Hello and welcome to the first in this year’s series of Fairy Tale Friday where I will be looking at the elements of different fairy tales and sharing variations on each story.
Why fairy tales? I have a long history of devouring fairy tales. I was brought up on a steady diet of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. As a child, I much preferred the darker elements of these tales rather than the sanitised Disney version. Still do. I have written hundreds of short stories and nearly all of them are fairy tales. My mother always says they are “creepy.” I take that as a compliment. I learned from the masters. For years, I have thought about compiling my stories into collections and publishing them. I thought that this year, I would do an in-depth study of the tales that I love, and it would inspire me to write more and finally publish. Watch this space.
I thought it might help to begin by talking about what is a fairy tale?
Fairy tales are a genre in literature that have their roots in the oral tradition. Fairy tales with very similar plots, characters, and motifs are found spread across many different cultures. I hope to share with you many variations of the tale you know (or think you know!) over the course of this year.
How does a fairy tale differ from a fable?
According to: source
A fairy tale is a fictional story that may feature folkloric characters (such as fairies, goblins, elves, trolls, witches, giants, and talking animals) and enchantments, often involving a far-fetched sequence of events.
A fable is a brief, succinct story, in prose or verse, that features animals, plants, inanimate objects, or forces of nature which are anthropomorphised (given human qualities), and that illustrates a moral lesson (a "moral"), which may at the end be expressed explicitly in a pithy maxim.
A fable differs from a parable in that the latter excludes animals, plants, inanimate objects, and forces of nature as actors that assume speech and other powers of humankind.
Elements found in fairy tales (again, courtesy of source)
Special beginning and/or ending words ~ Once upon a time...and they lived happily ever after. Sometimes, there’s a surprise ending…
Good character ~ Do you see a kind, innocent character? Is the good character clever? Is s/he helped by others?
Evil character ~ Do you see a witch? A demon? An evil stepmother? A sinister gnome? In the end, the evil character usually loses somehow…
Royalty ~ Is there a castle? A prince? A princess? A king? A queen?
Poverty~ Do you see a poor working girl, a poor family, a poor shepherd? – Do you see poor people trying to eke out a living to have enough to eat?
Magic and Enchantments ~ Do you see magical things happening? Do you see talking animals/objects? You might see fairies, trolls, elves, goblins, etc.
Reoccurring Patterns / Numbers ~ Do you see any patterns? Often, you’ll see things, phrases, tasks appear in "threes," “sixes,” and/or "sevens"
Universal Truths ~ the tale probably touches on some universal experiences (i.e., coming of age) or hopes (i.e., to have enough food and love)
Common motifs in fairy tales include:
- Talking animals / objects
- Cleverness / trickster / word games
- Traveller's tales
- Origins ~ where do we come from?
- Triumph of the poor
- Human weakness explored (i.e., curiosity, gluttony, pride, laziness, etc.)
- Human strengths glorified (i.e., kindness, generosity, patience, etc.)
- Trickster (sometimes a hero, sometimes on the side of evil but humans benefit)
- Tall story (slight exaggeration – hyperbole)
- Magic words or phrases; repetition of phrases/words (abracadabra!)
- Guardians (fairy godmothers, mentors, magical helpers, guides, etc.)
- Monsters (dragons, ogres, evil creatures, etc.)
- Struggle between good and evil, light and dark
- Youngest vs. Oldest (sons, daughters, sibling rivalry)
- Sleep (extended sleep, death-like trances)
- Impossible tasks (ridiculously mind-numbing, fantastic effort needed to complete, etc.)
- Gluttony / Starvation (there’s a fine line between eating for survival and succumbing to temptation)
- Keys, passes (opening new doors)
- Donors, Benefactors, Helpers
How are fairy tales classified?
Fairy tales and folk tales are classified under the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Tale Type Classification (ATU).
Antti Aarne was a Finnish folklorist and began the classification system used today to categorise folk tales. He first published his classification system in 1910. In 1920, Stith Thompson translated Aarne's work and expanded it making the Aarne-Thompson Classification. In 1961, Thompson published an updated version of Aarne's catalogue and created the AT Number System. The AT Number system was updated and expanded in 2004 by Hans-Jörg Uther where it became known as the ATU Classification System.
The fairy tale I plan to start with is Little Red Riding Hood which is classified as ATU 333 (supernatural animals). Stay tuned.