Fairy Tales FAQ

Fairy Tales FAQ: 18 Things You Should Know

Welcome to this Fairy Tales FAQ. For everybody who loves fairy tales, like me. And for those curious souls wanting to know more about fairy tales. When you delve deeper into their history, you soon realize that there is much to learn and discover.

As a professional storyteller, I get asked many questions about fairy tales. In this Fairy Tales FAQ, you find my concise answers to many of them.

1. Where do fairy tales come from?

The roots of fairy tales lie in the stories told orally for hundreds of years. Some can even be traced back to the Bronze Age, thousands of years ago. However, most of them were collected over three hundred years, edited, and published.

2. Why do fairy tales exist?

Fairy tales exist because humans love them and keep telling them. They exist because they give people both the harshness of life and the hope of something better. They still exist today because collectors wrote them down before people stopped telling them.

3. Why is it called a fairy tale?

In the late 17th century, a french writer, Madame d’Aulnoy, called the french fairy tale stories “contes de fΓ©es” because of the fairies featured in them. This name stuck and was translated to English as “fairy tales.” There are, however, not that many fairy tales containing fairies.

4. How old are the oldest fairy tales?

According to the research of anthropologist Jamshid Tehrani, some of the oldest fairy tales still being told today are between 2500 and 6000 years old. He tried, with his colleagues, to track back 275 tales to their first beginnings.

Discover more: Shultz, D. 2016. Some fairy tales may be 6000 years old (science.org)

5. What is the oldest fairy tale?

Anthropologist Jamshid Tehrani concluded in his research that a folk tale called The Smith and the Devil is around 6000 years old. However, UK Storyteller Ben Haggarty still tells a thrilling version of this story to modern audiences today.

6. How were fairy tales passed down?

Originally fairy tales were passed down by being told and retold. However, even thousands of years ago, versions were already being written down, so written and oral versions have co-existed together for a long time. Nowadays, the tales are mostly passed down in audio, video, or written versions.

7. Are fairy tales always oral in origin?

Fairy tales are not always oral in origin. Some of them were written by writers like Hans Christian Andersen. Others appear to be from the oral tradition but were written by French female writers in the 17th century. Lastly, some of them are oral in origin, like Cinderella.

Hans Christian Andersen
The famous Danish author of fairy tales: Hans Christian Andersen

8. Who originally wrote fairy tales?

Some fairy tales were not written by a single author but developed through years of oral storytelling. These mainly were collected and edited, for example, by the Brothers Grimm. Unknown writers wrote others down. Lastly, some were composed by writers like Perrault and Andersen.

9. Why are old fairy tales still popular today?

The world has changed, society has changed, but people have not changed all that much. They still love, they still hope, they still face harsh times. Old fairy tales remain popular because they speak to this human core in all of us. We still want the ‘happily ever after.’

10. Are fairy tales still relevant today?

As long as people keep telling fairy tales, they still have something to say to today’s audience. While the core of the fairy tale might still be very relevant, some changes to the words and the details might be needed. That, however, is their nature, changing with each teller and retelling.

11. Why are fairy tales important to adults?

Adults were initially telling fairy tales to other adults. They are full of life: actions, consequences, emotions, hope, and loss. They feed and sparkle the adult imagination, which has often fallen asleep. They speak to the inner needs that adults and children share.

Discover more about the importance of fairy tales for adults in this exciting essay Why Grown-Ups Still Need Fairy Tales on theconversation.com.

12. How many fairy tales are there?

Nobody knows. It’s like asking: “How many frogs are there?” πŸ™‚

13. How many Grimm Brothers fairy tales are there?

The seventh, last edition of the fairy tales collection of the Brothers Grimm contains 200 fairy tales. It was published in 1857. Some feature different versions of the same tale (like Little Red Riding Hood), so there are a bit more than 200.

You can read all the Brothers Grimm fairy tales here:

Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales Complete List

Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales [Complete List]

14. How long is a fairy tale?

Almost all fairy tales are relatively short stories, much shorter than a novella. When they are longer, they are often episodic. The reason for fairy tales being relatively short is that most of them were initially told orally. This limited their length to the time people could listen.

15. What is a traditional fairy tale?

A traditional fairy tale is a fairy tale that has been around for a long time and is known by many people. It has become part of our collective tradition. Many fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm and many fairy tales written by Hans Christian Andersen are considered traditional fairy tales.

16. What is a modern fairy tale?

A modern fairy tale is a story that is still recognizable as a fairy tale. Yet, it also features modern society, including today’s technology, media, and issues.

How to recognize what is a fairy tale and what is not? See this post I wrote about the characteristics of fairy tales.

17. What is a fractured fairy tale?

A fractured fairy tale is a story that builds upon a well-known traditional fairy tale. It changes and reimagines parts of this fairy tale while still keeping it recognizable. A fractured fairy tale allows commenting on the classic fairy tale or providing a new perspective.

Fractured Fairy Tales, a television series (1959-1964) aimed at children

Discover more in this excellent overview of fractured fairy tales on slaphappylarry.com.

18. Are there any American fairy tales?

Some tales could be seen as American fairy tales:

  • Some of the Native American stories have the same characteristics as other fairy tales, so they could be classified as fairy tales.
  • European fairy tales thrived and changed in many parts of the USA, like the Appalachian mountains. In many of the famous Jack stories you can still recognize European stories.
  • American writers have ben writing fairy tales for many years. Example: Frank Baum with The Wizard of Oz, a fairy tale like journey (although it might better be classified as fantasy).

Can you answer my question about fairy tales?

Yes, I probably can. I will include it in this Fairy Tales FAQ if it’s a helpful answer for others. Send me your question by email here:

Keep your question as short as possible, but not shorter. πŸ™‚

Photo credits: Pixabay

πŸ’‘ Once a month, I send out an email with new writings on storytelling and fairy tales.

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