Fairy tales are not always about fairies, though they are always full of strange and wonderful happenings. Most often fairy tales are about ordinary people – men and women, boys and girls – who somehow get caught up in magical events. Fairies may or may not appear – to help or to hinder! So, why do we call these tales ‘fairy tales’? Why not just ‘wonder tales’, as they were earlier known?
Well, such stories became very popular in France towards the end of the 17th century. Writers such as Mme D’Aulnoy began to put these tales into literary form; Antoine Galland translated and adapted into French The Thousand and One Nights; and Charles Perrault published his famous Histoires ou Contes du Temps Passé, better known as Les Contes de ma Mère l’Oye, or Mother Goose’s Tales, which included The Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella among others. The French writers coined the term ‘conte de fee’ to describe such stories. This term translates into English as ‘fairy tale’. Hence we call such wonder tales ‘fairy tales’.
Fairy tales, in their traditional form, are not really ‘children’s stories’ as we understand the term today. Nor are they for the fainthearted. Tales such as Charles Perrault’s Blue Beard, which really is the story of a serial killer, are quite horrifying. The happy endings, while usually there, come after many trials and tribulations, and the world of fairy tales is not always as fluffy and happy as Disney would have us believe. On the contrary, it is stark and brutal, and despite the presence of magic, uncomfortably close to the real world.
Connoisseurs of folk and fairy literature know that a particular tale, or even particular fragments of a tale, may occur again and again across space and time, altered in its details perhaps, but still recognisable. For instance, both in the story of Hansel and Gretel, as collected by the Brothers Grimm, and Perrault’s Little Thumb, the parents attempt to ‘lose’ their children in the forest, and do so successfully when the breadcrumbs used by the children to lay a trail home are eaten up by the birds. Echoes of the English tale Jack and the Beanstalk may be heard in Perrault’s Little Thumb, and of Jack the Giant-Killer in his Puss in Boots. And of course, Perrault’s The Sleeping Beauty is really no different from the Grimm Brothers’ story of Briar Rose. Such instances, of recurring motifs and common story fragments, are too many to list, so read on…
Here they are, some of the best-loved fairy tales from around the world. As you will see, fairies do not appear in all of them, though magic certainly does…and so does all manner of human goodness and wickedness.
Jacob Ludwig Carl (1785-1863) and his brother Wilhelm Carl (1786-1859) are best known for their collection of more than two hundred fairy and folk tales. …More
Charles Perrault (1628-1703) was a French poet and writer, and one of the best-loved personalities of 17th century France. He is remembered today for his …More
The fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) are unique in that they are the product of his own imagination. Some writers, such as the …More