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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Toronto MU chapter.

I recently found the Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales collection in a thrift store, and to say that I was elated was an understatement. 

Everyone who knows me knows I’m obsessed with fairy tales, specifically the retellings. I love seeing new and unique twists to the stories that have been so familiar to me growing up. 

However, as I began to notice that I was enjoying the retellings that had a darker twist, it dawned on me that I should read the original Brothers Grimm versions. Perhaps it was because I grew up with the happier Disney versions that I came to enjoy the darker retellings, but regardless I was surprised that I actually had never read the originals. The Brothers Grimm, for those who may not know, were Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, both born in Germany in 1785 and 1786 respectively. As Richard Cavendish explains in The Publication of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, they collected stories from many different people and retold them in their own style. These stories are what first came to be known as Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales) in 1812. These stories were then published numerous more times until they eventually became known in English as Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The reason Grimm’s Fairy Tales are known as the originals, despite the stories being darker retellings, is because the twisted parts were repeatedly edited out until the stories became more appropriate versions for children. These happier versions, as I like to call them, are the ones most of us grew up with. 

And so began my new obsession: the original Brothers Grimms fairy tales. Therefore, when I came across Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales in a thrift store, I was happy beyond belief. As most readers may agree, reading a physical book is very different from reading an ebook or online version. 

Up till then, I had mostly been familiar with the popular fairy tales: Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Repunzel, Rumpelstiltskin and more. Stories that were popular choices for retellings, that is. However, as I opened the book to read it, I found a collection of 200 stories written as part of Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales. I was overwhelmed with excitement — I couldn’t believe there were so many stories that I hadn’t even heard of. 

Because there’s such a large selection, I still haven’t finished all of them; however, I thought I would pick five lesser-known tales from the ones I’ve read and share them with you. And what better time than spooky season? These treasures are far too great to keep hidden.

Also, another thing I’d like to mention is that all of these stories are quite dark and hence have many content warnings, including but not limited to: animal injury, death, violence and gore. Also, as I’ll be giving my thoughts on each story, there will be spoilers! 

Without further ado, here we go!

The Nail

The Nail is a story that begins with a merchant. The merchant, after a fruitful day of work, is eager to get back home with the money he has earned. And hence, he rushes to go home by riding his horse. However, at his first rest stop, a stable-boy tells him that his horse has a horseshoe on its left hind foot that is lacking a nail. The stable-boy implores for the merchant to let him fix the nail, however, the merchant refuses as he is in a rush to get home. He continues his journey until he once again stops to rest. This time, the horseshoe has completely come off. The stable boy implores the merchant to let him take the horse to the blacksmith, but the merchant insists the horse will manage just fine for the remainder of their short journey (as if). What happens next is quite unfortunate; the poor horse starts to limp until it eventually breaks its leg. The merchant is forced to leave the poor horse and not only carry his trunk but also walk the rest of the way home. He reaches late into the night, cursing that very one nail. The story ends with the moral “Make haste slowly.”

This story stood out to me because of how short but also impactful it was. It had a rather unfortunate ending — as is the case with many of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, but it also had a very clear message, “to make haste slowly.” There was a fair amount of foreshadowing and dramatic irony, which I enjoyed. We as the readers know that nothing good will come out of the merchant character rushing to get home. Throughout the short story, I found myself thinking just wait a bit and get the horseshoe fixed, the poor horse will get hurt, and I’m sure that’s what the stable-boy character was thinking too. I feel as though in the story the stable-boy represents the readers; we know that he should wait, and we implore him repeatedly to do so. I think this story serves as a great reminder for us all to make haste, but slowly. I think this story deserves more recognition, so I recommend you to read this!

