The Irresistible Fairy Tale: The Cultural and Social History of a Genre

By Jack Zipes | Go to book overview

2
The Meaning of Fairy Tale
within the Evolution of Culture

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

—Vincenzo di Kastiaux

Think of a gigantic whale soaring through the ocean, swallowing each and every fish of any size that comes across its path. The marvelous, majestic whale had once lived on land fifty-four 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 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. As I have explained in chapter 1, the fairy tale’s form and contents were not exactly what they are today. To summarize my argument, the fairy tale was first a simple, imaginative oral tale containing magical and miraculous elements and was related to the belief systems, values, rites, and experiences of pagan peoples. Also known as the wonder or magic tale, the fairy tale underwent numerous transformations before the innovation 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 around the world by word of mouth up to the present. That is, it shaped and was shaped by the interaction of orality and print as well as other technological mediations and innovations, such as painting, photography, radio, and film.

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