Mistaken identity is a popular theme in fairy tales. Satan mistook a rat tail for a delicious child finger in The Lost Children, and in the Italian folk-nightmare The Flayed Old Lady, a King mistakes two bloated old biddies for beautiful maidens. Granted, his highness only heard their voices behind a large wall, but he nevertheless assumed they had be like at least a solid 8, maybe 8.5 out of 10. One of the two elderly sisters hatched a plot that was an eerie mirror of Jean and Jeannete's escape plan -- she soaked her finger in water for a few days to make it plump and tender, like uh, the finger that a young woman might have (???). When he saw it poke out of a keyhole, the king was absolutely delighted.
People were into that sort of thing in those days, I guess.
The king made it clear that he was all about a nighttime rendevouz with this mysterious plump-fingered damsel. To prepare for her date, the old lady gave her whole body a facelift, tied her loose and baggy skin behind her back and enforced a strict "lights-out" rule when it came to copulation.
Upon seeing her wizened face by candlelight, the king flew into a rage, unable to reconcile the fact that he actually enjoyed having sex with someone close to his own age. The old lady was promptly pitched out of the window for her deceit. Thankfully, her old baggy skin ensured that she was caught in the tree. Even thankfully-er, a few fairies happened to fly by.
For a laugh, the fairies decide to help out the old woman. They took her out of the tree and transformed her into a comely young woman, just because they could. You'd think this would be the part where the king would beg to take the "old" woman back and she'd refuse on the grounds that he's a huge asshole who tried to murder her, but nope! The newly-young lady was thrilled to be welcomed into the royal family. Like the rest of these fucked up fables, the "hero" remained dependent on a malevolent psychopath.
The couple's subsequent marriage enraged the old woman's sister, who couldn't believe her own misfortune. The sister went to a barber in order to be flayed alive, in hopes that a beauty like her sister's might be lurking underneath her sagging skin. Naturally, Sister 2 soon goes into shock as the life is drained from her and, depending on which version you read, proceeds to let out one long sputtering blood fart before she dies.
I can't really follow that up. We should really just move on.
Written by Heinrich Hoffman in 1845, the consonant-resplendent Struwwelpeter features a series of increasingly horrific children's stories. After reading just a few of these cautionary tales, it becomes clear that this was written not to entertain children, but to traumatize them into ceasing to annoy their strict German parents.
Above you can see the climax of The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb, in which a Clock Tower villain chases after a little boy. For the crime of sucking his thumb as a coping device, LSaT was sentenced to have his opposable digits cut off by a hedge clipper-wielding maniac.
If you think that's bad, you should see what happens to the boy who doesn't eat his soup.
The Story of Augustus, Who Would Not Have Any Soup plays out like a Stephen King story, as a picky boy who refuses his dinner quickly wastes away, eventually dying of emaciation.
That's right, kids do die in these stories, and it's pretty much always their fault.
Poor Harriet didn't fully understand the dangers of playing with matches, but she never got a second chance. When her pyro playtime went wrong, her polyester Polyanna outfit caught fire and she was immolated with haste. Her cats watched helplessly, and then cried over her remaining ashes. The story urges us to believe that Harriet deserved to die because of her stupidity.
There's a tale for pretty much anything that might annoy a parent. Cry too much? Your eyes melt and shoot out of your head. Play outside with boys? You'll break your leg so bad it'll fall off. Enjoy your sweets? Hope you like BEES ALL OVER YOUR FACE!
In the century and a half since, parents have turned to positive reinforcement, with the promise of Santa Claus' presents being a driving force for good behavior. It follows the line of thinking that "You catch more flies with honey than vinegar." But you know what catches more flies than honey? A festering human corpse.