Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s collection of folktales contains some of the best-known children’s characters in literary history, from Snow White and Rapunzel to Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood. Yet the brothers originally filled their book, which became known as “Grimm’s Fairy Tales,” with gruesome scenes that wouldn’t be out of place in an R-rated movie. The Grimms never even set out to entertain kids. The first edition of “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” was scholarly in tone, with many footnotes and no illustrations. Only later, as children became their main audience, did they take out some of the more adult content. Their stories were then further sanitized as they were adapted by Walt Disney and others. As the 150th anniversary of Jacob’s death was last month—he passed away on September 20, 1863, about four years after Wilhelm—check out some of the surprisingly dark themes that appear in the Grimms’ work.
Sun, Moon, and Talia (Sole, Luna, e Talia) is an Italian literary fairy tale written by Giambattista Basile in his 1634 work, the Pentamerone. Charles Perrault retold this fairy tale in 1697 as The Sleeping Beauty.
As one of the earliest Sleeping Beauty tales published in Europe, Basile’s Sun, Moon, and Talia contains dark elements of rape, cannibalism and murder.
There was once on a time a poor man, who could no longer support his only son. Then said the son, “Dear father, things go so badly with us that I am a burden to you. I would rather go away and see how I can earn my bread.” So the father gave him his blessing, and with great sorrow took leave of him. At this time the King of a mighty empire was at war, and the youth took service with him, and with him went out to fight. And when he came before the enemy, there was a battle, and great danger, and it rained shot until his comrades fell on all sides, and when the leader also was killed, those left were about to take flight, but the youth stepped forth, spoke boldly to them, and cried, “We will not let our fatherland be ruined!” Then the others followed him, and he pressed on and conquered the enemy. When the King heard that he owed the victory to him alone, he raised him above all the others, gave him great treasures, and made him the first in the kingdom.