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What is a Fairy Tale?

By Edited Sep 9, 2016 0 1

Long Tradition of Fairy Tales

Fairy tales, have had a long oral tradition, long before they were actually written down. Jamie Tehrani, a cultural anthropologist at Durham University, claims that stories like “Little Red Riding Hood”, have a “common ancestor dating back more than 2,600 years". Tehrani, also claims that the original form of this tale was similar to The Wolf and the Kids and can be traced back to Africa. Similar stories, are also found in places like Japan, Burma, Korea, Nigeria and Iran.

Another academic, Jack Zipes, who also studies fairy tales, suggests that like all folktales, fairy tales were not believed to be true stories, but metaphorical tales to inspire, entertain and enlighten.  Most fairy tales, reflected universal themes and he claims they originated from the upper classes and filtered down to the peasants, who incorporated their own style and beliefs into the tale. What seems evident, is that as fairy tales have spread, they have evolved and changed, to reflect the interests and environment of particular groups.

Wonderful Fairy Tales

Red Riding Hood

Fairy tales, were first recorded in the Middle Ages and soon began to reflect the patriarchy and world view of the Christian era and aristocratic classes. These tales,  were stories of wonder and hope, as the world, was viewed, as one where anything could happen.  Fairy tales, also began to feature characters who were optimistic and who placed emphasis on supernatural phenomena, omens and portents. Life came to be seen as a miraculous process.

Fairy tales, often feature a common structure, where the main character is prohibited from doing something, but does it anyway. This leads to banishment and an important encounter with an enemy or friend. There is usually an evil witch, or ogre in the background, who presents a major threat to the protagonist and a mysterious ally, who will provide a magical gift. The protagonist, must be tested, but may encounter a grave set back. The magical gifts or wisdom however, will save the day and the protagonist will be saved and rewarded with money or a huge climb up the social ladder.

Red Riding Hood

The Wolf

Charles Perrault's story of "Little Red Riding Hood", was later retold by the Brothers Grimm in the 19th century. According to some academics, Perrault's tale is about the loss of virginity and entering the world of adulthood, symbolised by the red hood. The Grimm version, on the other hand, emphasises the love between the grandmother and her grandchild and serves as a moral tale. Red Riding Hood is told to "stay on the path", but does not and is punished. All turns out well in the end and she has learnt a lesson. 

During the ninetieth century, fairy tales were often kept away from children, as the fantasy elements were regarded as corrupting. Realistic and gruesome stories, were often favoured at this time, featuring disease and death. Later that century however, fairy tales became popular again, as fantasy came to be seen, as an essential part of childhood. Suddenly, fairy tales were adapted for all kinds of view points and purposes. Themes like violence, death and cruelty, were gradually sanitized, from these later nineteenth and twentieth century versions however.

It seems, that fairy tales originated long ago but changed and evolved as they were carried to different people and places. Fairy tales, have also been adapted and have expressed the ideas, styles and beliefs of social classes, religions, views of morality and the world view of the times.

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Comments

Apr 7, 2012 8:54pm
Etcetera
I know what you mean, I was frightened, yet addicted.
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Bibliography

  1. By Alan Dundes Little Red Riding Hood: A Casebook. Wisconsin Press: Univ of Wisconsin Press, *.
  2. Jack Zipes http://www.bitingdogpress.com/zipes/zipes.html. University of Minnesota: *, 2002.

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