By Jacque Scott
I grew up loving ‘fairy tales’. The Brothers Grimm tales were my favorites. I find that today’s mothers don’t read fairy tales to their little ones like my mother read to me. Parents and educators often scorn the much-loved tales of our childhoods in present day. Let’s see what we can find out about fairy tales.
Put simply, fairy tales are just stories featuring folkloric characters such as fairies, goblins, elves, trolls, giants, talking animals and others. These stories usually involve royalty of some kind and often have a happy ending. Unlike earlier legends and epics, fairy tales rarely have references to religion, and actual people, places or events.
One universally agreed on definition of a fairy tale is that the story does not have to depend on the presence of fairies in the tale. Talking animals and magic seem to be more common than fairies themselves.
In 1977, a folklorist by the name of Stith Thompson wrote that fairy tales “move in an unreal world without definite locality or definite creatures and are filled with the marvelous. In this never-never land humble heroes kill adversaries, succeed to kingdoms and marry princesses.”
Prior to the definition of the genre of ‘fantasy’, many works that are now called fantasy were termed ‘fairy tales’ such as Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’, or George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’, or L. Frank Baum’s ‘The wonderful World of Oz’.
The fairy tale was originally orally told rather than written down. Therefore the history of the fairy tale is obscure at times. Illiterate peoples may have told stories long before there were any written records of the tales. The oldest written fairy tales seem to have come from ancient Egypt.
The fairy tale, as orally told, is a sub-class of the folktale. The Brothers Grimm were the first to preserve the plot and characters of the oral tale as well as its features even though they often re-worked the fairy tales for literary effect. Some were re-written to make them more acceptable for higher sales and lasting popularity. The fairy tale itself became popular among the upper classes of France. Conte Charles Perrault is given credit for fixing the forms of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and ‘Cinderella’.
The Brothers Grimm rejected several tales for their collection, although they were told orally to them, because they derived from Perrault. The tale of Briar Rose was only included after Jacob Grimm convinced his brother that the figure of Brynhild proved that the sleeping princess was really German folklore.
Originally, adults were as much as audience of a fairy tale as were children. Literary fairy tales appeared in works to be read by adults. It was only in the 19th and 20th centuries that fairy tales became associated with children’s literature.
In later versions of ancient fairy tales, moral lessons and happy endings became necessary. The villain was usually punished. The tales were altered so that they could be read to children. The Brothers Grimm concentrated on omitting sexual references and violence.
According to the 2004 poll of 1,200 children by UCI Cinemas, the most popular fairy tales in the USA are:
- Sleeping Beauty
- Hansel and Gretel
- Little Red Riding Hood
- Little Mermaid
- Town Musicians
In addition, stories like ‘Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp’ and ‘Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves’ are often classified as fairy tales.
G. K. Chesterton wrote “Fairy tales are more than true – not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”
So we know a bit more about fairy tales… I think that I am going to get out my old Grimm’s fairy tale book and start reading to my Grandkids…God bless you.