7 Famous Fairy Tales That Are Based on Gruesome True Life Stories - Learning Mind (2022)

What is it about fairy tales that captivate the imaginations of children? Could it be that underneath the thin veneer of fiction lies a much darker truth to the tales? Did you know that the most famous fairy tales are based on gruesome real-life stories? Here are just a few:

Famous Fairy Tales and the Creepy Real Stories Behind Them

Bluebeard

I loved this fairy tale as a child. So much so that I would beg my sister to read it to me every night before bed. I knew it off by heart and sometimes she would try and skip a line or two. Whenever she did, I would tell her off.

The story is pretty awful as a famous fairy tale in its own right. A king named Bluebeard marries a beautiful young princess and takes her to his magnificent castle. He gives her the keys to all the rooms in the castle but tells her not to open the last door in an underground chamber.

He then goes off hunting and of course, naturally inquisitive, the young queen goes down to the room and opens the door. Here she finds blood everywhere and the king’s previous wives, murdered and hanging on hooks.

Horrified she drops the key in the blood and tries to wash it off. But the blood won’t come off. Will she face the same fate? Luckily, her brother races to her rescue in time to kill Bluebeard.

This famous fairy tale is based on two real-life characters. Conomor the Cursed is a savage 6th-century ruler in Breton. This Breton chief had been warned that one of his sons would end up killing him. As a result, he pre-empts this by killing all of his pregnant wives.

However, his last wife, Tryphine, is also warned by the ghosts of the murdered wives. She flees but he finds her and beheads her. Miraculously, a sacred monk brings her back to life and when they return to Conomor’s castle the walls collapse around him.

The second character is the 15th-century nobleman and notorious serial killer Gilles de Rais. This man earned a formidable reputation fighting alongside Joan of Arc. Yet, in his private life, he murdered children.

He was given the nickname of Bluebeard because of the peculiar way his horse’s mane looked blue in the daytime. Gilles de Rais is one of the world’s most evil psychopaths.

Hansel and Gretel

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This is one of those fairy tales that is famous because the story resonates with children today. It tells of a poor woodcutter and his second wife. She is the stepmother to his children – Hansel and Gretel.

As food becomes scarce, the stepmother decides there is not enough food for the children. So she persuades the woodcutter to take the children deep into the forest where they won’t be able to find their way home.

They come across a witches’ house made of gingerbread. Eventually, they get the better of the witch and return home with the spoils of her house.

The story is set during the Great Famine of 1315. Many people starved to death during this time. Acts of extreme cruelty, such as infanticide and cannibalism, took place as people became more desperate. The situation for some families became so wretched that they left their children to fend for themselves.

The gingerbread house part of the story comes from a highly profitable baker called Katharina Schraderin. She became legendary in the 1600s thanks to her gingerbread cookies, which everyone wanted. One male baker was so determined to get her recipe he accused her of being a witch.

As a result, she was hounded and driven out of the town. But, then in an awful twist, her neighbours brought her back and burned her to death in one of her baking ovens.

7 Famous Fairy Tales That Are Based on Gruesome True Life Stories - Learning Mind (2)

Cinderella

Cinderella is every young girl’s dream, right? Well, perhaps not mine, as you’ve already heard, I was getting a taste for psychopaths and sociopaths.

Everyone knows in this famous fairy tale that Cinders has a tough life. She has to do all the chores, look after her evil stepsisters, and might miss out on the Ball. But, it all comes good in the end. She gets the gorgeous frock, she arrives in a splendid carriage and meets Prince Charming. Furthermore, the story has a happy ending.

However, the real-life tale is not so pretty and there’s no happy ever after for Cinders. The story is based around a slave girl in ancient Greece, around 500BC. Rhodopis was a beautiful young Greek woman. At a young age, she was taken from her home in Greece and forced into slavery.

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Rhodopis was exquisitely beautiful and men lusted after her. As such, she became a prized possession and men showered her with expensive gifts. One of these gifts was a pair of golden shoes.

Pharaoh Ahmose II saw the shoes and Rhodopis and wanted her for himself. Although strictly she was not of royal blood, he married her. Her life was to be a ready and willing sex slave to the pharaoh.

Beauty and the Beast

This is one of those famous fairy tales that you wouldn’t expect to have a real story behind it. But it does.

In 1537, a young boy aged 10 called Gonsalvus, was taken from his home in Spain to the Royal French court. Here he was ordered to entertain the King of France. Why? Because he suffered from a condition called hypertrichosis. This causes someone to grow hair all over their body. It is called ‘werewolf syndrome’.

