During the short time spent in this class so far, we’ve discussed a number of things, from sex in Sleeping Beauty to something as simple as our favorite fairy tales. However, whenever we discuss the differences between fairy tales and other types of stories that are seen as synonymous with the tales (legends, myths, ect.), there appears to be a very strict base or form that fairy tales take on.

Whenever we’ve discussed fairy tales in class, we tend to bring up the same criteria: fairy tales usually rely on brevity with a stunning lack of detail; they must have some sense of magic in them, magic being defined simply as something impossible in reality (and, in the case of fairy tales, something that goes unquestioned); and, usually, a fairy tale makes us challenge a previously held belief or take a side on a certain discussion (good vs. evil, life vs. death, ect.). We’ve had numerous readings which reaffirm these criteria. Max Luthi writes of how legends use miracles and time differently from fairy tales, such that “in the local legend, the miracle fascinates, moves, frightens, or delights us; in the fairy tale, it is a matter of course” [1]. This supports the magic and lack of detail (words are not wasted on describing miracles, which are so happenstance in the world described that they can hardly be called ‘miracles’ anymore). Examples of these criteria are easily found in the Grimm tale “Briar Rose”, such as when she wakes from her 100 year sleep, undergoing no change from the passing of time. Indeed, the prince in the tale “was so astounded by her beauty that he leaned over and kissed her” [2]­­­­, despite the fact that after 100 years, her beauty should have faded quite a long time ago.

Clearly, these criteria for ‘what a fairy tale is’ appear to fit. However, there are some limitations to these definitions. For example, what would ‘modern fairy tales’ be classified as (tales such as adaptations of old fairy tales, or new stories unrelated to the Grimms or other authors)? Can they still be called fairy tales if they are merely adaptations of the originals? And, what happens when you analyze the synonymous nature of myth and legend to fairy tales; do such terms still mean fairy tale, despite the innate differences between the story types?

Despite these numerous questions, the criteria still remain true for the analysis of fairy tales. Perhaps they can be expanded upon, but for now, the magic, imagination, and form of a fairy tale define the genre well.



[1] Lüthi, Max. “The Seven Sleepers.” Once upon a Time; On the Nature of Fairy Tales. New York: F. Ungar Pub., 1976. 45. Print.

[2] Grimm, Wilhelm, and Jacob Grimm. “Briar Rose.” The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition. Trans. Jack Zipes. First ed. Princeton UP. 164. Print.


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