| Gather 'round the campfire|
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.
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.
French author Charles Perrault (1628-1703) wrote dark tales involving beautiful women who dally on the wrong side of love. He is considered by persons unspecified to be one of the authors who laid the foundations for what would become "fairy tales". Some of his best-known tales include "Little Red Riding Hood", "Sleeping Beauty", "Cinderella", and "Puss in Boots".
Hans Christian Andersen
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
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
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.
Disneyfication of fairy tales
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.
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.