Fairytale Meanings

Looking at Hidden meaning in movies and books (explicit meaning) we realised that a lot of old fairy tales had many  more morbid meanings.

The Brothers Grimm (consisting of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm) composed a book of German fairy tales, in hope of preserving them. The book was published in 1812 named Nursery and Household Tales(Biography.com, 2016).


  • A pregnant woman notices some tasty-looking Rapunzel lettuce in a sorceress’s garden and gets some massive cravings for it.
  • She makes her husband sneak in to get her some, which she eats, and makes him go back for more. The sorceress catches him and only releases him when he agrees to give her the child when it’s born.
  • The sorceress takes the girl and names her Rapunzel.
  • When she turns twelve, the sorceress locks her in a tower without doors or stairs, having to climb Rapunzel’s long, golden hair each time she wants to get in.
  • This goes on for a few years until a king’s son passes the tower and hears her beautiful singing. You know where this is headed.
  • He spies on the tower until he sees the sorceress ascend the hair-ladder. He thinks, hey, that looks promising, and then gives it a go.
  • At first, Rapunzel’s scared because she’s never seen a man before, but he talks her down and she agrees to marry him. They arrange for him to bring materials to make a ladder so they can escape together.
  • One day Rapunzel stupidly blurts to the sorceress that she’s so much heavier than the prince.
  • Uh oh. The sorceress is Not Happy. So she shears Rapunzel’s hair and takes her to a desert. When the prince comes calling, the sorceress uses the braids to let him up, then tells him that they’ll never see each other again.
  • The prince jumps out the tower and is blinded on the thorns.
  • Rapunzel, meanwhile, has born twins, so those tower visits must not have been all that innocent. The prince wanders blindly until he finds her, and her tears heal his eyes.
  • You can guess what happens next: they go back to his kingdom and live happily ever after.


  • A girl’s mother dies and the father (who’s rich) remarries a woman with two daughters who are pretty but mean. They boss around the girl and make her sleep by the ashes, which is how she winds up with the nickname Cinderella.
  • She plants a twig from a hazel bush on her mother’s grave and waters it with her tears while praying and stuff.
  • Meanwhile, there’s going to be a three-night festival so the king’s son can find a bride (think of it as an abridged version of The Bachelor).
  • The sisters boss around Cinderella to help them primp and prepare, and the stepmother gives her permission to tag along…if she can pick out a bunch of lentils from the ashes.
  • Which she does, with the help of some birds. But even then the stepmother forbids her from going because she has nothing to wear.
  • Cinderella starts crying, so the stepmother relents and says she can go if she can separate even more lentils from the ashes. Again, birds to the rescue.
  • Despite Cinderella’s toiling, her stepmother leaves her at home anyway, because she’s, well, a big fat jerk.
  • But Cinderella asks for help from the hazel tree at her mother’s grave, and it gives her a gold and silver dress with silk slippers, and it’s off to the festival with her.
  • She looks so awesome that nobody recognizes her. And the prince? Well, he only has eyes for her, and spends the whole night dancing with Cinderella. That is, until she splits.
  • The prince doesn’t succeed in following her when she leaves, though they suspect it’s in the direction of her father’s house.
  • She goes back to dance the second night, and again is traced to the vicinity of her family’s house. Her father chops down the pear tree where they think she went, but no one’s there, just Cinderella lying in the ashes as usual.
  • The third night’s the same, except the prince has coated the stairs with pitch. She loses a gold shoe on her way, which the prince takes to her family’s house for eligible maidens to try on.
  • The shoe’s too small for the stepsisters, who all, at their mother’s urging, cut off a toe or heel. This actually fools the prince, and he takes each one on his horse to go to the palace until the birds warn him to look for the blood in their shoes (gross).
  • Finally, after the stepmother puts up a lot of resistance, Cinderella gets to try on the shoe, and duh, it fits.
  • So the prince sweeps her off her feet and whisks her away from a life of picking lentils out of the ashes.
  • The sisters come to the wedding, but their eyes are pecked out by Cinderella’s helper birds—as if having mutilated feet wasn’t enough of a punishment.

Stories and information from  schmoop.com. (Shmoop, 2016).

Hans Christian Anderson had been writing fairy tales from when he was a child, his first publish ones in the book Fairy Tales Told for Children. The stories have been adapted over the years and made more suitable for children. However, the old ones still are pretty messed up.

Emperor’s New Clothes

  • This emperor is really vain: all he cares about is having beautiful new clothes.
  • Two strangers arrive and tell the emperor that they can weave a beautiful cloth that is actually invisible to anyone who is stupid or unfit for their position. The emperor thinks that having some of this cloth sounds like a great idea, since it’ll help him weed out the idiots.
  • The emperor sends some of his councilors to check on their progress, and they go along with the sham because they don’t want to admit that they’re either stupid or not supposed to be in their offices. Even the emperor pretends to be able to see the cloth.
  • The swindlers dress the emperor in his new set of clothing, and he goes out in a procession to show off to the whole town… naked as the day he was born. No one is willing to admit that they don’t see the cloth, until one child shouts that the emperor doesn’t have anything on!
  • Now that the cat’s out of the bag, everyone begins to shout that the emperor has nothing on. But he keeps going until the procession is over. What else could he do, admit his mistake? Nuh-uh. He’s the emperor, not the court jester or the town drunk.

