Fairy Tale Horror

What is the Fairy Tale Horror Subgenre?

As its name suggests, fairy tale horror is a subgenre which features retellings of classic fairy tales that are much more violent and gruesome than the ones that most readers may be familiar with from childhood. Fairy tales that are used for these retellings often come from the collected fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm or from Hans Christian Andersen, though these stories are already much darker than their popular culture counterparts would suggest. The original Grimms' fairy tales, in particular, were not family friendly and were often violent. The 1857 edition of Grimms' Fairy Tales, which we know today as the "original", was actually heavily edited, even then.

In a larger context, fairy tale horror can be related to dark fantasy as both share fantastical elements, such as magical worlds, princes and princesses, and fairy tale creatures. However, dark fantasy leans more toward the fantastical with a dark horrific element, while the aim of fairy tale horror is to terrify and disturb. As such, fairy tale horror may be more closely linked with supernatural horror or cross-genre horror that skews toward fantasy. The difference between these genres and fairy tale horror is the fact that fairy tale horror draws from specific sources in folklore for themes and elements. In this subgenre, plots and settings will often mirror those of the original work, but in a twisted, funhouse sort of way. Characters become more three dimensional than in the original work, and this added dimension is often where the horror lies as it reveals sinister motivations in the characters. Plots will also contain more graphically violent elements and settings will be darker than those of the original version. These fairy tales are definitely not for children.


Fairy Tale Horror Characteristics

Level of Plot: Low levels of plotting are found in fairy tale horror as plots rarely deviate from the original tale, with the exception of changing a few elements.


Level of Characterization: Characterization will be moderate to low in this subgenre as traditional fairy tale characters will often be given an added dimension of darkness for the work, but little character development will take place throughout the story.


Level of Supernatural: Expect low to moderate levels of supernatural in fairy tale horror. Fantastical elements may be present, but often only if these elements were included in the original work.


Level of Scary: Scares in this subgenre will be low to moderate due to the familiar nature of the material. Expect works to have a high creep factor added to a beloved tale as opposed to more in-your-face types of scares.


Level of Violence: Violence will be moderate to high in fairy tale horror as it is often violence which is muted or missing from the popular or original work that is added to increase tension.


Typical Setting: Enchanted forests, far off castles, small villages or cottages, all of the typical fairy tale settings will be found in fairy tale horror.

Related Horror Subgenres

Dark fantasy and cross-genre horror with an emphasis on fantasy are easily related to fairy tale horror because of their common fantastical elements. Similarly, mythic fiction horror and media tie-in horror are also easily related to this subgenre because they all draw influence from previously established properties.

Don't Read Fairy Tale Horror If You Dislike…

Fairy tales. As its name suggests, fairy tale horror creates twisted versions of popular fairy tales and folklore. If these traditional stories do not interest you, this subgenre may not be for you.

Original Folk and Fairytales of the Brothers Grimm- translated by Jack Zipes- These are the source material in all its dark and gritty glory, featuring new and violent tales such as "How Some Children Played At Slaughtering" among darker and more violent versions of beloved favorites.


The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter- Dark and sensual retellings of classic fairy tales that feature violence and monsters.


Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman- A retelling of Snow White where a desperate queen struggles to rescue her kingdom from the clutches of her monstrous stepdaughter.


Speak Easy by Catherynne M. Valente- In this adaptation of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, Zelda Fair is the new It girl of the Hotel Artemisia, where anything and everything can be had for a price, but it is the hotel's shadowy basement that Zelda is drawn to.


Tinder by Sally Gardner- A retelling of The Tinderbox which features werewolves, evil queens, and the horrors of war.


The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty by A.N. Roquelaure- The tale of Sleeping Beauty with a BDSM twist where Beauty is awakened from her curse only to find herself enslaved by a cruel prince in this trilogy opener.


Poison by Sarah Pinborough- A brutal retelling of Snow White from the point of view of the evil queen with heaps of sex and violence. Here, the evil queen is very evil, but Snow White isn't the picture of innocence, herself.


The Magic Circle by Donna Jo Napoli- In this retelling of Hansel and Gretel, a midwife is plagued by demons which causes her to seek solace in the quiet of the forest, where she meets two wandering children.


Transformations by Anne Sexton- These poems are chilling retellings of classic fairy tales with a dark, humorous bent.


The Plucker by Brom- A macabre retelling of The Velveteen Rabbit where a beloved toy transforms all of the love and joy bestowed upon it into something sinister and evil.

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