When we were kids,
"fairy tales" were the cutesy purview of Disney movies and children's books. Princesses sang to animals and princes gallivanted around with their privilege wildly unchecked. Fairy godmothers helped good (i.e. beautiful) people, and wicked (ugly) stepsisters always got their just desserts. But as we got older, some of us (who had nothing cooler to do in high school) tracked down the original versions of these fairy tales... and things started to get darker. Turns out, the Brothers Grimm were really invested in punishing women in all sorts of fun, gruesome ways. Of course, fairy tales are part of humanity's vast oral tradition, so there's rarely one definitive original version. But if you're a fan of twisted tales, here are a few modern retellings that are even darker than the versions you may be familiar with.
Honestly, it makes sense that fairy tales make for excellent horror stories. Most fairy tales involve children or other young people grappling with a horrifying prospect — like being abandoned by their parents, eaten alive, or married off to a rich, beastly stranger. Those fears still resonate with us, no matter how old or how modern we become. Deep, deep down in our subconscious, we still fear the strange things that live in the woods:
'Snow, Glass, Apples' by Neil Gaiman
"Snow, Glass, Apples" is a short story retelling "Snow White" from the point of view of the Wicked Stepmother. It is also so intensely frightening that I had to hide the book after I read it. Because the so-called evil queen isn't
really so evil... she's frightened. Frightened of her stepdaughter, this strange little girl with coal black hair, snow white skin, sharp, sharp teeth, and lips redder than blood. Click here to buy. 'There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby: Scary Fairy Tales' by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
Ludmilla Petrushevskaya promises scary fairy tales, and boy does she deliver. Drawing inspiration from Russian folklore (which can already get pretty weird), she spins magical tales about babies found in cabbage leaves and boys going off to war and creepy coats... and then, at a certain point in each story, things take a turn for the bone-chilling.
Click here to buy. 'The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories' by Angela Carter
Angela Carter is the all time queen of creepy, horrific, feminist fairy tale retellings. In
The Bloody Chamber, she takes on Bluebeard (already a huge blood and gore-fest), as well as the deeply upsetting story of Little Red Riding Hood, Puss in Boots, Beauty and the Beast, and more. Trust Carter to turn a simple folktale about a little girl who wears red and doesn't follow directions into an incisive take-down of the patriarchy. Click here to buy. 'Speak Easy' by Catherynne M. Valente
In this Jazz Age adaptation of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," Zelda is the sparkling It girl of the Hotel Artemisia. She can hold her own against the hotel's no-good boss and his lovesick, obsessive employee... but she eventually finds herself drawn to the dark basement of Artemisia, and a deadly game that could spell the end for her and everything she knows.
Click here to buy. 'Crimson Bound' by Rosamund Hodge
At 15, Rachelle was apprenticed to learn how to defend her village from powerful magical forces. But then she strayed off the path in the woods, and found herself bound to the very evil she's meant to be fighting. Now she's torn between duty, love, and the seductive secrets of hidden magic. This is a dark and action-packed take on Little Red Riding Hood, where Little Red gets to be a whole lot more than dog food.
Click here to buy. 'Among the Thorns' by Veronica Schanoes
Ah yes, everyone's favorite Grimm's fairy tale, "The Jew in the Thorns." What's that? You didn't grow up reading this particular nightmare story? Well, Veronica Schanoes has taken a bizarre, deeply anti-Semitic fairy tale about a man dancing to death in some thorns, and transformed it into a dark revenge fantasy, as one young woman seeks to avenge the murder of her father by a man with a magic fiddle.
Click here to buy. 'Red as Blood and White as Bone' by Theodora Goss
A kitchen girl finds an old, ragged woman outside a castle during a storm—surely, this must be a fairy tale, and this woman must be a beautiful princess in disguise. Right?
Red as Blood and White as Bone starts off like a retelling of "Beauty and the Beast," starting with that old enchantress banging around in the cold... but then follows a grimmer path in this strange, dark subversion of fairy tale tropes. Click here to buy. 'My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales' edited by Kate Bernheimer
These "new" fairy tales rewrite everything from "Bluebeard" to "The Little Match Girl" to “Rumpelstiltskin” in vivid, freaky detail. A whole mess of talented, frightening authors try their hand and taking your favorite bedtime story and turning it into something new, strange, and far from wholesome in this eclectic collection.
Click here to buy. 'The True Story of Hansel and Gretel' by Louise Murphy
"Hansel and Gretel" was already pretty dark. But what if those two kids were abandoned in the woods in Nazi Germany? Yeah.
The True Story of Hansel and Gretel takes the classic tale of candy-eating, witch-fighting children and transforms it into a harrowing, touching tale of death and survival in the midst of war. Click here to buy.