A fantastic thesis statement from JG

Assignment: The characters in fables, folktales, and/or fairy tales are “true to life.” Agree or disagree. (SIMPLE ARGUMENT)

Although characters in folktales and fairytales have familiar human traits and settings, they are not true to life in that the characters and settings are fanciful inventions designed by the author to entertain us, something that an ordinary human character or setting cannot do.

A possible X-1-2-3 set:

X Although characters in folktales and fairytales have familiar human traits and settings, they are not true to life in that the characters and settings are fanciful inventions designed by the author to entertain us, something that an ordinary human character or setting cannot do.
1 Characters in folktales and fairytales have familiar human traits and settings.
2 The characters are not true to life in that the characters and settings are fanciful inventions.
3  The characters are designed by the author to entertain us, something that an ordinary human character or setting cannot do.

Jack Swann on myth, legend, and folktale

Folklore scholars generally recognize three major forms of folk narrative: myth, legend, and folktale. Myths are etiological narratives that use gods (divine, immortal figures) to explain the operation and purpose of the cosmos. Legends are quasi-historical narratives that use exceptional and extraordinary protagonists and depict remarkable phenomena to illustrate cultural ideals, values, and norms. Finally, folktales [including fairy tales] are entertaining narratives that use common, ordinary people as protagonists to reveal the desires and foibles of human nature. The following outline illustrates the relationship of fairy tales to other folk narratives.

Jones, Steven Swann. The Fairy Tale: The Magic Mirror of the Imagination. New York: Routledge, 2002. Print. (8.)

Marcia Lane on fairy tales, myths, and legends

My own definition of fairy tale goes something like this: A fairy tale is a story-literary or folk-that has a sense of the numinous, the feeling or sensation of the supernatural or the mysterious. But, and this is crucial, it is a story that happens in the past tense, and a story that is not tied to any specifics. If it happens “at the beginning of the world,” then it is a myth. A story that names a specific “real” person is a legend (even if it contains a magical occurrence). A story that happens in the future is a fantasy. Fairy tales are sometimes spiritual, but never religious.

Lane, Marcia. Picturing a Rose: A Way of Looking at Fairy Tales. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1993.

Amy Tan on the books of her childhood

What book has had the greatest impact on you?

Probably the Bible. My father was a minister, and I heard verses every day. I memorized big whacks of passages to earn progressive levels of pins. The repetitive rhythms of the Bible were inscribed in my writing brain from childhood. (And it may account for my tendency to start sentences with “and.”) Many of my stories also relate to undoing handed-down beliefs, whether they come from religion, society or mothers. And my writing sensibility was also warped by a steady dose of gothic imagery, often related to religious sins or virtue: David braining Goliath, Samson’s bloody head missing a lock of hair, a stinking corpse arising to be kissed by relatives.


Did you grow up with a lot of books? What are your memories of being read to as a child?

Books were luxuries. We had the World Book Encyclopedia, donated Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, inspirational books by Billy Graham, Bibles in foreign languages and my favorite, a book on a high shelf called “Psychopathia Sexualis.” One Christmas I received an Italian book of Chinese fairy tales. All the sages, gods and mortals looked like Italian movie actors and actresses. I recently unearthed it.

My mother and father didn’t read fiction books, at least not in English. But for one year, my father read to my brothers and me bedtime stories, a page a night from a book called “365 Stories,” covering the daily life of happy American kids with minor dilemmas. The fiction books I read on my own came from the library. From the age of 6, I carefully chose five or six every two weeks, working my way through the ones I could reach on progressively higher shelves. Fairy tales were favorites. I crossed a threshold of reader pride after finishing “To Kill a Mockingbird.” And I made it a point to read banned books, like “The Catcher in the Rye,” which led to counseling sessions with a youth minister, who told me such books would give me sinful feelings. That incident solidified feelings I have about the power of books and one’s helplessness without them.

Do you have a favorite childhood literary character or hero?

Jane Eyre remains a favorite. Her truthfulness sometimes made me laugh. And her loneliness and need to make her own way mirrored my feelings. The Little Prince is another lost soul I clung to. Pippi Longstocking was a bit too cheerful.

Amy Tan By the Book Published: November 14, 2013
Amy Tan

The list:

G.K. Chesterton on fairy tales

My favorite essay on fairy tales, but near impossible for most freshmen to read: Fairy Tales by G.K. Chesterton. (In Chesterton, G. K. All Things Considered. London: Methuen, 1908, 1915.) In class today we went through half of the essay line by line; we’ll finish next week. If I can find the time, I may post a “translation.”

The one passage everyone seemed to understand right away was the lines Chesterton quotes (from a poem by William Butler Yeats)* about the “Land of Faery”:

Where nobody gets old and godly and grave,
Where nobody gets old and crafty and wise,

G.K. Chesterton

Photo source: American Chesterton Society

* I hope you all noticed that the words inside the parentheses are a nonrestrictive modifier!

