Fairy Tales: The Beginning of Children’s Literature

Fairy Tales


Fairy tales, in my opinion, are essentially the backbone and origin of children’s literature.  While they certainly represent much more than just a story, it’s interesting to see the social and cultural implications of the tales.  This concept of telling tales is similar too, if not overlapping, with nursery rhymes.  The oral storytelling of rhymes and fairy tales was a traditional means of not only entertaining children but teaching them, too. Nursery Rhymes are shorter, even poetic, versions of tales, which I discussed here.

What are fairy tales?

The “answer” to this question is highly subjective.  Tales about fairies? Somewhat, but not quite.  In fact, discussing this question on its own merit can lead to long, lengthy answers; but, my own definition revolves around the elements of a fairy tale: fantastical elements (like magic or speaking animals) along with a tale that will relate to and/or teach about life.

More recently, perhaps the best known and certainly the most widely quoted psychologist to incorporate fairy tales into his practice is Bruno Bettelheim, who published Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales in 1976. Bettelheim argued that fairy tales are an important tool for children learning to navigate reality and survive in a world ruled by adults. The family conflicts and moral education of the protagonists (conveniently often children themselves) could provide models of coping. “Fairy tales are loved by the child…because—despite all the angry, anxious thoughts in his mind to which the fairy tale gives body and specific context—these stories always result in a happy outcome, which the child cannot imagine on his own. (Source)



As children grow, the stories they were told or saw at a young age are understood on deeper levels, they begin to relate to or understand characters from their favourite stories. An interesting belief is that a lot of us unknowingly follow these journeys or ones very similar in our own lives. The hero’s journey reflects the journey of life, the growth and experiences we all face as we take our place in society and accept our responsibilities. In our lifetime however, we face more than one journey, every challenge or change we face in life is in itself a journey, even young children, either at primary school or before even, take these journeys, from new friendships formed to a change of school or city. An easier way to understand and recognise these journeys is when something new enters our lives and we are forced to take a different view on the situation, adapt a different opinion or face our fears. So we now begin to see the importance of fairy tales for children, they expose children to learning through creativity and imagination, how these stories grow and unravel as the children themselves grow and somewhat prepare them for the challenges ahead. (Source)


What are your thoughts on traditional fairy tales? Do you read them to your children? We have some of the Grimm’s tales/more traditional versions, but we also have several modernized and cartoon versions of fairy tales on our bookshelf.  It’s fascinating to see the difference between, for example, Hans Christian Andersen version against a more recent fairy tale.  Stay tuned because we will look at all of the variations of Cinderella and that story’s impact in literature {Did you know there were over 850 versions of Cinderella?}

SurLaLune: An excellent online resource with information on fairy tales as well as a huge amount of annotated tales and versions.

G.K. Chesterton on Fairy Tales

Timeline of Fairy Tales

Great list on Amazon of Picture Books based on Fairy Tales

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