Some of our favorite fairy tales that we grew up with continue to enchant people all around the world. The story of Cinderella, for example, has been the subject of Italian operas, Russian ballets, and even Japanese kabuki plays. That said, each time somebody retells a story, they add their own personal touch. Because of this, some countries might turn a classic story into something…interesting.
We at Bright Side love to look at the similarities and differences among people around the world, even when it comes to fairy tales, so we’ve collected some surprising versions of classic stories from around the world.
The African Snow White ends up becoming a stepmother herself.
The evil queen in Snow White is probably the most iconic wicked stepmother in all of fiction, but one version of the story from Cameroon breaks this classic trope.
In the story, The Beautiful Daughter, an evil princess has a magic mirror that repeatedly tells her that she is the world’s most beautiful woman. Eventually, however, she gives birth to a daughter who grows up to be prettier than her. The daughter is sent to live in the forest and is taken in by some friendly robbers and ends up getting poisoned with a magic pin.
A chief falls in love with the sleeping princess and takes her body to his home. While there, the chief’s daughter mistakes the girl for a doll and accidentally removes the pin. This breaks the spell and the 2 girls become friends. Eventually, the chief learns about what happened, punishes the evil mother and marries the heroine, which essentially makes her a stepmother to her own best friend.
A Native American Cinderella ends up marrying the sun.
Nearly every country has its own version of the Cinderella story with a new spin on things. Native Americans liked the story so much, presumably after having heard it from Spanish and French missionaries, that they made their own versions of the tale.
One such story is called Chicken Girl Marries [the Sun] and it comes from the Tewa people of New Mexico. In the story, a girl named Chicken Girl is always bullied by her mother and older sister. She gets her name from taking care of the family’s chickens who are her only friends.
One day, the village plans to host a great dance, but Chicken Girl isn’t allowed to go. The chickens, however, make her a dress so that she can go and she ends up being so lovely that Tawa, the personification of the sun, falls in love with her and escorts her personally.
After the dance, Chicken Girl grows worried that she will be punished by her family when they return, so Tawa tries to help by conjuring a tree for her to hide in but the villagers chop it down. Fortunately, Tawa rescues Chicken Girl and marries her. She is said to still be living in his house to this day.
Some countries have a “Sleeping King” instead of a “Sleeping Beauty”.
Sleeping Beauty is arguably one of the most iconic damsel-in-distress stories, but it’s not always a girl who needs to be saved, even if she’s still the main character.
In one Indian fairy tale, King Sandalwood a princess is cast out by her mean sisters-in-law, who mockingly tell her only to come back if she marries the long-dead King Sandlewood. After various misadventures, the princess coincidentally comes across the dead king’s tomb.
Luckily, it turns out that King Sandalwood isn’t actually dead. An evil peri (fairy) stole a magic necklace from him that holds his lifeforce. He sleeps during the day and comes back to life at night.
The king falls in love with the princess and they marry in secret. One night, the peri and her sisters visit the king and the princess is able to snatch the necklace back, saving the king from the peri’s power once and for all.
One Armenian version of Rapunzel has her as a warrior queen.
We often imagine fairy tale heroines as the epitome of human kindness and innocence. However, princesses aren’t always good girls, even in fairy tales.
The Armenian story of Zoulvisia opens up with a king warning his 7 sons to avoid an enchanted mountain near their kingdom. However, the princes go one by one to the mountain and never return, leaving only the youngest.
The youngest son finally gives in and encounters a brave warrior who challenges him to a duel. He agrees, only to learn that the knight was the warrior queen, Zoulvisia. While traveling to her castle, he learns that when the queen goes to her balcony, she will let out 3 cries that will kill anyone who hears it.
The prince saves himself by hiding in a cave. Zoulvisia admits defeat and says the prince has proven himself worthy to become her husband. Welcoming him into her castle, she stands out on the balcony, lets down her golden hair, and pulls him up.
The Korean Hansel and Gretel end up becoming celestial bodies.
Fairy tales don’t have to be romantic to be popular. Stories like Hansel and Gretel, in which a brother and sister escape the clutches of a witch, teach the importance of family and avoiding life’s dangers. Similar stories appear all throughout the world, such as the Korean story of Sister Sun and Brother Moon.
The story begins with a widow and her son and daughter. One day while she is returning home from work, a tiger eats her and steals her clothes. Once at the children’s home, he manages to trick them into allowing him inside.
The children run outside, hide in a tree, and pray to heaven to rescue them. A golden chain falls from the sky and pulls up the children. The tiger asks for the same thing and another rope falls down to him, but it breaks while he’s climbing and he falls to his death.
