Jack Zipes, in his Introduction in the Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales, posits that the fascination with fairy stories started during the European Middle Ages with its “chivalric romances, heroic sagas and epics,” and “flowered” in the 13th and 14th centuries with the works of Boccaccio and Chaucer. This European fascination with “fairy stories” culminated in the 1690s when French female authors took up their pens and designated their stories “contes de fees,” or fairy tales; it was then that the term fairy tale was born and the genre became an independent entity.

While these fairy stories were being written, there were still others who collected and transcribed fairy tales from local oral tradition. The collection, transcription, and adaptation of local fairy stories and folk tales spread throughout Europe and grew exponentially in popularity in the 17th and 18th centuries. For instance, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm worked for years to collect the local tales of Germany from 1805-1815. Meanwhile, Charles Perrault compiled a list of fairy tales that were “based on oral and literary motifs that had become popular in France” and attempted to transform “several popular folktales with all their superstitious beliefs and magic into moralistic tales that would appeal to children and adults.”

In Britain, this phenomenon culminated in the 1840s and 50s with the invention and popularity of antiquary societies. William John Thoms coined the term “Popular antiquities,” or antiquary studies, in 1846 in a letter to the weekly Athenaeum and defined it as the study of “folk-lore.” Within a decade, his term was used worldwide “to designate a serious cultural inquiry” into the theory, pursuit, and collection of folk traditions and customs, as well as folk-lore, “to better understand subject peoples and alien cultures.”  This fanatical pursuit of the folk customs, stories, and beliefs spread from Britain to the rest of the world in the following decades.

Furthermore, because of the oral nature of fairy tales, they “circulated throughout diverse regions of Europe” and “have never known geographical, disciplinary, or cultural borders.” This transcontinental facet of fairy tales means that versions of the same tale can be found in many different languages across Europe. There are even some fairy tales that cross cultural boundaries and have similar counterparts in Asian, African, or even Native American societies, like Cinderella. 

In my studies, and as I pay more attention to these references in literature and Pop Culture, I come to the same conclusion again and again: fairy tales are everywhere. They transcend time periods, race, class, religion, and culture, which I think is pretty darn neat. What other genre can say that for itself?

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(In case you’re wondering where to find this information, I used three sources)

[1] Zipes, Jack. “Introduction.” The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000. xv-xxxii. Print.

[2] Dorson, Richard M. The British Folklorists: A History. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1968. Print.

[3] Tatar, Maria M. “Introduction.” The Cambridge Companion to Fairy Tales. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2015. 1-10. Print.