The Robber Bridegroom

The Robber Bridegroom is a rather dark and gory tale that begins with a young girl whose father, a miller, wants to marry her so she is well off. And thus, getting anxious, he decides to marry her off to the first decent suitor she receives. When such a suitor does come, her father decides to promise his daughter’s hand in marriage. However, the daughter does not love her suitor, but also gets an uneasy feeling whenever she meets him. One day, her bridegroom asks her to come visit him in his house as she’s never been to visit him before. He tells her to visit on Sunday, and that he will leave a trail of ashes so she doesn’t get lost on her way there. She keeps trying to make excuses, but eventually can’t delay it any longer. Reluctantly she leaves for his house, but not without taking a pocketful of peas and lentils. She leaves her own trail of peas and lentils, and when she reaches the house she hears a voice call out to her. The voice is coming from a bird in a cage, who tells her that she must turn back because evil things happen in the house. Regardless, she goes into the house and meets an old woman in one of the rooms. The woman reveals a horrifying truth. She reveals that the people living in the house, including the so-called bridegroom, are not only robbers but also cannibals! The old woman even shows her the water which is boiling for her to cook in, after she’s been chopped up into pieces. However, the old woman tells her that she too has been waiting for a chance to escape, so she hides the bride behind a giant cask and tells her they’ll escape at night once the robbers have fallen asleep. Soon the gang arrives with a woman, and long story short: the same horrible fate the old lady told the bride about befalls the poor women, all the while the poor bride sees everything from behind the cask. However, the robbers notice that the woman has a gold ring on her little finger, but as it doesn’t come off easily they chop the entire finger off. The finger actually ends up falling behind the very cask the bride is hiding, right into her lap. The old woman quickly distracts the robbers so they don’t look behind the cask, and serves them dinner in which she has put something that induces sleep. The old woman and the bride escape, and follow the trail of peas and lentils back to the mill. The bride tells her father everything, and eventually the wedding day arrives and with it all the guests including the bridegroom. At the wedding, everyone has to tell a story and when it is the bride’s turn she narrates the story of what happened, calling it a dream. Repeating the phrase “Sweetheart, the dream is not ended” she recounts in detail everything that happened. When she gets to the part of the finger being chopped off, she draws forth the very finger which she had kept. The bridegroom tries to escape but the people capture him, and for their evil crimes he and his gang are executed.  

Initially, I thought the story might be more of a dark comedy sort because of the title, but boy was I wrong. This story gave me actual chills as I read it, and I have to say that it became one of my favourites for this very reason. The concept of ashes being left on the path… and the repetition of certain phrases, such as the verse the bird says to the bride in warning or when the bride is recounting her experience added the perfect haunting touch to the story. This one has many clichés typical to fairy tales, such as the house in the woods, the old woman and the ‘leaving a trail to find the way back home’ detail, but I think it’s the concept of cannibal robbers and the gory details that really make the story stand out for me. The ending is perfect as well; a happy ending for such a gruesome story is well-deserved. Overall, I really enjoyed the story and how dark it was. I think this is a great story for spooky season, but do be aware that it’s truly disturbing and gory, to say the least.

The Rose

The Rose is a haunting story that begins with a poor woman and her two children. Her daughter, the youngest of her children, is tasked with going to the forest to fetch wood everyday. One day, when she goes to the forest to collect wood as usual, a little child approaches and helps her collect the wood. When the daughter tells her mother about it, her mother doesn’t believe it. The next time, the daughter comes home with a rose, which she says was given to her by the beautiful child. She also tells her mother that the child had told her that he would return when the rose was in full bloom. Therefore, the mother puts the rose in some water. One morning, the daughter does not get up. The mother finds her child dead, but with a happy look on her face. The same morning, the rose had been in full bloom.  

I think the best way I can describe this story would have to be bittersweet. When I started to read it, I wasn’t sure which direction it was going in, and if I’m being honest, the story is still a little confusing to me now. My theory is that the beautiful child who helps the youngest daughter in the forest symbolizes death or actually is death in disguise. I think it was a neat little story to read, especially if you’re the sort of person who enjoys theorizing. 

