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The Development Of The Fairy Tale

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 4076 words Published: 11th May 2017

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The development of the fairy tale is closely connected with the emergence of myths. As Bruno Bettelheim (1989) puts it, some fairy and folk stories evolved out of myths; others were incorporated into them.

However, there is a profound difference between myths and fairy tales: while myths deal with magic that can improve the world, fairy tales uncover various aspects of reality through fictitious characters and places. Initially, fairy tales were an integral part of folk-lore, being constantly expanded and changed in different cultures until the spread of written language.

The fact is that in an oral form fairy tales were created by adults for adults, demonstrating values and traditions of people; however, with the publication of fairy tales in the sixteenth century, they gradually acquired new admirers – children. Since the eighteenth century fairy tales have been mainly created for children, although these tales differed much due to social distinctions. Fairy tales created for children of the upper-class reflected specific moral norms and manners, while fairy tales of common people revealed a criticism of this higher society and uncovered various social vices.

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A famous mythCupid and Psyche created by Apuleius in 100-200 A.D. is usually regarded as the earliest example of the fairy tale, but the real precursor of some contemporary fairy tales is thePanchatantra, Hindu tales that date back to 200-300 A.D. In 850-860 a Chinese writer Tuan Ch’eng-shih developed the first variant ofCinderella story, and in 1500s the taleOne Thousand and One Arabian Nights was written down.The Tale of Tales, or Entertainment for Little Ones (better known asIl Pentamerane, 1634-1636) created by Giambattista Basile is considered to be the first example of fairy tales written specifically for children, although this viewpoint is usually challenged.

In this collection of tales Basile presents the early variants of such fairy tales asRapunzel andSleeping Beauty, despite the fact that these tales were translated into English language only several centuries later. At the end of the seventeenth – the beginning of the eighteenth centuries many female writers of the French Salons were engaged in the fairy tale writing; among the most famous writers was Marie-Catherine D’Aulnoy who created a great number of fairy tales that were further translated into different languages. In fact, the very term ‘fairy tale’ was invented by these salon writers and was soon widely applied to the stories written by Perrault, Andersen and the Brothers Grimm.

Simultaneously, French male writers also contributed to the development of the fairy tale in the eighteenth century; this is especially true in regard to Charles Perrault whoseMother Goose Tales acquired unusual popularity among children and adults of various nations. Such Perrault’s tales asThe Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella andPuss in Bootsare still popular nowadays. In the eighteenth centuryHistories, or Tales of Times Past by Charles Perrault were published in English. Cullinan and Galda (1998) consider that this collection of tales transformed adult fairy tales into children’s fairy tales that were admired by both boys and girls, because early children’s literature mainly dealt with biblical myths and oral stories (p.172).

Jack Zipes (1985) considers that the best fairy tales are supposedly universal. It does not matter when or why they were written (p.1). The main characteristic feature of these literary fairy tales is that they conform to a linear structure, that is, the end of the tale is the start. For instance, in the fairy taleRapunzel written by the Brothers Grimm the two principal characters Rapunzel and the Prince manage to overcome many difficulties and start a new life. As the Grimms (1884) put it, the Prince led her [Rapunzel] to his kingdom where he was joyfully received, and they lived for a long time afterwards, happy and contented (p.54).

In 1756 a French female writer Madame Le Prince de Beaumont produced a simple literary variant ofBeauty and the Beast, a fairy tale that was intended for youngsters. Madame Beaumont also issuedMagasin de Enfants, a collection of literary fairy tales for children’s education, which she primarily used for girls to diversify her lessons with them. This book gave rise to the idea that fairy tales were especially useful for children. However, some people in the middle of the eighteenth century made constant attempts to oppose the spread of the fairy tale in children’s literature. In particular, the protestant Samuel Goodrich under the assumed name Peter Parley pointed at the negative impact of fairy tales on children, presenting various scientific data to prove his viewpoint. To some extent, the attempts of Goodrich and his followers restricted fairy tales, but with the emergence of Romanticism children’s fairy tales became more and more popular.

