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Literature / Bluebeard

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"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 Bluebeard, 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 or "King Bluebeard" (Online version here). (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.

Despite what Bart Simpson may tell you, the titular character is not a pirate.

Bluebeard and variations contain the following tropes:

  • An Aesop: Perrault leaves comments at the end of the tale about the moral within.
    • Mr. Fox has a recurring rhyme which acts as the Aesop of that version:
      "Be bold, be bold, but not too bold,
      Lest your heart’s blood should run cold."
  • Beard of Evil: The title character.
  • Big Bad: The titular Bluebeard turns out to be a serial wife murderer and intends on making the protagonist his next victim.
  • Big Damn Heroes: The relatives, if they arrive in the nick of time.
  • The Bluebeard: Trope Namer, about the man who is discovered to have killed his previous wives for money and stuffed their bodies in his secret room.
  • Bowdlerize: One version of the tale from the Indian comic "Tinkle Digest" changes Bluebeard's wives to his maids, and instead of being killed they are changed into statues. The main characters are sisters who are worried that their sister Elsa went missing after going to work for Bluebeard for a month; they decide to take the job to find out what happened to Elsa. Their older brother goes to get help from the army, and will arrive back in a month. He arrives just in time to save his little sisters, and when Bluebeard dies all of his statues turn back into normal women.
  • Broken Aesop: Perrault tries to explain that the curiosity is a flaw... but in almost every version the lady survives, finds out her husband is a serial murderer, escapes him and ends up marrying a better guy.
    • The text itself also makes it clear that the lady has a gut feeling that something is off about Bluebeard, but allows his courtly graces to convince her she should discard these instincts and marry him anyway. And when he first gives her the key, she has another gut feeling that something is wrong, and she has to open the door to find out what it is. Doing so saves her life in the long run. The obvious moral seems to be, "Trust your instincts," yet the stated moral at the end seems to take the opposite view.
    • The moral of the story is that Bluebeard's wife should have been obedient to her husband and she would've been okay. Except that had she been obedient and not looked in the room she would never have discovered that her husband was a Serial Killer and probably would've been killed, so in this case the wife not being obedient to her husband was a very good thing.
  • The Cavalry: The wife's brothers in Perrault's version. They arrive right in time to save her and kill Bluebeard.
  • Damsel in Distress: The wife, as she stalls for time as her relatives approach.
  • Deus ex Machina:
    • The woman's relatives seem to show up out of nowhere, to kill Bluebeard at the very last minute.
    • In the Georges Méliès film version, a good fairy brings the dead brides back to life.
    • Averted in the "Mr. Fox" variation, where it makes sense that her relatives are there to save her. She waits to expose Mr. Fox until she, he, and the rest of her family and suitors are at her pre-wedding breakfast.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: In one regional variant, the girl escapes, a furious Bluebeard goes in search of her for three months... and then gets killed by a werewolf, which was in no way set up beforehand.
  • Egg Sitting: In "Fitcher's Bird", the sorcerer Fitze Fitcher carries young women and gives them an egg, then tells them to carry it everywhere except the sorcerer's room and to be very careful with it for a few days before he can marry them. Failure to pass the test results in the women getting dismembered.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: A lot of versions have some awfully graphic descriptions of the murdered women when the heroine finds them.
  • Faux Affably Evil: The title character seems nice enough at first... then we learn he's a Serial Killer.
  • Forbidden Fruit: The forbidden chamber.
  • Idiot Ball: Good grief, why would the murderer give his wife a key to the room that he's desperate to keep a secret?
    • In many versions, the key is a Secret Test of Character that the wife inevitably fails. This gives Bluebeard the thin excuse of killing them because he can't trust them.
    • In some versions, the wife discovers the secret room while throwing a party. So why doesn't she leave with her friends when they depart or at the very least tell them what she saw so they can send for help?
  • Interplay of Sex and Violence: In some versions, instead of the wife's making increasingly feeble pleas for Bluebeard to hold off murdering her a little longer (and his inexplicably granting her a respite each time long enough for the Deus ex Machina to occur), the tale has the more clever device of having her ask him to wait while she puts on various parts of her wedding dress. Due to an ancient version of this trope, this tricks Bluebeard into thinking that she's preparing for an imminent marriage to Death, i.e. that she's resigned to dying and just insists on doing it with honor; which he decides to allow because he's rather Wicked Cultured that way.
  • Off With Her Head!: In some versions of the story, the wife doesn't find the bodies of her predecessors, but only their severed heads, all lined up in the cupboard.
  • Peek-a-Boo Corpse: Several of them. This is the story of Bluebeard and the corpses of his many murdered wives in the closet.
  • Red Right Hand: The antagonist's color of his facial hair is blue.
  • Remember the New Guy?: The wife's sister, Anne, randomly shows up at the castle during the climax to call for their brothers to comes rescue them despite the fact she was never mentioned previously in the story.
  • Rule of Three: In "Fitcher's Bird", the heroine is preceded by her two sisters, both of whom are caught peeking and killed.
  • Schmuck Bait: "You can open any door in the castle, but not that one." Right. Now, guess what she does next....
  • Serial Killer: Bluebeard has murdered all his previous wives for disobeying him.
  • The Sociopath: Implied. Bluebard is superficially charming in public (known for his generosity and courtly graces), but behind closed doors he rather coldly and casually murders his many wives over the smallest disobediences or missteps, then stuffs their rotting corpses in a single room in the main manor in front of his next wife.
  • Spirit Advisor: In one version, the ghosts of Bluebeard's previous wives help the girl escape with the same instruments that Bluebeard used to kill them.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Bluebeard's blue beard puts people off. But his wealth and apparent generosity keeps getting him young, beautiful wives from time to time.
  • Villain Has a Point: The story does point out that it was wrong of Bluebeard's wives to break their promise to him, which is even treated as an aesop in some tellings. Not that it justifies murdering them or makes him any less of a monster.
  • Wealthy Ever After: The wife is Bluebeard's only heir.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Some versions of the text mention that the wife invites friends over and is having a party when she goes down to the cellar and discovers Bluebeard's secret. During the climax the friends inexplicably disappear from the castle and don't appear in the story again despite the fact they were there when the wife went downstairs.

