Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Food for Thought

What makes something a fairy tale?

According to the University of Chicago, a fairy tale is a specific type of folk tale, which, according to Merriam Webster, is " a characteristically anonymous, timeless, and placeless tale circulated orally among a people."

This would seem to indicate (to me, anyway) that a fairy tale has no actual author -- that it is a tale passed down orally from generation to generation until someone finally decides to write it down. That it might take on a slant of a particular culture or people, but that there is no known person who originally told it. Which makes sense to me. Stories like Rapunzel and Rumpelstiltskin and Hansel and Gretel might all have first been originally written down by the Grimm brothers, but where did the original versions come from? They were probably all stories that mothers told their children, who told their children, who told their children, and so on and so forth, with each generation altering the story ever-so-slightly, until Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm came along and wrote down what they believed to be the "purest" form.

Which brings about the next question. If fairy tales are supposedly anonymous, with no clear-cut orginal author, why is The Little Mermaid considered one? That story has an author. Not just a transcriber who happened to be the first person to write it down. It has an original author. Moreover, it doesn't even follow the traditional, happy ending, girl-marries-boy-moves-to-palace-and-lives-happily-ever-after format. So why is it considered a fairy tale?

I think I'm going to keep my compilation of Andersen's works in the 830's from now on.

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