In the nineteenth century children’s stories began to bring much income, and the tales written by the French salon writers appeared under the pseudonym Mother Goose. In addition, German writers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm managed to publish their well-known collection of fairy talesChildhood and Household Tales that contains such great tales asHansel and Gretel, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs andRumpelstiltskin. It was in that period when fairy tales began to be chiefly utilised for children’s education and acquired a crucial place among other genres of children’s literature. As Jack Zipes (1994) puts it, the fairy tales for children were sanitized and expurgated versions of the fairy tales for adults, or they were new moralistic tales that were aimed at the domestication of the imagination (p.14).

Therefore, moral values and notions of fairy tales were strongly controlled in nineteenth-century children’s literature; the authors of the fairy tale adhered to strict censorship and had to reflect the ideals that were considered appropriate for that society. In 1823 the Grimms’ fairy tales appeared in English language with beautiful illustrations, and in 1835 Hans Christian Andersen presented hisFairy Tales Told for Children. Some of Andersen’s fairy tales, such asThe Princess on the Pea andThe Wild Swans, are borrowed from folk-lore, although other tales are first-hand pieces, includingThe Little Mermaid, The Snow Queen, The Red Shoes andThe Ugly Duckling. Oscar Wilde, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, John Ruskin, Clemens Bretano also made attempts to create children’s fairy tales.

At the end of the nineteenth century Walter Crane produced his illustrations toCinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Puss in Boots andSleeping Beauty, and Aleksandr Afanasyev gathered many Russian tales. In fact, the development of Russian fairy tales differs much from the development of the fairy tale in Western cultures. While the fairy tale in France, Germany, Great Britain and other European countries was closely connected with myths, fairy tales in Russia were perceived as the real past of Russian people. As a result, the fairy tale in Russian children’s literature is usually divided into three principal kinds: tales of animals and birds, supernatural fairy tales and daily tales.

Although Russian fairy tales differ from European tales, they also reflect the impact of France and Germany on the plots and ways of expression. However, Russian fairy tale writers made everything to decrease this influence, thinking that the revival of [native] fairy tales would promote the triumph of the Russian language over the French language, which had been adopted by aristocracy (Tatar, 1999 p.334). This is especially obvious in fairy tales written by Alexander Pushkin who adheres to French literary traditions and the structure utilised by Charles Perrault. Contrary to Western fairy tales, Russian fairy tales became a part of children’s literature much later due to the existing notion that fairy tales resulted in nightmares, that is why, for a long time they were appropriate only to adults.

In the twentieth century such Russian fairy tale writers as Aleksei Tolstoi, Olga Larionovna, the Brothers Strugatsky, Valentina Zhuravleva, Ivan Efremov and Evgennii Zamiatin rejected Western traditions and advanced Russian fairy tales. In their turn, Western authors Orson Scott Card and China Mieville borrowed some elements of Russian tales and utilised them in their own fairy tales. The twentieth century is also characterised by the formation of different versions of early fairy tales, including film adaptations and operas, especially Walt Disney’s film versionSnow White and the Seven Dwarfs and the balletCinderella by Sergei Prokofiev. Besides, these popular fairy tales have a great impact on contemporary writers of the fairy tale, such as Emma Donoghue, Delia Sherman, Robert Coover, Angela Carter, Margaret Atwood and Tanith Lee.

Contrary to other literary forms, the development of the fairy tale was one of the most important inventions of children’s literature. The fairy tale, with its rather simple plot, provides valuable lessons to children and inspires their interest in other literary genres. It not only develops children’s imagination, but also gives them an opportunity to take part in the described events and understand some aspects of reality. According to Ivo Andric (1992), The true history of mankind is contained in fairy stories, they make it possible to guess, if not to discover, its meaning (p.16). Although the fairy taleSnow White has been exposed to different changes since its initial creation and every variant of this story reflects certain cultural traditions of various countries, the crucial role of the tale is explained by its impact on the formation of children’s identities.

