My childhood was a lie!

Published: December 5, 2012

The creepy origins of the stories that we associate with our childhood, border on ‘gothic’ and practically ooze ‘inappropriate’. All I can say is, do not read this if you want to preserve the innocence of your childhood memories. DESIGN: ERUM SHAIKH

Close your eyes and think of your childhood.

What stories did you hear? Which fairytale was your favourite? Which princess did you want to be like?

It doesn’t matter because they were all lies.

The creepy origins of the stories that we associate with our childhood, border on ‘gothic’ and practically ooze ‘inappropriate’. All I can say is, do not read this if you want to preserve the innocence of your childhood memories.

More often than not, cartoon adaptations of popular fairytales face very feminist criticism over the stereotypical ‘damsel in distress’ they present to young girls as a role model. But if you compare these useless halfwits to the characters they were inspired by, you may find the Disney-ish interpretations more suitable as role models. The first sugar coated lie we were all fed was that these princesses had spotless characters. Spotless complexions, maybe, but their virtues (or lack thereof) raised a few eyebrows and a lot of questions.

Remember that ‘innocent’ princess imprisoned in a tower by an evil witch?

Well, the original Rapunzel wasn’t very innocent. Like most fairytales ‘Rapunzel’ had oral origins; it was a story told across many different localities including Europe and was translated several times to German (it was the German version by J. C. F. Schulz that altered the girl’s name to ‘Rapunzel’ derived from a vegetable that Rapunzel’s mother craves during her pregnancy called ‘rampion’). This work then became a source for the first edition of ‘Grimm’s fairy tales’ by the Grimm brothers. In these early versions, the witch discovers the prince not because the girl stupidly blurts it out; instead it is because the witch notices Rapunzel getting bigger around the stomach.

Think adultery and illegitimate babies here and you have hit the bull’s eye.

History of Rapunzel

But this is nothing compared to Cinderella.

The first written version of the story in Europe was published in 1634. In this Italian version of the tale, Cinderella (named ‘Cenerentola’) actually murders her first stepmother because she wants her father to marry her beloved governess. The governess then brings in her own six daughters who fit the role of the ‘wicked step sisters’ while the governess consequently becomes the ‘evil step mother’ herself. In short, Cinderella murders someone for purely personal gain, and ends up with a list of chores to last her a lifetime.

Arthur Rackham Cinderella

Not so noble after all, are they?

Then there is the violence.

Remember how any violence in storybooks and cartoons was either censored or so polite that it wouldn’t qualify as violence at all?

Well that was a very crafty fabrication because hardly ever did these stories exclude gore. And no, the good guy didn’t always win.

The classic ‘Snow White and the seven dwarfs’, for example is no stranger to this violence. The Bavarian folk-tale was penned down by the Grimm brothers for their collection; their German version actually first gave the title ‘Snow white and the seven dwarfs to the story. In this early version, the queen is made to dance in a red-hot pair of iron shoes till she drops dead. Picture that the next time you’re watching the sugary sweet Disney version.

Snow White Tarrant

A primitive justification could be that the queen was evil (and crazy) and deserved punishment. Fair enough, but what about the sweet little girl in the red hood? Surely she did not warrant a bloody fate. Apparently she did.

In the earliest written version of the ‘Little Red Riding hood by Charles Perrault, the story ends when the wolf eats Red Riding Hood, in this version she is a well-bred young woman and no gallant huntsman comes to the her rescue. The point of the story was to serve as a warning against dangerous strangers. In even earlier versions, famous in 14th century French peasantry under the titles ‘the false Grandmother’ and ‘the story of Grandmother’ the gore goes a step further when the wolf serves Little Red a plate of her grandmother’s flesh, which the little girl eats.

Cannibalism and carnage all wrapped up in a shiny red hood, not something you’d read to children, I’m assuming.

Originating from dark times, these stories were almost always sinister in nature. Hence, for the modern-day ‘magical’ versions they are always altered to present an entirely different theme.

Sometimes these modern-day fairytales also go as far as to include historic fabrication. This was the case in a 1997 cartoon film titled ‘Anastasia which was essentially a very inaccurate depiction of the Romanov family murder of 1918, which took place post the Bolshevik revolution in Russia.

Russian Royal Family

Long story short, the nice folks at Fox animation studios took the politically instigated murder of the Russian royal family and turned it into a clichéd ‘they all lived happily ever after’ romance. In the film, a long lost granddaughter returns as a beautiful young woman, filling her grandmother’s heart with joy.

In truth, the whereabouts of the body of Anastasia – grand duchess of Russia and daughter of the murdered Tsar and his wife – became a mystery which caused speculations about her being alive. This in turn caused a number of imposters claiming to be Anastasia, but the real Anastasia did not return to her grandmother and there was no ‘happily ever after’.

The cartoon film takes certain elements from true events, including the original names ‘Romanov’ and ‘Anastasia’, but adds all the colour, music and excitement that one expects to find in an exciting children’s movie, and we get a fantasy laden fabrication of historical facts that becomes an economical success for the producers and a fantasy for most young girls.

