Fairytales usually have happy endings despite terrible things happening to the main characters like Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Snow-White and The Three Little Pigs. Then, there are classic stories that are so full of despair they can make children cry, but yet hope shines through and they become stories that children remember for the rest of their lives, because of the strong emotions stirred in the young readers at the time of reading. Here are three that I remember.
The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen
Heidi by Johanna Spyri
‘Since the day when Heidi had so longed to go home, and Fraulein Rottenmeier had met her and scolded her on the steps, and told her how wicked and ungrateful she was to try and run away, and what a good thing it was that Herr Sesemann knew nothing about it, a change had come over the child. She had at last understood that day that she could not go home when she wished as Dete had told her, but that she would have to stay on in Frankfurt for a long, long time, perhaps for ever. She had also understood that Herr Sesemann would think it ungrateful of her if she wished to leave, and she believed that the grandmother and Clara would think the same. So there was nobody to whom she dared confide her longing to go home, for she would not for the world have given the grandmother, who was so kind to her, any reason for being as angry with her as Fraulein Rottenmeier had been. But the weight of trouble on the little heart grew heavier and heavier; she could no longer eat her food, and every day she grew a little paler. She lay awake for long hours at night, for as soon as she was alone and everything was still around her, the picture of the mountain with its sunshine and flowers rose vividly before her eyes; and when at last she fell asleep it was to dream of the rocks and the snow-field turning crimson in the evening light, and waking in the morning she would think herself back at the hut and prepare to run joyfully out into–the sun–and then–there was her large bed, and here she was in Frankfurt far, far away from home. And Heidi would often lay her face down on the pillow and weep long and quietly so that no one might hear her.’https://www.cs.cmu.edu/~spok/heidi/heidi1.html
‘All around her the steep green slopes shone bright in the evening sun, and soon the great gleaming snow-field up above came in sight. Heidi was obliged to keep on pausing to look behind her, for the higher peaks were behind her as she climbed. Suddenly a warm red glow fell on the grass at her feet; she looked back again–she had not remembered how splendid it was, nor seen anything to compare to it in her dreams–for there the two high mountain peaks rose into the air like two great flames, the whole snow-field had turned crimson, and rosy-colored clouds floated in the sky above. The grass upon the mountain sides had turned to gold, the rocks were all aglow, and the whole valley was bathed in golden mist. And as Heidi stood gazing around her at all this splendor the tears ran down her cheeks for very delight and happiness, and impulsively she put her hands together, and lifting her eyes to heaven, thanked God aloud for having brought her home, thanked Him that everything was as beautiful as ever, more beautiful even than she had thought, and that it was all hers again once more.” And she was so overflowing with joy and thankfulness that she could not find words to thank Him enough. Not until the glory began to fade could she tear herself away. Then she ran on so quickly that in a very little while she caught sight of the tops of the fir trees above the hut roof, then the roof itself, and at last the whole hut, and there was grandfather sitting as in old days smoking his pipe, and she could see the fir trees waving in the wind. Quicker and quicker went her little feet, and before Alm-Uncle had time to see who was coming, Heidi had rushed up to him, thrown down her basket and flung her arms round his neck, unable in the excitement of seeing him again to say more than “Grandfather! grandfather! grandfather!” over and over again.’ https://www.cs.cmu.edu/~spok/heidi/heidi2.htm
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
‘It was Ginger! but how changed! The beautifully arched and glossy neck was now straight, and lank, and fallen in; the clean straight legs and delicate fetlocks were swelled; the joints were grown out of shape with hard work; the face, that was once so full of spirit and life, was now full of suffering, and I could tell by the heaving of her sides, and her frequent cough, how bad her breath was.
Our drivers were standing together a little way off, so I sidled up to her a step or two, that we might have a little quiet talk. It was a sad tale that she had to tell.
After a twelvemonth’s run off at Earlshall, she was considered to be fit for work again, and was sold to a gentleman. For a little while she got on very well, but after a longer gallop than usual the old strain returned, and after being rested and doctored she was again sold. In this way she changed hands several times, but always getting lower down.
