Fairy tales

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Fairy tales are stories — generally stories told for the amusement of children when they are still young enough to believe much of what their parents tell them (until the age of 9 or so). Some people believe in numerous fairy tales well into adulthood, including the belief that the power of guns can bring about peaceful worldwide human coexistence, the belief that nature is an idyllic paradise, the belief that their own nation (whichever one that happens to be) is superior to all others, and the belief that an omniscient omnipotent omnipresent being created all of existence (including itself) through super-human magic.

Famous tales and authors[edit]

1001 Nights[edit]

The Arabian Nights includes many traditional fairy tales which have become an integral part of Western culture. Thanks either to Islamic exoticism or to the brilliant narrative imagination of those Aryan Iranians. Or to both.

Charles Perrault[edit]

In 1697, French author Charles Perrault (1628–1703) published Histoires ou contes du temps passéWikipedia (Stories or Tales from Past Times, with Morals and also later informally known as Contes de ma mère l'Oye, Stories of Mother Goose), a collection of short stories that famously end with explicit morals told in rhyme. It included such famous tales as "Little Red Riding Hood", "Sleeping Beauty", "Cinderella", and "Puss in Boots".[1]

Though many editions present these fairy tales as homespun stories passed down throughout the ages, they are in reality of much more recent invention. In Perrault's time, fairy tales were made by adults to entertain other adults. During salons, educated men and women would craft these tales as a intellectual exercise, earning fame and clout for clever story-telling or witty wordplay. They often commented on gender politics of the day, and many of the themes and motifs are likely rooted in mitonne, a fad amongst late-1600s noblewomen in Versailles of telling fictional stories inspired by the decadent politics of the French royal court.[2]:28-30 The upper-class origins should not be surprising: after all, are fancy dress balls, majestic coaches, courtly romances about princes and princesses, inheritance drama, and crystalline footwear really the domain of a simple peasant?

Speaking of, the trope of Cinderella wearing glass slippers makes its first appearance in Perrault's version. There's an urban legend that the glass slippers seen in modern versions are a mistranslation of Perrault's tale, supposedly due to some errant translator misinterpreting pantoufle de vair, fur slipper, for pantoufle de verre, glass slipper. This is just plain wrong; Perrault's original text says pantoufle de verre, so he clearly meant for them to be made of glass, and besides, vair already fell out of use by Perrault's time.[3]

Hans Christian Andersen[edit]

Hans Christian Anderson was a Danish author who wrote a large variety of fairy tales and children's morality stories. Many, like "The Princess and the Pea", "The Ugly Duckling", and "The Emperor's New Clothes" don't contain violence or magic or mythical beasties, but are rather morality stories about growing up, or being different, or learning how to love others. "The Little Mermaid", Andersen's most famous tale, deals with darker aspects of human nature that appeal to adults, such as jealousy, vengeance, and the chilling idea of total sacrifice for love that goes beyond any reasonable measure into the obscene.

The Brothers Grimm[edit]

A movement in 19th century Germany thought that fairy tales were stories told since pre-historical times and were "fossils" providing clues about pre-Christian religious beliefs and practices. The Brothers Grimm were part of this movement, and roamed the countryside recording in written form children's stories they found being told in small villages. Unfortunately, the Brothers sanitized many of the stories they found, removing many sexual references (though leaving in the full violence and gore). Since then, Disney has helped to market the stories even further, but in doing so has removed most of the violence.

Asbjørnsen and Moe[edit]

In 1814, Norway, which had been effectively a province of Denmark for several hundred years, became an independent state in personal union with Sweden. This event caused a resurgence of interest in a specifically Norwegian language and culture, which in turn (since the Norwegian urbanites had, to a degree, assimilated to Danish culture and language) sparked an interest in rural ways and folk traditions.

This prompted Peter Asbjørnsen, a zoologist, and Jørgen Moe, a Lutheran bishop, to go up and down the country collecting folk-tales, which they later published in a book entitled Norske Folkeeventyr. Some of their tales contained echoes of Norse mythology, e.g., a story in which "the Virgin Mary" is sitting up in heaven spinning sea-foam into ropes.[4]

Disneyfication of fairy tales[edit]

Most of the world's fairy stories, as told by adults to children, but in many ways for the other adults in the room, were filled with dark issues of human nature, violence, and of course serious sexuality. They were, after all, the HBO of their day; the way you killed a cold winter's night, or passed long days of manual labor. And like hard hitting entertainment, they expressed every aspect of life without sanitizing it.[5]

But then Disney came along, and thanks to the tee-totaler, hyper-moralizing times of the 1920s, a kinder, gentler fairy story was presented for mass consumption. Good was innocent and obvious. Evil was mean and ugly — and equally obvious. The hero and heroine were basically unflawed, fighting against the dark magic in their world — which stands quite opposite to most of the original source material, where the hero or heroine, more often than not, found themselves in trouble because of flaws in their own character. No one dies in the Disney versions, except perhaps the evildoer; there was only the shadow of violence leading up to the villain's undoing, and other than some dancing, or innocent glances across the room, sexuality and bawdiness are nowhere to be found. And of course...

...they lived happily ever after.

See also[edit]


  1. See the Wikipedia article on Histoires ou contes du temps passé.
  2. Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Sex, Morality, and the Evolution of a Fairy Tale by Catherine Orenstein (2002) Basic Books ISBN 0-465-04125-6
  3. Glass Slippers Mistranslations by David Mikkelson (Last updated July 12, 2007) Snopes
  4. "Boots who made the Princess say, 'That's a story!'"
  5. Fairies weren’t always cute – they used to drink human blood and kidnap children The Conversation 29 October 2021