Dark Fairy Tales – 21 Original Stories to Make Your Toes Curl

Many of the classic fairy tales that we all know and love have a much darker, twisted original version. Famous story creators such as the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and Charles Perrault featured grisly deaths and unthinkable crimes in their dark fairy tales. Including animal mutilation, severed body parts, and child torture, these stories don’t all have the happy endings we associate with them today. 

From Italy, India, France, Germany, Russia, the UK, and more, we’ve compiled an illustrated list of the darkest fairy tales from around the world. Ranked on our darkness scale from one (mildly morbid) all the way up to ten (horrifically heinous), find a list of dark fairy tales below, perfect for reading as the nights draw in. But be warned, these stories are not for the faint of heart.

Discover over forty of the world’s most wicked fairy tales in a brand-new twisted treasury. With this new collection of dark fairy tales, you can relish in the macabre themes of stories you thought you knew.

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1. Donkey-Skin

A maddened king, a gruesome disguise, and an emerald ring.

Darkness scale: 2/10 

A grieving king is driven to madness after his wife’s death. His daughter resembles her late mother and, in his confusion, the king tries to force her to marry him. In desperation, the princess disguises herself in the mauled skin of a donkey and hides in a faraway village. Alone and sorrowful, the poor princess cheers herself up by secretly dressing in her decadent gowns and finery.

When a prince catches a glimpse of the gorgeous princess, he becomes resolved to marry her. But how will he track down the girl disguised in a donkey skin?

A variant of the much-loved ‘Cinderella’ fairy tale, ‘Donkey-Skin’ is Charles Perrault’s sinister tale of hidden identity and a love-sick prince, with themes of oedipal attraction, spine-chilling disguises, and fairy godmothers. 

This dark fairy tale can be found in The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault – Illustrated by Harry Clarke. Along with other well-known stories like Sleeping Beauty, Puss in Boots, and Blue Beard.

Read the story here. 


2. Schneewittchen

A wicked queen, a beautiful princess, and a magic looking-glass.

Darkness scale: 3/10

In this twisted version of the classic tale, Snow-white’s evil stepmother commands a huntsman to dispose of the girl and requests the child’s heart as a token. Unable to murder an innocent child, the huntsman sets Snow-white free and tricks her stepmother into devouring the heart of a young boar. 

It’s not long before Snow-white’s stepmother realises she’s still alive. Suffocating corsets, poisoned combs, and deadly apples all make an appearance in this grisly tale, but will it be Snow-white or her wicked stepmother that meets an agonising end?

The Brothers Grimm wrote the original ‘Snow White’ fairy tale, ‘Schneewittchen’, which has many more gruesome twists and turns than the story as we now know it. Featuring lethal jealousy, murder plots, and a pair of red-hot iron dancing shoes.

This classic dark tale can be found in Snow White – And Other Examples of Jealousy Unrewarded (Origins of Fairy Tales from Around the World), along with many other brilliant variants.

Read the story here.


3. The Son of Seven Queens

Seven Queens living in a dungeon, a white witch disguised as a hind, and fourteen eyeballs on a string.

Darkness scale: 3/10

In a luxurious kingdom, there lives a king with seven queens. Cursed by an evil witch, he unwittingly blinds his wives, throws them in a dungeon, and presents the witch with their eyeballs. She threads all 14 gouged eyes onto a chain and creates a gory necklace. While the king makes the witch his new queen, the youngest of his seven wives gives birth to a baby boy in the dungeon. When the prince is old enough, he digs a tunnel escape and sets out to retrieve the queens’ eyes, restore their sight, and break the witch’s curse.

‘The Son of Seven Queens’ is an Indian folktale from the late 19th century and is a variant of ‘The Outcast Queens and the Ogress Queen’ tale. Featuring themes of lewd romance and bewitching, this is an unsettling fairy story not for the faint-hearted.

The gruesome tale can be found in Joseph Jacobs’ Indian Fairy Tales – Illustrated by John D. Batten, alongside other stories from all over India.

Read the story here.


4. Gold-Tree and Silver-Tree

A beautiful daughter, a jealous queen, and a wise old trout.

