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Many people, including Angela Carter in her introduction to the Virago Book of Fairy Tales have noted that a great deal of so-called fairy tales do not feature fairies at all. This is partly because of the history of the English term "fairy tale" which derives from the French phrase contes de fée which was first used in the collection of Madame D'Aulnoy in 1697. As Stith Thompson and Carter herself point out, talking animals and the presence of magic seem to be more common to the fairy tale than fairies themselves.
A fairy tale is a story featuring folkloric characters such as fairies, goblins, elves, trolls, giants, and others. The fairy tale is a sub-class of the folktale. These stories often involve princes and princesses, and modern versions usually have a happy ending. In cultures where demons and witches are perceived as real, fairy tales may merge into legendary narratives, where the context is perceived by teller and hearers as having historical actuality. However unlike legends and epics they usually do not contain more than superficial references to religion and actual places, persons, and events. Although these allusions are often critical in understanding the origins of these fanciful stories.
Some folklorists prefer to use the German term Märchen to refer to fairy tales, a practice given weight by the definition of Stith Thompson in his 1977 edition of The Folktale: "a tale of some length involving a succession of motifs or episodes. It moves in an unreal world without definite locality or definite creatures and is filled with the marvelous. In this never-never land humble heroes kill adversaries, succeed to kingdoms and marry princesses." (Thompson: 8)
Although in the late nineteenth and twentieth century the fairy tale came to be associated with children's literature, adults were originally as likely as children to be the audience of the fairy tale. The fairy tale was part of an oral tradition: tales were narrated orally, rather than written down, and handed down from generation to generation. The tales often had sad endings; such was the penalty for dealing with the fairy folk.
Later fairy tales were about princes and princesses, combat, adventure, society, and romance. Fairies had a secondary role. Moral lessons and happy endings were more common, and the villain was usually punished. In the modern era, fairy tales were altered, usually with violence removed, so they could be read to children (who according to a common modern sentiment should not hear about violence).
Sometimes fairy tales are simply miraculous entertainments, but often they are disguised morality tales. This is true for the Brothers Grimm Kinder- und Hausmärchen, and much of the drily witty, dead-pan, social criticism beneath the surface of Hans Christian Andersen's tales, which influenced Roald Dahl.
The fairy tale has ancient roots, older than the "Arabian Nights" collection of magical tales, in antiquity: Cupid and Psyche, Bel and the Dragon. Fairy tales resurfaced in literature in the 17th century, with the Neapolitan tales of Giambattista Basile and the later Contes of Charles Perrault, who fixed the forms of Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella.
An extensive collection of European fairy tales were published by Andrew Lang in a series of books: The Red Fairy Book, The Orange Fairy Book, and so forth. These provide some excellent examples of the genre.
Contemporary fairy talesEdit
In contemporary literature, many authors have used the form of fairy tales for various reasons, such as examining the human condition from the simple framework a fairytale provides. Some authors seek to recreate a sense of the fantastic in a contemporary discourse. Sometimes, especially in children's literature, fairy tales are retold with a twist simply for comic effect, such as The Stinky Cheese Man by Jon Scieszka. Other authors may have specific motives, such as multicultural or feminist reevaluations of predominantly Eurocentric masculine dominated fairy tales, implying critique of older narratives. The figure of the damsel in distress has been particularly attacked by many feminist critics. Examples of narrative reversal rejecting this figure include The Paperbag Princess, by Robert Munsch, a picture book aimed at children in which a princess rescues a prince, or Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, which retells a number of fairytales from a female point of view.
- Fairy tales are more than true -
- not because they tell us dragons exist,
- but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.
- SurLaLune Fairy Tale Pages: Annotated tales, illustrations, and much more.
- How Fairy Tales Shape Our Lives, by Jonathan Young, Ph.D.
- Fairy Book collections edited by Andrew Lang, from Project Gutenberg
- Grimm's Fairy Tales from Project Gutenberg
- Andersen's Fairy Tales from Project Gutenberg
- D.L. Ashliman's Grimm Brothers website
- Irish Fairy Tales
- A Fairytale Outline Generator: based on Vladimir Propp's Morphology of the Folktale
- Fairy Stories, Myths and Legends
- Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson: The Types of the Folktale: A Classification and Bibliography (Helsinki, 1961)
- Thompson, Stith The Folktale
- J. R. R. Tolkien, "On Fairy-Stories" essay first published in Essays Presented to Charles Williams, Oxford University Press, 1947
- Fables - Collection and guide to fables and Fairy Tales for children.
- Bern's Fairy-Tales watch the fairies come alive as you read these Fairy tales from bern.