“And so at last,” said she, “I was bought by a man who keeps a number of cabs and horses, and lets them out. You look well off, and I am glad of it, but I could not tell you what my life has been. When they found out my weakness they said I was not worth what they gave for me, and that I must go into one of the low cabs, and just be used up; that is what they are doing, whipping and working with never one thought of what I suffer—they paid for me, and must get it out of me, they say. The man who hires me now pays a deal of money to the owner every day, and so he has to get it out of me too; and so it’s all the week round and round, with never a Sunday rest.”
I said, “You used to stand up for yourself if you were ill-used.”
“Ah!” she said, “I did once, but it’s no use; men are strongest, and if they are cruel and have no feeling, there is nothing that we can do, but just bear it—bear it on and on to the end. I wish the end was come, I wish I was dead. I have seen dead horses, and I am sure they do not suffer pain; I wish I may drop down dead at my work, and not be sent off to the knackers.”
I was very much troubled, and I put my nose up to hers, but I could say nothing to comfort her. I think she was pleased to see me, for she said, “You are the only friend I ever had.”
Just then her driver came up, and with a tug at her mouth backed her out of the line and drove off, leaving me very sad indeed.
A short time after this a cart with a dead horse in it passed our cab-stand. The head hung out of the cart-tail, the lifeless tongue was slowly dropping with blood; and the sunken eyes! but I can’t speak of them, the sight was too dreadful. It was a chestnut horse with a long, thin neck. I saw a white streak down the forehead. I believe it was Ginger; I hoped it was, for then her troubles would be over. Oh! if men were more merciful they would shoot us before we came to such misery.’
‘I was led to my new home, placed in a comfortable stable, fed, and left to myself. The next day, when the groom was cleaning my face, he said:
“That is just like the star that ‘Black Beauty’ had; he is much the same height, too. I wonder where he is now.”
A little further on he came to the place in my neck where I was bled and where a little knot was left in the skin. He almost started, and began to look me over carefully, talking to himself.
“White star in the forehead, one white foot on the off side, this little knot just in that place;” then looking at the middle of my back—”and, as I am alive, there is that little patch of white hair that John used to call ‘Beauty’s three-penny bit’. It must be ‘Black Beauty’! Why, Beauty! Beauty! do you know me?—little Joe Green, that almost killed you?” And he began patting and patting me as if he was quite overjoyed.
I could not say that I remembered him, for now he was a fine grown young fellow, with black whiskers and a man’s voice, but I was sure he knew me, and that he was Joe Green, and I was very glad. I put my nose up to him, and tried to say that we were friends. I never saw a man so pleased.
“Give you a fair trial! I should think so indeed! I wonder who the rascal was that broke your knees, my old Beauty! you must have been badly served out somewhere; well, well, it won’t be my fault if you haven’t good times of it now. I wish John Manly was here to see you.”
In the afternoon I was put into a low park chair and brought to the door. Miss Ellen was going to try me, and Green went with her. I soon found that she was a good driver, and she seemed pleased with my paces. I heard Joe telling her about me, and that he was sure I was Squire Gordon’s old “Black Beauty”.
When we returned the other sisters came out to hear how I had behaved myself. She told them what she had just heard, and said:
“I shall certainly write to Mrs. Gordon, and tell her that her favorite horse has come to us. How pleased she will be!”
After this I was driven every day for a week or so, and as I appeared to be quite safe, Miss Lavinia at last ventured out in the small close carriage. After this it was quite decided to keep me and call me by my old name of “Black Beauty”.
I have now lived in this happy place a whole year. Joe is the best and kindest of grooms. My work is easy and pleasant, and I feel my strength and spirits all coming back again. Mr. Thoroughgood said to Joe the other day:
“In your place he will last till he is twenty years old—perhaps more.”
Willie always speaks to me when he can, and treats me as his special friend. My ladies have promised that I shall never be sold, and so I have nothing to fear; and here my story ends. My troubles are all over, and I am at home; and often before I am quite awake, I fancy I am still in the orchard at Birtwick, standing with my old friends under the apple-trees.’