Darkness scale: 3/10

Silver-tree has a gorgeous young daughter, Gold-tree. As Gold-tree ages, her mother grows more and more envious of her beauty. Soon this envy turns to hatred and Silver-tree demands that her husband brings her the heart and liver of their daughter. Sending his precious child away to safety, Silver-tree’s husband tricks her into eating the organs of a goat instead of that of their daughter. But when Silver-tree discovers Gold-tree is still alive, she decides to murder the girl with her own hands.

‘Gold-Tree and Silver-Tree’ is an 1891 variant of the classic fairy tale, ‘Snow White’. First collected by Joseph Jacobs in his Celtic Fairy Tales, ‘Gold-Tree and Silver-Tree’ features the well-known horror of a jealous mother’s grisly murder of her beautiful daughter.

This gruesome variant of ‘Snow White’ features themes of jealousy, murder, and revenge, and can be found in Celtic Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs, illustrated by John D. Batten.

Read the story here.


5. The Rose Elf

A bittersweet love story about tiny elves, a murderous act, and the vengeance of flowers.

Darkness scale: 4/10

A small elf dwells within the petals of a rose garden. While resting on a cold, harsh evening, he overhears a whispered goodbye between two parting lovers. The maiden offers her love a rose to remember her by, and the little elf sneaks inside its petals. Before the two can travel very far, the maiden’s foul brother attacks his sister’s love. He decapitates the man and buries the corpse in the woods.

Anxious to set things right, the rose elf tells the maiden of the tragedy and she ventures off in the night to retrieve her lover’s head and then buries it in a jasmine plant. When the poor maiden dies of sorrow, will the rose elf be able to avenge the two lovers’ deaths?

A Hans Christian Andersen tale of murder and revenge, ‘The Rose Elf’ was first published in 1888 and features themes of brutal murder, hidden skulls, and attempted retribution, this vengeful tale can be found in Fairy Tales From Hans Christian Andersen – Illustrated by Thomas, Charles and W. Heath Robinson.

Read the story here.


6. The Red Shoes

A proud, vain child, an old soldier with a red beard, and a pair of red shoes that will dance forever.

Darkness scale: 4/10

When Karen’s mother dies, a kindly old lady takes her in. The young girl was so poor that she couldn’t even afford a pair of shoes and when the old lady tells her to choose a new pair, Karen selects bright red shoes of polished leather. The old lady’s eyesight is incredibly poor and so she is oblivious to the fact that Karen wears this extravagant footwear in church. God punishes Karen’s sinful vanity with a violent dance that can only end if the child’s feet are severed from her legs.

‘The Red Shoes’ is a dark fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. The story encourages children to turn away from vanity and dedicate their lives to God. This moral tale revolves around themes of sin, mutilation, and consequence, and can be found in Fairy Tales from Hans Christian Andersen – Illustrated by Dugald Stewart Walker.

Read the story here.


7. The Handless Maiden

An evil spirit’s promise, a virtuous daughter mutilated, and a king determined to be reunited with his wife and child.

Darkness scale: 4/10

An evil spirit tricks a simple miller into promising him his only daughter. The virtuous young girl puts her faith in God, washes her hands, and draws a protective circle around her. The spirit is unable to take the girl and demands that the miller strips her of clean water and severs her hands. The miller obediently hacks off his daughter’s hands, but God protects her and she manages to escape the evil spirit and her father.

The young girl travels far across the land, marries, and has a child of her own, but still, the evil spirit chases her down. How long will God be able to protect her and will the undying love of a king be enough to protect a mother and child?

This German fairy tale was collected by the Brothers Grimm in the 1857 edition of Children’s and Household Tales. With themes of religion, mutilation, and evil spirits, this tale of virtue can be found in Grimm’s Fairy Tales – Illustrated by Ruth Moorwood and H. Rountree.

Read the story here.


8. The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf

The tale of a pretty young girl, a pair of fine new shoes, and a lesson about the consequences of selfishness.

Darkness scale: 5/10

Inger is a spoilt little girl who eats only the most luxurious foods and wears only the finest clothes. Sent on a journey to deliver a fresh loaf of bread to her poor parents, she comes across a muddy puddle, and rather than damage her smart shoes and skirts, she uses the fresh loaf of bread as a stepping stone. As soon as Inger places her foot on the loaf, she sinks down, down into the hellish depths of the world.