The king was enamoured with his little ‘beast’. He educated him and he became a nobleman. When the king died, his wife found the beast a wife. Despite his looks, the pair did fall in love. They had seven children (all of whom also suffered from hypertrichosis) and were married for 40 years.

Rapunzel

‘Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your golden hair!’ I remember this story from my childhood. I kept thinking, why is she waiting for someone to come and rescue her? But the real-life story behind this fairy tale might explain it.

As unusual, we have the beautiful protagonist, this time it is an auburn-haired girl living in the 3rd century. Her overbearing father was a wealthy merchant who travelled abroad all the time. No man was good enough for his daughter so when he went off on his travels he locked her up in a tower.

It was during these times in the tower that she turned to Christianity to help her through the loneliness. Her praying was so loud the whole town could hear her. The rich merchant was a pagan. Her Christian prayers so angered him that he forced her to stand trial before a Roman consul to give up her religion.

The consul demanded the merchant give up his wealth or behead his daughter, should she refuse her Christianity. As she refused, and the merchant would not forfeit the fortune he amassed, he did behead her.

However, he was killed by a random lightning bolt shortly afterwards. The daughter was martyred and became Saint Barbara.

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Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

This famous fairy tale has a happy ending. Snow White is hunted by an evil queen who wants to kill her. Seven dwarfs rescue and befriend her. However, the reality is much different and far more gruesome.

The story starts in the 16th century in Bavaria. It centres on a young noblewoman called Margarete von Waldeck. Margarete’s brother employs small children to labour in his copper mine. But because of the crippling conditions, the children become dreadfully deformed. The locals begin calling them dwarves to mock them.

Now, if this wasn’t bad enough, Margarete was exceptionally beautiful. As such, her stepmother resented her and wanted her out of the picture. She packed her off to Brussels to get rid of her.

Here, Margarete began a lustful affair with Prince Philip II of Spain. However, his father, the King of Spain vehemently disagreed with the romance. He organised a plot to kill Margarete. She was poisoned shortly afterwards.

The Pied Piper of Hamelin

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A pied piper in Hamelin was known for his ability to play hypnotic music and charm certain animals. So, in 1264, the villagers asked him to play his pipe and get rid of all the rats plaguing the area. They promised him a hefty fee for his troubles. Of course, the piper agreed and played his pipe. Soon all the rats followed him to their death.

He went back to the villagers who reneged on the deal. Angry and bitter at them, he went out once again to play his pipe. But, this time, it was the children that fell entranced to his hypnotic tune. They followed the piper and were never seen again.

The Dark Truth Behind Famous Fairy Tales

Most famous fairy tales have a happy ending. The real-life stories behind some of these show that the truth is far from happy ever after.

References:

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Sub-editor & staff writer at Learning Mind

Janey Davies has been published online for over 10 years. She has suffered from a panic disorder for over 30 years, which prompted her to study and receive an Honours degree in Psychology with the Open University. Janey uses the experiences of her own anxiety to offer help and advice to others dealing with mental health issues.

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FAQs

Are there any fairy tales based on true stories? ›

The story of "Rapunzel" is based on the tragic life of Saint Barbara, who is thought to have lived in the third century. The true story of Rapunzel is thought to be about a young woman in Italy named Barbara who was so beautiful that her father locked her away in a tower so no men could get to her.

What is the most gruesome Grimm fairy tale? ›

The Robber Bridegroom

This might be the most disturbing Grimm story yet. A man sets out to marry a miller's daughter.

What are the top 20 fairy tales? ›

Here are the top 20 stories parents change:
  • Little Red Riding Hood.
  • The Three Little Pigs.
  • The Gingerbread Man.
  • Hansel and Gretel.
  • The Ugly Duckling.
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
  • Beauty and the Beast.
  • Cinderella.
15 May 2018

Is Encanto a fairy tale? ›

While the studio's best-known works have been overt fairytales, fantasies or other iterations of folklore, “Encanto” tells a deeply relatable story in a realistic setting.

Was Rapunzel pregnant? ›

Rapunzel doesn't realize she's pregnant until her clothes don't fit. In the original story, which the Grimms altered possibly for reasons of propriety, the witch discovers that her prize has been getting some because Rapunzel innocently asks why her waist band is getting bigger.

What is the oldest fairytale? ›

Analysis showed Beauty And The Beast and Rumpelstiltskin to be about 4,000 years old. And a folk tale called The Smith And The Devil, about a blacksmith selling his soul in a pact with the Devil in order to gain supernatural abilities, was estimated to go back 6,000 years to the Bronze Age.

