits that were sold at the mine.

Margarete von Waldeck AKA Snow White

4) The Pied Piper of Hamelin

The Story you know.

Piped Pipper

The town of Hamelin was plagued by a swarm of rats. The authories contacted a rat catcher called the Piped Piper who promised to kill the rats if they town paid him a certain amount of gold. The authorities agreed. The Piped Piper lured the rats into a river, using his magic flute and drowned them. When the town refused to pay him the Piped Piper lured all the children of the town  and took them into a cave where they magically disappeared.

The story you don’t.

Knights Templar.jpg

This story hasn’t changed much in the retelling and the town of Hamlin is a real place you can visit. The most questionable aspect of the story is what the hell was the Piped Piper was doing in the cave with those children! Some believe the Piper led the children in a children’s crusade for the Holy Land. The children were either turned in soldiers, turned into slaves, forced to join the Knights Templar or they died on the journey to Jerusalem.

5) Sleeping Beauty

The story you know.

Sleeping Beauty

In the Disney story when Sleeping Beauty (Princess Aurora) is christened three good fairies attend the cermoney along with the evil fairy, Maleficent. Two of the fairies grant the child “grace” and “beauty” before Maleficent declares before the sun sets on the girl’s sixteenth birthday, she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. The final good fairy proclaims that instead of dying the princess will fall into a deep sleep which can only be broken by true love’s kiss. On the day before her sixteenth birthday Maleficent finds the princess and tricks her into cutting her finger on a spinning wheel. Later Prince Charming arrives and kisses the princess to break the spell.

The story you don’t.

Sleeping Beauty.jpg

The story starts with the princess already under the effect of the sleeping spell. Prince Charming discovers the Princess, rapes her and then leaves. Nine months later, while still asleep, Sleeping Beauty gives birth to twins. One of the babies sucks the flax (from the spindle) out of her finger waking her up. Sleeping Beauty cares for the babies until the prince, now a King, returns and they fall in love (despite the fact he raped her). The King already has a Queen and when she discovers Sleeping Beauty’s existence she tries to cook and feed the babies to the King and burn Sleeping Beauty at the stake. Her plans fail, the Queen is killed and Sleeping Beauty lives happier ever after… with her rapist.

It should be pointed out that the original story was called La Belle au bois dormant and was written by Charles Perrault. When the Brother’s Grim heard the tale they adapted it into Dornröschen which translated into Little Briar Rose. This version of the story was a much tamer version and Disney used this version as a template for their own film. Much recently Maleficent was given her own film which again edited the story to be told from her point of view. 


Those are the my top five selection but there are plenty more to choose from. In Pinocchio the puppet has his creator arrested and accidentally kills Jimmy Cricket, Cinderella’s sisters mutilate their own feet in an effort to wear the glass shoe and instead of kissing a frog to turn him into a prince the princesses throws him against a wall. A full collection of Grim’s fairy tales are available on Kindle for 99p. Be sure to give them a look and I’ll see you next time.

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