The Tales of Innocent Persecuted Heroines and
Their Neglected Female Storytellers and Collectors
Witches and fairies are not the only significant female characters in fairy tales. In fact, beautiful innocent maidens may be more important, but in the hands of male tellers, writers, and collectors, they tend to be depicted as helpless, if not passive. To be good, they must be obedient and industrious. The overwhelming number of oral and literary fairy tales up through the nineteenth century usually stereotype the young heroine, but this is not due to the demonization of women as deviants, as discussed in the last chapter. It is because of a more general patriarchal view of women as domestics and breeders, born to serve the interests of men. Yet as we have seen in early tales about women as witches and fairies, there were certainly thousands of stories that women told to one another, and that were never collected or written down, in which heroines were assertive, confident, and courageous—in short, nobody’s slave.
It was only toward the end of the nineteenth century that we can find more of such heroines along with those wily, rebellious witches and fairies, and so I want to turn to four case studies to let the tales of these stories breathe—and they are stories that concern rape, incest, abuse, and violation, intolerable and unjust acts that continue today. Moreover, they continue to be major themes of many contemporary fairy tales. It is no wonder that fairy tales have not vanished from the cultural domains of our contemporary chaotic world. It is in the other moral world of fairy tales that women tend to find an iota of justice—and men as well, for there are numerous persecuted heroes. But in this chapter we shall focus on the more neglected women as storytellers, collectors, and figures in the tales.