If you know anything about us, you should know this: we’re suckers for a good story. Luckily, Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version, edited by fabulist extraordinaire Philip Pullman and on shelves today, is packed with them, complete with smart commentary and playful prose. While reading, we were struck by how many of our most pervasive stories can be found in the Grimm tales, or even earlier, and also by how much some of the stories have changed along the way — all the blindings and sexual misconduct and death have been mostly scrubbed away. Then again, none of the stories with people getting nailed into barrels and thrown down hills or into ponds have really made it into the mainstream. Take a look at a few terrifying, gruesome, often bizarre early versions of ubiquitous fairy tales after the jump, and maybe you’ll think twice before reading “Little Red Riding Hood” before you go to bed.
In one of the very earliest versions of this classic story, published in 1634 by Giambattista Basile as Sun, Moon, and Talia, the princess does not prick her finger on a spindle, but rather gets a sliver of flax stuck under her fingernail. She falls down, apparently dead, but her father cannot face the idea of losing her, so he lays her body on a bed in one of his estates. Later, a king out hunting in the woods finds her, and since he can’t wake her up, rapes her while she’s unconscious, then heads home to his own country. Some time after that, still unconscious, she gives birth to two children, and one of them accidentally sucks the splinter out of her finger, so she wakes up. The king who raped her is already married, but he burns his wife alive so he and Talia can be together. Don’t worry, the wife tries to kill and eat the babies first, so it’s all morally sound.