Literature: Bluebeard

"At first she saw nothing, for the windows were closed, but after a few moments she perceived dimly that the floor was entirely covered with clotted blood, and that in this there were reflected the dead bodies of several women that hung along the walls. These were all the wives of Blue Beard, whose throats he had cut, one after the other."

An old French Folktale (online version here) written as La Barbe Bleue ("The Blue Beard") by Charles Perrault in 1697, which later found its way into the Grimms' first edition of 1812 as König Blaubart ("King Bluebeard"). (In various versions of the fairy tale the eponymous man is a king, sometimes a knight or other rich person.) The story starts with a rich gentleman, who is a widower, asking for the hand of a fair young maiden in marriage. After the wedding, he gives her a key-ring with the keys to all the doors of his mansion (or palace), with the request that if she loves him she must never, ever, ever use the golden key to open a certain door in the house.

Then he leaves the house on business, sometimes for days at a time, and the woman gets bored and eaten up with curiosity about the door she is not supposed to open, so finally she goes and opens it. (In some versions Bluebeard merely points out the key as forbidden, and the woman tries the key in all the doors of the house until she finds the right chamber.) When she opens the door, she finds the blood-spattered dead bodies of all the former wives of Bluebeard who he murdered for their money. She flees in horror and tries to act as if nothing happened, but when Bluebeard returns he invariably finds out what she has done, one way or the other (sometimes by finding traces of blood on her shoes or the key she dropped in fright), and threatens to kill her, too, for betraying his trust. Depending on the version of the tale, she is saved by the arrival of her relatives who kill Bluebeard, or, after having been locked up, manages to flee and alert the authorities.

A second Grimm variant, "Fitcher's Bird", indicates that the woman was only wrong insofar as she got caught. The heroine in "Fitcher's Bird" also "betrays his trust" to find the bodies of her sisters, but does so in a manner that he cannot detect, and therefore ultimately comes out on top.

An English version of the story, "Mr. Fox", has the heroine witness the villain murdering a previous bride, and confronting him at the wedding breakfast with the severed hand of the unfortunate lady. Shakespeare, in Much Ado About Nothing, makes a reference to the recurrent rhyme in this version:
For it is not so, and it was not so,
And God forbid that it should be so!

This story has given name to a specific kind of Serial Killer, "The Bluebeard," who kills a succession of wives.

Is not a pirate.

Bluebeard and variations contain the following tropes:

Adaptions of the tale or appearances of the character in other works:

  • Much like many other fairy tale/fable characters, Bluebeard was a prominent character in the comic book series Fables for several story arcs.
  • Suske en Wiske: Tante Sidonia unknowingly gets engaged with him in De Briesende Bruid, yet Lambik and Jerom manage to arrive in the nick of time to defeat him.
  • "The White Road" by Neil Gaiman is a version of the "Mr. Fox" variant, with a twist - Mr. Fox may be innocent, having been framed by a kitsune. (That said, it's very ambiguous if you read the story closely.)
  • Appears as episode 16 of the anime Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics. Based on the Brothers Grimm's retelling, here the girl is named Josephine.
  • Kurt Vonnegut's 1987 novel Bluebeard takes the fairy tale as inspiration.
  • The Grimm episode Lonelyhearts builds its main plot around a (very loose) interpretation of the Bluebeard story.
  • Track 7 of Sound Horizon's Märchen is based on this fairy tale.
  • The Caster class of Servant in Fate/Zero is Gilles de Rais (the inspiration for the story), who refers to himself as Bluebeard.
  • Sound Horizon's song "Aoki Hakushaku no Shiro" on their Marchen album is based around this story.
  • A ballad Bridegroom by Alexander Pushkin is similar to "Mr.Fox" version. A merchant's daughter got lost in the woods and came back 3 days later after experiencing something horrible, which she refuses to tell. Later she is forced to marry some man she is afraid of. At the wedding she retells a nightmare, where she stumbles upon a strange house, hides and watches a wedding of a bandit leader that ends with the bride's murder and chopping her hand off. Then she asks her groom if he recognizes the ring from that hand. The groom is promptly arrested, tried and executed.
  • Russian folktale The Cat with the Golden Tail replaces Bluebeard with a bear, who kidnaps girls and forces them to live in his house as his wife and housekeeper. He murders them for entering a forbidden storehouse with kegs of magic liquids (that can turn anything to gold, to silver, resurrect dead or heal wounds but kill the patient). He also ends up storing the corpses next to kegs.note 
  • A Russian cartoon exists that toys with the story. Bluebeard's first wife was a dopey party girl who accidentally set herself on fire. The second wife was a snob who starved Bluebeard, and accidentally poisoned herself by eating a toadstool that Bluebeard was going to eat (believing it to be a mushroom). The third (and presumably final) bride was an adulteress and had her secret lover kill Bluebeard when he accidentally walked in on them (Bluebeard seems to have survived, however, as he is telling this to the narrator). Presumably, she made up the fairy tale to save face.
  • Hungarian opera Blubeard's Castle (or Duke Blubeard's Castle) by Béla Bartók and its TV and cinema adaptations stray rather far from the original into symbolism bordering Mind Screw. Blubeard shows his fourth wife the rooms of his castle, one by one, uncovering depths of his psyche. The doors may just as well be portals to someplace else and from the last room emerge three previous wives — still alive and well — who take the new one with them.
  • Bluebeard is a darklord in the Ravenloft setting for Dungeons & Dragons, and featured in the first anthology. Mr. Fox also appears as a bogeyman in the Dark Tales and Disturbing Legends supplement.
  • A villain named Bluebeard appeared in the 1949 Porky Pig short "Bye Bye Bluebeard", where he was wolf-like and did, indeed, have a blue beard. (He was far more evil than most Looney Tunes villains, tying poor Porky up and building a guillotine to use on him. Fortunately for Porky, this version is a Villainous Glutton who is saved when a mouse tricks him into eating bombs disguised as popovers.
  • A memorial outside the exit to The Haunted Mansion (at least the Orlando version) is dedicated to Bluebeard and his "Loving Wives":
    Seven winsome wives
    Some fat some thin
    Six of them were faithful
    The seventh did him in