I. What is a Fairy Tale?
A fairy tale is a story, often intended for children, that features fanciful and wondrous characters such as elves, goblins, wizards, and even, but not necessarily, fairies. The term “fairy” tale seems to refer more to the fantastic and magical setting or magical influences within a story, rather than the presence of the character of a fairy within that story. Fairy tales are often traditional; many were passed down from story-teller to story-teller before being recorded in books.
II. Examples of Fairy Tale
Fairy tales, in the literary sense, are easy to find. Look at your bookshelf or your DVD collection.You may see titles likes these:
- Snow White
- Rip Van Winkle
- The Twelve Dancing Princesses
They are all fairy tales. They belong to no one and have been adapted and retold countless times.
Fairy tales do not need to be written down to be legitimate. Many tales that your parents or grandparents may have told you off the top of their heads are also fairy tales. For example, stories of the tooth fairy, the boogeyman, leprechauns and pots of gold or even Santa Claus.
If a story takes place in a magical land, with fantastical creatures who perform wondrous tasks, it is very likely a fairy tale.
III. Types of Fairy Tales
There are no rules that define fairy tales. Therefore, they are categorized by their elements, types, or motifs.
Here are some of those types and examples of stories that fit those types:
- Supernatural Adversaries
Hansel and Gretel, Red Riding Hood
- Supernatural or Enchanted Relatives
Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast
- Supernatural Helpers
Cinderella, Puss In Boots
- Magic Objects
The Magic Ring, Aladdin
- Supernatural Power or Knowledge
The White Snake, Ali Baba
- Religious Tales
The Three Green Twigs, The Flower of Lily-Lo
- Realistic Tales
The Falsely Accused Wife, Ariadne
- Tales of Fate
The Robber Bridegroom, Oedipus (Aarne-Thompson)
IV. The Importance of using Fairy Tales
Fairy tales are important because they spark the imagination. They give us an outlet for experiencing things in our minds before we experience them in the real world. It is where the troubles of the real world can meet the supernatural and mix things up. In a fairy tale anything can happen and any kind of creature can exist, and when anything can happen, we can find solutions to things in our real lives. Through imagination, we learn about our world. We can explore outcomes and possibilities.
V. Examples of Fairy Tales in Literature
Fairy tales exist in every culture in the world and there are elements of the fairy tale going back for as long as people have been telling stories. In Western culture, there are a few authors who were particularly important in the formal recording of fairy tales.
Hans Christian Anderson
Hans Christian Anderson was a Danish author who published his fairy tales in the late 1800s. Here are a few of his titles:
The Tinder-Box, The Princess and the Pea, Thumbelina, The Little Mermaid, The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Staunch Tin Soldier, Willie Winkie, The Nightingale, The Ugly Duckling, The Snow Queen. (Larsen)
Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm and Wilhelm Carl Grimm were German brothers who published their stories in the early 1800s. Here are a few of their titles:
The Good Bargain, Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Little Red Cap, The Bremen Town Musicians, The Robber Bridegroom, The Juniper Tree, Little Brier-Rose, and Little Snow-White. (Ashliman)
More recently, the fairy tale has undergone a resurgence and a reinvention. Many popluar authors have set out to write fairy tales that are more in line with our time. Neil Gaiman is one of these authors. With books like Stardust and Coraline, he takes the fairy tale to a new place. Kate DiCamillo is another, with The Tale of Despereaux. Those are only 3 examples, but the list is long!
VI. Examples of Fairy Tales in Popular Culture
We can find fairy tales in every element of our culture. They are, in many ways, given life through popular culture. They appear in books, movies, music, and art. As the fairy tale is such a creative art-form, itself, it is understandable that it would appear in all creative mediums. With each new interpretation or retelling of a fairy tale, we learn a little bit about the story-teller, the audience, the culture and the time in which it is told.
Probably the most recognizable producer of fairy tales in our culture is Walt Disney. Disney has turned the fairy tale into an industry, producing movies, books, toys, clothing, and just about anything else you can think of and branding them with fairy tale characters.
The television show Once Upon A Time is based upon the idea of the fairy tale and uses classic stories in some unique and surprising ways.
Recently there have been several movies made that tell more gruesome and dark versions of well-known fairy tales. Snow White and the Huntsman, Maleficent and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters are a few of these.
In art, we also find images of fairy tale characters everywhere. Children’s picture books are an abundant source for these works. Picture books make the fairy tales come alive with their images.