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Fairy tale

Related: tale - Disney - Arabian Nights - Grimm brothers - fantastic literature - oral culture - folklore

1863 Illustrations by Gustave Doré to Les Contes de Perrault (1697) - Charles Perrault
Image sourced here.


A fairy tale is a story, usually told to children, concerning the adventures of mythical characters such as: fairies, goblins, elves, trolls, giants and others. These stories often involve princes and princesses and normally have a happy ending. Often, fairy tales were disguised morality tales. This is true for the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tale Collection, and many of the tales of Hans Christian Andersen.

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. Some have also classed the Middle Eastern tales from 1001 Arabian Nights as fairy tales. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairy_tale [May 2004]

Fairy, or faery

A fairy, or faery, is a whimsical creature from stories and mythology, often portrayed in art and literature as a minuscule humanoid being with wings. This word is derived from the name of a place where they were said to live: Faerie, and fairies are sometimes called fairy-folk. The myth appears commonplace across many diverse cultures and traditions. They have many names and many forms. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairy [May 2004]

Hop o' My Thumb

1863 Illustrations by Gustave Doré to Les Contes de Perrault (1697) - Charles Perrault
Image sourced here.

See also: 1863 - fairy - tale - folk - Gustave Doré

Little Red Riding Hood

Little Red Riding Hood (German: Rotkäppchen; lit. translation: 'little red cap') is a folktale that has changed much in its history. It may be a children's story, but it contains within it themes of sexual intercourse, violence and even cannibalism. The tale makes the clearest contrast between the safe world of the village and the dangers of the forest, conventional antitheses that are essentially medieval, though no versions are as old as that. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Red_Riding_Hood [Dec 2005]

Pierre-Jules Hetzel
Pierre-Jules Hetzel (Chartres, January 15, 1814 – Monte-Carlo, March 17, 1886) was a French editor and publisher. He is most known for his extraordinarily illustrated publications of Jules Verne's novels, which are highly prized by collectors today. Hetzel was also the principal editor of Victor Hugo. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre-Jules_Hetzel [Dec 2005]

Charles Perrault
Charles Perrault (January 12, 1628–May 16, 1703) was a French author.

At the age of 55, he published Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals, with the subtitle: Tales of Mother Goose. Its publication (slyly over the name of his 17-year-old son) made him suddenly widely-known beyond his own circles and marked the beginnings of a new literary genre, the fairy tale. He used images from around him, such as the Chateau Ussé for Sleeping Beauty and in Puss-in-Boots, the Marquis of the Chateau d'Oiron, and contrasted his folktale subject matter, with details and asides and subtext drawn from the world of fashion. Enlarge

Perrault's most famous stories are still in print today and have been made into operas, plays, films and animated motion pictures by, among others, Disney Studios. Some of Perrault's best known stories are:

Perrault's tales were mostly adapted from earlier folk tales (for example by Giambattista Basile) in the milieu of stylish literary salons in the 1690s, as a recreation from the more strenuous energy expended in the Battle of the Ancients and Moderns or the struggles of Jansenism. For amusement, one would take some simple traditional tale, such as an old peasant woman might tell in the kitchens, and recast it, "moralized" and translated into a succinct and witty tale that was purged of all coarseness, for the kind of audience that was also still reading the high-flown sentiments of La Princesse de Cleves (The Princess of Cleves), and could appreciate the structure of a perfect, well-turned sermon, if not too long. Mythologist Jack Zipes has emphasized that these tales served the interests of the educated ruling classes. There was also a slightly subversive bite to the game as Perrault played it, a slight sense of an underlying, dry criticism of the same aristocratic approach. Instead of wily peasants, as in "Jack and the Beanstalk" (not a Perrault tale), there are princesses, even if the subtext of Perrault's "Puss-in-Boots" is that the right clothes and a fine castle can make a "Marquis of Carabas" out of a miller's son.

