Far from being the magical, Disney-style fairy tales we imagine, the very first folk stories collected were filled with the downright weird, wonderful, and woeful. Often gruesome and nightmarish, this list retells 10 creepy fairy tales your parents hopefully never told you.
10The Goose Girl
In the first of many Grimm Brothers tales to be featured on this list, a queen sends her daughter away to be married. Like any good mother, she made a charm out of her own blood to protect her daughter and sent her off accompanied by a maid and a talking horse, Falada.
After a short time, the princess became thirsty and asked her maid to fetch her a drink of water from a nearby river. But to her surprise, the maid refused, saying, “If you want a drink, get it yourself. I won’t be your servant.” When the princess leaned out over the river to drink, her mother’s charm fell out of her dress and was swept away by the current. Seeing the princess left unprotected, the maid forced her to swap clothes and horses and to swear an unbreakable oath that she would tell no one her true identity. If the princess had refused, the maid would have murdered her and left her body in the deep woods.
When they arrived in the neighboring kingdom, the maid introduced herself as the princess and married the king’s son, while the real princess was forced to get a job tending geese. Desperate to cover her tracks, the imposter had Falada slaughtered. However, the real princess, distraught at the loss of her last friend, bribed the butcher to hang his head over the city gate, so that she could still talk to him every day.
One day, a young boy tried to pluck one of the princess’s golden hairs, but she summoned a powerful wind to blow his hat away. Annoyed, the boy told the king about the strange girl who talked to horse skulls and controlled the weather. The king, curious, begged the princess to tell her story, but she explained that she could not. The king, now even more curious, suggested she might feel better if she talked about her problems to the stove, but secretly lurked outside and eavesdropped on the whole story. He then married his son to the real princess and had the imposter flung naked into a spiked barrel and dragged around the city until she died.
9Hans The Hedgehog
This Grimm Brothers tale tells the story of a young man ridiculed by the village because his wife was unable to bear children. In desperation, the man prayed to God, saying that he was so desperate for a child, he would even be content with a baby hedgehog. His wish was granted—his unfortunate wife gave birth to a half-hedgehog child that they named Hans.
Horrified by their child (apparently the top half was hedgehog and the bottom half human), the parents put it behind the stove and left it there for eight years. Surprisingly, Hans did not die, but instead asked his father to shoe a rooster so he could ride it off to live in the woods. There he tended sheep and played bagpipes in the trees.
One day, a king got lost in the woods and asked Hans to show him the way home. Hans agreed, but only if the king promised, in writing, to award Hans the first thing that greeted him when he returned. But the king, who somehow knew Hans was illiterate, tricked him and actually wrote down an order for his guards to attack any rooster-riding hedgehog-boys who appeared in the kingdom.
Shortly afterward, a second king found himself in a similar situation, but decided not to trick Hans and promised him the first thing he saw when he returned to his kingdom—which happened to be his beautiful daughter. Hans then traveled to the first kingdom, vaulted over guards trying to bayonet him, and impaled the deceitful king’s daughter with his quills. Afterward, he returned to the second kingdom and married the princess. On their wedding night, he tore off his hedgehog skin and ordered the guards to burn it on a huge fire, thereby becoming a real human boy.
8The Girl Without Hands
In this gory tale, a miller was chopping trees in the woods when he came across an old man. Seeing his miserable face, the old man laughed and offered him all the riches in the world in exchange for whatever was standing behind his mill. Thinking that only an old apple tree stood behind the mill, the miller quickly agreed and the old man promised to return in three years. But when the miller returned home, he found his daughter standing under the tree.
When the old man—a devil—returned, the miller’s daughter washed herself and stood inside a chalk circle, becoming too pure for the devil to touch. Frustrated, he demanded her father withhold water from her, so that she couldn’t wash herself. But the girl’s tears washed away the dirt and she remained pure. The devil then ordered the miller to chop his daughter’s hands off with an axe, but this time her tears cleaned her bloody stumps; the devil knew he was beat and gave up.
Unsurprisingly, the girl decided to leave home after this. After walking well into the night, she was struck with a terrible hunger. Eventually, the girl came to a royal garden filled with delicious pears and apples and guarded by an impenetrable moat. After a quick prayer, an angel appeared to drain the moat and the girl crossed and ate her fill—a single pear. The next day, the royal gardener reported seeing a mysterious spirit with no hands, who had crossed the moat and stolen a pear. Intrigued, the king hid in the garden and saw the girl cross the moat and take another pear the following night. The king was smitten and immediately decided to marry the girl, making her a pair of beautiful silver hands to replace her old ones.
But the devil was still furious at being prevented from claiming the girl as his own. When the king had to go away to war, the devil intercepted his letters home. Instead, he forged a letter from the king ordering his mother to have his wife and their young child put to death. Unable to kill her daughter-in-law and grandson, the king’s mother ordered them to flee and then slaughtered a deer instead, sending the tongue and eyes to her son as proof she had carried out the deed. When the king realized what had happened, he was heartbroken and pledged not to eat or drink until he had found his lost wife and child. Unfortunately, it took him seven years, but God kept him alive while he searched “in all the stone cliffs and caves.” Eventually he discovered his bride in a small cottage near the castle—although he initially didn’t recognize her, since her hands had grown back in the meantime.
