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fairy tales

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A traditional folktale adapted and written down for the entertainment of children, usually featuring marvellous events and characters, although fairies as such are less often found in them than princesses, talking animals, ogres, and witches. The term is a direct translation of the French conte de fée, the writing down of fairy tales having emerged from a fad for such stories among the French aristocracy of the late 17th century. Many of these stories are of incalculable antiquity, some deriving from Sanskrit, Chinese, Arabic, and Persian traditions, and a few had appeared in early chapbooks and romances, but the first major literary collection was Charles Perrault's Histoires, ou contes du temps passé (1697, better known as Contes de ma mère l'Oye or Mother Goose's Tales), containing ‘The Sleeping Beauty’, ‘Cinderella’, ‘Little Red Riding‐Hood’, ‘Bluebeard’, ‘Puss in Boots’, and others. ‘Beauty and the Beast’ appeared in 1756 from the pen of Marie de Beaumont, a French governess working in England. Such stories began to be used as the basis for pantomimes from the late 18th century, and were soon joined by the anonymous early 19th‐century English tale ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’.

The fairy‐tale canon was expanded in the early 19th century by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, whose researches into folklore resulted in their written versions of 200 Kinder‐ und Hausmärchen (1812–14) (see märchen), including ‘Rapunzel’, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’, ‘Hansel and Gretel’, and ‘Rumpelstiltskin’. The third major author of modern fairy tales was the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen, who published his first collection in 1835, following this with ‘The Ugly Duckling’ (1845) and dozens of others in a cycle completed in 1874. Andrew Lang then collected various fairy tales from around the world in his series of Fairy Books (1899–1910). Consult Jack Zipes, The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales (2000).

Subjects: Literature

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