Fairy Tale Fodder?
July 25, 2012 9:42 PM   Subscribe

What are some common folk/fairy tales which feature horrible suffering (death/torture) of unnamed, minor characters?

Ideally the story victim(s) should meet MOST or ALL of the following criteria:

-Any age or gender is fine, but preference goes to adult females on the young-ish side.

-Human, in a story populated mostly by humans (not talking animals)

-Aside from their death/torture, they are fairly inconsequential to the plot -- they are essentially fodder whose only narrative purpose is to suffer (e.g. to demonstrate the villain's cruelty or the protagonist's imminent danger). Possibly they are never even mentioned outside of this context.

-Ideally they have no name, but may be referred to in a general sense (Huntsman, Girl, Villager). I would also accept a collective of victims (e.g. an entire village destroyed by an evil sorcerer)

-The event of their death/torture should be mentioned in the story (not simply implied by the villain's reputation, a pile of bones, etc.).

-However, the event doesn't have to be narrated in detail -- the following is enough: "X warned Y to avoid the dark castle because many travelling merchants have mysteriously disappeared along that path." In this case, each "Traveling Merchant" is a fodder-victim that would suit my question.

-The victim(s) should be fairly innocent and undeserving of their fate (that we know of). However, I'd accept a victim who dies as the result of association with the villain (e.g. a castle guard who is killed when the villain's castle is destroyed), as long as the victim's death is specifically mentioned (not just implied) and the victim has not participated explicitly in villanous activity.

-The story shouldn't be *too* obscure. A lesser-known folk tale from Grimm, H.C. Anderson, 1001 Nights, etc. is fine, but I'd prefer to avoid stories that aren't somewhat widespread.

Incidentally, this is for a writing project. (I'm not a serial killer looking for inspiration!)
posted by Alabaster to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
In the original version of Little Red Riding Hood, Grandma is eaten by the wolf and she stays dead.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:40 PM on July 25, 2012

Do the 30 thanes eaten by Grendel near the beginning of Beowulf count?
posted by treblemaker at 10:52 PM on July 25, 2012

Bluebeard's murdered wives.
posted by snorkmaiden at 10:56 PM on July 25, 2012

In one of the Grimm's Fairy Tales, they put someone in a barrel and sealed it, then hammered nails into the barrel all up and down the sides, and rolled it down a hill. That still freaks me out.
posted by timsteil at 12:04 AM on July 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

The other children enticed by the witch's gingerbread cottage in Hansel and Gretel. Hansel even proffers a bone as his "finger" to fool the witch into fattening him up. Sometimes this is a chicken bone, but in other retellings, this is the finger bone of another, less fortunate child.
posted by clerestory at 12:05 AM on July 26, 2012

Arguably the entire "plot" of Struwwelpeter is a sequence of inconsequential minor characters having horrible things happen to them.
posted by cromagnon at 4:57 AM on July 26, 2012

I'm not sure if The Oddysey meets your requirements, but if it does there are all of the prior victims of the sirens.

Also from the Greeks we have all of the prior victims of the Minotaur.

The Iliad includes the story of Agamemnon sacrificing his daughter Iphigenia in return for a wind to keep his fleet moving.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:14 AM on July 26, 2012

In the Robber Bridegroom, a Grimm's fairy tale, a unnamed young woman is eaten by the bridegroom and his band of men to show how terrible he is. Her finger and gold ring survive as evidence for the bride to convict the groom of murder and cannibalism.
posted by ceramicblue at 6:05 AM on July 26, 2012

Are ballads acceptable?
At the beginning of Tam Lin, young ladies are forbidden to go to Carterhaugh because the young ladies who meet Tam Lin must give him either "a ring, or their green mantle, or else their madienhead".
In the Elf Knight/Lady Isobel, the elf knight has killed six (sometimes seven) ladies before, and intends Isobel to be the seventh/eighth. This is a pretty common, theme, actually.
posted by Adridne at 6:44 AM on July 26, 2012

Every single fairy tale in its original form (esp. Grimm's) has some horrific aspect to it
posted by MangyCarface at 6:50 AM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Candide has a lot of suffering and torment of the main characters, but I'm sure there are also some minor characters that fit your bill as well.
posted by bessel functions seem unnecessarily complicated at 7:04 AM on July 26, 2012

This might be too much of a stretch for your project, but these situations remind me of the "redshirt" ensigns in the original Star Trek series that die after beaming down to a planet, just to demonstrate that, yes, it's really dangerous. Memory Alpha has a list of episodes featuring redshirts.

You might find some useful references in the TV Tropes entries for Redshirt, Sacrificial Lamb, and Anyone Can Die. If you're not familiar with TV Tropes, the site covers examples from media other than TV. You're probably most interested in the examples listed under the heading "literature".

Related information can be found in the Wikipedia entries for Cannon Fodder and Sacrificial Lamb.
posted by Boxenmacher at 7:43 AM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

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