Trapped in this dark and torturous place, Inger suffers for many decades for her arrogant and selfish ways until her heart thaws and she repents for her sins. 

‘The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf’ is one of Hans Christian Andersen’s moral tales and serves as a lesson in selfishness and vanity, featuring themes of animal mutilation, greed, pride, and death.

This moral tale can be found in Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen – Illustrated by Honor Appleton.

Read the story here.



9. The Goose Girl

A talking horse, a false bride, and a princess with hair of gold.

Darkness scale: 5/10

A queen prepares to send her daughter off to get married, gifting her a servant girl, her favourite horse, and three drops of her own blood for protection. But once they’re on the road, the servant girl refuses to aid the princess. The bride-to-be greatly weakens when she loses the drops of her mother’s blood, and the servant girl forces her to trade clothing. When the two reach the groom’s palace, he unwittingly weds the servant girl, while the true princess is set to work as a goose girl.

The princess’ favourite horse is decapitated and his gory talking head is her only friend in her terrifying new life. Will the prince realise that he’s been deceived? Will the princess get her happy ending? Or does a gruesome death await her?

A dark fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm in 1815, ‘The Goose Girl’ was first translated into English in 1826 by Edgar Taylor. Featuring themes of trickery, animal mutilation, and horrific deaths, this treacherous tale can be found in Grimm’s Fairy Tales – Illustrated by Hope Dunlap.

Read the story here. 


10. The Three Army Surgeons

Three army surgeons with magical healing powers, a troublesome servant, and a thieving cat.

Darkness scale: 5/10

Three army surgeons claim to have magical healing powers that can cure any wound. While staying at an inn, they attempt to prove their magic. One removes his heart, the second amputates his hand, and the third extracts his eyes. Once everyone is asleep, the inn’s cat makes a supper of the surgeons’ mutilated body parts. A panicked servant girl replaces the missing organs and limb with the heart of a slain pig, the hand of a hanged thief, and the eyes of the thieving cat. The surgeons wake and successfully attach the body parts to themselves, but soon they realise that not all is quite right…

‘The Three Army Surgeons’ is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale first published in 1859, and is a gruesome tale that features themes of mutilation.

It can be found in with other stories from the Brothers Grimm in Fairy Tales From Grimm – Illustrated by Gordon Browne.

Read the story here. 


11. Sun, Moon, and Talia

A fortune told, a pair of little jewels, and a kind-hearted cook.

Darkness scale: 6/10

A beautiful princess named Talia pricks her finger on a spinning wheel, dropping down dead. Her grieving father places her corpse in a castle on a velvet seat. When a handsome king finds Talia, he tries to no avail to wake her. Her saviour comes instead in the form of two twin children, Sun and Moon, who pluck the poisoned flax from her finger. The king returns to the castle and the four become a happy family.

The king’s envious stepmother tries all manner of wicked methods to rid of Talia, Sun, and Moon, including mutilating them, eating them, and burning them alive, but the king will not let his happiness be taken away so easily.

Written by Giambattista Basile and published in 1634, ‘Sun, Moon, and Talia’ is an early printed version of ‘Sleeping Beauty’. Featuring themes of cannibalism, kidnapping, and evil stepmothers, this Italian tale can be found in Sleeping Beauty – And Other Tales of Slumbering Princesses (Origins of Fairy Tales from Around the World).

Read the story here.


12. The Little Mermaid

A magical underwater kingdom, a desperate wish for something more, and a deadly sea witch’s curse.

Darkness scale: 6/10

A young mermaid falls in love with a human prince, and she will do anything for them to be together, including making a treacherous bargain with a sea witch and exchanging her beautiful voice and magical tale for a pair of legs. Severing her tongue and banishing her from the ocean, the sea witch does all she can to prevent the mermaid from finding happiness. Faced with the choice of murdering her one true love or committing suicide, the little mermaid knows what she must do.

‘The Little Mermaid’ is a classic Danish fairy tale far more violent and tragic than the 1989 Disney film adaptation we all know and love, this devastating tale features themes of mutilation, suicide, and sacrifice.

