7 twisted fairy tales to send shivers down your spine

Published on: 10 January 2019 Author: Samuel J. Halpin

The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods is a brilliant new story about two children determined to unravel the mysterious occurrences taking place in their town - and the creepy woods nearby.

We asked the book's author Samuel J Halpin to share the 7 twisted fairy tales that inspired him...

The cover of The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods

Tales of witches, warlocks, ghouls, dragons and spectres fill my bookshelves to bursting point - I simply cannot get enough of them. I'm sure sooner or later someone is going to sit me down, look at me very seriously and say, 'We need to talk about your little problem, Samuel. The fairy tale book problem.'

My new book, The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods, which is finally hitting the shelves this very minute, is largely inspired by strange, twisting and tangled fairy tales that I've read over the years. As such, I thought I'd give you a rundown of my top 7spine-tingling fairy tales for your horror and delight...

1. Pengersec and the Witch of Fraddom

This is an obscure little tale whose protagonist is also known as Pengerswick, depending on which version you happen to pick up. His antagonist, the Witch of Fraddom, is a malevolent creature who is continually conjuring up devilish ways to destroy Pengersec until she is eventually banished to float up and down on the tides.

She is said to still float along the Cornish coast, where she stirs up tumultuous sea storms from inside her wooden tub or, in some retellings, from a coffin. My favourite version is tucked into a wondrous old volume called Fairy Tales from the British Isles, collected and written by Amabel Williams-Ellis.

The cover of Fairy Tales from the British Isles

Illustration: Pauline Diana Baynes

2. The Bean-Nighe

This one's not so much a fairy tale as a myth that has spawned many curious stories of its own. The bean-nighe - Gaelic for washerwoman - is a female spirit that haunts remote streams, crouching at the water's edge and washing the clothes of those about to die. The moral of the story: don't leave your washing lying about.

3. The Witches and the Singing Mice

The retelling I love of this highland fairytale is written by Jenny Nimmo and illustrated by the inimitable Angela Barrett. As a kid, this one spooked me out no end. In a lonely strip of the highlands, two cats set out to save the village children who have fallen under a sleeping curse placed on them by the three strange women who have moved onto the hilltop above the town. If you sleep too much, just have a quick flit through this little book and I guarantee you won't so much as blink for a week.

The cover of The Witches and the Singing Mice

Illustration: Angela Barrett

4. Mr. Miacca

This one is not widely regarded as a fairy tale as such, but it was collected by Joseph Jacobs in English Fairy Tales. It's about a boy called Tommy who is continuously caught by Mr. Miacca, a man who eats children. Every time he gets caught, Tommy tells Mrs. Miacca, the wife, that his mother has some pudding at home. Mrs. Miacca is greedy for pudding and sends Tommy off to get some for her, but Tommy never comes back.

This goes on for a while until one day, Mrs. Miacca clues on to Tommy's trick and Tommy is forced to cut off the leg of a couch and pretend it's his own before escaping.

Truth be told, I can hardly write this for quivering.

5. The Changeling

I found this particular retelling in the same favourite book I did Pengersec. In this story, a mother has a baby which suddenly stops growing and becomes very thin and cries a lot. She is convinced that the baby is in fact not her own and has been swapped by mischievous fairies. When the woman's son comes home from the wars, he undertakes to perform some very strange magic in order to bring the baby back from fairyland. This one still makes the hairs on the back of my neck march. Imagine if someone you knew had been swapped out by some sinister fairies?

6. Kate Crackernuts

Have you heard the tale of Kate Crackernuts? The original one where a prince is forced to dance all night by fairies rendering him an invalid throughout the day? Bonkers. Absolutely, spine-rattlingly bonkers.

Also, a girl's head falls off into a breadbin and is replaced by a sheep's head.

Yes, I needed to re-read that last sentence too.

7. Smok Wawelski (The Dragon of Wawel)

Smok Wawelski is a Polish fairytale which takes place in Krakow during the reign of King Krakus. In a cave in the foot of Wawel Hill, right on the banks of the Vistula, lives a loathsome dragon who eats townspeople if he isn't appeased with livestock. This goes on for many years until a cobbler named Skuba has the idea to stuff a calf skin with smouldering sulphur, which the dragon gobbles up. When he becomes unquenchably thirsty, he drinks all of the water in the Vistula and becomes so bloated that he dies. Dragons do make my spine tingle – but in a much more heart-pounding, adrenaline-churning type way. You too? I thought as much.

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