7The Three Snake Leaves
In this Grimm Brothers piece, a powerful king had a daughter “who was very beautiful, but also very strange.” Although she had many suitors, she refused to marry anyone who would not agree to be buried alive with her if she died first, reasoning: “If he loves me with all his heart, of what use will life be to him afterwards?”
Meanwhile, a peasant boy left home to earn money as a soldier. When battle was joined, most of his comrades were slaughtered, but the boy rallied the survivors and led them to victory. For his bravery, the king rewarded him with priceless treasures and made him a knight. Visiting the king’s castle, the boy fell in love with the strange and beautiful princess and agreed to her conditions for marriage. The two lived happily for many years, until the princess became ill and died. Her grieving husband immediately began looking for a way out of his promise, but the king’s guards locked him in the princess’s tomb to die.
While trapped in the tomb, he saw a snake slither through the cracks in the wall, so he killed it to protect his wife’s corpse. Before he could decide to eat it, a second snake appeared with three leaves which it placed on the first snake’s wounds, bringing it back to life. Both snakes disappeared, but the leaves remained on the ground and the boy used them to bring the princess back to life. The two escaped from the vault and boarded a ship back to the castle.
But the leaves have changed the princess cruelly, and she fell in love with the ship’s captain. They plotted to throw the boy into the sea so that they could marry. A servant saw the act and rowed after the boy, saving him. Somehow the two got back to the kingdom before anyone else and told the king the whole story. When the princess and captain returned, the king sentenced them to death by sending them out to sea in a ship pierced full of holes.
Once upon a time, a strange beggar spent his days kidnapping young girls. Visiting the home of three sisters, he persuaded the oldest to to let him inside. As soon as the beggar touched her, she was forced to jump into his pack. He carried her away to his golden house, where he promised to give her everything she desired if she would stay and become his wife.
In case that wasn’t creepy enough, he then announced that he had to leave for a short time, giving her an egg to keep safe and forbidding her from entering one particular room on pain of death. After he left, curiosity overcame his reluctant bride-to-be, and she entered the forbidden room. There, she found a basin filled with blood and the mutilated remains of dead girls. A large axe and a chopping block lay conveniently nearby.
Out of fear, the girl dropped the egg, which became covered in blood and could not be cleaned, no matter how hard she tried. When the beggar returned and saw the bloody egg, he dragged her into the forbidden room and chopped her up. He then returned to the house and stole away the next sister—who suffered the same fate. Finally, he returned for for the youngest.
But this time the beggar had met his match. Suspicious, the youngest sister hid the egg before entering the forbidden room. Discovering the dismembered bodies of her sisters, she quickly put the pieces back together, resurrecting them. When the beggar returned and saw that there was no blood on the egg, he announced that she had passed the test and would be his true bride. As a wedding present, the girl asked him to take a basket of gold to her father, but secretly hid her two sisters inside the basket instead. She then placed a skull in the window, so it would seem like she was watching him, and covered herself in honey and feathers, in order to hide in the trees disguised as a bird. When the beggar and his friends all arrived for the wedding, the girls’ brothers arrived, locked them in the house, and burned them alive in it.
5The Singing Bone
In this Grimm story, a giant boar terrorized a poor kingdom, ruining crops and tearing peasants apart. In desperation, the king offered his only daughter to whoever killed the beast.
Two brothers volunteered, one out of pride and the other out of kindness. To improve their chances of finding the demon pig, they split up and entered the forest from opposite sides. In the forest, the younger brother encountered a dwarf, who sensed the boy’s good heart, and gave him an enchanted spear capable of killing the boar. Sure enough, the boy came across the boar and the enchanted spear split the beast’s heart in two.
Walking to the castle with the beast on his back, the boy found his brother drinking in a tavern. Seeing that his brother had won the challenge, the older brother offered him some wine to celebrate. Once his sibling had become good and drunk, the older brother murdered him and buried him under a bridge, before taking the boar to the king and claiming the princess. His brother, he claimed, had been torn to pieces by the boar.
The murderer and his new wife lived happily for many years. Then, a wandering shepherd came across a weathered bone, which he decided to fashion into a mouthpiece for his horn. Of course, the bone belonged to the betrayed brother, and when the shepherd blew into it, the horn began singing a terrible song of murder. The shepherd took his creepy new instrument to the king, who ordered the earth beneath the bridge to be dug up, discovering the body of the younger brother. As a punishment, the wicked brother was sewn into a sack and thrown into the sea to drown.
This tale tells of a widow and her two daughters. One, her biological daughter, was ugly and lazy;ffffff the other, her stepdaughter, was beautiful and kind. For this, the widow despised her stepdaughter, forcing her to sit by a well, spinning cloth until her fingers bled.