Was there a real Cinderella? ›

Cinderella was based on a real person, Rhodopis, a Greek hetaera (or courtesan) who was rumored to be an acquaintance of Aesop.

What is the saddest fairy tale? ›

The Story of a Mother

This fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen is one of the saddest of his fairy tales and explains the lengths a mother goes for the life of her child. The tale was first published December 1847.

What is Cinderella's true story? ›

The first recorded story featuring a Cinderella-like figure dates to Greece in the sixth century BCE. In that ancient story, a Greek courtesan named Rhodopis has one of her shoes stolen by an eagle, who flies it all the way across the Mediterranean and drops it in the lap of an Egyptian king.

What fairytale is Coraline based on? ›

Happily Ever After. Neil Gaiman opens his book with an epigraph about fairy tales, and in a lot of ways Coraline itself is a fairy tale. It's not a Disney fairy tale, though; it's more Brothers Grimm style. The Grimm fairy tales were dark and creepy and a little twisted; Coraline is all of these things.

What are some scary fairy tales? ›

Here are six classic — and classically disturbing — fairy tales that won't be adapted by the folks at Disney any time soon.
  • Sun, Moon, and Talia. ...
  • The Strange Feast. ...
  • Penta of the Chopped-Off Hands. ...
  • The Flea. ...
  • Aschenputtel. ...
  • The Juniper Tree.
10 Jan 2020

What's the real story of Snow White? ›

Is Snow White a true story? Research has suggested that the origins of Snow White could actually lie in history and may have been inspired by the countess Margaretha von Waldeck and her alleged lover, Philip II of Spain. The countess, who died in 1554, was famed for her beauty.

What is a famous fairy tale? ›

Cinderella. The beloved tale of Cinderella is one of the world's best-known fairy tales, renowned as a 'happily ever after' story.

Is Moana a fairy tale? ›

Moana is not a fairy tale. Moana is the title of an animated feature film that was released by the Walt Disney Company in 2016. It tells the story of Moana, daughter of a Polynesian chief, who must save her people by returning the 'heart of Te Fiti' with the help of the god Maui.

What are three fairy tales? ›

Fairy Tales
  • The Bremen Town Musicians.
  • Cinderella.
  • Emperor's New Clothes.
  • The Fisherman and his Wife.
  • Fractured Fairy Tales.
  • Hansel and Gretel.
  • Hans in Luck.
  • Jack and the Beanstalk.

Will there be an Encanto 2? ›

Encanto 2: A New Generation is an American animated musical fantasy comedy film produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios, and is the sequel to the 2021 film Encanto. It was released on August 25, 2024 in the United States and is the 63rd animated feature in the Disney Animated Canon.

Is Encanto and Luca connected? ›

Encanto Luca (also known as Luca Encanto) is a crossover between the two CGI animated movies Encanto and Luca. While this crossover is not very widespread it still has several loyal fans.

Who is the villain in Encanto? ›

Type of Villains

The Soldiers are the posthumous overarching antagonists of Disney's 60th full-length animated feature film Encanto. They were a group of corrupt Colombian soldiers responsible for the death of Pedro Madrigal, the husband of Alma Madrigal and the grandfather of Mirabel Madrigal.

What is Cinderella's real name? ›

Perrault's story was soon translated into English, with French “Cendrillon” becoming “Cinderella.” Perrault never tells us Cinderella's “real name” — Cinderella addresses her older stepsister as Charlotte, but no other names are revealed.

What is Rapunzel's real name? ›

When Mother Gothel is looking for her bricked-up doorway into the tower, the plant covering the base of the tower resembles Campanula rapunculus, commonly known as rapunzel (or rampion) - this plant is the one that the Brothers Grimm used in their original story to give their main character her name.

Was Rapunzel in Frozen? ›

Eagle-eyed viewers of Frozen may have noticed a split-second cameo in the film by Rapunzel and Flynn Rider from Tangled (above).

What was Disney's first fairy tale? ›

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Walt Disney's first feature-length animated film needed the perfect story, and he found it in the tale of “the fairest one of all.” The Grimm Brothers first brought Snow White to life on the page, and then Disney adapted the story into a musical tale bursting with life and color.

How old is a fairy? ›

If you want to count Fairy years by when a Fairy's age is equivalent to a human's, multiply X number of human years by 11,250. That's about 12,000 Fairy years to 12 human months. You can also divide a Fairy's age by 11,250 to translate their age into human years.

