I have just finished reading Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales, and — wow. Some of them are downright disturbing. You’ve heard of one or two of the twists on classics, but they were almost all like that. It was not anything like what I remembered from childhood, and now I am afraid that other innocent highlights of my youth were actually harrowing tales of people getting their feet removed and being eaten by irate toads. Also, I’m not actually sure what the morals are supposed to be. Here are my best guesses.

1) Story: The Mouse, The Bird, and the Sausage

Synopsis: A mouse, a bird, and a sausage are living together. The sausage does the cooking (this is a little bit screwed up) and adds flavor to the food by rolling around in it. The bird fetches firewood. The mouse, I believe, sets the table. One day the bird runs into an old buddy of his and tells him about his new living arrangement, and the buddy expresses his disapproval. “You are working too hard,” he tells the bird. “Switch responsibilities with those two layabouts!” The bird does, sending the sausage out for firewood, delegating the cooking to the mouse, and setting the table himself. Of course, the sausage is immediately eaten by a dog as it sets out for the wood. The mouse jumps into the stewpot to add flavor and is scalded to death. And the bird, attempting to get cold water to rescue the mouse, falls down a well and dies.

Possible morals:

If you want to live with an anthropomorphic sausage, that’s totally cool, but don’t tell your bird-friends.
Don’t tell your college friends about your new living arrangement unless you want to die horribly.
Never change the chore chart.

2) The Valiant Little Tailor

A tailor kills seven flies and makes himself the Grimm Fairytale equivalent of a custom T-shirt proclaiming this fact — “7 At One Blow.” Everyone who reads it is terrified of him. He walks into a strange kingdom, and the king’s entire army resigns in terror on reading the “7 At One Blow” sign, saying they cannot fight under these conditions. Using cunning, he manages to kill multiple giants, trap a unicorn and a wild boar and winds up marrying a king’s daughter.

Possible Morals: People are terrifyingly credulous of t-shirts? Who knew what power “I’m With Stupid” wielded! Imagine if he’d had one of those “This Isn’t a Bald Spot: It’s A Solar Panel for A Sex Machine” shirts. Good thing the Valiant Little Tailor didn’t shop at Hot Topic, or the giants would just have thought that He Can’t Hear You Over The Sound Of How Awesome He Is.

3) The Cat and Mouse in Partnership

Summary: A cat and a mouse decide to live together and, together, purchase a pot of fat to last the winter. The cat starts to crave the fat, lies to the mouse that she has to go to a christening and starts to devour it. “Where were you?” the mouse asks. “I was off christening a child — Skimmed Off The Top,” the cat answers. “Oh,” the mouse says. “Of course. Naturally.” Some time passes. The cat sneaks off and devours more of the fat. “Where were you?” the mouse says. “I was off christening a child — Halfway Gone.” Again the cat sneaks off, this time devouring the remainder of the fat, again the mouse inquires where the cat was, and the cat answers, “I was off christening another child — None Left.”

At the end of the winter, the mouse notices that all the fat is gone.

“I am an idiot,” the mouse says to itself.

“Tough luck,” the cat says, menacingly, inching closer.

Moral: Never trust anyone who gets invited to multiple christenings. Who goes to christenings?

Just because a lot of kids have weird names these days (“Madison”?) doesn’t mean you should just accept without question that your friend was off helping with the baptism of someone called “There’s No More Winter Food Left.”

From a cat perspective, if you’re going to steal all the fat from your mouse friend, why make such an idiotic and transparent excuse? In fact, a better idea would be to lie that you were doing frankly ANYTHING other than christening a child EXACTLY THE AMOUNT OF FAT THAT IS LEFT.

4) Hans the Hedgehog

Story: Two parents want a child, to the point that they do the thing that all fairy tale couples do, wander around saying, “We wish we had a child! We’d even be contented with a hedgehog at this point!”

Sure enough, the wife gives birth to a hedgehog. They are intensely creeped out by all this and force the hedgehog boy to live behind the door for several years. They name him Hans.

“I get the sense that I’m bothering you,” Hans says, finally. “Give me some bagpipes, and I’ll get out of your hair forever.”

“Okay,” his father says. He gives Hans bagpipes (how Hans can play the bagpipes with his prickles is never fully explained in the story) and Hans goes to live in the forest. He climbs a tree and sits in the tree playing the bagpipes. Two kings get lost in his forest and he gives them directions, forcing them both to promise him their eldest daughters. The first king tries to get out of the contract by printing it out in confusing terms, thinking (fairly reasonably) that a hedgehog bagpiper will not be among the great legal minds of his time. Hans shows up in both kingdoms, punishing the first king and humiliating his daughter by sticking her full of prickles, and wedding the second king’s daughter. Just in time for the wedding night, he removes his hedgehog skin — surprise, he’s not a hedgehog after all!

Moral:

Honestly, your guess is as good as mine. Don’t eat anchovies before going to bed, or this is the kind of thing you will dream about?
Don’t try to trick bagpiping hedgehogs with confusingly written contracts?

5) Cinderella

This is exactly the story you remember — girl’s father remarries, her stepmother and stepsisters are cruel, with help from her mother’s spirit she manages to attend the king’s ball, drop her slipper, and find love — except for the part where the ugly stepsisters CUT OFF PARTS OF THEIR FEET to fit the slipper on the rationale that “when you’re queen, you won’t need to walk anywhere.” Naturally, a magical singing bird blows their cover.

Moral: Never make any serious body alterations for a job you haven’t gotten yet.

6) The Ungrateful Son

A son is ungrateful to his elderly parents and hides his turkey when they come over, saying he has nothing in the house to feed them. When they leave, the turkey has transformed into a giant toad, which leaps onto his face and feeds on it unless he supplies it constantly with other food. If anyone tries to remove the toad, the toad glares at them and looks as though it wants to jump onto their faces instead.

Moral: Feed your parents or you will be beset by a TERRIFYING FACE-EATING TOAD.

7) The Three Snake-Leaves

The hero weds a princess who has made one condition for whoever marries her: if she dies first, her husband will be entombed alive with her, and vice versa. She comes down with a nasty plague of some kind and dies. He is placed into the tomb. Just as he starts running out of food and water, he sees a snake creep in. He cuts the snake in three pieces with his sword, killing it. Another snake slips in after it with three leaves and places them on the cuts, and the snake miraculously heals and comes back to life. Excited by this medical miracle, the hero places the leaves on his dead bride and, sure enough, she revives. Together, they manage to get out of the tomb. Later they go on a sea voyage for some reason, and she falls in love with the ship’s captain. She conspires with the captain to kill her husband (I guess the being-entombed-with clause no longer applies?) and manages to toss him overboard and drown him. But, suspecting her of some scheme, he has had his loyal servant follow the boat with the magic leaves, and the servant brings him back to life. He is understandably upset. When he arrives at court he tells the princess and her new husband that reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated. Then he throws the unfaithful princess into the sea.

Moral:

Get a pre-nup, but not a crazy prenup?
Never include a Please Throw Yourself On Pyre After My Death clause in your wedding contract?
Always kill snakes?

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.