fairy tale beginnings

139 Folktale and Fairy Tale Beginnings by Storytellers

“Once upon a time,” is the classic fairy tale beginning. But of course, there were far more folktale and fairy tale beginnings…

💡 Have you ever rescued something from the wastebasket? I rescued this list of fairy tale beginnings, but it was not I who made it. See: source and credits

Folktale and Fairy Tale Beginnings

  1. A fable! A fable! Bring it! Bring it! (Kanuri)
  2. A great while ago, when the world was full of wonders…
  3. A long time ago – and yet perhaps it wasn’t such a very long time ago – there lived…
  4. A long time ago in Estonia, people didn’t have bathtubs in their houses.
  5. A long time ago, the old people say…
  6. A long time ago, long ago, so long ago that no one can remember, and no tree can remember, and no rock can remember; so long ago that there were no people, and there were no trees, and the rocks had not been made…
  7. A Saam told this tale as he sat with his friends by the fire at night. He swore that all of it was true. If you have nothing else to do, I will tell this tale to you.
  8. A story, a story, let it come, let it go. (Traditional West African opening)
  9. At a time when the rivers were made of chocolate and wishes could come true…
  10. At the time when men and animals were all the same and spoke the same language… (Traditional Navajo opening)
  11. Back, far back, in the mists of time when the world was very young…
  12. Back in the days when animals could talk…
  13. Back when the world was young, and the humans and the animal people could speak to each other…
  14. Before the beginning of time, before the beginning of everything, before there was a beginning…
  15. Before the world became as it is today…
  16. 30 Folktale and Fairy Tale Beginnin...
    30 Folktale and Fairy Tale Beginnings by Storytellers
  17. Beyond the woods, beyond the seas, beyond high mountains lived a frightful dragon. (Chuvash)
  18. Did you ever hear the story of…?
  19. Everyone knows…
  20. Far away and just as long ago…
  21. Far away in a hot country, where the forests are very thick and dark, and the rivers very swift and strong, there once lived…(African)
  22. Far beyond the edge of the world there lived…
  23. Far, far away, beyond all sorts of countries, seas, and rivers, there stood a splendid city… (Andrew Lang)
  24. Far, far away in Russia, very long ago, there lived…(Russia)
  25. Far, far away in the midst of a pine forest, there lived…
  26. Here is a story! Let it come! Let it come
  27. Here’s a story I learnt from an owl. I told it to a king. He gave me a purse of gold and this pin. [Papa Joe]
  28. Hill and Vale do not meet, but the children of men do, good and bad…(The Two Travellers)
  29. I daresay you have heard of…
  30. I do not mean, I do not really mean that this story is true… (Ashanti)
  31. I want to tell you now the story of … (Tartar)
  32. I will tell you a story which was told to me when I was a little boy/girl. Every time I thought of the story, it seemed to me to become more and more charming, for it is with stories as it is with many people: they become better as they grow older.
  33. In a certain kingdom, in a certain land, in a little village, there lived… (Russian)
  34. In a certain realm, in a certain land…(Russian gypsy)
  35. In a land that never was in a time that could never be…
  36. In a place, neither near nor far, and a time, neither now nor then…
  37. In ancient times, the old men say…
  38. In ancient times, when the magpie was a Cossack chief and the duck a policeman, the bear had a long stumpy tail, as splendid as Mistress Fox’s. (Tartar)
  39. In olden times, in times when rams were still without horns and sheep without tales, there lived… (Kazakh)
  40. In olden times when the Lord himself still used to walk about on this earthamong men… (Poor Man and the Rich Man)
  41. In olden times when wishing still helped…
  42. In that long ago day…
  43. In the beginning…
  44. In the beginning, when the earth was set down the sky was lifted up, some things were not quite finished.
  45. In the days now long departed… (Scandinavian)
  46. In the days when animals talked like people…
  47. In the days when animals talked like people. Those were the good old days! Sigh!
  48. In the high and far-off times…
  49. In the old days, as is known…
  50. In the old, old, half-forgotten times, before the gardens of Tartary were overrun with weeds, there lived…(Tartar)
  51. In the olden times when wishing still helped… (The Frog Prince)
  52. In the time before remembrance there was…
  53. In the years behind our years…
  54. In times long past, in a house near the woods, there lived an old man called… (Bashkir)