Discover the original tale along with a beautiful collection of illustrations in The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen, illustrated by Jennie Harbour, Arthur Rackham, W. Heath Robinson, Edmund Dulac and more.


13. The Robber Bridegroom

A pocket full of peas, the house of death, and a severed finger.

Darkness scale: 7/10

A young girl’s father promises her to an unnerving man who lives in the depths of the woods. Before they’re wed, the groom bids his bride come and visit her future home. Wary of the dark woods, the girl leaves a trail of peas and lentils in her wake so that she may find her way home. Arriving at the menacing house, she is greeted by a bird who tries to ward her off and an old woman who assures her she is about to meet a grisly end. Hiding in a corner, the girl watches in horror as her husband-to-be returns home with a maiden and proceeds to chop her into small pieces and cook her. How will the terrified girl escape this deadly marriage?

A German fairy tale closely linked to ‘Bluebeard’, ‘The Robber Bridegroom’ is a spine-chilling tale of murderous men and narrow escapes. Featuring themes of mutilation, cannibalism, and murder, this macabre tale can be found in The Story of Hansel and Gretel & Other Tales By The Brothers Grimm – Illustrated by Arthur Rackham.

Read the story here.


14. The Story of a Mother

A sorrowful story of a mother chasing death, eyes that fall out and turn into pearls, and a garden of God’s flowers.

Darkness scale: 7/10

A mother chases Death as he steals away with her child. She loses her blood, hair, and eyes trying to retrieve her son, but eventually, she reaches the grand greenhouse where Death stores people’s lives as flowers and trees. Finding her son’s wilted blue crocus flower, she pleads with Death not to rip it from its roots. Death reveals God’s plan for two children’s lives: in one there is joy and greatness, but in the other, there is nothing but misery. Telling the mother that one of these lives is that of her own child, Death states that he is unable to reveal which it is, but that she can still choose to save her child and end the life of another if she wishes.

The hardest choice a mother would ever have to make: will she strip another mother of her precious child to save her own and will she subject her son to a potential life of suffering?

‘The Story of a Mother’ is a dark fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, first published in 1847, presenting heartbreaking themes of death, a mother’s grief, and God’s will. This sorrowful tale and its haunting illustrations can be found in Fairy Tales Of Hans Christain Andersen – Illustrated by Kay Nielsen.

Read the story here.


15. Babes in the Wood

A wickedly selfish uncle, a couple of murderous ruffians, and two scared, lost children in the woods.

Darkness scale: 7/10

A dying couple leaves their beloved children in the care of their uncle, but he wants to keep their inheritance for himself and tries to have them killed. Two hired ruffians lead the innocent children into the depths of the woods. A fight breaks out between the two, one ruffian dies and the other abandons the children. Alone, scared, and hungry, the orphaned siblings desperately wish for someone to come and rescue them, but will they be found before they perish in the woods?

‘Babes in the Wood’ is a traditional English fairy tale, first printed by Thomas Millington in 1595, featuring themes of child abandonment, starvation, and heinous crimes.

This tragic tale can be found in The Babes in the Wood – Illustrated by Randolph Caldecott.


16. La Finta Nonna

A treacherous walk through the woods, a wicked wolf, and an all too familiar meal.

Darkness scale: 8/10

A young girl meets a wolf while on her way to visit her grandmother. Unaware that the wolf is a wicked creature, she reveals the location of her grandmother’s house and he races ahead of her through the woods. Before the girl reaches the house, the wolf devours her grandmother, leaving nothing more than a pound of her flesh and a pint of her blood. Disguising himself as the old lady, the wolf waits for the young girl’s arrival and invites her to a supper of her grandmother’s remains. After dining on a corpse, will the young girl succumb to the same ghastly fate as her grandmother?

‘La Finta Nonna’ or ‘The False Grandmother’ is a dark version of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’. The Italian tale was published in 1887 by the Frenchman Achille Millien. This repulsive tale features themes of deceit and cannibalism, and can be found in the illustrated volume Little Red Riding Hood – And Other Girls Who Got Lost in the Woods (Origins of Fairy Tales from Around the World).

Read the story here.


17. Bluebeard

A wealthy man with a bright blue beard, a hasty marriage, and a murder chamber.