Is Shrek a fairytale? ›

Shrek is a cliché version of a classical fairy tale prince, who rescues the princess and they live happily ever after. However, the prince in the story is an ogre and the princess is a traditional "pretty" and "white" princess, who becomes an ogre once the sun sets.

What is the real ending of Cinderella? ›

Cinderella had hoped her step-family would love her always. Cinderella marries the prince and forgives her two stepsisters, then marrying them off to two wealthy noblemen of the court. They all lived happily ever after. The first moral of the story is that beauty is a treasure, but graciousness is priceless.

What is the first sentence in Cinderella? ›

Once upon a time there was a girl called Cinderella. She did all the work for her ugly step sisters. One day an invitation arrived to go to a ball at the palace. Suddenly!

Why is Cinderella a 12? ›

Cinderella has some sexual references. For example: There are suggestive and lewd jokes throughout, including jokes about small penises and references to sex ('engaging in the disgusting practice of making a son'). Several ensemble dance sequences include suggestive choreography.

What is the real meaning of Little Red Riding Hood? ›

Like most fairy tales, Little Red Riding Hood has a moral or cautionary tale at its heart. The story revolves around a predator, 'so artful and strong', who pretends to be someone he is not, and a little girl who is too trusting.

What is the real ending of Hansel and Gretel? ›

At the film's end, Gretel subverts her expected gender role by choosing her own path and setting Hansel free to grow into adulthood on his own. Gretel still kills the witch at the end of the story, in a similar way to traditional versions: she “pushes” the witch into the fire that was meant to cook Hansel.

Why did the king chop off Hansel and Gretel? ›

Hansel and Gretel were the son and daughter of a king and queen. In order to save the life of a loyal servant, they had to chop their children's heads off, so the children thought that after that, they should probably go and find new parents.

Who is the oldest princess in Disney? ›

Snow White is the first and oldest Disney princess, who debuted in 1937. As we all know, she is the titular character of Walt Disney Productions' first animated feature film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

How did Cinderella get her name? ›

You see, her prized possession, a gown from her mother, was unceremoniously destroyed by her evil step-family. Ella + cinders = Cinderella.

Who was the first Disney princess? ›

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs came out in 1937, debuting the very first Disney princess with Snow White herself. Voiced by Adriana Caselotti, she's incredibly of her time (i.e. dated af).

Is Hansel and Gretel dark? ›

The notorious tale of Hansel and Gretel has been translated into 160 languages since the Brothers Grimm first published the German lore in 1812. Dark as it is, the story features child abandonment, attempted cannibalism, enslavement, and murder.

What is the most romantic fairy tale? ›

In honor of this release, here's a look at the Top 5 greatest romantic fairy tale movies.
  • Ever After (1998) The Tale: Subtitled “A Cinderella Story,” this version of the classic fairy tale has no fairy godmother to grant wishes and guide the heroine. ...
  • Legend (1985) ...
  • Ladyhawke (1985) ...
  • Splash (1984) ...
  • The Princess Bride (1987)
10 Aug 2007

What fairy tales are not in Ever After High? ›

  • Airmid Valerian.
  • Bane O'Rouge.
  • Loucette "Lulu" de Bourbon.
  • Opaline Glass.
  • Quinn O'Kane.

What age is Coraline? ›

Coraline is an eleven-year-old girl with a large personality. She is seen as a snarky, rebellious, adventurous, curious, and creative girl for her age.

Is Coraline 2 a movie? ›

Neil Gaiman, the author of the book Coraline, confirmed that the sequel is not happening via Twitter (several times). He is focusing on other projects and feels that he can't really top the success of the first book and a movie. So now you know one thing, Coraline 2 is officially not happening.

What age is Coraline book appropriate for? ›

Neil Gaiman's Coraline is a can't-miss classic that enthralls readers age 8 to 12 but also adults who enjoy a perfect smart spooky read.

Is Maleficent a true story? ›

Maleficent is a fictional character who appears in Walt Disney Pictures' 16th animated feature film, Sleeping Beauty (1959).

Is Alice in Wonderland a fairytale? ›

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is not a fairy tale. It did not originate in the oral tradition but was imagined by British author Charles L. Dodgson. Dodgson published Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in 1865 using the pseudonym Lewis Carroll.

Are Grimms fairy tales OK for kids? ›

Brothers Grimm fairy tales were never meant for kids | National Geographic.

