Little book of horrors

As a parent, evening “story time” is a process that takes between 10 minutes and four hours, depending on how much negotiating there is. One of my younger one’s newest books looked innocent enough: Classic Fairy Tales. I didn’t realize I was essentially reading Tales from the Crypt.

Some of the stories inside I’ve never heard before, while others were familiar classics that take horrific turns I never remembered and have probably banished from my memory due to the trauma they caused. I never thought to pre-read classic fairy tales for lines like “…and then he ate her in one mouthful.”

When the words come out of my mouth I glance over at my kids, who are smiling contentedly, their eyes saying, “Why yes, father, tell me more about how the girl starved to death because she was poor.”

They can’t seem to get enough of it. I continue to read one after the other, each time thinking, “Well this one can’t end horribly.” But it does. Below are just a few of the horror stories it contains.

The Steadfast Tin Soldier

Synopsis: A one-legged tin soldier longs for a lady dancing figurine.

Result: In his journey for his affection he falls out of a window, goes down a drain and gets eaten by a fish. It’s a happy ending, though, because the soldier and dancer end up burning together in a fireplace.

Themes: Cruelty, death

Morals: 1) Even in fiction, veterans can’t catch a break 2) falling in love feels like being swallowed by a fish

The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids

Synopsis: A wolf disguises himself to trick infant goats into opening the door to their house so he can eat them.

Result: The mother goat returns to find her children eaten, so she does what you’d expect any mother would do: she finds the wolf, and, without anesthesia, cuts open his belly. She retrieves her children (unharmed because the wolf is apparently half snake and swallows them whole), replaces them with rocks so he doesn’t notice and stitches him back up. He’s asleep the whole time because, well, you know how well you sleep after a big meal. Eventually he wakes up thirsty and, upon attempting to get a drink from a stream, falls in the water because of the weight of the rocks and drowns.

Themes: Death, incorrect animal biology, death and death

Morals: 1) Don’t eat goats? 2) it’s possible to perform complex medical procedures without any education or opposable thumbs

The Gingerbread Man

Synopsis: The woman of a couple hasn’t had children but has always wanted one so she bakes a gingerbread man that suddenly comes to life. He is incredibly annoying and arrogant, and of his first thoughts after gaining consciousness as a SENTIENT COOKIE is how fast he is, despite not knowing how to run, what running is or how he could possibly know how his speed compares to anything else. He leaves the couple after being a jerk about it and they never see him again.

Result: The gingerbread man needs to cross a river and convinces a fox to help him. The fox eventually eats the gingerbread man, because SOMEBODY apparently has to die in this cruel book and it might as well be the character the children reading this find most appealing. Now we know where George R.R. Martin got his inspiration.

Themes: Wizardry, death, false friendships, disappointment, snacks

Morals: 1) Trusting someone will get you eaten 2) wishing for children will grant you an arrogant pastry boy that runs away and is devoured after being stupid

Little Red Riding Hood

Synopsis: A girl is on her way to visit her grandmother when tragedy strikes.

Result: A wolf eats the little girl’s grandmother and then eats the little girl. A huntsman guts the wolf. They are alive, whole and well. He leaves with the dead wolf’s pelt draped over his shoulder. This is a children’s book.

Themes: Incorrect animal biology (apparently all authors of fairy tales believe that wolves swallow prey whole), deception, murder, death, dress-up

Morals: 1) Visiting grandparents is a dangerous activity and should be avoided 2) Maybe as a parent don’t let your daughter go traipsing around a wolf-laden forest alone armed only with a wicker basket?

The Little Match Girl

Synopsis: A poor, hungry little girl without shoes roams the streets during winter trying to sell matches to buy food, depicting the saddest thing anyone has ever thought of ever. For God’s sake she’s selling MATCHES. She might as well be selling bird flu.

Result: Thankfully the little girl finally gets warm and finds a nice family to live with. Haha, just kidding. She dies of hypothermia and people find her body in the street the next morning.

Themes: Hunger, poverty, starvation, child labor, sadness, death, stages of hypothermia

Morals: 1) When things are bad they never get better and probably will get worse 2) Nobody will help you/poor people so…um…don’t get poor?

The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep

Synopsis: Figurines of a shepherdess and a chimney sweep want to get married and leave a house full of unsavory characters.

Result: The pair was married and everything seems to be OK…until the very last line of the horror book: “They loved each other UNTIL THEY WERE BROKEN INTO PIECES.” Why do you have to do that, book? WHY CAN’T THINGS JUST WORK OUT?

Themes: Who cares. I’m too depressed.

Morals: You can’t trust books with pictures of smiling children on them

I figure by the time I get through all of the stories, my children’s spirits should be just about crushed beyond repair. I should probably stop before they turn full goth. I’m not sure where this book came from but if you want to borrow it you’ll have to dig it up in my neighbor’s yard.


Kelly Van De Walle can be reached at