Fairytales Are Too Scary?!


A study sponsored by the television channel Watch shows that modern parents are resistant to sharing traditional fairy tales with their children. 

It doesn’t surprise me at all that one in five read modern books rather than Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm.  But in the list that follows, the reasons are bizarre to me:

1. Hansel and Gretel – Storyline about two abandoned kids is thought likely to scare children

2. Jack and the Beanstalk – Deemed too ‘unrealistic’

3. Gingerbread Man – Parents uncomfortable explaining gingerbread man gets eaten by fox

4. Little Red Riding Hood – Deemed unsuitable by parents who must explain a girl’s grandmother has been eaten by a wolf

5. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves – The term ‘dwarves’ was found to be inappropriate

6. Cinderella – Story about a young girl doing all the housework was considered outdated

7.Rapunzel – Parents were worried about the focus on a young girl being kidnapped

8.Rumpelstiltskin – Parents unhappy reading about executions and kidnapping

9.Goldilocks and the Three Bears – Parents say it sends the wrong messages about stealing

10.Queen Bee – Deemed inappropriate as the story has a character called Simpleton

Out of the 2000 parents polled, one quarter of them would not “consider reading a fairytale to their child until they had reached the age of five, as they prompt too many awkward questions.” 

Here is where I begin to tear my hair out.  The entire point of fairy tales and folk tales is that they touch on darkness and evil just enough to get a good scare going but not enough to terrify.  A good chase by a giant down a beanstalk and the frantic chopping to save yourself.  Rapunzel’s incredible hair and then the blinding of the prince in the thorny bushes below.   Hansel and Gretel shoving that witch into her own oven and then the final step of latching the oven door. 

I love all of it.  I used to read my book of Grimm’s stories over and over again, and it had stories that were even more strange and alarming that I loved even more.  I adored The Goose Girl with its grizzly ending.  Snow White and Rose Red was another favorite that I loved because of the circular nature of the story and the blooming roses.  The strange Clever Elsie and other tales about wisdom and foolishness, I found captivating.  Thumbelina was one I turned to many times with its enchanting flowers and fairies counterpointed with the mole and darkness.

So what do you think?  Are the stories too dark for our modern children?  Was I just a rather strange young child to adore them so?  And if you too have a love for Grimm and Andersen, what were your favorite stories?

10 thoughts on “Fairytales Are Too Scary?!

  1. Well some of them make sense like my cousin’s were kind of worried with showing Tangled (Rapunzel movie) to their two year old for the same reason. I never really thought about that and how it would affect children. I just assumed they would know it’s just a story. But kids are different.

    Ummm… that’s really weird that you said “he entire point of fairy tales and folk tales is that they touch on darkness and evil just enough to get a good scare going but not enough to terrify.” No one wants to scare their kids. The only problem I have of reading fairy tales if I had a kid is the princess ones where the man saves the girl from a horrible life. I need my boys and girls to know that girls are independent and strong.

    The Jack and the Beanstalk excuse is ridiculous. There is no problem with that book.

    1. I think we are using “scare” in different ways perhaps. My version of “scare” is to get that thrill up your spine, the angst in your tummy, but not have it go past that. Definitely not having children cry, have nightmares, or dwell on the story as anything other than a good tale.

      I probably should have chosen a different word to capture that.

  2. This should be a case for parents knowing their own children and what they can handle — and when. I was a sensitive child who had nightmares after hearing some of these stories at a very early age. My daughter, meanwhile, is a total thrillseeker who loves to be scared!

    1. I agree that it is about the child. Also, I don’t see these tales as ones for tiny children. When I lugged Grimm around with me, I was old enough to be reading them on my own.

  3. I changed the ending of Gingerbread Boy because I had so many parents give me horrified looks and “don’t you think that’s a little scary…” comments when I had the fox eat the gingerbread. The kids thought it was great. Now I say “because that’s what happens to cookies” and it seems to calm parents down. It annoys me, but whatever…

  4. They are scary! I know I didn’t want to read them to my young son but I read an article that discussed the importance role of traditional literature to children and we’ve read them ever since. He’s 16 now and seems to have turned out just fine. He has not tossed anyone in an oven to my knowledge. I’m a teacher-librarian now and read fairy tales to students and I’ve had comments about how scary they are but we always talk about the high elements of fantasy that are involved. Haven’t lost a student yet!

  5. I adored fairy tales as a kid – when I was in fourth grade I pretty much refused to read anything else. As for “kids are different…” – yeah, they are! In my experience, they don’t personalize the horror as much as adults. They don’t think what it would really be like for them or some other actual human being to be rolled around in a barrel with spikes on the inside, which now that I’m an adult makes me downright nauseous. What kids think about is Justice, in the abstract, and those grisly endings seem perfectly right.
    As for reading them to my own kids… I’ll agree I don’t think the gruesome versions are appropriate for children under five or six. But when mine got old enough and I tried to share the fairy tales with them, to my dismay, they aren’t really interested. They prefer full chapter books with character development and logical plot progression.

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