Now that the brother and sister live in the sky, they become the spirits of the sun and the moon. In some versions, the tiger coughs up the mother and she becomes the evening star.
A Nauruan Jack (from the beanstalk story) is a girl who marries the moon.
Here’s a 2-in-one story for you: not only is there a girl who climbs a beanstalk (or well, a tree) like a certain famous Jack, the man in the moon is a lady as well.
In the story of Eigigu’s Tree, after leaving home, a young woman named Eigigu climbs a giant tree until she reaches a house in the sky where a blind woman named Enibarara resides. After being caught in the house, Eigigu offers to heal Enibarara’s eyes with a song. Enibarara is grateful and hides her from her 3 sons who she says are cannibals.
The 3 sons visit her and turn out to be personifications of the sun, thunder, and the moon. All 3 sons smell that a human is hiding in the house and the moon finds Eigigu. Enibarara tells them all how Eigigu healed her and now wants her to marry one of them. Eigigu chooses the moon and lives with him to this day.
In Japan, Beauty tricks the Beast and ends up an independent woman.
In the West, girls are told that they need to kiss a lot of frogs before they find Mr. Right. In some countries, however, the beast isn’t always a prince in disguise.
In the Japanese story of The Monkey Husband, a widower accidentally promises that one of his 3 daughters will marry a monkey. The 2 elder girls refuse to go along with such a request, but his youngest daughter eventually agrees to marry the monkey on one condition: she gets to bring the family prize mortar with her as a wedding present.
The daughter lives with the monkey for some time until she gets word that her father has fallen ill. She convinces the monkey to let her return home but on the condition that he goes with her. The daughter has the monkey carry the mortar filled with rice balls, which is so heavy it causes him to fall into a river along the way, allowing the daughter to return to her family as an independent woman.
In Norway, Puss in Boots is really an enchanted princess.
Whether you know him as Shrek’s best friend or Toei Animation’s mascot, Puss in Boots is a character that certainly gets around. However, he sometimes has a surprising backstory.
In the Norwegian fairy tale of Lord Peter, 3 brothers split up their parents’ inheritance and the youngest, Peter, is left with nothing but the cat. Luckily, the cat helps him pose as a lord and even gets in the king’s good graces.
Unfortunately, the king wants to visit Peter’s estate but the cat has a plan. She breaks into the castle of a neighboring troll and tricks him into walking out into the sunlight, killing him. The castle is now Peter’s. He impresses the king and the cat transforms into a beautiful woman. She reveals she’s actually a princess and the troll enchanted her. She and Peter marry and become king and queen of her realm.
In Italy, Aladdin is betrayed by his princess.
Getting to marry a prince or princess is a standard fairy tale ending, but it isn’t always a good thing. Rarely do we see stories where people are content living at home or with pets, but an Italian version of Aladdin is an exception to this rule.
In a story called Gigi and the Magic Ring, the hero, Gigi, has a wish-granting ring that he uses to help him marry a beautiful woman named Maliarda while also wishing for riches and a palace. Unfortunately, Gigi’s princess is not exactly what she seems — she steals the ring and uses it to banish him to a mountain while she keeps the palace all to herself.
Luckily for Gigi, he has a faithful pet cat and dog who are not letting this go without a fight. After various misadventures, they steal back the ring and Gigi uses it to trap the palace on top of a mountain, leaving Maliarda with nothing. Instead of moving back to the mansion, he ends up moving in with his mother and sister, locks up the magic ring, and keeps the money the ring brought him.
In Scotland, The Little Mermaid is a part horse but gets a happy ending.
While Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid was more or less an original story, he seemed to be greatly influenced by stories of mortals falling in love with water elementals. One similar story from Scotland manages to switch the genders of the main character and uses a creature far more bizarre than a mermaid.
In Scottish folklore, kelpies are horse-like monsters who live in lakes. They’re dangerous in most stories, but they can sometimes be friendly. In one story from Barra, The Kelpie and the Girl, a lonely kelpie boy falls in love with a pretty young girl and transforms into a handsome man in the hopes of marrying her.
Unfortunately, the girl recognizes him as a kelpie and does not realize he’s friendly, so she steals a magic necklace from him and forces him to turn into a land horse. She eventually takes him to a wise man who manages to settle the whole affair. Realizing the kelpie really does love her, she agrees to marry him. In order to stay human, he drinks a potion that strips him of his memory of being a kelpie, but they otherwise live happily ever after.
Do you know any weird fairy tales from around the world that you’d like to share with us? Let us know!