What is a fairy tale?

Posted to SurLaLune:

I think that “fairy tale” has always carried the connotation of “improbable fiction,” for as long as the term has been around. That’s one of the distinguishing characteristics of a fairy tale, as opposed to a myth or a legend — the listeners understand it as a fiction crafted for entertainment purposes. Legends carry some semblance of belief — they’re usually told in a manner that suggests that somebody, somewhere, believes this to be true, even if the teller doesn’t. Myths are understood to be true on some level, at least in the culture that adheres to them. Of course, none of those categories can be absolutely fixed either, and there’s a lot of overlap. Too, as fairy tales became adapted for children, and then came to be seen as fit ONLY for children, the term became more derogatory. It’s linked, i think, to Andrew Lang and the cultural evolutionists; peasants (the folk) are sort of in the childhood of civilization, and therefore their products are on the same level as those of upper-class “civilized” children. All primitives, think alike, see. This theory died out, rightfully, in the 20th century, but the use of “fairy tale” to mean something juvenile stuck.

Fairy tales differ from more realistic folktales chiefly in the construction of the tale world. In a fairy tale/Zaubermarchen/wonder tale, magic is absolutely taken for granted. Nobody stops and says “Frogs don’t talk!” Strange things happen, and nobody bats an eye; that’s the major difference between a fairy tale and a realistic folktale. The main characters are generally human, as opposed to gods or demigods, and are of stock types. The fairy tale world is amorphous, unconnected to a time more specific than “Once upon a time” or a place more specific than “a faraway kingdom.” Legends, by contrast, take place in our own world — if not the here and now, than some specific time or place.

That’s the definition that I give to my students, and it seems to work well; there are, of course many others, but I’ve found this one the most useful. How’s that for a start?


Hansel and Gretel and the present tense

There is a problem with tense consistency in the paragraph below. Can you find it?


Hansel and Gretel live on the edge of a huge, dark, forest with their mother and father. It was the worst of times and there was not enough to eat. Hansel and Gretel’s mother makes a plan to abandon the children in the forest. The father does not want to do it but his wife forces him. Hansel and Gretel overhear the plan. Hansel goes outside and fills his pockets with shiny pebbles.
Hansel and Gretel Plot Summary 

Hansel and Gretel’s mother becomes a stepmother

The Grimms were told by friends that some of the material in the first edition [of Grimm’s Fairy Tales] was too frightening for children, and they did make a few changes. In a notable example, the first edition of “Hansel and Gretel” has the mother and the father deciding together to abandon the children in the woods. In later editions, it is the stepmother who makes the suggestion, and the father repeatedly hesitates before he finally agrees. Apparently, the Grimms could not bear the idea that the mother, the person who bore these children, would do such a thing, or that the father would readily consent.

ONCE UPON A TIMEThe lure of the fairy tale.
JULY 23, 2012

Readings and web sites for fairy tales

7 editions of Grimms’ fairy tales

Major joint publications of the “Brothers Grimm”:

  1. 1812 – Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales), vol. 1, 1812; vol. 2, 1814 (pre-dated 1815).
  2. 2nd edition, 1819.
  3. volume 3, Anmerkungen (Commentary), 1822.
  4. 3rd edition, 1837.
  5. 4th edition, 1840.
  6. 5th edition, 1843.
  7. 6th edition, 1850.
  8. 7th edition, 1857. This final version is the basis for most editions and translations published after the Grimms’ death.

Compiled by D.L. Ashliman

Rapunzel: 1812 vs 1857

Wilhelm Grimm was the principal editor of the Children’s and Household Tales following their inititial publication. The most significant changes were made already in the second edition (1819), although Wilhelm continued to revise the stories until their final edition (1857).

The first substantive alteration in the text of “Rapunzel” is transformation of the fairy into a more sinister sorceress. Further, Wilhelm made the tale more dramatic and gave it a more literary style by adding colorful adjectives and adverbs and supplementary supporting details. Indirect discourse was replaced by direct quotations.

More significant than Wilhelm’s additions are his deletions. The sexual nature of the prince’s and Rapunzel’s trysts was disguised. Alterations range from the subtle to the obvious.

At the subtle end of the scale, the sentence “He … was pulled up,” with its potentially offensive double meaning was changed to “The prince climbed up.” The simple and direct statement “Thus they lived in joy and pleasure for a long time” was replaced by a long, flowery passage that reveals but little about the couple’s intimate relationship.

At the obvious end of the scale, the naive Rapunzel’s revelation to her guardian that her clothes no longer fit (because she is pregnant) was deleted, as was the statement that “she gave birth to twins,” although the revised version does mention the twins at the story’s end.
– D.L. Ashliman

A comparison of the versions of 1812 and 1857
Rapunzel translated by Margaret Hunt