Fairy Tale

A fairy tale is a work of literature that is set in a fictional world and typically incorporates magical elements. 

What are Fairy Tales? 

Fairy tales tend to be simple in style and often recognisable through the words “Once upon a time”. They take up universal themes of good versus evil, the rags-to-riches or cautionary narrative. The universality of fairy tales gives the audience a wide range of opportunity to identify with, lends an air of escapism and provides enjoyment for the reader.

Even though fairy tales speak to an audience of all ages, they oftentimes insert a veiled “moral of the story” and are therefore often intertwined with the education of younger audiences (Zipes, 2012). These moral lessons include, for example, how to treat other people well and how to lead a successful and virtuous life. 

Fairy Tale vs Fable

The fairy tale is not to be confused with the classic ‘fable’. Unlike fairy tales, the fable is constructed as a short cautionary tale whereby the sole purpose is to instill a life lesson to the - predominantly young - reader (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2023) . The fable derives from Greek tradition and gained Western acknowledgment through Aesop’s Fables. Typically, the storyline features anthropomorphised characters, in other words animals with relatable human traits, and delineates a conflict, which, after being resolved, emparts a type of wisdom. The fable leaves little room for interpretation and represents a clear statement to serve a primarily educational purpose (Adrados & Holzberg, 2016).

Fairy Tales throughout the Ages

Historically, fairy tales are tied to folklore whereby the tale has a rich oral tradition that was then noted down. The heritage of fairy tales are most often unknown but can be traced back to different parts of the world throughout the centuries. Thus, they have a long and extensive translation history across national borders that inevitably carry cultural values of the specific place and time. This, thereby, inevitably leads each fairy tale retelling to focus on different relevant aspects, making each adaptation intensely topical and political (Seago, 2006). This cultural, historical and political specificity, however, also entails the inevitable scholarly critique of the individual fairy tales through, for example, discussions around feminism, racism or classism. It is important to bear the contextualisation of each work in mind when reading them. Nevertheless, due to its rich adaptative history, the genre of fairy tales can be considered timeless in nature (Teverson, 2013) and a significant part of world-wide literature. 



Adrados, F. R., & Holzberg, N. (2016). fable. In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Classics.

Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2023, June 12). fable. Retrieved from Britannica.

Seago, K. (2006). Nursery Politics: Sleeping Beauty or the Acculturation of a Tale. Ed. G. Lathey. The Translation of Children’s Literature: A Reader (pp.175-189). Multilingual Matters.

Teverson, A. (2013). Fairy tale. Routledge.

Zipes, J. (2012). Fairy tales and the art of subversion. Routledge.