OK, so she and Prince Charming live happily ever in the Disney movie. But in the Brothers Grimm classic, things are a bloody mess. One evil stepsister chops off her toes so she can squeeze her foot into the famous slipper. Another lops off her heel. At Cinderella's wedding, doves peck at two of the stepsisters' eyes. Then, as our heroine and her prince leave to church, the doves attack again for good measure, leaving both sisters blind.
French author Charles Perrault published his version in 1697, more than a century before the debut of "Grimm's Fairly Tales," but the original story actually dates back to the 1300s. In one telling, Sleeping Beauty is raped by a king and gives birth to his child—all while she's asleep. Later, the king (Sleeping Beauty's assailant, in case you weren't paying attention) murders his wife so he can be with his young victim. Ah, l'amour.
"London Bridge Is Falling Down"
This nursery rhyme can be traced back to the 1600s, but it wasn't until the late 19th century that British folklorist Alice Gomme came up with a grisly theory about its origin. According to Gomme, the lyrics refer to child sacrifice—a myth that children were buried alive in the foundation of London Bridge.
Author J.M. Barrie was 6 years old when his older brother David drowned. To help their mother cope with this loss, Barrie pretended to be his brother, even dressing in his the dead boy's clothes. Mom also took some comfort in the thought that David would remain a boy forever—a notion that would inspire Barrie's 1904 play (and 1911 novel) "Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up."
"Hansel and Gretel"
Another traditional tale retold by the Brothers Grimm, this story about a young brother and sister abandoned by their parents is said to be based on a real-life horror: the Great Famine of the 1300s. During that crisis, many parents actually left their children to fend for themselves. Some people became so desperate they resorted to cannibalism.
"She’ll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain"
This folk song, a traditional children's favorite, sounds perfectly innocent, but it's actually based on "When the Chariot Comes," a spiritual hymn about the Rapture. "King Jesus, he'll be driver when she comes," goes the original lyric. So there's really nothing to worry about—if you're a believer. For everyone else, says the Gospel According to Matthew, there will be "great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world."
In the original novel "The Adventures of Pinocchio," first serialized in 1881, the title character is "wretched" and a "disgrace," according to the puppet maker who created him. Later, a pair of con artists, the Fox and the Cat, tie a noose around Pinocchio's neck and leave him hanging him from a tree. But there's karmic payback: The Cat ends up blind, and the Fox is forced to chop off his tail and sell it to get money for food.
You probably know Walt Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" better than the 1812 story it's based on. Maybe just as well. Although the queen is wicked in both versions, the 1937 animated musical is better remembered for those cute dwarfs, with names like Doc, Sneezy and Dopey. In the original fairy tale, the evil queen orders the huntsman to take Snow White into the woods, kill her and bring back her liver and lungs for the queen to eat.
"The Three Little Pigs"
Another Disney cartoon from the '30s. "The Three Little Pigs" shows all three of its title characters escaping from the wolf, who runs away in the end. It's based on a 19th-century English fable in which the wolf eats the first two piggies. But in the end, the tables are turned: The third pig (you remember him, the one with a house of bricks) traps the wolf in a cauldron of boiling water, kills him and then eats him.
"Three Blind Mice"
There's a theory that the mice in this nursery rhyme originally represented three Protestant bishops who conspired to overthrow Queen Mary I, the 16th-century Catholic monarch known as "Bloody Mary." Some say the "blindness" of the mice refers to the bishops' heresy. In any case, all three were burned at the stake, on the queen's order.
"Here We Go 'Round the Mulberry Bush"
It's always been a children's singing game to us. But British historian R.S. Duncan claims the song originated at England's Wakefield Prison, where female prisoners exercised around a mulberry tree. We still have our doubts.
"Little Red Riding Hood"
Early versions of this tale, which dates back to the 10th century, have the Big Bad Wolf killing Little Red Riding Hood's grandmother before the girl arrives at her house. The wolf then offers Red a bite to eat—and feeds her the remains of Grandma. In some versions, the wolf eats Red, but only after she takes off her clothes and climbs into bed with him.
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