The disturbing reality behind the ‘happily ever after’

Tales of beautiful Princesses, of magic and talking animals, of good triumphing over evil – fairy tale stories recounting the wholesome tales of true love and happy endings have been passed down through generations. Stories like Cinderella, Snow White, The Little Mermaid and Sleeping Beauty depict the temporary struggles of the protagonists before all their problems are solved – usually by a handsome prince of course – before living happily ever after. Yet the reality, in fact, is that many of these tales had not-so happy endings, and the original stories are far from wholesome or indeed child-friendly.

To begin, Cinderella is a story about a young girl who is mistreated by her stepmother following her father’s death. She is visited by a fairy Godmother who grants her the opportunity to attend a royal ball, where she falls in love with the prince. Yet the Fairy Godmother’s magic runs out at midnight meaning at the stroke of twelve Cinderella will transform back into her ordinary self. Cinderella hurriedly leaves, leaving behind a single glass slipper. The prince searches the entire kingdom for the girl who wore the slipper, eventually reuniting with Cinderella and they live happily ever after. This is the version many are familiar with, yet the initial story of Cinderella has gone through many variations before reaching the one that Disney depicts in their films. One such variation is by the Brothers Grimm. In their darker version of Cinderella, when the prince visits Cinderella’s house with the slipper for all the maidens to try on, the stepsisters go to concerning lengths to make it fit – by mutilating their own feet.  The shoe is too small for the eldest daughter, and she cannot get her big toe to fit, so her mother hands her a knife to slice her toe off. The same for the younger sister, who cuts off her heel to squash her foot into the slipper. It is not until the prince sees the mass of blood flowing from their feet that he realises he has been tricked. Though the ending is happy for Cinderella, the stepsisters end with their eyes being plucked away by birds as punishment for their cruelty.

Next up is Snow White, the story about an evil queen who is jealous of Snow Whites beauty because she wishes to be the most beautiful in all the land. She sends Snow White off into the forest to be killed, but her life is spared and so instead she runs away and comes across the seven dwarfs. They take her in and care for her, but the evil Queen learns that Snow White is still alive and comes to the forest to find her. The Queen gives her a poisoned apple to eat, and Snow White falls into a deep sleep. Upon hearing of Snow Whites supposed death, the dwarfs return to chase the evil Queen away and she dies falling from a cliff. Snow White is then placed into a glass coffin, and is awoken by true loves kiss, with everything ending happily. Yet the 1857 version of Snow White differs from this tale. The first difference is that the evil Queen asks to be brought back Snow White’s lungs and liver, but the huntsman tricks her and instead brings back the lungs and liver of a boar – which the Queen then eats thinking they belonged to Snow White. The Queens death is also markedly more disturbing, she is punished for her wrongdoings by being forced to wear red-hot iron shoes. She is then humiliated by having to dance in these shoes until she drops down dead.

Many of the fairy tale stories we hear today stem from much darker and concerning tales. Though shocking, the previous versions of these stories are a disturbingly interesting read.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez 🇨🇦 on Unsplash

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