The Little Mermaid

  • Ready to see what this story looked like before Disney got their hands on it? Read on, brave Shmoopers!
  • So, mer-people live at the bottom of the sea. The mer-king has six daughters, and their grandma helps raise them. When they turn fifteen, they can journey to the water’s top to check out the strange land-people (what kinda freak lives on land, anyway?).
  • The youngest daughter is quiet and beautiful, and she waits eagerly for her turn to go up top. When she does, she sees a handsome human prince on a ship, celebrating his birthday.
  • A storm destroys the ship, but the little mermaid saves the prince and gets him to land. She hides to make sure people find him. A group of girls discover him, so the mermaid goes home.
  • She becomes even more quiet and thoughtful after this, till one of her sisters helps her find the kingdom where he came from, so she can watch him as he lives in the palace (stalker much?).
  • One day, during a friendly chitchat with her grandma, she asks what happens to humans that ends their lives besides drowning. Grandma answers that humans have a short lifespan, whereas mer-people live for 300 years. Plus, when humans die, their immortal souls rise up into the sky to a super coolio other world. Mer-people just become sea foam after dying. Wamp wamp.
  • The little mermaid is not too thrilled about this sea foam business. According to her grandma, a mer-person can only acquire an immortal soul if a man falls in love with her and marries her. This marriage somehow gives the mer-woman a part of the human’s soul, even though he keeps some of the soul for himself.
  • Of course, the little mermaid has to try to make a man fall in love with her now, but she doesn’t think she can do it on her own. So the little mermaid sneaks away from a swank undersea party to go find the sea witch and ask her for help. The entrance to her home is filled with icky grasping polyps, and she hangs out with eels, so those parts made it into the movie.
  • The sea witch says she will give the little mermaid legs and grace, but every step she takes will feel like she’s walking on knives. If the prince marries someone else, the mermaid will die the next day. And, as if that’s not scary enough, the witch will also cut out her tongue as payment. Undeterred, the mermaid agrees to the whole enchilada.
  • She swims to shore, takes the sea witch’s potion, and passes out from the pain. The prince finds her, now in a human body, and says she reminds him of the girl who saved him (who was just a random chick from a temple who happened to be there when he woke up). But the mermaid can’t tell him that she was actually the one who’d saved him. Life’s not easy when you’ve got no tongue.
  • Still, the little mermaid becomes a favorite companion of the prince’s, meaning she gets to tag along with him everywhere like a puppy dog. Then he’s supposed to marry the princess of a nearby kingdom. Turns out she’s the same chick who “rescued” him while she was at the temple for her education.
  • The mermaid witnesses all of this, and she’s starting to get anxious about her impending death. Then her sisters swim up to her. The sisters have cut off all their hair to trade with the sea witch for a special a knife. If the mermaid kills the prince with this knife, his blood will turn her legs back into a tail. One man’s death is another (wo)man’s… tail?
  • But she looks at the sleeping prince and bride, and decides she can’t do it. She throws the knife into the sea. She expects to turn into sea foam, but instead she becomes a spirit of the air. The other daughters of the air explain that because of her kindness—i.e., not murdering the prince and his bride in cold blood, awww!—she has become one of them instead of turning into sea foam.
  • As a spirit of the air, she’ll have a shot at gaining an immortal soul so that she can go to heaven… in 300 years! But every time she visits the house of a good child, that time will be lessened. Isn’t that nice?

The Little Match Girl– not a well known story but I thought it was rather heart felt.

  • On New Year’s Eve, a little girl wanders the streets barefoot, trying to sell matches. Both her shoes got lost so she’s freezing in the snow. She doesn’t want to go home without selling anything, because she’s afraid that her father might beat her.
  • She huddles up in an alley and lights a match to warm her hands. She has a vision of a warm stove in front of her.
  • She lights a second match, and can see through the wall of the house she’s next to. On the table are all kinds of delicious foods.
  • She lights a third match, and envisions that she’s sitting under a Christmas tree. Right then, she sees a shooting star, which her grandmother (who’s dead) told her means that someone is dying.
  • She strikes another match, and sees a vision of her grandmother. She keeps lighting matches in order to keep grandma close, and then her grandmother takes her and flies up to heaven.
  • The girl’s body is found the next morning. But if you’ve gotta die, dreaming of delicious goodies before joining your grandmother up in heaven isn’t such a bad way to go.

Stories and information from  schmoop.com. (Shmoop, 2016).

Both Anderson and the Grimm’s stories have quite a lot of themes running through them:

  • Age
  • Religion
  • Marriage
  • Coming of age/maturity
  • Prosperity
  • Appearance
  • Social Class
  • Love
  • Memories of life passed/reminiscent
  • Sins and regrets- many of which give a justice to pay for said sin

We’ll have an exploration of these themes and possible ideas when we meet next.

When looking into these works of fiction, I wanted to see if there were any modern day inspired stories, similar to these. In the case of the Harry Potter world by J.K. Rowling, the Deathly Hallow story sets a basis for the whole world to revolve around. The animation scene from the final movie shows the chilling story, involving death and three brothers. Much like the stories above, two of the brothers face horrible deaths while the other meets death like a friend. Maybe a more mature them could be explored in our own work?

The Three Brothers- a Fairytale from the Harry Potter series.


Biography.com, (2016). [online] Available at: http://www.biography.com/news/brothers-grimm-facts [Accessed 24 Feb. 2016].

Shmoop, (2016). Shmoop: Homework Help, Teacher Resources, Test Prep. [online] Available at: http://www.shmoop.com/ [Accessed 24 Feb. 2016].



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