Dark Faerie Tales and Nursery Rhymes

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but I’m a huge Grimm fan. The third season is premiering Oct. 25, and it got me to thinking about faerie tales. When you look at Disney’s interpretations of the classics, like Cinderella and Snow white, you pretty much know that they’re mixing a crap-load of vanilla into the story, but somehow…they both remain incredibly dark, Snow White especially. I’ll be honest; the scene in the forest freaked me out as a kid, and still gets me today.


A lot of parents don’t let their kids watch scary movies, even some of the tamer classic varieties, because they don’t want their children getting nightmares. That’s fine. Yet many of them will still reach for their trusty Mother Goose or Grimm collection at night to read for bedtime. Let’s be honest here, very few faerie tales and nursery rhymes are light-hearted fancies. Most of them involve poison, curses, spells, deception, murder, resurrection of the dead (or in some cases their talking bones), being eaten alive, or terrible things happening to people whether they’re good or bad.


A good faerie tale or nursery rhyme has a lesson. A lesson rarely comes without a consequence if it isn’t heeded. You don’t let a stranger inside your house when you’re alone, and you certainly don’t trust their food. If your stepmother likes to box your ears on a regular basis, then asks you to stick your head somewhere dangerous, don’t be surprised if she accidentally lops your head off. When you’ve been warned for seventeen years of your life not to do something and you do it anyway? Yeah, that’ll probably turn out bad.


The following are five particularly nasty little faerie tales and nursery rhymes to avoid, if you somehow can’t stomach a good dose of salt with your children’s books. But if you really want a story with a bit of bite, definitely look into them.



1.The Juniper Tree

 juniper tree

This one used to give me the shivers when I paged through it as a kid. I guess that’s why it’s my favorite. There’s always an element of an evil stepmother in a good faerie tale, illustrating that the most evil people in your life can also be some of the closest. It makes sense, when you consider that so often the case with a missing or murdered child usually involves someone in the family. The stepmother kills her stepson, and makes it look like her beloved daughter did it. The little girl is of course emotionally scarred when she thinks she killed her own brother, and it doesn’t help when the stepmother butchers him and serves the boy to his father when he comes home. The lesson though, lies in the boy’s spirit when he comes back as a bird to seek revenge.




2.Goosy Goosy Gander


Goosy Goosy Gander,

wither do you wander?

Upstairs and downstairs,

in my lady’s chamber.

There I saw an old man

who would not say his prayers,

I took him by the left leg

and threw him down the stairs.


I’m pretty sure he breaks his neck, too. Lesson here? No matter how old you are, you’d better be a good Christian, or your mistress’s pet bird is going to break your neck. It doesn’t get much darker than that.



3.Blue Beard


There’s a French film about this story with absolutely beautiful cinematography, and it employs something a lot of us can’t seem to stomach. A young girl marrying an old man. In the story, she’s not always a child, but very likely is. This guy practices witchcraft, forces women to marry him, and then lies in wait until they do what he tells them expressly not to do: open one door in his castle with a key he gives them. Of course, this is what he really wants, because he’s a sadistic jerk. Whenever it invariably happens, he butchers them and throws their body parts into the forbidden room. The only lesson I find here is that if you’re going to do what you shouldn’t, either get better at lying, or think on your feet. The nice thing about this story, is that the main character isn’t a brave hero, but a young woman with a brain. That’s pretty rare in your classic stories. Too bad there are a thousand different versions, because in half of them she usually isn’t that bright, and gets saved through the deus ex machina method.





Not the one most of us are more acquainted with, but the one with the incest in particular is the version of this story that gets me. A king loves his wife, and she makes him promise to marry no woman after her death unless the woman is as beautiful as her. So when his daughter grows up and looks exactly like his wife, what do you think that king decides? Obviously his daughter isn’t too hot about the idea, so she flees in a coat of furs. Then she’s found, and nobody knows who she really is. I guess being a servant doesn’t sit too well with her, so she decides it’s way better to do the do with her own dad. The lesson here…well this lesson, I’m going to have to politely disagree with. I do think manual labor is better than incest, sorry.



5.The Death of the Little Hen



The story of the chicken talking about the sky falling always gets me. Why does nobody ever talk about THIS chicken? It’s basically the same concept, but instead of spreading fear through a misunderstanding, it’s one death that turns into a dozen. A chicken chokes on a kernel she tried to greedily eat by herself, and so a procession is gradually made for her. Then everybody drowns. This could be interpreted a thousand different ways. Don’t mourn for those who don’t deserve it, don’t let yourself forget logical thinking when you lose those closest to you, or don’t be a greedy bugger because it’ll only end up destroying yourself and everyone around you.



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