The Significance and Development of Fairy Tales Essay

The Significance and Development of Fairy Tales Essay

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‘Once upon a time...’ a staple of the fairy tale. They take place in the next kingdom over (usually one comparable to Europe) and in the past, normally when there was still a monarchy and the majority of citizens were peasants, perhaps because it was in this age when folk stories really began to grow in popularity. It’s obvious why these stories were so common in the 17th century - tales of princes and princesses, life and morals, good defeating evil were exactly the thing to entertain at night while doing your chores. One would have thought these stories would have died out with the invention of the television, but their popularity merely increased. There are many popular films and TV shows which have been greatly inspired by fairy tales; Pretty Women starring Julia Roberts is a clear modern day Cinderella, and almost every bad-boy-changes-for-a-girl and makeover-for-love plotline is based to a large degree on Beauty and the Beast.

But were fairy tales only campfire stories, something to save for a rainy day? Respected folklorists Marta C. Sims and Martine Stephens thought otherwise. In their book Living Folklore, they claimed that fairy tales were used as a way to communicate with their children about the changes in life, to explain the “rites of passage [that] occur at time of change or transition: birth, puberty, entering adulthood or coming-of-age, marriage, and death”.

However, fairy tales weren’t all morality tales - in fact, in their earliest forms, they were violent, sexual, gory. Many stories as we know them today have changed significantly since centuries ago. Sleeping Beauty was originally found asleep in the woods by a nobleman who raped her which, still while she slept, resulted in twins, and when the nobleman‘...


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... tales were the “television and pornography of the day, the life-lightening trash of preliterate peoples” - but they were also key in discussing social issues, considering “in symbolic terms anxieties about death, loss, and the perils of daily life but also staged the triumph of the underdog”. They were, in essence, bloody morality tales with promises of revenge, comeuppance, and a happily ever after.

As Maria Tatar so simply put it, “[fairy tales] started out as adult entertainment - violent, bawdy, melodramatic improvisations that emerged in the evening hours”. They were saturated with meaning and created to be shared around the hearth with all the generations. Could fairy tales have had such raw brutality for a reason? Are we right to change them to fit with our modern idea of what is ‘child-friendly’? Or are we ultimately doing our children a great disservice?

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