Tales of kids sewing stones in a wolf’s stomach so that it drowns in the river, children being abandoned in woods and cooked in ovens, stepsisters cutting off toes and birds pecking out eyes; the cornerstones of any nutritious childhood!

As a child I’d read tales collected by the brothers Grimm (dark). I thought nothing of them, aside from the shiver any grisly story might cause. However, seeing such children’s characters nowadays as Ninky Nonk and Iggle Piggle it jars me that what I actually read was really quite… well, grim(m). Indeed, even such Disneyfied classics as Rapunzel, Cinderella or Rumpelstiltskin have lost their darkness as catalogued by the aforementioned brothers. (Rumpelstiltskin actually tears himself in two in rage at the discovery of his name, and Cinderella’s stepsister saws off her heel to fit it in the slipper). Do kids even sing Ring a Ring a Roses anymore (a cheerful song about the plague in London), or Orange and Lemons with the chopper coming to chop off your head?

I recall a nursery rhyme my nan sang me “Ladybird, ladybird fly away home, your house is on fire your children are gone…”. My dad introduced me to Watership Down where the black rabbit of death and the opening scene (“If they catch you they will kill you, prince with a thousand enemies”) terrified me; the bunyip song in Dot and the Red Kangaroo was positively haunting and the ring wraiths in the original (Ralph Bakshi’s) LOTRs movie were disturbing to say the least…

Yet we turned out all right, didn’t we? *twitches. Swats at unseen presence behind ear.* I’m a writer at least, and who knows how much these creepy tales had an influence on that. A great deal, I’d wager.

Anyone else remember macabre tales from their childhoods? Things they were read or told which might not be deemed appropriate these days?