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8 Fairy Tales And Their Not-So-Happy Endings

by Stacy Conradt, Laurel Mills & John Green

Those Disney endings where the prince and the princess end up blissfully married? Yeah, they don't really happen in the original stories. To make sure kids go home happy, not horrified, Disney usually has to alter the endings. Read on for the original endings to a couple of Disney classics (and some more obscure tales).

1. Cinderella

Don't break out your violins for this gal just yet. All that cruelty poor Cinderella endured at the hands of her overbearing stepmother might have been well deserved. In the oldest versions of the story, the slightly more sinister Cinderella actually kills her first stepmother so her father will marry the housekeeper instead. Guess she wasn't banking on the housekeeper's six daughters moving in or that never-ending chore list.

2. Sleeping Beauty

In the original version of the tale, it's not the kiss of a handsome prince that wakes Sleeping Beauty, but the nudging of her newborn twins. That's right. While unconscious, the princess is impregnated by a monarch and wakes up to find out she's a mom twice over. Then, in true Ricki Lake form, Sleeping Beauty's "baby's daddy" triumphantly returns and promises to send for her and the kids later, conveniently forgetting to mention that he's married. When the trio is eventually brought to the palace, his wife tries to kill them all, but is thwarted by the king. In the end, Sleeping Beauty gets to marry the guy who violated her, and they all live happily ever after.

3. Snow White

At the end of the original German version penned by the brothers Grimm, the wicked queen is fatally punished for trying to kill Snow White. It's the method she is punished by that is so strange "“ she is made to dance wearing a pair of red-hot iron shoes until she falls over dead.

4. The Little Mermaid

You're likely familiar with the Disney version of the Little Mermaid story, in which Ariel and her sassy crab friend, Sebastian, overcome the wicked sea witch, and Ariel swims off to marry the man of her dreams. In Hans Christian Andersen's original tale, however, the title character can only come on land to be with the handsome prince if she drinks a potion that makes it feel like she is walking on knives at all times. She does, and you would expect her selfless act to end with the two of them getting married. Nope. The prince marries a different woman, and the Little Mermaid throws herself into the sea, where her body dissolves into sea foam.

Now here are four more fairy tales you might not be familiar with, but you might have trouble forgetting.

1. The King Who Wished to Marry His Daughter
What It's Like: Cinderella, with an incestuous twist

The King's wife dies and he swears he will never marry again unless he finds a woman who fits perfectly into his dead Queen's clothes. Guess what? His daughter does! So he insists on marrying her. Ew. Understandably, she has a problem with this and tries to figure out how to avoid wedding dear old dad. She says she won't marry him until she gets a trunk that locks from outside and inside and can travel over land and sea. He gets it, but she says she has to make sure the chest works. To prove it, he locks her inside and floats her in the sea. Her plan works: she just keeps floating until she reaches another shore. So she escapes marrying her dad, but ends up working as a scullery maid in another land"¦ from here you can follow the Cinderella story. She meets a prince, leaves her shoe behind, he goes around trying to see who it belongs to. The End.

2. The Lost Childen
What It's Like: Hansel & Gretel meets Saw 2

This French fairy tale starts out just like Hansel & Gretel. A brother and sister get lost in the woods and find themselves trapped in cages, getting plumped up to be eaten. Only it's not a wicked witch, it's the Devil and his wife. The Devil makes a sawhorse for the little boy to bleed to death on (seriously!) and then goes for a walk, telling the girl to get her brother situated on the sawhorse before he returned. The siblings pretend to be confused and ask the Devil's wife to demonstrate how the boy should lay on the sawhorse; when she shows them they tie her to it and slit her throat. They steal all of the Devil's money and escape in his carriage. He chases after them once he discovers what they've done, but he dies in the process. Yikes.

3. The Juniper Tree
What It's Like: Every stepchild's worst nightmare

Cannibalism, murder, decapitation"¦ freakiness abounds left and right in this weird Grimm story. A widower gets remarried, but the second wife loathes the son he had with his first wife because she wants her daughter to inherit the family riches. So she offers the little boy an apple from inside a chest. When he leans over to get it, she slams the lid down on him and chops his head off. Note: if you're trying to convince your child to eat more fruits and veggies, do not tell them this story. Well, the woman doesn't want anyone to know that she killed the boy, so she puts his head back on and wraps a handkerchief around his neck to hide the fact that it's no longer attached. Her daughter ends up knocking his head off and getting blamed for his death. To hide what happened, they chop up the body and make him into pudding, which they feed to his poor father. Eventually the boy is reincarnated as a bird and he drops a stone on his stepmother's head, which kills her and brings him back to life.

4. Penta of the Chopped-off Hands
What It's Like: Um...you tell us

These old fairy tales sure do enjoy a healthy dose of incest. In this Italian tale, the king's wife dies and he falls in love with Penta ... his sister. She tries to make him fall out of love with her by chopping off her hands. The king is pretty upset by this; he has her locked in a chest and thrown out to sea. A fisherman tries to save her, but Penta is so beautiful that his jealous wife has her thrown back out to sea. Luckily, Penta is rescued by a king (who isn't her brother). They get married and have a baby, but the baby is born while the king is away at sea. Penta tries to send the king the good news of the baby, but the jealous fisherman's wife intercepts the message and changes it to say that Penta gave birth to a puppy. A puppy?! The evil wife then constructs another fake message, this time from the king to his servants, and says that Penta and her baby should be burned alive. OK, long story short: the king figures out what the jealous wife is up to and has her burned. Penta and the king live happily ever after. I can't really figure out what the moral of this tale is. Chopping hands off? Giving birth to a dog? Help me out here, people.

OK, there must be a ton of other creepy fairy tales out there that you would never read to your kids to lull them off to a peaceful slumber. Let's hear them!

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15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

man-shaped tea infuser
Amazon

That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

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2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

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3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

astronaut tea infuser
ThinkGeek

This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

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4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

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5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

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6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

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7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

shark tea infuser
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This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

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8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

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9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

cracked egg tea infuser
Amazon

Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

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10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

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11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

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12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy comping on your mug to worry about humans.

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13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

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14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

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15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

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16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

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17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

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18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

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