So there you have it; our childhood fantasies were not really very fantastic. They were a trick played by some very smart authors and eventually cartoonists. They took the notion of ‘I don’t want realism, I want magic!’, from ‘A streetcar named desire’ by Tennessee Williams, and gave us addictive magic through a million dollar industry.

The magic was fake, but it was definitely magic and we fell for it; we loved it, lived it and pestered our parents into buying it. Consumerism somehow convinced a generation of children all over the world that someday something magical would change their lives.

It is ironic though that the very tool used in convincing us that the world is a beautiful place was tinged in very ugly shades of sin and slaughter.

Oh well, I suppose it isn’t what you start with, but what you can turn it into. After all, an old pumpkin can be turned into a magical carriage if you just have the right tricks up your sleeve.




Ushah Kazi

An avid reader, literature buff and co-founder at She tweets as @TheKollectivePK (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Ayesha Pervez


  • Imran

    I grew up watching ‘Ainak Wala Jin’.Recommend

  • Mom

    Beta….cmon you need to wake-up… you`ve been dreaming for far too-long.. No more nursery rhymes for you now..Recommend

  • Interesting content, but we all know that stories evolve over time, and Disney never made any claims anyways as to the historical authenticity of the tales presented in their films for children. The self-righteous tone of the whole article is very misplaced. The author should show intellectual curiosity, not peevish judgment. Recommend

  • Einsjam

    Ah, something good to read. Loved it. especially your words on Anastasia. Yes, many of our fairy tales have origins that only come to light through research which only a precious few of us ever do. Same can be said about rhymes like Ring a Ring a Roses which has origins in the Black Death plague of Medieval Europe.

    Excellent Blog.Recommend

  • ruby

    Wow. Enlightening. Thanks for the superb article.Recommend

  • MilesToGo

    You have to be a strong believer. Never try logic in things based on faith. All stories are true if you believe in them, be it flying horses or splitting moon or heroic wars…Recommend

  • kaalchakra

    Bravo! When will our people realize that they have been taken in by Western subterfuge? Fed lies? We must begin to instil in our children true Islamic stories, not make believe world of sin and slaughter painted afresh and sold to Muslims to make mental slaves of them. Well done, again. Recommend

  • sensible

    Not sure what was purpose of writing this weird and useless piece, i don’t find any thought behind this!Recommend

  • Hameed

    Yyyyyyawwwwnn. Alrighty whats next ?Recommend

  • Javed

    Yyyyyaaaawwn, Alrighty whats next ?Recommend

  • Waseem

    Nice piece, Ushah Kazi. I like the way you constructed childhood which is based on western historial background. it could be more of a taste to see childhood from a pakistani folk tale’s perspective. yeah?Recommend

  • black


  • Mariam Huzaifa

    Apart from moral of blog, the art of writing so much out of nothing in a crafty way calls for appreciation. Your blog remind me of John Donne’s ‘ The Flea’- flea being ‘marriage bed ‘ and ‘marriage temple’ for biting him and his mistress.Recommend

  • http://India Feroz

    Ushah, readers are left with more questions than answers after reading your article. What exactly did you want to communicate and could you have scripted a more meaningful narrative for the same ? The only message that cam through to me is that you know English, but have no idea have to string your thoughts coherently to create any kind of story.Recommend

  • Syme

    Listverse article rewritten:(Recommend

  • Pessimist

    Bravo! When will our people realize that they have been taken in by Western subterfuge? Fed lies? We must begin to instil in our children true Islamic stories, not make believe world of sin and slaughter painted afresh and sold to Muslims to make mental slaves of them. Well done, again.

    Wait, was that sarcasm? I don’t know :/Recommend

  • Deendayal M.Lulla

    Let me be honest. As a child,I was not aware of all these fairy tales,as I did not go to an English-medium school. I studies in a Hindi-medium school in Chennai. However,I was fascinated with sea,and I used to take books from my school library on sea,and was particulalry interested in Vasco-da-Gama,and how he went around the world in a ship,discovering different nations

    My biggest problem as a child was getting up early in the morning,to fetch water from a handpump on the ground floor,as we lived on the first floor,. I have also fetched water from the road,as this pump was installed later in the building by the lady owner of the building. I used to envy my classmates who did not have to get up early in the morning (around 4.00 a.m.) to fetch water,and they will get up royally in the noon during summer vacations. I have also drawn water from the well in our building. The fairy tales mentioned by the author ,I came to know when my daughter was admitted in a English-medium school,.and I have preserved her books when she was in the primary section of the school. Now,she has become a young lady,studying in college. Schools should teach children the fairy tales of the country,and not the English fairy tales. Each country has a rich source of such fairy tales. Even at this age – I am 55-years-old,I find it interesting to read books on fairy tales from different countries.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Isn’t that why they are called fairy tales………….and you don’t believe in fairies, do you ?
    Gosh, you must have have done a lot of research on this and I liked the way you explained it all in the last small closing paragraph.Recommend

