What is a Fairy Tale?
Literature - the doorway to reading.
What Is a Fairy Tale?
Best Definition of Fairy Tales
A fairy tale is a story - usually for children - which includes these three elements:
Where Did Fairy Tales Come From?
Fairy tales are a part of folk-lore and the oral tradition of many of these tale reach back quite a few centuries.
They have a semi-midieval theme: hence the castles and princes. But they actually pre-date the Middle Ages. You will note:
Poor hungry pheasants desired nothing greater than a prince to marry their daughter and improve their lot in life. (Today, many dream of winning the lottery to fulfill the same desire.)
Even the more "modern" fairy tales imitate the genre of this older, dark era.
Characters in Fairy Tales
I loved fairy tales as a kid. The princesses, the castles, the beauty and adventure.
Then I grew up and read them as an adult. Excuse me! My mother read this stuff to me when I was little!
Murderous step-mothers; children sent alone into dark, dangerous forests; canniablistic trolls - you keep waiting for someone to call the welfare worker to require parenting classes (at the very least.)
Of course female welfare worker would have to be like all the other women in the fairy tales and limited to one of two types of females:
What, with no dental care, vision-services to prevent squinting, sun-tan lotion, and a slew of beauty products taking up no less than one full aisle at the grocery store. Now serously, which category would you be in by age 30 in that situation?
But, even if you're elderly, you certainly don't have to be evil - which of course everyone knows all old hags are.
Of course, there are a few more types of males, but but bulk of them are:
Before the witch gets them and puts a spell on them or feeds them to a dragon or hides them in a tower.
You get the idea.
Are Fairy Tales Good for Children
To be honest, I'm not terribly fond of many of the fairy tales anymore and don't read a lot of them to my own kids. Just not too keen on cannibals and spells and general poor parenting.
Having said that, I'll also state that as a kid I read the fairy tales and listened to them over and over on my record player. Yes, I know I'm dating myself. But I did, and can't say the evil and superstition did any long term damage.
Beneath the sinister and superstition of fairy tales, lies a story that is at the heart of living. The belief that evil is present but can be over-come. Greed is bad, selfishness is bad, the lust for power is bad; and love, honor, and courage are good.
Hidden behind the surface of dark motives and hards times, runs a silver thread that connects the modern child to their long-forgotten ancestors. Good things happen to good-hearted people, and happily-ever-after really can happen to me... someway... somehow.
Maybe reading a fairy tale is a good way to get that point across. Anyway, it sure beats kissing a frog.
Popular Fairy Tales
Charles Perault - 1696
While his name is not a household world - at least in the English-speaking world, Perault is considered the father of fairy tales. He was one of the first to record the stories that had previously belonged to oral traditions, with his stories originally appearing in French. His stories include many of the well-known fairy tales that were later adapted, first by the Grimm Brothers and then by Disney. Disney, of course, removed much of the most violent and objectionable content - though some of their earlier movies still can raise eyebrows. Among his contributions to literature include:
Grimm's Fairy Tales
German - 1812
More than 100 years passed since Perault recorded written tales; and the brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm also desired to secure ancient German folklore in the written form before it would be lost. Many of the stories are the same as those written by Perault, but with alterations due to locale, language, and time. Their first volume appeared in 1812 and was NOT intended for children. However, because of the popularity with children, later versions were released that often softened the cruelty and violence of the original stories. In total, over 200 tales would be published in several volumes. The most famous included:
Peter Christen Asbjornsen and Jrgen Moe
Norweigian - 1832
These two Norweigian friends and story tellers have added to the collection of fairy tales still read to day.
East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon
This is the most popular of their stories as well as the book title for collections of their fairy tales. A poor farm girl becomes a wealthy princess and saves her family from poverty by leaving her home with a mysterious White Bear. He turns out to be a handsome prince under a spell. To break the spell, she needs to travel to a castle east of the sun and west of the moon. On her travels she meets three old hags who give her golden objects and the loan of their horses. She rides on the East Wind, the West Wind, the South Wind and the North Wind. When she arrives at the place, she needs to rescue her beloved from a long-nose princess whom he is to be forced to marry.
The Twelve Wild DucksHere is an ubiquitous tale which has a few points that might make the modern reader cringe. A queen with twelve sons allows a witch to cast a spell on them in order to obtain a much wanted daughter. She names her princess Snow White and Rosey Red. (Yep, that's the name of one person.) The princess finds out about her twelve brothers who have been turned into wild ducks. To break the spell she must weave thistles into twelve outfits. But before she completes her task a king captures her to marry her. But his step-mother has a hoffific plot to kill Snow White and Rosey-Red. Found in the collection East o' the Sun.
Okay, so why did I list these two particular tales? It is interesting to note that in the Grimm's Fairy Tales, the story of Snow White and Rose Red is very similar to the story of the East of the Sun. However, Asbjornsen and Moe have Snow White and Rose Red in the story of The Twelve Wild Ducks. Just for comparison, the twelve wild ducks are twelve ravens in the Grimm Brother's The Twelve Brothers. Hans Christian Anderson has the twelve brothers as swans in a similar-but-different version named Wild Swans.
The similarity between different fairy tales indicates that later writers were influenced by earlier fairy tale collections. The difference also demonstrate the wide sphere of the earlier oral traditions which spread as populations migrated, mixed, and gradually changed the details of the stories.
Princess on the Glass HillI have included this tale by Asbjornsen and Moe for a particular reason: it is the masculine opposite of Cinderella. The youngest son of a farmer, named Boots, acquires magnificent horses that are able to climb the glass hill to the princess. His brothers taunt Boots and say all he does is poke in the ashes or cinders. The king calls all men in his kingdom to find who has the golden apple given by the princess to the man whose horse climbed the glass hill. Then Boots is revealed in front of his scornful brothers. Other tales handed to us by Asbjornsen and Moe include:
Hans Christian Anderson Fairy Tales
Denmark - 1835
Anderson's popularity as the writer of fairy tales is second only to the Grimm Brothers. Many of his stories have earlier versions in Perault, Grimm, and Asbjornsen and Moe. But he also penned new stories such as the Ugly Duckling and Emperor's Clothes which earned him a permanent place as the author of children's literature.
While his stories are later and not as dark as those of Grimm and Perault, the influence of the Dark Ages and violence and cruelty is still discernable. Some of his most popular fairy tales include:
English - 1890
The English joined the ranks of fairy tales later than other European countries. This has two results. First, their fairy tales are more modern, polished, and less dark and objectionable. That is generally considered a good thing.
But the downside of the lateness of the recorded English fairy tales is that the ancient folklore of the British Isles had largely disappeared. Joseph Jacobs collected tales from oral traditions and earlier written versions. He published the volumes English Fairytales, Jewish Fairytales, and Indian Fairytales. Some of his best known stories are:
American Fairy Tales?
While the American continents had plenty of action of their own, they missed the drama of the Dark Ages and hence did not produce many fairy tales. There was a genuine shortage of fairy-godmothers and wicked step-mothers on the west side of the Atlantic Ocean.
However, L. Frank Baum has the distinct honor of being the first widely read author of American fairy tales when Kansas tornadoes, Dorothy and Toto met up with wizards and witches in the land of Oz. We have an elementary-age unit study on The Wizard of Oz.
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By Karen Newell Copyright© 2010 - 2014 Classical Children's Books, Learn For Your Life - All Rights Reserved
Camp Hill, Pennsylvania