What, Say You, Is a Fairy Tale?

More like what do I say is a fairy tale.  After being in From Grimm to Disney for 2 weeks I definitely have grown fond of the German term Märchen.  At a first glance, these stories can range from the basic structure: Hero faces a conflict then solves it and lives happily ever after, or it can be seen from many analytical approaches that lead to an ambiguous definition of a true Märchen.  In order to define a Fairy tale, we have to look at both well-known aspects of said word. To do this, I’ve composed a helpful T-Chart that I will fill in as the class goes on.

Grimm Version                                                                             vs.                                                                               Disney Version

  • Male Dominance                                                                                                                                                         Female Emphasis
  • No Names                                                                                                                                                          Proper Nouns are used


It’s important to note that fairy tales are often told in the Zeitgeist of the time. That is, they are often recreated to fit society at the time.  Fairy tales have no sense in time. This brings up the idea that they live in a “Faërie” realm. The characters remain isolated in their world which Zipes suggest is a world in miniature because all aspects of society is there, plus a bit of enchantment. That’s another thing. You cannot have a fairy tale without some sort of magic/enchantment. It’s there to make you believe and hope for things like that, but in reality, we know there is no such thing. Right?
After reading ahead, I’ve noticed that these tales are always told by an omnipresent being that is able to see all that is happening in the fairy tale. This is the third person.  A theory I have on this is because fairy tales were an oral tradition and being a storyteller automatically makes you the third person.  Sometimes the storyteller will address his or herself as he/she did in “Hansel and Gretel”, other times he/she will not.
All fairy tales have motifs in them. This is just another word for a common theme surrounding the story. Think about it. If these tales didn’t have something in common, then the isolated characters will not have a storyline at all. I definitely find it interesting how the definition for a fairy tale has been misconstrued by many Americans because there is the Walt Disney version as opposed to the original Grimm Brothers’ Tales.  The T-Chart above will help us to further understand how fairy tales have been viewed since long over 2 centuries ago.


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