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Fairy Tales

Fairy tales come from many cultures places and times. Most have no one author, and a few, such as Oscar Wilde’s ‘Happy Prince’ do so. The differentiation between fairy tales and other narratives can be difficult to define. The web page ‘Fables, Fairy Tales, Stories and Nursery Rhymes’ even includes full length children’s stories such as Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and Carlo Collodi’s ‘Pinochio’. The actual name ‘fairy tale’ comes from the writing of M.

Le Jumel de Barneville, Baronne d’Aulnoy de Barneville, and her ‘Contes de Fees’ of the late 17th century. In modern speech the words can also mean a happy ending (though not all end in that way) or even a lie or very far fetched tale. There are two main theories for their origins. Firstly there is the idea that each story originated in a particular place and time and were carried elsewhere by travelers, traders etc. However due to the oral nature of their transmission, until written down in recent years, it is impossible to be certain of origins.

The second theory is that, as they are a product of normal human experience, similar stories emerged independently in several places, not one, as in the Caribbean version of the Rumplestiltskin story, ‘Granny Sogando’ as reported by Soraya Potter on her web page ‘Folktales,: Oral Traditions as a basis for instruction in our schools’. The Chinese have a very similar story to that of Cinderella, ‘Yeh Shin’, where the youngest daughter of a family has to do all the chores. In that tale too there is the provision of magical robes, a ball and a prince and the fit of a shoe.

Perhaps the truth lies somewhere between these two ideas. The various tales have been much studied by academics and even analyzed using Jungian and Freudian techniques for their hidden symbolism. For example the small foot needed in Cinderella is an indication of society’s ideas about suitability when choosing a wife, as it would have been in Chinese society. More often than not the main protagonist is from the lower rungs of society, a goose girl or a cow herd, and is humble rather than proud. Tales have been cataloged in various ways. The Arne Thompson method with its 2500 basic plots is one of the most well known ways.

A much simpler scheme into which many stories fit is to divide them into four groups, dreams realized as in the story of Cinderella, trickster stories such as the ‘Brer Rabbit’ stories, animal helpers such as ‘Puss in Boots’ and magical tales such as ‘Beauty and the Beast’ All but the very oldest stories are aimed at children. They have a different understanding of the world from adults and are quite happy with the idea of talking animals, witches and enchantments simply because they do not have enough experience of life to understand the difference between what is possible and what isn’t.

Clifton Snider on his web page ‘On the loom of sorrow’ likens them in this to some aboriginal people who also do not make a difference between physical existence and the world of dreams and witches and demons are perceived as part of reality. Many tales contain the idea of redemption. i. e. someone who has been wronged triumphs. This is not the same concept as Christian ideas of redemption. In fact fairy tales very rarely have any direct religious content. Cinderella, by 17th century French author Charles Perrault is an example of this redemption idea as are many of the Grimm’s Tales such as Hansel and Gretal.

Perrault’s tales have in French the title Histoires ou contes du temps passe, avec des moralites: Contes de ma mere l’Oye. That is stories and tales from history with their morals: tales of Mother Goose. Note that ‘from history’. In fact if you go to the Charante district of France the tour guides will point out the castle where ‘Sleeping Beauty’ slept, despite the fictional nature of the story. Perrault did not invent the stories he wrote, but merely recorded traditional tales, as did the Grimm brothers in the 1800’s.

They were academics and their aim was to record the folklore stories which reflected the capricious and unfair nature of life in the Germany of their day. As with almost all tales theirs represent the values and moral beliefs of ordinary people, rather than those of the elite in society. These are not stories from courtly bards, but by far the majority are from the lips of grandmothers and servants, woodcutters and cowherds. Only incidentally did they provide entertainment and frights for many thousands of children.

When the Grimm Brothers realized how their stories pleased the young people they gradually smoothed out some of the more horrific parts so as to make them more universally acceptable. So we see that these stories are very ancient. In fact it is hard to separate them from myth, as for instance in the Anansi stories from various parts of Africa. Anasi, when he behaves badly gives an example of how not to behave. When he succeeds he becomes a symbol of hope. This possibly explains why his stories have traveled with people of African origin across to the America’s where for so long they were enslaved by oppressive masters.

A similar character is Brer Rabbit, found in the19th century stories of Joel Chandler Harris derived from Cherokee stories. The Great Hare was considered as supreme God by the tribes of the American North West and the Brer Rabbit stories are a humorous Southern interpretation of their stories. They are very similar to the stories told by Bantu people of Africa, though the trickster in their stories is usually the spider Anansi. There have been suggestions that Br’er Rabbit, represents the negro slave’s attempts to overcome circumstances and get his own back on the white masters.

