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Spooky Fairy Tales to Get You in the Halloween Spirit

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Columbia Barnard chapter.

I’m no expert on Halloween, and I’m definitely no expert on scary stories, but I know of some classic fairy tales that can get you in the spooky spirit. A few are lesser known—but classics all the same—while others, you are sure to know. Perhaps, though, this list will remind you of one or two you hadn’t thought of in a while.

Fair warning, this is not a list for hard-core Halloweeners. With that being said—and maybe I’m just a wimp—I swear that all of these stories have one spooky aspect or two. If you let it happen, a chill will definitely run up your spine when reading these tales over the course of the Halloween season.

To start, we have my favorite fairytale of all time: Snow-White and Rose-Red, by none other than the Brothers Grimm. Deceivingly, this story has nothing to do with Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs. Rather than just one fair maiden, this story has two—and neither stupidly eats an apple given to her by a stranger. Snow-White and Rose-Red are sisters, the former of whom is quiet and reserved while the latter is cheerful and outspoken. Eventually, a frightful stranger appears at the door, but that is all I shall say lest I spoil anything. To be honest, Snow-White and Rose-Red is not the spookiest on this list, but it definitely is a little chilling! There’s just something that draws me to it! And even if you don’t find it scary or spooky, it’s just a good fairy tale. 

Next up, we’ve got a classic that you’re sure to know: Little Red Riding Hood. Unlike some of the other fairy tales, this story is not attributed to any specific author; it is a general folktale that predates the 17th century, but the most well-known renditions are given to us by the Brothers Grimm (of course) and Charles Perrault. Obviously, I don’t need to go over (I hope! Stay cultured, everyone) the plot of Little Red Riding Hood, but I will remind everyone that it is a story of a young girl—oozing with innocence—who encounters an evil wolf. What’s spookier than that? Does anyone know?

Along similar lines, there’s Peter and the Wolf, which is actually a symphonic fairy tale composed by Prokofiev. For those who don’t know, a symphonic fairy tale means a narrator reads a story aloud while a corresponding symphony plays. In the case of Peter and the Wolf, each character (animal, really) introduced is identified with a specific instrument and tune; for example, the bird is the flute while the duck is the oboe. The main characters, Peter and the Wolf, have their own melodies as well which play each time they are featured. This is a story that has sentimental value to me because my father and I would always listen to the tape (yes, the cassette tape!) in the car. Come to think of it, it was probably the first piece of classical music I’d ever heard. But that’s another article. The point is, Peter and the Wolf is a fun tale, but it’s also quite scary. I remember being afraid of it, yet I was always drawn back to it, wanting to hear it each time I got in the car (now I’ve upgraded to listening to the CD). When it comes to tales, anything with a wolf is likely to get you into the Halloween spirit.

So too will any story with a fox. The Gingerbread Man is a great example (and another story I loved when I was younger). Honestly, I think people forget about it—but it’s a classic! It’s another story that sent a chill up my spine when I was little, but continued to pull from the bookshelves anyway. Because this is a folktale that I think tends to get lost in the midst of stories like Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow-White, and other famous ones, I’ll remind you of the basic plot: a old couple lived together in a cottage, and because they grew rather hungry, they baked a gingerbread cookie in the shape of a man. When they opened the oven, he popped out and ran from them, chanting the phrase that might jog your memory of this story: “Run, run, as fast as you can! You can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man!” Eventually, the clever Fox makes his way into the story, and that is where I will leave you because it’s the ending that gets me in the spooky mindset.

Not every spooky story has to have an animal, though. Hansel and Gretel by the Brothers Grimm (again!) is perhaps the spookiest fairytale of all time. I honestly can’t even dwell on it that much because it really makes me shiver. To remind everyone, though, the story follows a brother and sister who get lost in an enchanted wood and stumble upon the candy-house of an evil witch. I mean, what is scarier than that?

Shifting away from Germany, the story of Little Cock Feather Frock is a Russian folktale, written by Tolstoy—not that Tolstoy, Aleksei Nikolayevich Tolstoy. In this story, Tolstoy tells the tale of a lovely rooster who is stolen by a fox (at it again!). My favorite translation is found in The Story Tree: Tales to Read Aloud, which my mother read to me as a child—another reason why I love this story. The last time I heard it when I was younger, I was spooked! And I think a child’s reaction to a fairy tale says a lot about it, considering children are the intended audience. So, it’s a story about a mean fox who steals a chicken—that’s scary. But it also takes place in the dead of winter. In Russia. If you weren’t scared before, I bet you’re scared now.

Continuing with our cultural tour, we move now to France to find the next spooky fairytale, written by Jean de la Fontaine: Le Corbeau et le Renard, or the Crow and the Fox. This story is quick since it is actually a tale written in verse, but it has another clever fox which always gets me. I won’t spoil anything, but let’s just say this is not a tale designed to emulate the shrewdness of the crow. 

To end this scary list, we shall return to Germany with the Brothers Grimm. The story of Rumplestiltskin is my mother’s favorite, and mine as well (consequently). This is another classic, classic, I think. But again, another one that we forget about! To remind you, iIt’s the tale of an imp who spins straw into gold in exchange for a maiden’s firstborn. Only if the woman can guess his name—which of course is Rumplestiltskin—will he not take the child. I won’t say anything more, but there is also a little song in this one that you may remember. At one point or another, the imp chants: “Tonight, tonight, my plans I make. Tomorrow, tomorrow, the baby I take. The queen will never win the game, for Rumpelstiltskin is my name!”

An ugly, evil dwarf taking a child from her mother? Two innocent children lost in an enchanted wood? A young girl sized up by a wolf licking his chops? If these stories don’t get you into the Halloween spirit, I truly don’t know what will.

Noa Fay

Columbia Barnard '24

I am studying at Barnard College of Columbia University. Some of my academic interests include American politics, Israeli politics, Russian language, and Greek mythology. I am also a passionate opera singer and writer. In January 2020 I published my first novel, One Cruel House, and I hope to publish more.