  • Usman

    “True” Islamic stories? Are they any less violent or gore filled than the ones that the author mentionsRecommend

  • dr.h.m.farooq

    some people live in a world of fantasyRecommend

  • Mariam Huzaifa

    @ Usman , islamic stories are based on true history of man kind like Noah arch or Hazrat Mosa’s story.Recommend

  • abhi


    These are stories anyway. Even though you have some older version doesn’t mean that older version were some real stuff. These stories were altered to suite the time.Recommend

  • FreakedOut

    Superbly refreshing!Recommend

  • shomaila

    The Ugly Truth.
    HA.HA! After reading the about the actual stories, I must say, the wolf in Red Riding Hood was hell of a chef.. serving the girl with a good steamed meat was some bait for the girl and surely the red ridding hood had it in her mind all the time that grandma was wearing a costume..
    Anyways the point is even if the “stories” had some dark side in them, would you prefer telling your 5 yr daughter about how the iron shoes made the Queen bleed to death or instead you’ud tell her that even though the things didnt go as planned but at the end they turned out well.
    About Cinderalla the so called new version gives a better lesson than the ancient one.Now would you prefer giving your daughter hope that times can change anytime, or you would rather tell her that people in past have chosen wrong ways to achieve what they had ever wanted.
    One can find this in every story.The newer versions are better for children, who cares what the actual Cinderalla did, if there was any. In the end they are stories, supposed to give some lesson, and at bed time cheer up your young one, so who cares what the actual story is, after all its just a story, reality has nothing to do with it.Recommend

  • Fatima

    Hasnt this blog been published on ET before? I swear I remember reading it a few months ago?!Recommend

  • megamind

    If i am not wrong then the original OBNOXIOUS? version is folk lore not fairytale or bedtime story. Folklores r 4 grown ups. Your article was enjoyable nevertheless. A good read:)Recommend

  • Khalid

    @Mariam Huzaifa:
    And also like the “battle of camel” or the “battle of siffin” ? Recommend

  • Syme
  • Mustafa Moiz

    I like the original versions better. I always thought the Disney versions were stupid, except now that I read about Little Red Riding Hood, that is just a little too far.Recommend

  • Bush

    Please something sensible next-time… good effort though..Recommend

  • Intelektual

    A complete and total waste of time ! a story by defination is a LIE. Its not history ! No matter what the origion of the story its still a story ! And Disney’s versions are the best adaptations there are ! Santa’s a Lie too go sue North Pole or smeone !Recommend

  • Budha Baba

    @ Mariam Huzaifa

    “@ Usman , islamic stories are based on true history of man kind like Noah arch or Hazrat Mosa’s story”

    what about true islamic story of Hussain, Yazid and karbala? A true history of mankind!!Recommend

  • http://gujrat Zalim singh

    Its Greek to me.Recommend

  • gp65

    Ah so before you read the original version of Rumpletiskin, yuo actually believed the story? Same with Red riding hood? You probably beieve in Santa Claus too?

    Seriously they are fairy tales. As you become an adult you don’t believe them because gasp – they are lies.

    Your research is actually interesting but the judgmental tone just mars the write-up for me.Recommend

  • Ali Awais Amin

    Tom & Jerry, Dexter’s Lab, courage the cowardly dog, come on! :) I love the way they lie Recommend

  • megamind

    I just want to add that there is a fairytale version of everything be it history, religion, nationhood or even procreation. In every case we discover the truth when we grow up. It is a part of growing up .Grim realities are not 4 children and fairytales are not 4 grown ups.When there r so many glaring lies to be discovered on growing up how can the origin of a fairytale be such a great disenchantment.Recommend

  • Critical

    May I know the reason why my 2 previous posts werent approved…..I just quoted from the holy scriptures…..I didnt make anything upRecommend

  • Nobody

    Rumpelstiltskin…. and speaking of judgmental tone, pot calling the kettle black…?

    i enjoyed learning the origin of my favorite child hood stories, but i’m a bit surprised at the reaction; they are, after all, fairy tales. Recommend

  • Fatima

    Veyr interesting… alot more examples can be added here…having read the grimm brothers collection i know how traumatizing the original stories were… their aim was to instill sense into children like what happens when u dont listen to ur parents etc etc…im sure it scared the crap out of them ;)
    well written!Recommend

  • Turbo Lover

    Good thing I manned up myself and did not have to discover the bitter truth.Recommend

  • Sarah B. Haider

    Good article.

    P.S. People who think that the article is useless, instead of criticising, why don’t THEY come up with some intriguing articles themselves?Recommend

  • shumaila

    i understand that all the tales were manipulated by authors but they were done for a reason. Each and every tales has a good and positive message for the kids so even if they changed the horror side for the KIDS what’s the harm. there is no harm in wanting to be like cinderalla, there in no harm in being cautious to strangers, there is no harm is thinking that a prince would come for me as well. If truth are hidden for good reason then just let it be.Recommend

  • The Critic

    I think homer’s odyssey and illiad and the Arabian nights give a better depiction of greed and lust than the Grimm’s fairy tales.Recommend