What is a Fairy Tale?

A fairy tale/faerie tale is a short story, in oral or literary form, mainly with origins in European traditions, although many of today’s fairy tales have evolved from centuries old stories, from multiple cultures, with variations dating back thousands of years. The tales vary from legends and fables. Legends are perceived as real, but are unauthentic traditional stories which are regarded as historical i.e. the legend of King Arthur. Conversely, fables are stories used to convey a moral and usually contain an inanimate object or animals e.g. the tortoise and the hare, from Aesop’s fables. Fairy tales fall within the genre of folklore and often include mythical creature such as: dwarfs, dragons, elves, fairies, giants, gnomes, goblins, griffins, mermaids, talking animals, trolls, unicorns, or witches, and usually magic or enchantments.

The tales were first described as “fairy tales,” by Madame d'Aulnoy in the late 17th century.The Brothers Grimm were among the first to collect fairy stories from their oral origins, which had been handed down from generation to generation and perhaps over the years had changed somewhat from the original. The Grimm brothers German fairy tales published in 1812 and 1815, were far removed from the “sanitised” Grimm fairy tales we see today. They were quite grim and gruesome and not the kind of stories you would want to read to your children at bedtime. They rewrote the tales to make them more acceptable, increasing their popularity and sales. Later Hans Christen Andersen’s work would draw heavily from folklore and included fairy tale elements in his original tales.

Until the 19th and 20th century, adults were the original intended audience of a fairy tale, particularly in literary works of Madame d’ Aulnoy and Charles Perrault. Fairy tales were often used to teach children important lessons. Famous people commented on the importance of fairy tales, especially for children. Albert Einstein showed how important he believed fairy tales were for children’s intelligence in the quote “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

 

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