The Brothers Grimm’s version ofSnow White reveals German culture and the essence of their times, but what is more important is that this fairy tale deals with the inner world of a personality rather than with specific events of reality. Despite the fact that the beginning of the Grimms’Snow Whiteis written in a realistic manner, depicting a birth of a beautiful girl and her mother’s death afterwards, in whole the tale is unrealistic. For instance, Snow White’s step mother has an unusual mirror that can speak to her; the only question that the Queen asks is Mirror, mirror upon the wall, who is the fairest of all? and the only answer that satisfies her is Thou, O Queen, art the fairest of all (Grimm, 1898 p.10).

As Queen’s soul is filthy, she is obsessed with her appearance and needs a constant confirmation of her beauty, while Snow White is beautiful inside. In this regard, the Brothers Grimm draw a parallel between inner and outer beauty, implicitly revealing the connection of their fairy tale with ancient myths. But unlike myths that only mention internal conflicts,Snow Whiteprovides solution to these particular conflicts and reveals what the next steps in the development toward a higher humanity might be (Bettelheim, 1989 p.26). If a child follows the behaviour of the Queen, he/she will finally lose, but if a child acts, like Snow White, he/she will benefit. Children’s identities are shaped by their environment; however, as Bettelheim (1989) claims, through most of man’s history, a child’s intellectual life apart from immediate experiences within the family, depended on fairy tales (p.24).

Similar toSnow White, such fairy tales asThe Three Little Pigs, Rapunzel, The Goose GirlandCinderella reveal certain patterns of behaviour and morality that children should follow, if they want to succeed. Many fairy tales reflect gradual changes of their characters, as they acquire experience in the process of narration, teaching children to behave in a similar way. For instance, the Scarecrow from the fairy taleThe Wizard of Oz written by Frank Baum becomes wiser in his search of his identity and avoids mistakes that he made at the beginning of the story.

In particular, when the Scarecrow and his friends collide with a mountain that they are unable to cross, the Scarecrow suggests that they should stay where they are, until they find an appropriate solution. A fairy taleThe Goose Girl by Brothers Grimm brings up the issue of female independence, revealing the transformation of a princess into a goose girl and her realisation of her true self. The girl’s change helps her to understand many crucial things of life.

Such fairy tales are especially important for children who have some inner conflicts and problems, as these tales reveal certain ways to overcome their difficulties. The fairy tale is created to reveal both good and bad sides of life, simultaneously stressing the importance of struggle for a person. In fact, the development of the fairy tale in children’s literature reflects the attempts of adults to guide children towards appropriate ways of behaviour. For instance, such fairy tales asLittle Red Riding Hood warns children of the dangers and reveals the consequences of their disobedience.

According to Jack Zipes (1985), fairy tales differ in their patterns of appropriate behaviour. In particular, the researcher claims that such Perrault’s fairy tales asLittle Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty,andBluebeard embody the features that are appropriate for young women, including patience, obedience, politeness, inner power and kindness. The principal female characters of the mentioned fairy tales possess these features and they finally benefit from their good behaviour.

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However, other fairy tales of Perrault, such asRicky of the Tuft, Hop o’ My Thumb andPuss in Boots, reveal the desirable male features, including intelligence, good manners, education, devotion and strength. But these particular features are gradually implemented into the fairy tale by various writers who change the earlier versions of these tales. This is obvious on the example ofLittle Red Riding Hood that in the interpretations of Perrault and the Brothers Grimm differ much from the oral folk tale. In the earlier version a little girl encounters with a werewolf and tells him where she goes; the werewolf kills her grandmother and then makes a girl eat her meat.

