Creative Child

Spooky Fairy Tales: Then and Now

by Sarah Lyons

I loved watching Disney princess movies as a child and I enjoy sharing them with my kids. You may know that most Disney fairy tales are based on original stories from hundreds of years ago, but what you may not know is the original tales are very dark and even gruesome.

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Historically fairy tales were told to entertain, educate, preserve culture, and instill moral values. They warned children about the dangers of evil and jealousy in ways that would be considered harsh by most of us in today’s society. Never the less, they are interesting to look back on and study for clues about how people used to live and learn. In honor of the upcoming holiday, let’s do a quick comparison of these scary fairy tales.


Disney movie, 1950

In the Disney version, Cinderella lives with her evil stepmother and two ugly stepsisters. A fairy godmother and animal friends help her attend the ball where she and Prince Charming fall in love. When the clock strikes midnight, she rushes out leaving her glass slipper behind. Prince Charming scours the land for the owner of the slipper. Eventually they are reunited and live happily ever after. 

Original story collected by the Grimm Brothers, 1812

The story starts out similar, minus the fairy Godmother. Instead, Cinderella plants a tree by her mother’s grave and prays under it daily. The dress for the ball is found under this tree. The prince uses tar to set a trap for Cinderella. Instead of getting stuck, she loses a shoe. In order to get the shoe to fit one stepsister cuts off her toes, and the other her heel. The prince is told by doves that there is blood in the shoe and discovers the true owner is Cinderella. The stepsisters decide they should be nice to Cinderella, since she will be queen, and they attend her wedding where birds peck their eyes out. Harsh.

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The Little Mermaid

Disney movie, 1989

A rebellious 16-year-old mermaid, Ariel, wants nothing more than to become human. When she visits the surface, she falls in love with Prince Eric. She makes a deal with Ursula, the sea witch, and trades her voice for legs. Her voice will only be returned with a true love's kiss. Ursula unsuccessfully tries to trick Eric into falling in love with her. Ultimately, Eric and Ariel fall in love and live happily ever after on land together.

Original story by Hans Christian Andersen, 1837

This story starts off the same as Disney’s version. She sees the prince from afar on a ship and rescues him from drowning. She visits the sea witch who takes her tongue in exchange for legs, a curse that can be broken if she finds true love’s kiss. Unlike the Disney version, she will not turn back into a mermaid if she fails, but will instead die. In the book she wants to become human, not only because she loves the prince, but because humans have eternal souls and mermaids do not. The penalty for having legs is excruciating pain with each step she takes.

At first it seems like they will fall in love but he falls in love with someone else. The witch tells her that if she kills the prince she can return to being a mermaid, but she cannot go through with it. At the end, she throws herself into the sea and turns into sea foam, destined to spend eternity in purgatory where she has to do good deeds until she earns a soul, which could take 300 years. I don’t think Flounder and Sebastian would approve of this version.

Rapunzel and Snow White on page 2...

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