Why I Love Fairy Tales

I’ve mentioned on this blog many times that I grew up reading fairy tales. Consequently, I developed a love for them that goes beyond what people mean when they say, “I love chocolate.” Oh yes. I went there.

When you Google “what is a fairy tale,” this comes up:

fair·y tale
ˈferē tāl/
noun
• a children’s story about magical and imaginary beings and lands

• denoting something regarded as resembling a fairy story in being magical, idealized, or extremely happy
modifier noun: fairy-tale “a fairy-tale romance”

I’ve always wondered why fairy tales were called that—fairy tales—when you can’t find fairies in some of them. According to Wikipedia:

A fairy tale is a type of short story that typically features folkloric fantasy characters, such as dwarfs, dragons, elves, fairies, giants, gnomes, goblins, griffins, mermaids, talking animals, trolls, unicorns, or witches, and usually magic or enchantments.

I’ve also wondered why many people consider kids as the primary audience for fairy tales. Sure, my parents read them to me when I was a kid. But I never stopped wanting to read them as I grew older. I find them as soothing today as I did when I was a kid. I love being transported to a world different from my own, where magical activities are par for the course. This is why the stories I write primarily are fairy tales.

By why are they soothing? (Of course, not every fairy tale fits that description. There are many fairy tales—particularly those geared toward adults—that aren’t soothing at all. I can’t help thinking of Pan’s Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro’s brilliant 2006 movie, which was quite unsettling. But I digress.) In an article entitled, “On the Importance of Fairy Tales,” at the website of Psychology Today (you can find it here), Sheila Kohler writes

Here, in these ancient tales, the small boy or girl can through the hero/heroine triumph over the large and often dangerous-seeming adults around him or her. . . . There is something essential about the repetition of the same words which soothes the child, nurtures the imagination and assuages his fears.

I also love fairy tales, because many follow the hero’s journey model. (See Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.) As the call to action is accepted, we get to travel along as the hero (male or female) sets out on a quest to find a lost treasure, vanquish a villain, or find true love. (Now I’m thinking of the “to blave” scene from the movie adaptation of The Princess Bride, a favorite of mine.)

Here are some of my other favorite fairy tales (or in the case of one, a book about an animated series), or favorite novels that have fairy tale elements (in no particular order; keep in mind that some books represent the series as a whole):

   

   

This seemingly untitled book is Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales. The spine of it is so worn out, I had to tape it.

    

    

 

   

  

There are many others I could have shown here (like Hans Christian Andersen: The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories, which I also have). Do you like fairy tales? What are some of your favorites?

My unicorn is just chillin’.

Fairy tale image from dreamstime.com. Legends of Windemere cover courtesy of Charles Yallowitz. Other photos by L. Marie.

48 thoughts on “Why I Love Fairy Tales

  1. I always thought fairy tale came about because fairies used to cover a lot of creatures. Elves, goblins, and all living, non-draconic creatures were considered a type of fairy way back. Except giants and ogres though. Anyway, weren’t they originally used to teach moral lessons? That’s probably why they’re considered more for children since that tends to be a bigger goal than the story. We’ve really evolved fairy tales in recent history since various creators have taken advantage of their public domain status. So it’s like there’s the original kid version to teach morality and the modern version to entertain.

    • Thanks, Jill. In kindergarten, we were told the story of Goldilocks. We even acted it out in play form. I was the baby bear. 😀 😁 Cinderella is still one of my favorite fairy tales.

  2. I love this post! You are so right about the magic that fairy tales bring to us. I have my mother’s childhood copy of Grimm’s fairy tales. How different they are from the versions we know today! Cinderella’s step sisters survived having their toe and heel chopped off at the advice of the stepmother. Then, their bloody plight continued. I still love that version, though. Thanks for an excellent post.

  3. Fairy tales are just…beautiful. They can teach the harshness of reality, but still imbue it with the imagination that we should still keep as adults. On a side note, I tried reading the LOTR books, but found them a very difficult read!

