Children all over the world have loved fairytales for many years because of the magic of princesses, the kiss of true love, and the fights against witches and wizards who are trying to do harm. But underneath the cutesy surface of these bedtime stories, many of them have dark meanings that neither kids nor adults are aware of.
Truth is stranger than fiction, even in fairy tales. Here are seven stories that seem harmless on the surface, but have dark undertones and dangerous histories.
Number 10: Curious George
Just about any kid will be able to tell you the Curious George story if you ask them. In these tales, a young monkey and his master, the Man with the Yellow Hat, go on many exciting adventures. However, there is a fairly ominous double meaning underlying George’s actions. You see, Hans August and Margaret Rey (Reyersbach) were German Jews who wrote books that made everyone’s favorite monkey famous. However, these Jews were not your average Germans. Before World War II, the Reys were living through Nazi Germany’s reign of terror.
When the authors of the Curious George books wrote them, they were actually showing how they suffered during the Nazi regime through George’s eyes. Their close calls with danger and narrow escapes made them want to keep writing the Curious George stories and put a fun spin on being on the run. In the end, they actually used their drawings to get the attention of authorities, who helped them get out of danger many times.
Number 9: The Little Match Girl
The story goes that a little girl had to sell matches so her father would not beat her. Every time she lit a match, she felt warm, optimistic, and hopeful. At the end of the story, the little girl dies from being out in the cold. But the story makes it sound like a happy ending for the brave little girl. In reality, the story was about a real encounter between Hans Christian Andersson and a young girl selling matches on the street. During the Industrial Revolution in Europe, a lot of people were poor. Like many other children, the little girl had to go out into the harsh winter to help her family put food on the table.
Number 8: The Story of the Frog King
Now, this might seem like a simple story, but the author had some ideas that weren’t very kid-friendly. In fact, the author wanted the story to show how a person comes to realize their sexuality. The frog in the story represents fertility, and the story shows how a person goes from being an innocent child to a sexually mature adult. Suddenly, “The Frog King” doesn’t look so innocent at all. Instead, it was a sexually-charged story written by an author as a sneaky way to talk about the loss of innocence.
Number 7: Mother Goose Songs
Most of her songs taught lessons about the harsh realities of life. Take taxes, for instance. Remember “Baa Baa Black Sheep”? It is about paying taxes and how unfair the people thought they were. These rhymes were meant to be a call for revolution and a subtle way to teach people about the unfairness of high taxes like the Wool Tax of 1275. Farmers had to pay their tax in wool: one-third to the king (the master) and one-third to a local nobleman (the Dame). The last third was left to the farmer himself, who is that little boy in the rhyme.
Number 6: The Tinder Box
“The Tinder Box” shows that someone could do whatever it takes to get rich, no matter what. It also talks about the harsh realities of poverty and how someone who is desperate could quickly turn to magic. Andersen wanted to show how big the gap was between the rich and poor in his time, and he also wanted to show how hard it was for people who were born without money.
Number 5: Peter Rabbit
Potter’s creation of Peter Rabbit was her means of rejecting the norms and ethics of her middle-class upbringing. The choice of animals was based on politics, domestic life, gender roles, and economics. So while you might think the fairy tale is a nice lesson about listening to your mother, it’s actually the author’s way of rebelling against her family. Her goal with the book was to reject the wealthy life her family led and to question gender roles and politics at the time she wrote it.
Number 4: Devil with Three Golden Hairs
The king wanted to kill the main character because he was afraid of being replaced in his daughter’s heart. The forest where the boy got lost is a metaphor for adulthood. He meets the robbers and the old woman who raised him, showing how growing up can be confusing. Lastly, the boy marrying the princess means he is ready to become an adult. The boy’s quest to get the devil’s golden hair represents his search for maturity, while the devil represents boyhood’s fears. The whole plot may or may not have been based on the Grimm brothers’ own struggles with growing up. That much is still up for discussion.
Number 3: Snow White and Rose Red
What’s interesting about this story is that both girls end up happy, but they both have bad things happen to them on the way to happiness. And even though most people tend to focus on the happy endings, the Grimm brothers really wanted to talk about the sad ones. They wanted to show that you can never be completely happy and that no matter how good life is, there is always some sadness in it. Maybe they were right, or maybe not. Either way, this story is now mostly forgotten and has been replaced by the much happier story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
Number 2: Jack-O’-Lantern
The story is about a mean man named Stingy Jack, who tricked a demon so he wouldn’t go to hell. But because Jack was banned from both heaven and hell, he had to wander around on Earth with only a burning coal to guide him. Jack put the burning coal inside a carved-out turnip and has been wandering around Earth. The Irish called him “Jack of the Lantern” or “Jack-o’-lantern.” Carving pumpkins has become a fun Halloween activity for kids, but back in the day, Irish people thought they looked like Stingy Jack. They would carve these lanterns to scare away bad spirits and protect their families.
Number 1: Godfather’s Death
It tells us that no one can escape death and that it’s always around us. No matter what your social status is or how much money you have, you can never avoid dying. It is a warning to children, meant to scare them and keep them from being rebellious and leaving home. Aside from death, “Godfather Death” also shows us the harsh truths of justice and inequality in the world, even today.
What childhood fairytale scared you the most?
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