Fortunately, the girl manages to run away from the werewolf, but such an interpretation reflects the existence of cannibalism in ancient times. Perrault introduces new elements into the tale. In particular, he provides a girl with a red hood and points at close family relations. But in Perrault’s version the girl is killed, thus the morality of the tale is that young children should follow their parents’ advice. As Marina Warner (1994) claims, only four stories by Perrault do not feature cannibalism as such, [they are]Cinderella, Donkeyskin, The Fairies,Bluebeard (p.160).

The tale of the Brothers Grimm resembles Perrault’s tale, but they introduce a woodcutter who saves the girl and the grandmother, giving the girl an opportunity to act in a different way in future. In this regard, an earlier version of the tale demonstrates people’s fear of being killed by wild animals, while Perrault’s version symbolises the relations between an innocent young girl and a dangerous man who is presented in the image of the wolf.

The Brothers Grimm’s interpretation pays much attention to cultural traditions of their nation, revealing women’s dependence from men; neither the grandmother, nor the girl is able to save themselves in the face of danger, while a man, a woodcutter, helps these female characters. The same regards the Brothers Grimm’s taleSnow White, where the girl is first saved by the huntsman and then by dwarfs, serving as their mother and performing various household duties. Through these tales the Grimms manage to reflect their ideals on social roles of men and women and to convey experience of the previous generations in regard to various aspects of life.

On the other hand, the Grimms considerably change various folk elements of their tales, introducing their own morality and ways of expression. For instance, developing their fairy taleRapunzel, the Brothers Grimm follow some folk traditions of earlier versions of this tale, including the variants written by Friedrich Schulz, Charlotte Caumont de La Force and Giambattista Basile, but they make major stress on magical elements rather than on folk elements.

In particular, the fairy taleBeauty and the Beast deals with the magic that is closely connected with psychological maturation of the principal female character. At the beginning the tale presents an awful beast, but as the fairy tale progresses, the Beast appears to reveal many human features, such as loneliness, kindness and care. When a Beauty meets the Beast, she perceives him as ‘terrifying’, because she is afraid of males; however, as she is changed from a girl into a woman, the Beast also changes into a good-looking Prince.

It is clear that such an interpretation is made by an adult, but not by a child who does not realise the complex subtext of this fairy tale, butBeauty and the Beastis still one of the most popular fairy tales of children’s literature. The fact is that fairy tales have a gradual impact on a child; although he/she may not understand all meanings of the fairy tale at once, he/she starts to uncover its subtext and symbolism in the process of maturation. Perhaps, it is this variety of profound meanings that makes the fairy tale the most crucial genre of children’s literature.

Although the development of the fairy tale differs in various countries, reflecting the peculiarities of certain cultures, many tales reveal common structures and motifs. For instance, such fairy tales asThe Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks and the Three Bears,andSleeping Beauty demonstrate three protagonists or three Fates, while in the taleSnow White the Queen makes three attempts to kill her stepdaughter. However, in the Brother Grimm’s fairy taleThe Juniper Treethat greatly resembles the taleSnow White a wicked stepmother manages to kill her stepson from the first time, but the boy is revived by the end of the tale, similar to Snow White.

Another common feature of these tales is the existence of supernatural helpers, such as a magical godmother inCinderellaor dwarfs inSnow White. Cinderella is one of the most important fairy tales that exists in various cultures; despite the fact that the principal character has different names, such as Cendrillion (Italy), Yeh-hsien (China), Catskin (England) and Aschenputtle (Germany), the plot and morality of this fairy tale are similar. In general, there are more than three hundred variants ofCinderella, including the versions written by Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm. In all these different versions two characters, Cinderella and the stepmother are opposed to each other, revealing the struggle between good and evil.

