Fairy Tale Protagonists are the Real Monsters

Classic fairy tales usually involve a plucky young child taking on something dark and dangerous that represents the unknown and coming out on top. Those tales have been told, retold, and ultimately sanitized over the generations. When you go back to the source, however, a disturbing pattern emerges. While the horrors they face are immense, the fairy tale protagonists turn into horrifying monsters themselves when the tale reaches its conclusion and they embark upon the most satisfying part of their journey: revenge.

Little Red Riding Hood

I already covered this one in detail, but Little Red Riding Hood goes from victim to psychopath remarkably fast. After surviving the traumatic experience with the Big Bad Wolf, she winds up conspiring with her grandmother to sew stones up inside the wolf’s stomach and let him die from intestinal hemorrhaging rather than a quick and relatively painless axe to the head.

It’s open for debate as to how much agency Little Red Riding Hood has in the matter, however. After all, she is a minor, and she’s egged on by her grandmother. It’s very possible that she just gets swept up in the revenge plot of her temporary guardian. But even in this case, it means that her grandmother is truly monstrous and is reinforcing the idea in her granddaughter that brutality and murder is the way to go. That’s how you raise a psycho, right there.


There are many different versions of “Cinderella,” but for the purposes of this discussion I’m going to go with the Brothers Grimm tale, specifically, the “director’s cut” where they added to the ending in 1819.

Two things in particular strike me about this version. First, the wicked sisters are so desperate to wear the golden shoe (not glass slipper) that they cut off pieces of their own feet in order to fit. Unfortunately for them, Cinderella’s pigeon friends call out to the prince to let him know that he’s been duped…because apparently the guy is too dumb to look at the shoe and notice the bog of blood coming from it.

Cinderella, unlike Little Red Riding Hood, is not a psycho who likes to get her hands dirty. However, she does have minions to do the job for her. At her wedding, the wicked sisters try to ingratiate themselves to their now-royal sibling, but the pigeons will have none of it:

When the wedding with the prince was to be held, the two false sisters came, wanting to gain favor with Cinderella and to share her good fortune. When the bridal couple walked into the church, the older sister walked on their right side and the younger on their left side, and the pigeons pecked out one eye from each of them. Afterwards, as they came out of the church, the older one was on the left side, and the younger one on the right side, and then the pigeons pecked out the other eye from each of them. And thus, for their wickedness and falsehood, they were punished with blindness as long as they lived.

Note that these pigeons are right with the bridal party, and nobody else says a word about them casually blinding Cinderella’s sisters. Maybe the prince considers raising a concern, but he sees those birds land right back on Cinderella’s shoulder while she is grinning her newlywed grin and realizes that he has married someone you do not cross.

Snow White

Revenge is a dish best served cold, unless you happen to be Snow White. Then your foes know your revenge as red hot fury.

After marrying her handsome prince (who, in the Grimm Brothers’ version of the tale, does not just randomly kiss a dead body), Snow White has one more encounter with her stepmother. After learning that there is still someone in the land fairer than she, the stepmother goes to the wedding and finds herself frozen with fear when she sees Snow White there.

It makes sense that she would find herself paralyzed by fright. After all, she had personally seen to her stepdaughter’s death, so to have her suddenly alive again must have seemed like she was facing some sort of invincible juggernaut made of beauty and scorn.

Regardless, the shock leads to her demise, as it freezes her long enough for the palace guards to place iron shoes on her that have been heated with red hot coals. From there, the stepmother finds herself forced to dance in the shoes until she dies.

The story is a little vague on whose idea the iron shoe torture was, using a simple “they” to describe the perpetrators of the deed. But there is no “they” who speaks up to point out the cruel and unusual punishment taking place. Instead, “they” watch merrily as a woman literally dances herself to death for her wedding entertainment.

Trauma can create monsters, but it seems that the ladies of folklore need only a little push to come up with torments that would make a typical Bond villain green with envy.

Images: Royalty Free Photo, Normal Instructor and Primary Plans (Public Domain), Elena Ringo (CC-BY-3.0), Dawn Hudson

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