One day, the stepdaughter accidentally dropped her spindle into the well. Not knowing what else to do, she jumped into the well after it. But instead of finding herself trapped in a well, she awoke in a beautiful meadow full of sunshine. Walking around the strange new land, she came across a baker’s oven full of bread begging to be taken out before it burnt and an apple tree which begged her to pick the ripest apples.
Finally, the girl arrived at the house of Mother Holle, an old, ugly lady, who asked her to clean her cottage. The girl did everything Mother Holle asked and was rewarded by being covered from head to foot in gold, given her spindle back, and returned to the human world.
Impressed by her stepdaughter’s new wealth, the wicked widow decided to send her own daughter down the well. However, the lazy daughter refused to take the bread out of the oven or shake the tree. Her work for Mother Holle was so lazy she was asked to leave. Instead of gold, the old fairy coated her from head to foot in burning pitch, which stuck to her for the rest of her life.
3The Enchanted Tsarevich
In this Russian folktale, a poor merchant left his three daughters for a business trip, promising to bring each an exotic present. The first two daughters asked for a new coat, while the youngest sketched a picture of a flower. On his travels, he got the coats, but couldn’t find a flower similar to the drawing, until, nearing his home, he spied a castle overgrown with them.
But as the merchant picked the flower, a monstrous snake with three heads appeared before him. The merchant begged for mercy, but was made to promise that he would give the daughter who greeted him on his return to the snake as a wife. The youngest daughter was the first to see him and voluntarily went to the snake’s castle. During the day, there isn’t a single soul in the house, but each evening the snake would appear. First, he demanded that she move her bed outside his room, then next to his bed, and finally that she sleep next to him—throughout this, the snake continued to disappear every morning and not reappear until nightfall.
The snake comes to love the girl very much, and seeing that she misses her family, allows her to go visit them on the condition that she returns the same evening. But when she returns home, her sisters become jealous of her happiness and force her to stay one more night by rubbing onions on their eyes to pretend they have been crying. On returning to the castle, she finds not a snake but a beautiful prince, dead from grief.
2The Three Army Surgeons
Once there were three proud army surgeons who decided they were the best in the world and began traveling around to boast of that fact. Eventually they came to an inn in the middle of a secluded forest where the innkeeper, understandably skeptical, asked them to prove their talents. To his surprise they cheerfully agreed—the first surgeon hacked off his own hand and pledged to reattach it in the morning, the second did the same thing with his heart, and the third ripped out his own eyes.
The surgeons could afford to be confident, since they secretly had a magical lotion that reattached severed body parts. The impressed innkeeper gave the hand, heart, and eyes to a serving girl, ordering her to watch over them until morning. However, that night, the serving girl’s secret soldier lover visited and the two quickly became distracted, allowing a cat to sneak in and eat the severed body parts.
When the serving girl discovered the missing pieces, her soldier promised to replace them, beginning by cutting the hand off a recently hanged thief in the town square. He then sliced the heart out of a slaughtered pig. Finally, he caught up with the cat and ripped out its eyes.
The next day, the three surgeons magically reattached their body parts as promised. However, when they continued on their journey, the first surgeon found himself constantly trying to steal money from strangers and the second surgeon was unable to fight the urge to roll around in the mud. At night, the third surgeon couldn’t sleep and could see mice running across the dark floor. Realizing something was wrong, the surgeons returned to the inn and demanded their own body parts back. Unfortunately, the serving girl had already run away with her soldier and no one else knew what had happened to them. Instead, the surgeons just demanded that the innkeeper give them all the money he had in exchange for not burning his house down.
1The Mouse, The Bird, And The Sausage
In this incredibly bizarre story, a mouse, a bird, and a sausage all lived together in a beautiful cottage in the woods. Each housemate had a specific job—the bird flew out into the forest to collect wood, the mouse carried water and lit the fireplace, and the sausage cooked dinner. Working together like this, they were able to lead a comfortable, if weird, life.
One day, while collecting wood in the forest, the bird met an old friend who ridiculed the bird for working so hard while the sausage and the mouse got to stay at home all day doing nothing. He argued that all the mouse had to do was put the fire on and that the sausage only had to sit at the stove all day until the porridge was ready. The bird agreed. Instead of going out to work the next day, he told his friends that he didn’t want to be their slave anymore and that if they wanted any wood they would have to go out themselves to get it.
The mouse and sausage were surprised, but agreed to try swapping jobs, with the sausage going into the forest to collect wood. However, the sausage did not return the next day and the bird had to go out and look for him. Soon, he came across a dog carrying the sausage in his mouth. The bird begged him to let the sausage go, but the dog refused, claiming that the sausage had been carrying forged papers and killing it instead. To make matters worse, the bird returned home to find that in trying to cook the mouse had jumped into the pot and boiled to death. Enraged, the bird threw the wood all about the house, causing the building to catch fire. Trying to put the blaze out, the bird somehow managed to knock himself down a well, where he drowned. The End.
Michelle is student and, according to her sister, a Disney princess. Feel free to ponder on her other musings at elizabethwritesstuff.blogspot.co.uk.