  55. It all happened long ago, and believe it or not, it is all absolutely true.(Traditional Irish opening)
  56. It happened, it did not happen, it perhaps could have happened in the tents of our neighbors.
  57. It is said, that…
  58. It is told that long ago…
  59. It sometimes happened in the long ago…
  60. It was still the time of ancient things…
  61. It was long ago
  62. Just tell it, straight up, let the listener decide what’s at the heart of it.
  63. Let’s talk about one time…
  64. Long ago and far away, across the western sea…
  65. Long ago, as only the very old remember…
  66. Long ago, in the time of mysteries… (“White Wave” by Diane Wolkstein)
  67. Long ago, so long ago, I wasn’t there or I wouldn’t be here now to tell you the tale…
  68. Long ago when the earth was new…
  69. Long before you and I were born, there lived… (Tartar)
  70. Long, long ago, before our grandfathers’ and great-grandfathers’ time…
  71. Long, long ago, soon after sky and earth had become separated so that there was room for trees to grow and the tribes of men to move between them, many gods and spirits still lived in the world. (Maori)
  72. Long, long ago, when powerful dragons still lived on the land and in the seas…
  73. Long, long ago, when some folk were already dead and others not yet born, there lived a …(Tartar)
  74. Long, long ago when stones were soft…
  75. Long, long ago, when the world was new and the animals could talk…
  76. Long, long ago, when there was less noise and more green on the broad banks of Lake Baikal, (Tartar)
  77. Long years ago, in the early ages of the world… (Hungarian)
  78. Many hundred years ago in a country across the sea, there lived…
  79. Many years ago, in a time when memory was young… (India)
  80. Many years ago, when the time was so young, that there was not even anything called ‘the old days…” (Bjarne Reuter)
  81. Not in my time, not in your time, it was in the old peoples time…
  82. Not in your time, not in my time, but in the old time, when the earth and the sea were new…
  83. Now here’s a story I heard tell…
  84. Now little one, I will tell you a little story. Ever so long ago there lived…
  85. Now, look see. I wad’n there then so I could’swear ëtwas the truth, could I now? But ëtwas like this, see… (England)
  86. Now we are about to begin and you must attend! And when we get to the end of the story, you will know more than you do now. (Andersen)
  87. Once long ago, in a little town that lay in the midst of high hills and wide forests…
  88. Once on a time when pigs was swine…
  89. Once on a time and twice on a time, and all times together as ever I heard tell of…
  90. Once on the far side of yesterday…
  91. Once there was…
  92. Once there was, and twice there wasn’t…
  93. Once there was and was not in ancient Armenia a man who was very poor… (Armenian)
  94. Once there was, once there was, and once there was not…
  95. Once there was, one day there will be: this is the beginning of every fairy tale. There is no ‘if’ and no ‘perhaps,’ the three-legged stool unquestionably has three legs. (Breton)
  96. Once upon a time, and a very good time it was, when pigs were swine and dogs ate lime and monkeys chewed tobacco, when houses were thatched with pancakes, streets paved with plum pudding, and roasted pigs ran up and down the streets with knives an forks in their backs crying ‘come and eat me’! (Jack the Giant Killer coll. by Katharine M. Briggs)
  97. Once upon a time, and a very good time too, though it was not in my time, nor your time, nor for the matter of that in any one’s time… (English Fairy Tales)
  98. Once upon a time, a long long time ago, when mice ran after cats and lions were chased by rats… (Romania, Pellowski, World of Storytelling)
  99. Once upon a time and twice upon a time, and all times together as even I heard tell of… (English fairy tales)
  100. Once upon a time in the very middle of the middle of a large kingdom, there was a town, and in the town a palace, and in the palace a king. (Andrew Lang)
  101. Once upon a time, so long ago no one remembers when and where… (Chuck Larkin)
  102. Once upon a time, not in your time nor in my time, but in a very good time…
  103. Once upon a time, not your time, nor my time, but one time.
  104. Once upon a time there lived a king, like many others…
  105. Once upon a time, very long ago, a strange thing happened on a high mountain…
  106. Once upon a time what happened did happen – and if it had not happened, you would never have heard this story. (Andrew Lang)
  107. Once upon a time, not your time, nor my time, but one time.
  108. Once upon a time when the birds ate lamb and the monkeys chewed tobacco up a tree…
