Fairy Tales


What values should fairy tales teach young children in your opinion?

Dictionary definition:

1. A fanciful tale of legendary deeds and creatures, usually intended for children.

2. A fictitious, highly fanciful story or explanation.

Fairy tales come from an oral tradition (use of 3s, primary numbers), but three men became famous for writing and publishing fairy tales they collected from (peasant) women:

Charles Perrault (1628-1703)

- Author of "Cinderella"

- From wealthy French upper-bourgeois family

- Wrote stories or Tales from Times Past, with Morals: Tales of Mother Goose (1697)

- Marks new literary genre: fairy tales

Jakob (1785-1863) and Wilhelm (1786-1859) Grimm (a.k.a. The Brothers Grimm)

- Likely authors of "Ashenputtel" 

- Professors in Göttingen (now in Germany) until protest (origin of ‘tenure’) exiled them to Berlin

- Traveled through the countryside interviewing peasants about folk tales

- Coincided with growing interest in children’s education, the nature of the “folk”

What do fairy tales mean?

1. Anthropological approaches  focus on rites of passage from boy to man, girl to woman. Anthropologists believe that social practices and rituals chart our development as humans. 
Feminist approaches scrutinize the ways in which characters adhere to and challenge stereotypes about gender behavior. Feminists believe that our gendered identity is socially constructed. Social customs determine what it means to act like a man, or like a woman.
Postcolonial approaches
pinpoint the power relationships in a story, particularly natives and the foreigners who rule them. According to postcolonial theorists, when a foreign power takes over a native people, power relationship arise, and in order to justify these relationships, the native is cast as an Other, and as different.
2. Psychological approaches
examine latent fears (about parents and siblings) and adolescent wishes. Psychologists believe that our primary relationships with parents and siblings create neuroses from which we suffer as adults. 
Marxist/Economic approaches question the shifting tension between the mercantile and aristocratic classes, and focus on the material conditions of a story. Marxists believe that until the means of production are shared among all humans, we live in an unequal world. 

1. Anthropological Approach: Western fairy tales follow an familiar archetype that Joseph Campbell calls the heroic formula. In The Hero of a Thousand Faces J. Campbell suggests that all myths map on to rites of maturation (36):

Separation / Departure



Call to Adventure

A young man leaves his home, which is now destroyed because the biological father is dead

Luke Skywalker leaves his home planet in Star Wars; Neo gets a message in The Matrix; Simba leaves for elephant graveyard in Lion King; ball announced in "Cinderella;" king's son leaves in "Three Magic Oranges"

Refusal of Call

A substitute father figure may exist (uncle, aunt, other adult non-parent) who encourages the hero to leave home

Obi Wan (Star Wars); Morpheus (Matrix); Scar tricks Simba into leaving Pride Lands in Lion King; godmother in Cinderella

Supernatural Aid

As the young figure meets obstacles, he gains helpers along the way.

C3PO, R2D2, and Yoda; Neo meets Oracle; Timon, Pumbaa, and Rafiki in Lion King; (fairy) godmother in Cinderella

The Crossing of the First Threshold

Threshold = literal doorway, path, crossing over

Luke fights in space; Neo enters Matrix; Simba enters shadowy lands; Cinderella fetches pumpkin in garden (Perrault 4)

Trials and Victories of Initiation

Step Definition

Road of Trials

fight in the Death Star; betrayal by Cypher; Simba fights hyenas, Scar; Cinderella attends ball against all odds

Meeting with the Goddess (bliss of infancy regained)

A rebirth occurs usually in a womb-like space

Luke stuck in garbage contractor; Neo takes the pill and is reborn; transformation of Cinderella into new being

Woman as the Temptress

Leia; Trinity; Nala in Lion King; evil stepsisters in Cinderella; wicked stepmother in Snow-White

Atonement with Father

Luke kills his father; Neo faces Agent Anderson; Simba gets ghost message from father


The young figure is now ready to become a father himself—a man.

Luke becomes a Jedi knight; Neo becomes "the One;" Simba true heir; Cinderella recognized as beautiful and good 

The Ultimate Boon

Luke wins fight against empire; Neo can manipulate matrix; Simba becomes king; Cinderella marries prince

2. Psychological Approach: Bruno Bettelheim writes about fairy tales from a psychological angle in The Uses of Enchantment (1976).

Bettelheim’s Five Main Points 

1. Cinderella follows the narrative tradition of representing the tensions between siblings that arise from competitive beauty, subservience / power relations, and rivalry for parental affections.



2. Cinderella appeals to children’s unconscious desire to surpass siblings.


3. The term ‘sibling rivalry’ encompasses a number of psychological neuroses (that the child may not be aware of).



4. Children in the late oedipal phase of development identify with the story most, because it alleviates guilt induced by hatred of mother, father, and/or siblings.



5. Cinderella epitomizes children’s’ feelings of rejection



Some Critiques of Bettelheim:


Female Coming of Age Discussion Questions:

1. What do "Little Red Riding Hood" (112) and "Blue Beard" (28) teach young women about how to survive growing up? List at least symbols and/or keywords that support your interpretation.

2. In what ways do "Ashenputtel" (68) "Baba Yaga" (411), "Indian Cinderella" (694), and "The Magic Orange Tree" (727) differ from one another? What values does each story emphasize young girls should possess?  Point to specific keywords and symbols to support your answer.

3. Examine some of the similarities between "Snow White" (53) and "Three Magic Oranges" (756). What might the competition between younger and older women say about the stories' depiction of women?
Try rereading these stories from the Queen's and witch's perspectives. Point to important symbolism in each story.

Common Fairy Tale Elements (and their Meaning [lecture])

Closely analyze the following passages from "Hansel and Gretel:"

Works Cited

Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. New York: Random House, 2010. Print.

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton: Bollingen/Princeton UP, 1973. Print.

"Hansel and Gretel." Best-Loved Folk-Tales of the World. Ed. Joanna Cole. NY: Random House, 1982. 145-51.

The Lion King. Dir. R. Allers, R. Minkoff. Perf. Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Nathan Lane. Walt Disney, 1994. Print.

The Matrix. Dir. Andy and Larry Wachowski. Perf. Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss. Warner Home Video, 1999. Print.

Perrault, Charles. "Cinderella." Best-Loved Folk-Tales of the World. Trans. A. E. Johnson. Ed. Joanna Cole. NY: Random House, 1982. 3-8. Print.

"Snow-White." Best-Loved Folk-Tales of the World. Ed. Joanna Cole. NY: Random House, 1982. 53-61. Print.

Star Wars. Dir. George Lucas. Perf. Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford. Lucasfilm, 1977. Print.

"Three Magic Oranges." Best-Loved Folk-Tales of the World. Ed. Joanna Cole. NY: Random House, 1982. 756-60. Print.