His brother, Claude Perrault, is remembered as the architect of the severe east range of the Louvre, built between 1665 and 1680. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Perrault [Dec 2005]

See also Robert Darnton on little red riding hood, of which the original version is sexual and horrific, of which I am quoting a bit below. [Jan 2006]

Little Red Riding Hood, version recorded in France c.1885

There was a woman who had made some bread. She said to her daughter: "Go carry this hot load and a bottle of milk to your granny." So the little girl departed. At the crossway she met bzou, the werewolf, who said to her:

"Where are you going?"

"I’m taking this hot loaf and a bottle of milk to my granny."

"What path are you taking," said the werewolf, "the path of needles or the path of pins?" "The path of needles," the little girl said.

"All right, then I’ll take the path of pins."

The little girl entertained herself by gathering needles. Meanwhile the werewolf arrived at the grandmother’s house, killed her, put some of her meat in the cupboard and a bottle of her blood on the shelf. The little girl arrived and knocked at the door.

"Push the door," said the werewolf, "it’s barred by a piece of wet straw."

"Good day, granny, I’ve brought you a hot load of bread and a bottle of milk." "Put it in the cupboard, my child. Take some of the meat which is inside and the bottle of wine on the shelf."

After she had eaten, there was a little cat which said: "Phooey! … A slut is she who eats the flesh and drinks the blood of her granny."

"Undress yourself, my child," the werewolf said, "and come lie down beside me."

"Where should I put my apron?"

"Throw it into the fire, my child, you won’t be needing it anymore."

And each time she asked where she should put all her other clothes, the bodice, the dress, the petticoat, and the long stockings, the wolf responded: "Throw them into the fire, my child, you won’t be needing them any more." When she laid herself down in the bed, the little girl said: "Oh, Granny, how hairy you are!" [ Read the rest of the tale here.

The Story of Grandmother - a text of the story as it was passed down through the oral folk tradition: this version was recorded by Paul Delarue in Nièvre, France, c.1885. via http://www.swan.ac.uk/history/teaching/teaching%20resources/Telling%20Tales/Tales/hood.html [Jan 2006]

See also: fairy tale - monster - sexuality

See also: 1863 - fairy - tale - folk - Gustave Doré


In search of hesitation and other genres in limbo

In literary criticism, the term fabulation was popularized by Robert Scholes, in his work The Fabulators, to describe the large and growing class of mostly 20th century novels that are in a style similar to magical realism, and do not fit into the traditional categories of realism or (novelistic) romance. They violate, in a variety of ways, standard novelistic expectations by drastic—and sometimes highly successful—experiments with subject matter, form, style, temporal sequence, and fusions of the everyday, fantastic, mythical, and nightmarish, in renderings that blur traditional distinctions between what is serious or trivial, horrible or ludicrous, tragic or comic. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fabulation

Recent fabulators

* Thomas Pynchon * John Barth * Donald Barthelme * William Gass * Robert Coover * Ishmael Reed

See also: fantastic literature - postmodern literature

Fairy tales in contemporary literature

John Bauer's illustration of trolls and a princess from a collection of Swedish fairy tales.

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.

Other notable figures who have employed fairy tales include A. S. Byatt, Jane Yolen, Terri Windling, Donald Barthelme, Robert Coover, Margaret Atwood, Kate Bernheimer, Tanith Lee, James Thurber, Kelly Link, Robin McKinley, Donna Jo Napoli, Robert Bly, Gail Carson Levine and many others.

It may be hard to lay down the rule between fairy tales and fantasies that use fairy tale motifs, or even whole plots, but the distinction is commonly made, even within the works of a single author: George MacDonald's Lilith and Phantastes are regarded as fantasies, while his "The Light Princess", "The Golden Key", and "The Wise Woman" are commonly called fairy tales.

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

--http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairy_tale#Contemporary_fairy_tales [Jul 2006]

See also: fantastic literature - literature of the 20th century - fairy tales - contemporary

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