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

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  • Appears as episode 16 of the anime Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics. Based on the Brothers Grimm's retelling. It also expands the story a little: Bluebeard is redesigned to look like the aforementioned Henry VIII, the girl is named Josephine and her origins are shown (she's a humble peasant girl, implied to have been raised and very sheltered by her three big brothers), her first days at the manse is shown, etc. It's also infamous for its very creepy imagery including the wives' corpses mounted as trophies in the forbidden room, white roses that turn red when Josephine gets inside, etc.

    Comic Books 
  • Much like many other fairy tale/fable characters, Bluebeard was a prominent character in the comic book series Fables for several story arcs.
  • Grim Fairy Tales has a version of the fairy tale where Bluebeard's forbidden chamber had a different reason for being restricted than initially believed by his bride.
  • 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.

  • Blue Beard, a 1901 French silent film based on the fairy tale by George Méliès.
  • Bluebeard (1944), a film noir based on the fairy tale featuring a murderous artist played by John Carradine.
  • Bluebeard's Ten Honeymoons, a 1960 British thriller movie directed by W. Lee Wilder and starring George Sanders.
  • Bluebeard (1972) is loosely based on the tale, its setting changed to 1930s Austria and the titular character being a World War 1 veteran pilot.
  • Barbe Bleue, a 2009 Euroshlock fantasy film directed by Catherine Breillat.
  • Elizabeth Harvest a 2018 sci-fi horror film directed by Sebastian Guiterrez that takes a modern approach to the tale.

