Fairy Tales

fairy

fairy, in folklore, one of a variety of supernatural beings endowed with the powers of magic and enchantment. Belief in fairies has existed from earliest times, and literatures all over the world have tales of fairies and their relations with humans. Some Christians have said that fairies were the ancestors of the ancient pagan gods, who, having been replaced by newer deities, were therefore hostile. Others thought that fairies were nature deities, similar to the Greek nymphs. Still others identified fairies with the souls of the dead, particularly the unbaptized, or with fallen angels. Among their many guises, fairies have been described as tiny, wizen-faced old men, like the Irish leprechaun; as beautiful enchantresses who wooed men to their deaths, like Morgan le Fay and the Lorelei; and as hideous, man-eating giants, like the ogre.

Fairies were frequently supposed to reside in a kingdom of their own—which might be underground, e.g., gnomes; in the sea, e.g., mermaids; in an enchanted part of the forest; or in some far land. Sometimes they were ruled by a king or queen, as were the trolls in Ibsen's Peer Gynt and the fairies in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Although fairies were usually represented as mischievous, capricious, and even demonic, they could also be loving and bountiful, as the fairy godmother in Cinderella. Sometimes fairies entered into love affairs with mortals, but usually such liaisons involved some restriction or compact and frequently ended in calamity, as did those of Melusine and Undine. Various peoples have emphasized particular kinds of fairies in their folklore, such as the Arabic jinni, Scandinavian troll, Germanic elf, and English pixie. Among the great adapters of fairy lore into popular fairy tales were Charles Perrault, the brothers Grimm, and Hans Christian Andersen. Other notable contributors were Andrew Lang and James Stephens.

See K. M. Briggs, The Fairies in English Tradition and Literature (1967); J. D. Zipes, Breaking the Magic Spell: Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales (1979), Fairy Tale as Myth/Myth as Fairy Tale (1994), and When Dreams Came True: Classical Fairy Tales and Their Tradition (1999); M. M. Tatar, Off with Their Heads!: Fairy Tales and the Culture of Childhood (1992); M. Warner, From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers (1995).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Irresistible Fairy Tale: The Cultural and Social History of a Genre
Jack Zipes.
Princeton University Press, 2012
A Companion to the Fairy Tale
Hilda Ellis Davidson; Anna Chaudhri.
D.S. Brewer, 2003
The Witch Must Die: The Hidden Meaning of Fairy Tales
Sheldon Cashdan.
Basic Books, 1999
Breaking the Magic Spell: Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales
Jack Zipes.
University Press of Kentucky, 2002 (Revised edition)
Why Fairy Tales Matter: The Performative and the Transformative
Tatar, Maria.
Western Folklore, Vol. 69, No. 1, Winter 2010
The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales
Maria M. Tatar.
Princeton University Press, 1987
Fairytale in the Ancient World
Graham Anderson.
Routledge, 2000
Beautiful Maidens, Hideous Suitors: Victorian Fairy Tales and the Process of Civilization
Talairach-Vielmas, Laurence.
Marvels & Tales, Vol. 24, No. 2, July 1, 2010
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Book as Mirror, Mirror as Book: The Significance of the Looking-Glass in Contemporary Revisions of Fairy Tales
Schanoes, Veronica L.
Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, Vol. 20, No. 1, Winter 2009
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The Cloak of Dreams: Chinese Fairy Tales
Béla Balázs; Jack Zipes.
Princeton University Press, 2010
Women's Folklore, Women's Culture
Rosan A. Jordan; Susan J. Kalčik.
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 8 "The Misuses of Enchantment: Controversies on the Significance of Fairy Tales"
The Fantastic Sublime: Romanticism and Transcendence in Nineteenth-Century Children's Fantasy Literature
David Sandner.
Greenwood Press, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Part I "Romanticism, Childhood, Fairy Tales and the World of the Spirit"
Watchful Dragons and Sinewy Gnomes: C.S. Lewis's Use of Modern Fairy Tales
Berman, Ruth.
Mythlore, Vol. 30, No. 3-4, Spring-Summer 2012
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Princes, Beasts, or Royal Pains: Men and Masculinity in the Revisionist Fairy Tales of Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Carter, James Bucky.
Marvels & Tales, Vol. 20, No. 1, January 1, 2006
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature
Humphrey Carpenter; Mari Prichard.
Oxford University Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: "Fairy Stories or Fairy Tales" begins on p. 177
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