Fairy Tale in Literature (Examples & Types)

Fairy tale is one of the earliest and also the much-admired branches of literature and popular culture. Since magical creatures and talking animals coexist with the tendencies of the questers that are part of this tale, children and adults alike have been lost in its fantastic story for centuries. To begin with, they have been for ages and ages narrated orally. However, fairy tales were initially recorded and later, they succeeded to pull important collections in books. Thus, quite early on, fairy tales exerted a formidable impact on the entire literature that had developed ever since.

What is a Fairy Tale?

A fairy tale is a short story featuring folkloric fantasy characters like fairies, goblins, elves, trolls, giants, and talking animals. Fairy tales typically take place in an imaginary, magical world. They often begin with the phrase “Once upon a time” which signals to the reader or listener that the tale is outside of normal reality.

Fairy tales usually have some key characteristics:

  • They have fantastical elements and characters with magical powers. Fairies, wizards, witches, and mythic beasts are common.
  • They are set in an imaginary, far away land. The setting is usually vague, such as “a kingdom far far away.”
  • They have clearly defined good and evil characters. The hero and villain archetypes are strong in fairy tales.
  • They teach a moral lesson. Fairy tales often end with the villain getting a punishment and the hero living happily ever after.
  • They use repetitive elements and phrases. Numbers like three and seven reoccur, along with phrases like “once upon a time” and “happily ever after.”
  • They have a simple, imaginative narrative. The plot of a fairy tale tends to be simple and linear.

Fairy tales are usually intended for children, though adults enjoy them too. Their fantasy and imagination appeal to young minds while the moral lessons instruct values. The fairy tale remains one of the most important storytelling traditions in the world.

The Importance of Fairy Tales in Literature

Fairy tales have had an immense impact on literature across genres and time periods. Their influence on the written word cannot be overstated. Some of the key reasons fairy tales are so important in literature include:

Foundational Narratives and Archetypes Fairy tales are some of the oldest and most foundational narratives that exist. Their characters, plots, settings, and themes established many of the archetypes that authors continue to draw upon to this day. The wicked witch, the handsome prince, the dark forest, and the moral lesson that concludes many fairy tales have all become iconic tropes.

Fairy tales set up the models for heroes, villains, magic, transformation, and the battle between good and evil that modern authors riff on constantly. Writers gain a vocabulary of archetypes from fairy tales they can then subvert, update, or put a unique spin on. Fairy tale elements are the bedrock for much of fantasy, mythology, and imaginative literature.

Types of Fairy Tales

There are several major types of fairy tales:

Folkloric Fairy Tales

These are traditional fairy tales that originated as part of oral folklore. They were passed down through storytelling and eventually written down, such as by the Brothers Grimm in the 19th century. Stories like “Cinderella,” “Snow White,” “Hansel and Gretel,” and “Rapunzel” are all common folkloric fairy tales. They tend to have vague settings and unknown origins.

Literary Fairy Tales

These are fairy tales written by a specific author, not derived from oral folklore. They have identifiable authors and more complex plots. Examples include “The Princess and the Goblin” by George MacDonald, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum, and “Peter Pan” by J.M. Barrie. The literary fairy tale has more developed characters and stylized literary elements.

Mythic Fairy Tales

These fairy tales use elements from mythology and legend. Their characters are often gods, mythic heroes and creatures. Stories like “Cupid and Psyche” and fairy tales with mythic beasts like dragons fall under this category. Mythic fairy tales draw on mythology to create a sense of legend and epic stakes.

Disney Fairy Tales

Today, many fairy tales are heavily influenced by Disney animated adaptations. Disney took classic fairy tales and modified them to be family-friendly. Modern tellings of fairy tales now often reference the Disney versions. Disney fairy tale adaptations include “Snow White,” “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and many others.

Contemporary Fairy Tales

Modern authors have also created new fairy tales and reimagined classic tales. Contemporary fairy tales may subvert tropes, tell stories from a new perspective, incorporate modern elements, or expand fairy tale universes. Examples include “The Bloody Chamber” by Angela Carter, “Briar Rose” by Jane Yolen, and “The Sisters Grimm” series by Michael Buckley. Unlike traditional fairy tales, contemporary ones have a known author and conscious artistic intent.

Examples of Fairy Tales in Literature

Fairy tales are woven throughout classic and modern literature. Here are some notable examples of fairy tales used in literature:

Mythology and Legend

Myths, legends, and folklore have heavily influenced fairy tales. Common fairy tale creatures like fairies, elves, giants, dragons, and witches originated in mythology. Tales like “Cupid and Psyche” incorporate Greek mythology. Stories of King Arthur’s court have contributed to fairy tale chivalric romances.

The Works of Hans Christian Andersen

This Danish author was one of the masters of literary fairy tales in the 1800s. His famous stories include “The Little Mermaid,” “The Snow Queen,” “The Ugly Duckling,” and “Thumbelina.” Andersen imbued his fairy tales with imaginative worlds, complex characters, and poignant themes.

Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm

The folklorists Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm collected oral folk tales in Germany in the 1800s. Their seminal fairy tale collection includes classics like “Cinderella,” “Snow White,” “Rapunzel,” “Hansel and Gretel,” and “Rumpelstiltskin.” The Grimm fairy tales are the most influential folk fairy tales, shaping perceptions of the genre.

Peter Pan by J.M Barrie

This beloved children’s book took the fairy tale to the stage and page in the early 20th century. J.M. Barrie created the boy who wouldn’t grow up in Peter Pan. He also transported fairy tale adventure to the contemporary setting of London rather than a faraway magical land. The book was innovative in blending realism with fantasy.

Fairy Tale Fantasy Novels

Many modern fantasy works make heavy use of fairy tale elements. Fantasy authors like George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and J.K. Rowling incorporate mythic creatures, enchanted forests, princesses, and wizard mentors into their novels. Fairy tales provide the foundation for the fantasy genre.

Throughout history, fairy tales have influenced literature across cultures. These short fantasies continue to inspire creative minds and spread magic to new generations. Whether told orally at bedtime or expanded into epic novels, fairy tales remain a fixture of imaginative fiction. Their themes of good versus evil, courage, and happily ever after still resonate profoundly with readers today.

Fairy Tale in Literature
Fairy Tale in Literature

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