What nationality is Rapunzel? ›

Rapunzel is a German fairy tale about a young woman named Rapunzel with impossibly long hair and who lives alone in a tower, held captive by a witch.

Was Snow White a 7 year old? ›

In “Little Snow-White,” as the original story was called, the Evil Queen asks a hunter to take Snow White into the forest to kill, as happens also in the movie. (In the original version, the child is also only 7 years old, as opposed to Disney's 14.

Is Cinderella a German fairy tale? ›

It is the version that Walt Disney used to create his Cinderella movie in 1950. The Grimm Brothers from Germany took many common tales only known in oral tradition and published them in 1812 in their book Grimm's Fairy Tales. Cinderella was one of these stories, but known in the German language as Ashenputtel.

What are the most common fairy tales? ›

The most popular fairy tales throughout the ages. Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast and more!

What are the oldest fairy tales? ›

What is the oldest fairy tale? "Rumpelstiltskin" and "Beauty and the Beast" are two of the oldest. They're said to be around 4,000 years old.

Is Alice and Wonderland a fairytale? ›

In a broader view, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland or also known as Alice in the Wonderland books are fairy tales. They use fairies and present adventure and fantasy to the child readers. Lewis Carroll also called it a fairy tale.

What is the most famous fairy tale in the world? ›

5 WORLD-FAVORITE FAIRY TALES
  • Cinderella. Cinderella is a young woman who lives with her wicked stepmother and stepsisters. ...
  • Beauty and the Beast. Like many other fairy tales, Beauty and the Beast contains characters of royalty. ...
  • Hansel and Gretel. ...
  • The Emperor's New Clothes. ...
  • Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

What are the 5 folktales? ›

Folk Tales
  • Brer Rabbit.
  • Chicken Little.
  • Ghost Stories.
  • Gingerbread Man.
  • Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
  • Henny Penny.
  • The Little Red Hen.
  • Stone Soup.

What is a famous fairy tale? ›

Cinderella. The beloved tale of Cinderella is one of the world's best-known fairy tales, renowned as a 'happily ever after' story.

Is Moana a fairy tale? ›

Moana is not a fairy tale. Moana is the title of an animated feature film that was released by the Walt Disney Company in 2016. It tells the story of Moana, daughter of a Polynesian chief, who must save her people by returning the 'heart of Te Fiti' with the help of the god Maui.

What is the saddest fairy tale? ›

The Story of a Mother

This fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen is one of the saddest of his fairy tales and explains the lengths a mother goes for the life of her child. The tale was first published December 1847.

What was Disney's first fairy tale? ›

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Walt Disney's first feature-length animated film needed the perfect story, and he found it in the tale of “the fairest one of all.” The Grimm Brothers first brought Snow White to life on the page, and then Disney adapted the story into a musical tale bursting with life and color.

Is Shrek a fairytale? ›

Shrek is a cliché version of a classical fairy tale prince, who rescues the princess and they live happily ever after. However, the prince in the story is an ogre and the princess is a traditional "pretty" and "white" princess, who becomes an ogre once the sun sets.

Is Wizard of Oz a fairy tale? ›

Since its publication in September 1900, L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has become America's greatest and best-loved homegrown fairytale. The first totally American fantasy for children, it is one of the most-read children's books.

Is Pinocchio a fairy tale? ›

Pinocchio is often called a fairytale but it isn't, really; it is a novel with fairytale elements,” said Mazzoni. “And in fact it is when Collodi was commissioned with translating into Italian a volume of French fairytales that he turned his attention to this genre, and decided to start writing for children.

Why is Alice in Wonderland not a fairytale? ›

Further study has shown that while Alice's Adventure in Wonderland (most commonly known as Alice in Wonderland) may not fully be known as a fairytale due to its lack of oral tradition that is present in all folk tales, it contains enough fairy tale elements for it to be considered one.

Which is your Favourite fairy tale? ›

My favourite fairy tale is cinderella. She is very beautifull and hardworking . She lived with her step mom who was very cruel and two step sisters. They all were vary mean to cinderella but Cinderella was very kind and all animals loved her.

Is Winnie the Pooh a fairy tale? ›

Winnie-the-Pooh is a collection of fictional stories and is not a fairy tale. The stories about Pooh and Christopher Robin were written by A.A. Milne, an English author.

Is Rapunzel a German fairy tale? ›

Rapunzel is a German fairy tale about a young woman named Rapunzel with impossibly long hair and who lives alone in a tower, held captive by a witch. It's also the German name of a vegetable commonly used in salads. Related words: Brothers Grimm.

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