Darkness scale: 8/10

A man with a horrifyingly blue beard has an unnerving history of disappearing wives. After one month of marriage to his latest wife, he leaves her alone in the house. Giving her the keys to every closet and room, Blue Beard permits his wife free reign of their home, except for one little door. When his wife’s curiosity gets the better of her, she opens the closet to reveal a floor soaked with clotted blood and the bodies of her husband’s missing wives lining the walls.

Will Blue Beard find out that his wife disobeyed him? Will she also meet a gory end?

Charles Perrault wrote the French fairy tale, ‘La Barbe Bleue’ (‘The Blue Beard’), in 1697, featuring themes of murder, gore, and gruesome deaths.

This gothic tale can be found in Old-Time Stories Told By Master Charles Perrault – Illustrated by William Heath Robinson.

Read the story here.


18. The Dead Witch

A dying witch, one last request, and two swindling demons.

Darkness scale: 9/10

An old witch knows that she is not long for this world. Before she passes away, she bids her daughter and granddaughter wash her body with nothing but boiling water once she is dead. After the witch’s passing, two terrifying demons creep into the room and steal the witch’s skin from her bones. While one disappears with the old woman’s flesh, the other hides within her skin and lays waiting.

W. R. S. Ralston translated the traditional Russian tale ‘The Dead Witch’ in 1889. This dark fairy tale features themes of witchcraft, death, and demons, and is available to read in full online

Dark fairy tales Illustration by Arthur Rackham from Comus.


19. The Dead Mother

A grieving father, a screaming child, and a ghostly apparition.

Darkness scale: 9/10

A mother dies giving birth, leaving her husband alone to care for their baby. He hires an old woman to nurse the child, but it cries all day long and refuses to suckle. At night, however, the babe is silent. The old woman stays up one night to observe the child and discover why it sleeps so soundly. To her horror, she sees the melancholic ghost of the baby’s mother. Each night she comes to care for her child under the cover of darkness.

W. R. S. Ralston also translated this classic Russian folktale ‘The Dead Mother’ in 1889. This grievous tale features themes of death, sorrow, and the supernatural, and can be read in full online.


20. Fitcher’s Bird

A deceiving wizard, a bloody chamber, and a wife that seeks fiery revenge.

Darkness scale: 10/10

‘Fitcher’s Bird’ is a Brothers Grimm tale and a variant of the classic ‘Bluebeard’ story, originally published in 1812.

A wickedly deceiving wizard disguises himself as an old beggar man and kidnaps a young lady who shows him kindness. Taking her to his grand house deep in the woods, he gives her permission to wander the rooms. But he forbids her to enter one chamber on pain of death. Unable to contain her curiosity, the girl enters the forbidden chamber. She is aghast to see a great chopping block and a bloody scene of many mutilated bodies. Much to her horror, the girl sees the chopped-up remains of her two elder sisters. In desperation, she hatches a plan to resurrect her siblings and murder the evil old wizard.

 With gory themes of mutilation, blood, and fiery immolation, this dark fairy tale can be found in Bluebeard – And Other Mysterious Men with Even Stranger Facial Hair.

Read the story here.


21. The Juniper Tree

The horrid tale of a mother possessed by evil, a dinner of death, and a beautiful singing bird.

Darkness scale: 10/10

A young boy’s stepmother is incredibly envious of the wealth and property he will inherit when his father dies. Believing her daughter to be entitled to such prosperity, the evil stepmother strikes off the head of her stepson by shutting it in the lid of a box and then tricks her daughter into thinking she is guilty of his death.

The wicked woman bakes the boy’s body into a black pudding and serves it to her husband, which he hungrily eats for dinner. The boy’s stepsister collects his bones and buries them under a juniper tree in her grief. She witnesses a great illusion as her brother is reborn out of fire and mist as a bird, singing the tale of his death. Will the bird get his revenge?

‘The Juniper Tree’ is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale and bears resemblance to the classic stories of ‘Hansel and Gretel’ and ‘Snow White’ through its themes of murder, decapitation, cannibalism, and jealousy.

This morbid tale can be found in Grimm’s Fairy Tales – Stories and Tales of Elves, Goblins and Fairies – Illustrated by Louis Rhead.

Read the story here.



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