Everyone knows the Brothers Grimm are responsible for popularizing most of the fairy tales of our time, but the German folklorists’ original collection of tales was a lot darker, more violent and downright grotesque compared to the modern fairy tales we read to our children today.
Just about anyone who remembers their childhood fairy tales have heard of the Brothers Grimm, the 18th-century authors responsible for collecting and publishing over 200 German and Scandinavian folk tales. Their effort to catalog and preserve their country’s folklore is the reason we are familiar with such popular stories as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, The Frog Prince and Rumpelstiltskin.
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But we’re willing to bet you’ve never heard the terrifying tale of How Some Children Played at Slaughtering, Little Louse and Little Flea or the murderous tale of Herr Korbes.
That’s because after the first collection was published, the Brothers Grimm began to sanitize and tone down their collection of very grim tales — a practice that continued as public sensibilities grew tamer and parents blanched at the thought of reading a book about fiery devils or murderous sausages to their wide-eyed children.
Princeton University Press, however, has recently released a new translation of the unaltered collection of the original Grimm tales, much to the joy of macabre lovers everywhere. Scroll down to read about some of the most gruesome fairy tales you’ve probably never heard.
The Little Mouse, the Little Bird, and the Sausage
First things first: Whoever heard of a mouse, a bird and a freaking sausage living together? Two of those things are living, breathing creatures, and one is a collection of meat scraps stuffed in a skin tube. And yet, these three characters are the main players in this cautionary tale about being happy with your station in life.
In this story, each character has a daily chore: the mouse fetches the water, the bird fetches the wood and food and the sausage cooks and seasons the meals. When the bird encounters another bird on one of its wood-collecting adventures, however, he finds his head filled with the notion that the happy family’s system is unfair. He flies back, demanding that they rotate jobs so he doesn’t have to work so hard all the time, and then all hell breaks loose. The sausage goes out to collect firewood and gets eaten by a hungry dog, the mouse tries to season the stew by sliding through it like the sausage did and winds up cooked and the bird gets so upset that it spreads the stove’s cinders all over the house, setting it ablaze. As he flies out to the well for water, he gets tangled in the bucket and sucked down the well where he dies.
So, umm, the lesson is to just be happy where you are in life. And if you’re a sausage, never, ever leave your house.
The Nightingale and the Blindworm
In this story, a one-eyed nightingale and a one-eyed blindworm live happily together until the nightingale borrows the worm’s eye to attend a wedding. She promises to give it back afterwards, but of course doesn’t, which enrages the worm, who then promises to avenge herself on the nightingale’s descendants forever — or until she gets her eye back.
The nightingale, feeling overconfident with her two eyes, taunts the worm by saying, “Well, maybe that will happen — if you ever find me!” and flies off to build her nest high in the linden tree. Which is why, according to the tale, wherever a nightingale builds her nest, a blindworm lives in the earth beneath, spending its days climbing the tree in search of her enemy’s eggs to eat.
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The Hand with the Knife
This tale focuses on a young girl with three older brothers with anger-control issues. Their mother loves the boys above all else and treats her little girl like crap, making her cut peat (to burn in their stove) every morning with a dull old shovel, which makes the chore incredibly difficult. But, the girl has a secret admirer in the form of an elf who decides to lend her his magic knife, allowing her to get the task done in record time. The elf is a bit of a hermit, living in a hill and only extending his hand to give the girl his knife, or take it back from her after she’d cut enough peat.
The girl’s mother grows suspicious of her daughter’s productivity, however, and sends the three boys to follow her. When they see the girl using the magic knife, they overtake her, forcing her to give it to them. Then they sneak back to the elf, and when he extends his hand to retrieve the knife, they chop it off, leading the elf to think that his beloved betrayed him. And that’s the end of the story — the bad boys totally get away with their crime!
The Stolen Pennies
In this cautionary tale about greed, a ghost child haunts a cupboard where he hid two pennies his mother had given him to donate to the poor. The family living in the house where the cupboard resides can’t see the child, but a visitor calling on them can. After he tells the mother and father what he’s seen, they rip up the floorboards of the cupboard, finding the two pennies, and the mother donates them to the poor, finally allowing the ghost child some peace.
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How Some Children Played at Slaughtering
OK, there are actually two horrifying versions of this tale. In both, a group of children decides that they want to play a lovely game of pretend, in which one child plays the butcher, and another plays the pig. These kids don’t seem to understand the rules of make-believe, however, and in both stories, the “butcher” actually kills the “pig.”
In the first version, the “butcher” slits the throat of the “pig” while another child playing the “cook” collects the blood in a bowl. A councilman walking nearby sees the incident, and takes the butcher to the mayor, who immediately calls a council to deal with the boy. The council can’t agree on what to do with the boy, however, because the murder was part of a child’s game, so they decide to test the child’s mettle by offering him a gold coin or a delicious apple. If the boy picks the apple, he would go free. If he picks the gold coin, he’s to be killed. The boy laughs, grabs the apple and the council lets him go without any punishment. The end.
The second version is even worse, however. In it, the child playing the “butcher” slits the throat of his younger “pig” brother. Their mother, seeing this from the upstairs bathroom where she’s bathing another child, runs downstairs and kills her murderous son in a vengeful rage. She then returns upstairs to find her third child drowned in the tub. Flooded with grief, she hangs herself. Her husband, after returning from the fields, becomes so depressed that he dies shortly thereafter.
Little Louse and Little Flea
This is basically a more macabre version of “The House that Jack Built,” only instead of a series of nonsensical silliness revolving around a house, the tale weaves the sad story around a flea and louse who brew beer in an eggshell. When the louse falls into the eggshell and is scalded, it sets off a series of unfortunate events involving a creaking door, burning dung heap and weeping maiden that ends with the nearby spring overflowing and drowning everyone.
Clever Hans is a total idiot who courts a young maiden by demanding she give him things. Every time she gives him something, however, he destroys or loses it, leading his mother to chastise him and offer him advice that he then inappropriately applies to the next gift. By the end, he’s tied the young maiden up in the barn, and when his mother tells him he should have “thrown friendly looks at her with the eyes” instead, he goes back into the stable and cuts all the eyes out of his cows to literally throw the cow eyeballs in her face.
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In this weird tale of animals and inanimate objects gone psycho, a band of misfit items takes a ride in a red wagon to visit a man named Herr Korbes, who they then murder. The killer hen, rooster, millstone, egg, duck, pin, cat and sewing needle all torture him first, though, so there’s that lovely image to go to sleep with.
The Strange Feast
Perhaps one of the weirdest tales in the collection features a little liver sausage (again with the sausages!) who befriends a blood sausage. After some time, the blood sausage invites the liver sausage to her home for dinner, but when the liver sausage arrives, there’s a whole lot of crazy happening on the blood sausage’s staircases, including a dueling broom and shovel and a monkey with a head wound.
While the liver sausage wanders around the house looking for her “friend,” a mysterious voice warns her that she’s inside a murderous trap and should leave immediately. The sausage takes the voice’s advice and leaves, but before she makes her escape, she catches sight of the blood sausage holding a long gleaming knife in the attic window. The blood sausage cries after the departing liver sausage, “If I had caught you, I would have had you!” which is totally redundant and weird and terrifying.
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