Despite his sometime lack of success and general moral degeneracy he was an heroic figure to an oppressed people The Motherland Nigeria web site emphasizes the moral nature of this type of tale as it divides them according to various moral values such as wisdom, kindness, friendship and forgiveness. They differ from legend in that hardly ever can they be placed in a particular place or time and do not tend to refer to gods and goddesses. The emphasis tends to be on ordinary people who rise due to unusual circumstances and the action of others as in the case of fairy godmothers.

We have stories of beggar girls who become princesses and farm lads who discover that they are heirs to a kingdom. Another function of such stories is that they provide continuity as they are passed down from generation to generation. There may be some differences over time, and perhaps different versions of the same story in the same way that West Side Story and Kiss Me Kate are versions of Shakespeare plays or Disney introduces talking clocks or dancing mice, but the essentials of a story remain the same.

A child knows that whether he asks Granny to tell him the story of the ‘Three Little Pigs’ or he asks his Dad, in both cases there will be lots of Huffing and Puffing and the pig will triumph over the wicked wolf. They can be comforting to a child who finds it difficult to fit into society as in Anderson’s ‘Ugly Duckling’. Also, because the stories often contain repetitive language such as ‘I’ll run and I’ll run, as fast as I can,. You can’t catch me. I’m the ginger bread man’ or “She tried on the slipper but it was too big…She tried on the slipper but it was too small…. She tried on the slipper and it was just right. ” From Cinderella.

The telling of such stories can be an interactive event even with quite small children. They can join in with the telling and the stories are useful aids to literacy as well as stirring the imagination. The repetition is also a comfort as a child soon knows the story more or less off by heart , and knows that even the most frightening parts will have a positive resolution in almost every case. They have educational value and so they are often used by teachers, especially those who teach early years. They can be used to teach all kinds of concepts such as superlatives – little, medium, largest – as in Goldilocks and the three bears.

The moral values of the stories can also be discussed – should Hansel and Gretal have eaten parts of the witch’s house? Was it right of Goldilocks to go into the house of the Three Bears and eat their breakfast? And so on. Illustrated books can be examined. Who is this? Is she happy or sad? Why is that? What do you think happens next? With older children the sadder tales such as Anderson’s ‘Little match girl’ can be read and the situation used to begin a discussion or exploration of child poverty or children and work. They can be used for creative writing.

Can they come up with a different ending, or write the story from another point of view – the Three Pigs from the Wolf’s viewpoint perhaps or Cinderella as told by the ugly sisters? In a multi racial classroom it might be possible to write the stories as if set within the children’s own culture. They can be used for art work or perhaps the writing and performing of puppet plays. Groups could choose a story to interpret to the rest of the class in any way they liked, or in a way specified by teacher. These stories are not just for amusement.

They have both roles and value in society and will continue to be told for many more years to come. In the introduction to her collection of classic fairy tales Maria Tatar, who includes 12 of Grimm’s stories in her book, says :- ‘ For many of us childhood books are sacred objects. Often read to pieces, those books took us on voyages of discovery, leading us into secret new worlds that magnify childhood desires and anxieties and address the great existential mysteries. Long may they continue to do so. Works Cited Harris, J. C. Legends of the Old Plantation, 1881 M.

Le Jumel de Barneville, Baronne d’Aulnoy, Les Contes des Fees, 1697 Perrault, C. Tales of Mother Goose, 1697 Tatar, M. The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales, Norton Publishers, Madison, 2002 Thompson, S. Motif-Index of Folk-Literature: A Classification of Narrative Elements in Folktales, Ballads, Myths, Fables, Mediaeval Romances, Exempla, Fabliaux. Indiana University Press, 1990 Wilde, O. The Happy Prince 1982, London, Black Cat Electronic Sources Anderson,H. C. , H. P. Paull ( translator) Fairy Tales and Stories, 1872 12th December 2007, http://hca. gilead. org. il/

Fables and Fairy Tales, Stories and Nursery Rhymes 13th December 2007 http://www. ivyjoy. com/fables/ Grimm’s Fairy Tales 12th December 2007 http://www. familymanagement. com/literacy/grimms/grimms-toc. html Motherland Nigeria, Stories and Books 12th December 2007 http://www. motherlandnigeria. com/stories. html Potter,S. Folktales :Oral traditions as a basis for instruction in our schools 13th December 2007 http://www. yale. edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1993/2/93. 02. 09. x. html#b Snider,C. On the Loom of Sorrow 12th December 2007 http://www. csulb. edu/~csnider/wilde. fairy. tales. html

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