History of Genres: Fairy Tales


History of Genres FT

Fairy Tales are a favorite read of mine from when I was young to even now. I constantly read the retellings that have been modernized and also even the ones that were told to me as a child. My favorite was Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. Now lets begins.


A fairy tale is a type of short story that usually has folkloric fantasy  european characters, such as fairies, dwarves, mermaids, witches, giants and other such creatures. These stories also feature magic and spells such as enchantments and curses. They also always start with “Once upon a time…” and limit the amount of times that religion and real people and historical events are mentioned.

They are considered different from legends and fables because legends are based on real historical events, and are therefore perceived as true. Fairy tales can be merged with legends however when the narrator and the readers recognize that it is grounded in historical truth. Fables are perceived as being able to teach moral lessons. Fairy tales are always considered to be untrue and they also have the inability to be true.

Fairy tales are very difficult to discern the history of because they are both in oral and literary form. The oral ones have been lost as the years have past, just as languages and other stories have disappeared through the passage of time. Even though it is unknown for how long they actually existed, the written ones have existed for thousands of years, though they were not known as the genre of fairy tales. Madame d’Aulnoy was the first person to term her works as fairy tales in the late 17th century, and that is how the genre’s name came to be.

The fairy tales that we know are centuries old-tales and they can be found around the world, with some variation to correspond with each culture.  Fairy tales also have two distinct well known classification systems: the Aarne-Thompson and the Vladimir Propp method. They both use the plots and narratives and narrators to classify and analyze the different fairy tales and find their meanings through slightly different methods. However, fairy tales have no meanings as there has never been anyone that has discovered a definitive meaning.

There are many writers that write in the form of fairy tales. The Brothers Grimm were one of the first to save the properties of the oral fairy tales. However, the stories were reworked to fit the written language. When fairy tales were told, they were also acted out dramatically. Due to this, it is difficult to discover the the true origins as they become blurred with each generation.


Literary:  There are still many works being created today. Many try to analyze and form opinions on the human condition and others still try to create fantastical stories. Most often modern authors use the genre to discuss the different and comment on the different conditions of humanity as well modern issues. Fairy tales are also used for comedy, to make others laugh. There have also been many retelling in which they make the “damsel in distress” be the prince and have the princess save the prince.

Movies:  Walt Disney has had a significant impact on fairy in film. Fairy tales were first seen as comedy films and then they moved into pantomime. Walt Disney first started filming the fairy tales as silent films and then moved on to short films, like The Three Little Pigs, until Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released as a full length feature film. This led to the Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella and the others to be released. Currently , many of these fairy tales are being remade into live-action movies.

Throughout time fairy tales have transitioned from oral to written to animation to now being recreated into movies with actors portraying the different stories.


Fun factoids:

  • Fairy tales are also fiction and are used to describe the happy things that happen in our daily lives, such as the description of a “fairy tale ending” to show case how good something is.
  • Fairy tales were originally intended for adult audiences as well as children.
  • Before the genre of fantasy was coined, the stories were also termed fairy tales. The Hobbit by Tolkien, Orwell’s Animal Farm and Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz were classified as so.
  • When fairy tales are were told orally they were considered a sub-genre of folk tales.


  1.  “Fairy Tales.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairy_tale&gt;.
  2. Heiner, Heidi Anne. “SurLaLune Fairy Tales: History of Fairy Tales: The Quest for the Earliest Fairy Tales by Heidi Anne Heiner.” SurLaLune Fairy Tales: History of Fairy Tales: The Quest for the Earliest Fairy Tales by Heidi Anne Heiner. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.surlalunefairytales.com/introduction/earliesttales.html&gt;.
  3. Heiner, Heidi Anne. “SurLaLune Fairy Tales: Fairy Tale Timeline.”SurLaLune Fairy Tales: Fairy Tale Timeline. N.p., n.d. Web <http://www.surlalunefairytales.com/introduction/timeline.html&gt;.

What’s was your favorite fairy tale as a child? Does another culture or country have a different but similar story to it? Please comment below 🙂


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