Jun 09, 2011
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Origin, audience and purpose
The oldest forms of fairy tales were originally intended for adults and children. These early folk tales were passed down orally from generation to generation and later became increasingly associated with children as their audience. Their primary purposes are to amuse and to convey cultural information that influences behaviour (mountains can be dangerous places to travel alone, unselfish behaviour benefits the community and is rewarded, do as your parents tell you and all will be well).
Later adaptations, written in a more literary and sophisticated style, are also among the traditional stories known as fairy tales although the often gory and frightening content of the original stories was sometimes sanitised by those who composed new, written adaptations. Fairy tales are found in most cultures and many derive from the oldest stories ever told. New fairy tales are still being written today although some of these texts with fairy-tale elements (such as The Hobbit) could be included in the more recently categorised genre of fantasy.
The familiar themes of many traditional stories are prevalent in fairy tales:
magic and skill
safe and dangerous
good and evil
weak and strong
rich and poor
wise and foolish
old and young
beautiful and ugly
mean and generous
just and unjust
friend and foe
family/home and stranger/far away
the origins of the Earth, its people and animals
the relationship between people and the seen or unseen world around them.
Fairy tales consistently include some of the most familiar and traditional archetypes of all folk tales (hero, villain, mentor, trickster, sage, shape shifter, herald). Human characters are simply the people who lived in the castles, cottages and hovels of the original stories: kings and queens, princes and princesses, knights and ladies, poor farmers, youngest sons, wise old women, beggars, tailors, soldier, a goose-girl. The main character is often humble, melancholy or hard-working and wants to make life better.
Characters also include a wide range of magical folk including animals or creatures who may have mystical powers yet behave with human characteristics. The names given to the inhabitants of the fairy world vary in different cultures but they include the ‘little folk’ (elves, imps, fairies, leprechauns, pixies/piskies, goblins and dwarfs) as well as the larger and often more sinister trolls, giants, ogres, wizards and witches.
Interestingly, the presence of fairies or talking animals is not necessarily the best way to identify a traditional tale as a fairy story. Many fairy stories do not include fairies as characters and the main characters in fables are often talking animals.
Plot and structure
The setting and details about when events took place are nearly always vague. (Once upon a time… A long, long time ago… It happened that… Once there was a small cottage in the middle of a forest…)
The stories tell the adventures of people in the land of fairy folk so plots usually include the use of magic, fantastic forces and fanciful creatures. Sometimes the inhabitants of the magical land of ‘faerie’ venture into the world of humans and this disruption of the status quo triggers a far-fetched sequence of events. Enchantments are common and rule-breaking has consequences.
Often the hero or heroine is searching for something (a home, love, acceptance, wealth, wisdom) and in many tales dreams are fulfilled with a little help from magic. ‘Fairy tale endings’ (where everything turns out for the best) are common. Heroes overcome their adversaries and girls marry the prince of their dreams but many fairy tales are darker and have a sad ending. The fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen, for example, include many where things go from bad to worse even for ‘good’ characters or where people’s negative characteristics are their downfall at the end. (The little match girl dies tragically in the snow, the fashion-obsessed emperor becomes a laughing stock when he parades through the city wearing nothing at all, the toy soldier melts away to a lump of lead.) This means that careful selection of texts is required to ensure age-appropriateness.
Fairy tales include good examples of the repetitive, rhythmic and patterned language of traditional stories. Phrases or expressions are repeated for emphasis or to create a magical, theatrical effect (so she went over the gate, across the meadow and down to the stream once more… not once, not twice, but three times…).
Fairy stories use:
rich, evocative vocabulary
the language of the fairy world (magic spells, incantations, charms)
the spoken language of the ordinary people (dialogue, regional accent and dialect vocabulary, informal expressions)
memorable language (rhyme, alliteration, assonance, repetition)
formulaic openings and endings; imagery: simile, metaphor and symbolism.
Fairy tales are commonly presented as implausible but it is important to remember that in cultures where the inhabitants of the magical world are perceived as real, the stories may be interpreted more as legends, so that storyteller and reader/audience understand them to have some historical, factual basis.
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dc.title Fairy tales - more specific features dc.description Information about the spcific features of writing fairy tales, including
origin, audience and purpose, theme, character, plot and structure, and style. The
narrative text type is a tool to help children organise their ideas and explore new ideas and
dc.identifier nsonline.org.uk~131660~102735 dc.subject primaryframework, dc.date 2008-07-16 09:13:29