  • Kurt Vonnegut's 1987 novel Bluebeard takes the fairy tale as inspiration.
  • The story The Bloody Chamber in British author Angela Carter's fairy tale anthology of the same name is based on the story of Bluebeard, with the heroine's rescue coming at the hands of her formidable mother.
  • In the horror novel Dove Keeper, the villain, Gilles de Rais, is constantly compared to Bluebeard because of his crimes.
  • Ursula Vernon's short story "Bluebeard's Wife" (in which Bluebeard marries a woman who grew up in a nosy family and consequently determines that if he wants his own private space she's not going to intrude) and novel The Seventh Bride (in which the Bluebeard character is a sorcerer and the price for failing his tests is not so simple as death).
  • "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.)

    Fairy Tales 
  • 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 the dead or heal wounds but kill the patient). He also ends up storing the corpses next to kegs. The third girl resurrects her sisters, tricks the bear into carrying them all home and arranges the accident that kills him.

  • The ballad "Bridegroom" by Alexander Pushkin is similar to the "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.


    Live-Action TV 
  • The Grimm episode Lonelyhearts builds its main plot around a (very loose) interpretation of the Bluebeard story.

  • Sound Horizon's song "Aoki Hakushaku no Shiro" on their Marchen album is based around this story. In a small twist, the story is told from the perspective of the ghost of his first wife.

  • 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.
  • The musical being staged on the night of the 1903 Iroquois theater fire in Chicago was a very loose adaptation of the folk tale which turned it into a musical comedy. Entitled Mr Bluebeard, it moved the action to a heavily exoticized version of Baghdad, not that this stopped the show including Irish charmers, a number about Hamlet and a platoon of singing Hussars, or paying a whistle-stop tour of India and Japan. The characters had stock foreign names like Fatima, Abulim, Beco, Zoli and, most bafflingly of all, Anne. Even by the standards of the time it wasn't considered a very good show, and the fire is probably the only reason anyone remembers Mr Bluebeard at all. A play based on the events of the fire as told by a group of singed ghostly performers, Burning Bluebeard, has been staged annually in Chicago since 2011.

    Theme Parks 
  • 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

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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.
  • The Tabletop Game Bluebeard's Bride casts the players in the roles of the Bride's fragmented personalities as she explores the castle's rooms and decides whether what she finds in them (which is typically horrific) increases or decreases her suspicions about her husband, which influences her ultimate fate when she reaches the room he forbade her to enter.

    Video Games 
  • Bluebeard's Castle is a hidden object game based on the fairy tale, where the heroine saves her sister from becoming the next victim. Its sequel, Son of the Heartless, follows the villain's son who seeks to end the curse his father's bargain brought on him.
  • Dark Parables has a bonus game in Little Mermaid and the Purple Tide where Bluebeard is the antagonist of the story. However, the reason for murdering his wives is far different from his literary counterpart.
  • A younger Saber version of Gilles appears in Fate/Grand Order and, being a mostly moral man, is offended by the "Bluebeard" moniker.
  • Bluebeard also appears in The Wolf Among Us, with it being based on the comics.

    Visual Novels 

    Western Animation 
  • 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, and he's saved when a mouse tricks Bluebeard into eating bombs disguised as popovers.)

  • A Russian cartoon exists that toys with the story: Bluebeard tells everything to a modern detective. His first wife was a dopey party girl, whom he accidentally set on fire, stepping on her pet dragon's tail. The second wife was a snobbish health nut, who starved Bluebeard and accidentally poisoned herself by eating a toadstool that Bluebeard was going to eat (believing it to be edible). The third (and final) bride was an adulteress, who had her lover kill Bluebeard when he accidentally walked in on them (Bluebeard seems to have survived, however, as he is telling this). Presumably, she made up the fairy tale to save face. The weird thing was: before each death Bluebeard quickly grew an elbow-long blue beard. Then the detective's wife throws a jealous fit and the detective grows a blue beard bigger than his car.
    Sorry, Love, it was an accident.