  4. I did appreciate Pan’s Labyrinth as a kind of anti-fairy tale. And I should think about incorporating fairy tales into my own writing more, because I’m writing a series of historical novels set in different places in Europe and that’s where a lot of our popular tales originate. My current WIP involves a journey, but I don’t think it qualifies as a hero’s journey for a variety of reasons.

  5. Traditional fairy tales offer a safe place to explore the world of naughtiness and consequences for kiddos – on the laps of their protector parents…
    As a kid, my fav was ‘The Three Billy Goats Gruff’…hmmm even then I had an affinity for those crazy goats! (never noticed that before)
    As an adult, a more contemporary fairy tale series I love is Madelyn L’Engles’ “Wrinkle in Time” series…I read the entire series for the first time during night shift on my job in the education research library at the University of Colorado as an undergrad…back in the day – HA!
    And do you remember the Politically Correct Bedtime Stories? Twisted versions of several fairy tales are retold in the PC manner! Absurdly fun.
    Hope your week is going well, Linda.

    • I also love the Wrinkle in Time series, Laura. A Wrinkle in Time is the book that helped inspire my desire to write stories when I was a kid.

      I remember the Politically Correct Bedtime stories. Here’s a fun fact: I used to work with the author! We worked at a book packager in the 90s, writing textbooks. Another well known author today–Carolyn Crimi–worked there too. 😀

  6. I’m not a big fan of reading fairy tales . . . or fantasy novels, because I have a hard time following them. There are usually lots of characters. I do like seeing fantasy movies, but I don’t like dark fantasy.

    I think I mentioned to you before that my critique partner writes fantasy, and I enjoy hers. It’s easy to follow and they are not dark and sinister, but have exquisitely described magical worlds.

    I’m curious, weren’t the original Grimms Fairy Tales quite dark and violent? BTW, did you ever watch the TV show Once Upon a Time?

    • A lot of people feel the way you do, Lori. I’m glad your critique partner’s stories are enjoyable for you.

      Yes, many of the fairy tales in the Grimm Brothers collection are violent. The Psychology Today article I linked in the post talks about that aspect.

      I saw the first season of Once Upon a Time. I liked some of it. But I didn’t return for another season.

  7. While there some that I like – LOTR, Harry Potter – on the whole it’s not something I look out for. I’m afraid I’m very much stuck in the real world – I’d rather have politics than fantasy. I liked them more as a kid, but even then only the better known ones, and I think the version we had had probably been quite heavily sanitised.

  8. “To Blave” Love that scene. Love The Princess Bride movie and keep meaning to read the book.
    I’ve adored fairy tales since I was a small child, sitting on my Greek grandmother’s lap, a book in her hand as she “read” me stories. They were actually stories she was just making up. She couldn’t read or write and the book was usually upside down, but, no matter, for the magic was in the telling of the story. Wrinkle in Time holds a place that is dear, and the fairy tale I love telling the most is the Three Billy Goats Gruff.

  9. From fairy tales to tales of fairies-I love old Irish/Celtic tales of faerie, an altogether different proposition to the Tinkerbell variety that’s now prevalent in both adult and children’s thinking.

    • Oops! Hit send by accident! My faves are Holly Black, Maggie Stiefvater and Melissa Marr. There are so many things I love – medieval setting, magic, beguiling, terror and RULES. I love that nearly all fairy stories include rules – and often authors follow the rules set down by the folklore so long ago.

      • Yes, they are all great! I should have mentioned them. The rules are paramount. I can’t help thinking of Holly Black’s lecture on the rules of magic. So good!

  10. I used to love fairy tales as a young child and romance novels as a pre-teen. But then I became obsessed with mastering life on this plane and my fascination faded. I think life takes on a pretty dark tone with some magic to it though, and I don’t actually mind. Still I wonder about that place at times, and really enjoyed reading this.

    I’m glad you like them…

    • Thank you! I know what you mean about life having some darkness and wonder as we become adults. But so many adult stories have a fairy tale model. I think Once Upon a Time is still aired. I haven’t seen that in years though. And I can’t help thinking of Grimm, which was about a homicide detective.

  11. I never read, or had read to me, many fairy tales. My parents were more literal, I guess. Looking at your pics of the ones you love, I realize this. I need to correct that oversight. Thanks for making me aware of this.

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