God’s Food

God’s Food is a tale that begins with two sisters, one rich and with no children, the other a widow with five children. The widow is so poor that she can no longer afford food for her family, and so in her time of need she goes to her sister. Her rich sister, being selfish, says that she did not have anything to spare. After the rich sister’s husband comes home, he goes to cut himself some bread. However, when he cuts into the loaf of bread, red blood flows out. The women notices this in shock and makes him aware of what has happened, and he rushes over to the widow’s house to help them. When he gets there, he finds her praying with her two younger children in her arms, while her other three elder ones lay dead. He offers her food, but she declines and says that they no longer have any desire for earthly food, and that God has already satisfied the hunger of three of them and will do similarly for the rest. After this, her two younger children draw their last breaths, which causes her heart to break and she too falls dead.

This was one of the first stories I read when I just got the book, because the title stood out to me. I think God’s Food is a story that leaves an impact and a clear message. The rich lady doesn’t help her own blood sister when her family is starving, and that leads to the death of her sister’s entire family. The blood flowing out the loaf of bread is a very profound omen, for it represents her blood relation and their ultimate demise. (At least, that’s what I think — I’m not very good at literary analysis.) The characters are so well-written despite the story being very brief. I came to dislike the rich sister immediately, and I think it’s because she’s such a realistic villain in comparison to other mainstream, familiar villains such as the iconic Evil Queen. Moreover, the imagery is so hauntingly vivid that it inspired me to make a calligraphy piece for it someday! Furthermore, the phrase “for earthly food have we no longer any desire” really tugged at my heartstrings, and I think it was really fitting of the bittersweet end — because though the widow sister and her entire family die, their suffering comes to an end. All in all, I think this short story is definitely one of my new favourite Grimm’s fairy tales. 

The Peasant and the Devil 

Ah, finally a fairy tale with a happy ending. At least for the peasant, that is — the devil seemed quite frustrated. The story begins with a peasant who is known for being crafty and far-sighted, and his best story is how he once fooled a devil. The peasant is working in his field one day, when he comes across a heap of burning coals in the middle of the field. On it sat a little black devil, who informs the peasant that the treasure in the field would be his only if he gives half of what he produces to the devil for two years. The peasant agrees to the bargain, however he notes that in order to prevent any disputes, everything above the ground would belong to the devil and everything below would be his. The devil is very satisfied with these conditions, not aware that the clever peasant has planted turnips. When it comes time to harvest, the devil finds nothing but yellow withered leaves in his crop while the peasant has all the turnips. The devil, upset insisted that next time he would get everything below the ground and the peasant everything above. The cunning peasant once more agrees, because that following year he plants wheat. When the devil comes to pick up his crop, all he finds is the leftover stubble while the peasant enjoys his full ripe stalks. In anger, the devil falls down a cleft in the rocks, while the peasant declares that this is the way to cheat the devil.

A lighthearted tale, this one is as funny as it is clever. I really enjoyed reading it, laughing at the naivety of the devil and how easily he is tricked by the peasant. The concept of the devil wanting a share of the peasant’s crop was really interesting to me, because I’d never before read anything like it. I wondered why the devil wanted the harvest, because it was never explained in the story — but it could be just that he likes trying to reel the humans into a deal with him. Never would I have imagined the devil as naive and silly, so it was very refreshing to read his character. Furthermore, I think the devil is a great foil to the peasant, because his naivety highlights the intelligence of the peasant. If anything, the story really takes the saying “never make a deal with the devil” and turns it on its head. This story is perfect for someone looking to read a lighter Grimm’s fairy tale, but I’d recommend everyone to give it a read for a good laugh!

I hope that by now you’ve become a tad bit more fascinated with the Grimm’s fairy tales and want to give these wonderful stories a read! I hope that you truly did enjoy these gems, because they deserve to be recognized more. Happy reading, and happy spooky season!

Nayab Ahmar

Toronto MU '24

Nayab Ahmar is a second year Biomedical Sciences student at X University. On a free day, you can find her cozied up with a book and a cup of chai, or jamming to the latest Kpop song by her favourite groups. She is very passionate about the sciences and writing, and enjoys combining her two passions. Other than aspiring to work in healthcare and pursue a side career in writing, she also loves to practice the art of calligraphy whenever she can. Most of all, she loves finding happiness in the little things in life.