There are certain aspects of life that are universal, and hearing, listening, or watching fairy tales is among them. Much like playing outside as a kid or falling in love for the first time as a young adult, these stories are a common bond with roots that are deep within cultures, and so it's hard to find a grownup who hasn't at least some knowledge of one. After all, fairy tales seem to blend the magic of childhood imagination with the important lessons of adulthood, making them a key part of a kid's education.
But when was the last time you actually read a fairy tale? If it was around the same time you had a daily recess, then perhaps it's worth it to revisit some of these beloved stories. We gathered nine classic fairy tales that should be reread, from the likes of Cinderella and the Little Red Riding Hood to Snow White and Rapunzel. And if you're more acquainted with the equally well-known Disney versions of these stories, take note: The original tales are often much darker than those musical cartoons.
No matter which fairy tale you wish to read first, it's sure to transport you—into its faraway world, of course, but also back to your childhood self.
Jack and the Beanstalk
The Story: It's argued that this story can be traced back 5,000 years, but the version most know has its roots in the 18th century. It centers around the eponymous boy who lives on a farm with his mother. When their dairy cow suddenly stops producing milk, Jack's mother asks him to go sell the cow at the market. On the way, he meets a man who offers him magic beans in exchange for the cow, and when he returns home, his mother throws the beans out in anger. And yet, the beans grow into a beanstalk, and Jack climbs it to discover a castle with treasures inside—as well as an angry giant who lives there.
A Quote From the Tale: "Using the leaves and twisty vines like the rungs of a ladder, Jack climbed and climbed until at last, he reached the sky. And when he got there he found a long, broad road winding its way through the clouds to a tall, square castle off in the distance."
The Story: The Walt Disney iteration of this famous fairy tale is likely the best-known version, but let's just say that the classic Brothers Grimm story isn't as rosy. In this tale, Cinderella is a girl whose father remarries after her mother's death. Her stepmother and two stepsisters treat her poorly and make her do chores around the house. One day, a king proclaimed that a three-day festival was to take place, and when Cinderella was forbidden to attend, she asks surrounding forest animals to help her. They create gowns for her, and golden slippers, which then catch the eye of the prince. When she loses her golden slipper and runs away, the prince tries to figure out who the slipper belongs to, and the stepsisters cut their feet to make the shoe fit.
A Quote From the Tale: "Her stepsisters and her stepmother did not recognize her. They thought she must be a foreign princess, for she looked so beautiful in the golden dress. They never once thought it was Cinderella, for they thought that she was sitting at home in the dirt, looking for lentils in the ashes."
The Story: As another famous fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, Rapunzel is also one of those familiar stories with its share of modern retellings. In the classic version, a couple lives next to a witch and her walled garden. The woman craves a type of vegetable, rampion, growing in the garden, which alludes to her pregnancy. She asks the man to get it for her, and when he does, the witch discovers him. She says that he can take all he needs, if he agrees to give her the child when she is born. He does, and the couple hands over Rapunzel to the witch, who then holds her captive in a remote tower. One day, a prince hears Rapunzel singing, and goes to her. She lets down her golden hair so that he can climb up, and they fall in love. But the witch doesn't let her go so easily.
A Quote From the Tale: "The king's son wanted to climb up to her and looked for the door of the tower, but none was to be found. He rode home, but the singing had so deeply touched his heart, that every day he went out into the forest and listened to it."
Little Red Riding Hood
The Story: Little Red Riding Hood also has ties to the Brothers Grimm, but its many retellings can be traced throughout Europe. It centers around a little girl with the titular name, who wears a red cape while walking through the woods to deliver food to her sick grandmother. While on the way, she meets a wolf, who wants her food. Little Red Riding Hood refuses, but tells him where she's going. The wolf distracts her by recommending she pick fresh flowers for her grandmother, and then walks ahead of the girl. The wolf pretends to be Little Red Riding Hood at her grandmother's door, and then swallows grandma whole when she answers (in some stories he hides grandma in a closet). Then the wolf dresses up like grandma, waiting for Little Red Riding Hood's arrival.
A Quote From the Tale: "Little Red Riding Hood, hearing the big voice of the wolf, was at first afraid; but believing her grandmother had a cold and was hoarse, answered, 'It is your grandchild Little Red Riding Hood, who has brought you a cake and a little pot of butter mother sends you.'"