The same opposition is shown in the taleSnow White, where the stepmother is presented as a cruel woman, while Snow White is a beautiful and kind girl, similar to Cinderella. Thus, the image of a stepmother in fairy tales is negative, demonstrating social reality in regard to families: The poor girl suffered it all patiently, and didn’t dare complain to her father, who would have scolded her, because he was completely under the [stepmother’s] sway (Perrault, 1982 p.10). In Perrault’s and the Brothers Grimm’s versions Cinderella is portrayed as a real beauty, because in the eighteenth-nineteenth centuries outer beauty was associated with inner beauty.

However, in some other versions ofCinderella the principal female character is presented as an ugly girl who is further changed into an attractive young woman, while her stepsisters who are initially beautiful are transformed into freaks, with the exception of Perrault’s tale, where Cinderella forgives her stepsisters and finds appropriate matches for them. In the Brothers Grimm’s tale the stepsisters of Cinderella are punished with blindness for the rest of their lives (Grimm, 1982 p.29).

In Perrault’s version of the tale much stress is put on fancy dresses and the image of the godmother, while in the Brothers Grimm’s versionAschenputtelthere is no godmother; instead, there is a tree near the grave of Cinderella’s mother that helps the girl. Similarly, in Rashin-Coatie, the Scottish variant ofCinderella, there is a red calf that gives aid to the protagonist. Thus, Western culture implements the image of the fairy godmother, while other cultures mainly deal with certain magical things that possess great power.

In Perrault’s variant of the tale Cinderella is given the glass slippers to match her beautiful dress and when the Prince finds a lost slipper, he announces to the sounds of trumpets that he would marry the girl whose foot fit the slipper (Perrault, 1982 p.15). But in the Chinese version of the tale and the Brothers Grimm’s variant the principal female character gets the gold shoes. In general, shoes and boots are crucial elements of the fairy tale; for instance, the cat inPuss in Boots wears boots that provide him with higher position and the Queen ofSnow Whiteis given the red hot shoes that kill her. As the Brothers Grimm (1898) put it.

Then a pair of red-hot iron shoes was brought into the room with tongs and set before her, and these she was forced to put on and to dance until she could dance no longer, but fell down dead, and that was the end of her (p.20). The plot ofCinderella is utilised in some modern fairy tales; for example, Shirley Climo has writtenThe Egyptian Cinderella (1989), where the writer presents a Greek female slave Rhodopis who is humiliated because of different colour skin and who loses her gold slipper that is found by the pharaoh. AlthoughThe Egyptian Cinderella is rooted in a real fact, it also demonstrates the principal elements of fairy tales, such as the lost slipper found by the Prince

Analysing the development of the fairy tale in children’s literature, the essay suggests that fairy tales were created from the myths and folk stories and acquired a literary form in the seventeenth century. Although at the beginning fairy tales were written for adults, gradually they began to occupy one of the most important places in children’s literature. It was in France, where fairy tales were first exposed to these changes, followed by such countries as Germany, Great Britain and America. In Russia, where fairy tales were closely connected with country’s history, they were utilised in children’s literature several centuries later, implicitly revealing the difference between Western and Russian cultural traditions. Although Russian fairy tales reveal certain influence of Western culture, they create their own reality, introducing native elements, characters, settings and plots.

Applying to children’s emotionality, fairy tales allow children to solve their inner conflicts in the ways depicted in the narration. Among the most famous fairy tale writers are Charles Perrault, Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm who combine ancient mythical traditions with their own cultural traditions in their tales. However, while the Brothers Grimm and Perrault worked with earlier folk tales, Anderson wrote novel fairy tales, conforming to a conventional literary form. In this regard, each fairy tale has a variety of versions that, despite their diversities, reflect common plots and motifs. Some of them areCinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, The Three Little Pigs, Puss in Boots, Little Red Riding HoodandThe Princess on the Pea. Overall, all these fairy tales were developed as the principal educational tool that adhered to serious censorship and implemented the desirable patterns of children’s behaviour. In addition, fairy tales written by Andersen and the Brothers Grimm reflect some principles of Christian morality that were absent in folk tales and myths.


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