  109. Once upon a time, after the invention of teenagers but before there were shopping malls for teenagers to hang around in… (Tales from the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird)
  110. Once upon a time, and a very good time it was too, when the streets were paved with penny loaves and houses were whitewashed with buttermilk and the pigs ran around with knives and forks in their snouts shouting ‘eat me’ ‘eat me’. (“King of Ireland’s Son”,Irish Folktales)
  111. Once upon a time when princes still set out to seek their fortunes and when cranky old women still sometimes turned out to be witches… (Tales from the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird)
  112. Once upon a time, when the grass grew greener, the trees grew taller, and the sun shone more brightly than it does today, there was a ….
  113. Once upon a time, so long ago, nobody but the storytellers remember…
  114. Once upon a time, in a time and place beyond measure…
  115. Once upon a time, a couple of days ago…
  116. Once upon a time, and a time before that…(Scandinavian)
  117. Once upon a time, in the long long ago…(Scandinavian)
  118. One Way-Back Day…
  119. So long ago that we have lost count when…(Scandinavian)
  120. So long ago that no one can quite say when…(Scandinavian)
  121. So long ago that we are not sure when… (Scandanavian)
  122. Some people don’t believe what they are told. They only believe what they see…
  123. Somewhere or other, but I don’t know where, there lived…
  124. Somewhere, some place, beyond the Seven Seas… (The Little Rooster, the Diamond Button, and the Turkish Sultan)
  125. That’s the flourish (prishazka) just for fun; the real tale (shazka) has not yet begun… (Russia)
  126. There once lived a man as poor and humble as a body has ever been. All the same, he brought up his children to be sharp, nimble and hard-working. (Tartar)
  127. There was once in old times, in old times there was…
  128. There was, there was, and yet there was not (Georgian, Papashvili)
  129. This here’s a story that happened back when animals were more like people and people were more like animals and things were just plain better all around…
  130. This is my story which I have told you. If it be sweet, tell it to someone again and then some of the thanks will come back to me. (Africa)
  131. This is what the Old Ones told me when I was a child… (traditional Cherokee opening & ending)
  132. This tale goes back to a time long ago, when sheep grazed peacefully in the green folds of the Tartar homelands. (Tartar)
  133. This was in the time that’s gone by, and I’m going’ to tell you a story ’bout it.
  134. Twas not in my time, ’twas not in your time, but it was in somebody’s time. (Irish)
  135. Upon Time…
  136. Very many years ago, there lived
  137. We do not really mean it. We do not really mean it, but they say…(Ashanti)
  138. What the ear does not hear, will not move the heart…
  139. When men worked and walked with ease and life was very simple.
  140. When the earth had been stretched over the water and shaped into mountains and valleys…
  141. You may be wondering how I know these old stories…

Source & Credits

I (Storyteller Rudolf Roos) remember coming across this list of fairy tale beginnings more than 10 years ago. When I searched for it in 2022, it was nowhere to be found. What I did find was a link to a website which was no longer in existence.

Luckily the Internet has a memory: The Wayback Machine. I was able to find this list of fairy tale beginnings again and have published it here as a service because to my knowledge it is not available anywhere online anymore.

Foreword from the original online document

Traditionally told tales often start with a few words at the beginning that are designed to get listeners ready for a different kind of discourse: a long narrative that we don’t suppose to be literally true, set in a kind of dreamtime that is apart from, but closely involved with, ordinary reality.

The standard opener, the one we all know is, “Once Upon A Time.” It’s a good one and serves the purpose, but sometimes you might want to try something different.

Here are some alternatives, collected by participants of the listserve “Storytell,” originally compiled by Sharon P. Johnson, augmented and organized by Stefani Koorey, & further augmented, and prepared for this page by Betsy Bybell, AKA Batsy.

(most recent update 10/18/09, originally published at www.folktale.net/openers.html by Tim Jennings and Leanne Ponder)

More interesting sources of fairy tale beginnings

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Photo Credits: Pixabay

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