Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

The Meaning of Fairy Tale within the Evolution of Culture

Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

The Meaning of Fairy Tale within the Evolution of Culture

Article excerpt

Fairy Tale signifies belief m the supernatural, not the suspension of belief. We all believe in the extra-ordinary of Once Upon a Time. We need to believe. We breathe through our tales.

- Vincenzo di Kastiaux

Think of a gigantic whale soaring through the ocean and swallowing each and every fish of any size that comes across its path. The marvelous and majestic whale had once lived on land 54 million years ago and had been tiny. Part of a group of marine mammals now known as cetaceans, the land whale eventually came to depend on other fish for its subsistence and to thrive on the bountiful richness of the ocean. To grow and survive, it constantly adapted to its changing environment. The fairy tale is no different.

The wondrous fairy tale emanated from a wide variety of tiny tales thousands of years ago that were widespread throughout the world and continue to exist in unique ways under different environmental conditions. The form and contents of the fairy tale were not exactly what they are today, for as a simple, imaginative oral tale that contained magical and miraculous elements and was related to the belief systems, values, rites, and experiences of pagan peoples, the fairy tale, also known as the wonder or magic tale, underwent numerous transformations before the invention of print led to the production of fixed texts and conventions of telling and reading. But even then the fairy tale refused to be dominated by print and continued to be altered and diffused throughout the world by word of mouth up to the present. That is, it shaped and was shaped by the interaction of orality and print and other technological mediations and innovations, such as painting, photography, radio, film, and so on. In particular, technological inventions enabled it to expand in various cultural domains, even on the Internet. Like the whale, the fairy tale adapted itself and was transformed by common nonliterate people and by upper-class literate people from a simple brief tale with vital information; it grew, became enormous, and disseminated information that contributed to the cultural evolution of specific groups. In fact, it continues to grow and embraces, if not swallows, all types of genres, art forms, and cultural institutions; and it adjusts itself to new environments through the human disposition to re-create relevant narratives and through technologies that make its diffusion easier and more effective. The only difference between the whale and the fairy tale is that the tale is not alive and does not propel itself. It needs humans - and yet at times it does seem as though a vibrant fairy tale can attract listeners and readers and latch on to their brains and become a living memetic force in cultural evolution.

Almost all endeavors by scholars to define the fairy tale as a genre have failed. Their failure is predictable because the genre is so volatile and fluid. As Donald Haase has remarked in one of the more cogent descriptions of the struggle by intellectuals to pin down the fairy tale:

Despite its currency and apparent simplicity, the term "fairy tale" resists a universally accepted or universally satisfying definition. For some, the term denotes a specific narrative form with easily identified characteristics, but for others it suggests not a singular genre but an umbrella category under which a variety of other forms may be grouped. Definitions of "fairy tale" often tend to include a litany of characteristics to account for the fact the term has been applied to stories as diverse as "Cinderella," "Little Red Riding Hood," "Hansel and Gretel," "Jack and the Beanstalk," "Lucky Hans," "Bluebeard," and "Henny-Penny" (1: 322)

The difficulty in defining the fairy tale stems from the fact that storytellers and writers never used the term fairy tale until Marie-Catherine d'Aulnoy coined it in 1697 when she published her first collection of tales. She never wrote a word about why she used the term. …

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