A fairy tale is a story, either told to children or as if told to children, concerning the adventures of mythical 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.
The original fairy tales were for adults who believed in fairies. They were often brief, and tied to a specific time and place. The story had no moral lesson. Rather, they read like a sighting or local news to the superstitious folk. They were passed orally from generation to generation, not written down. The tales often had sad endings; such was the penalty for dealing with the fairy folk.
Later fairy tales were about princes and pricesses, combat, adventure, society, and romance. Fairies had a secondary role. Moral lessons and happy endings were more common, and the villain was always punished. In the modern era, fairy tales were altered, usually with violence removed, so they could be read to children.
Sometimes fairy tales are simply miraculous entertainments, but often they are disguised morality tales. This is true for the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tale Collection, 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.
According to a 2004 poll of 1,200 childen by UCI Cinemas, the most popular fairy tales are:
- Sleeping Beauty
- Hansel and Gretel
- Little Red Riding Hood
- Fairy tales are more than true -
- not because they tell us dragons exist,
- but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.
- G. K. Chesterton
External links and references
- Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson: The Types of the Folktale: A Classification and Bibliography (Helsinki, 1961)