Beauty and the Beast
The Story: As a French fairy tale first published in the 18th century, the most famous iteration of Beauty and the Beast follows a similar story like the one you know from Disney movies. Beauty is one of the children being cared for by a penniless merchant, who comes across a castle when he gets lost trying to return home. The beast who lives there accuses him of trespassing and says he can leave with a rose—a present for Beauty—if she takes his place. Beauty does, and while she's held captive, she eventually develops feelings for the beast. Still, she asks him to return home, and he allows her to, but again with one condition: Only if she promises to return.
A Quote From the Tale: "Beauty was sadly terrified at his horrid form, but she took courage as well as she could, and the monster having asked her if she came willingly; 'Ye—e—es,' said she, trembling."
The Story: The Brothers Grimm are once again credited with this famous fairy tale, which was originally published in the 19th century and has seen plenty of retellings since. The eponymous character is a beautiful princess and the stepdaughter of a vain queen. The queen owns a magic mirror that tells her she is the most beautiful woman in the kingdom every day. One day, when Snow White is older, the mirror tells the queen that Snow White is now the most beautiful woman in the kingdom, and the queen is so jealous that she orders a huntsman to kill her. The Huntsman agrees, but then is unable to do it, and Snow White runs away into the forest. The Huntsman tells the queen that Snow White is dead, but when she asks the mirror the same question of beauty, the mirror still answers Snow White—giving the truth away that she is still alive.
A Quote From the Tale: "The queen took fright and turned yellow and green with envy. From that hour on whenever she looked at Snow White her heart turned over inside her body, so great was her hatred for the girl. The envy and pride grew ever greater, like a weed in her heart, until she had no peace day and night."
Hansel and Gretel
The Story: As yet another Brothers Grimm fantasy that was originally published in the 19th century, this fairytale is set in medieval Germany and focuses on the activities of the story's namesake brother and sister. They're the children of a poor woodcutter, and when a famine strikes, their stepmother convinces their father to abandon them in the woods so the parents won't starve. The children hear of the plan, and are at first able to evade it. But when they are left in the woods again, they get lost, and eventually come upon a house made of gingerbread where an evil old woman promises them food and warm beds. They enter the home, not knowing that the she intends to eat them.
A Quote From the Tale: "Hansel and Gretel were so frightened that they dropped what they had in their hands. But the old woman just nodded her head and said: 'My, my you dear children, who have brought you here? Come right in and stay with me. No harm will befall you.'"
The Ugly Duckling
The Story: Hans Christian Andersen published this story in Denmark during the 19th century, and versions of it have been made into films, a ballet, and even a musical. It starts when a mother duck's eggs hatch and one duckling is ostracized for his unsightly appearance by the other animals. The duckling decides to leave and makes friends with wild birds instead. But, the same thing happens, and those animals make fun of his appearance, too. The duck spends a freezing winter alone and decides that it would be better to be killed by swans that to endure any additional pain. But when the duckling sees his reflection, he notices that he's become as beautiful as the swans.
A Quote From the Tale: "And so they made themselves comfortable; but the poor duckling, who had crept out of his shell last of all, and looked so ugly, was bitten and pushed and made fun of, not only by the ducks but by all the poultry."
The Emperor's New Clothes
The Story: As another fairytale written by Hans Christian Andersen in the 19th century, this famous story centers on an emperor who enlists two weavers to make him a fashionable wardrobe. The emperor is incredibly vain, and the weavers are actually not weavers at all—instead, they pretend to be creating clothes using an "invisible" fabric. They tell the emperor that only people who are stupid or unfit for their positions cannot see it, so therefore the emperor and his associates all lie and say that the clothes are beautiful. One day, he dresses in the weavers' clothes for a public procession, where everyone also pretends that he's wearing something beautiful—all except for one kid, who yells out the truth.
A Quote From the Tale: "The swindlers stayed up the entire night before the procession was to take place, burning more than sixteen candles. Everyone could see that they were in a great rush to finish the emperor's new clothes. They pretended to take the material from the looms. They cut in the air with large scissors. They sewed with needles but without any thread. Finally, they announced, 'Behold! The clothes are finished!'"