A History of the Fairy Tale

Fairy tales have been passed down orally for centuries, so it’s hard tor trace their exact history. However, once they were written, it becomes easier to see how they’ve grown and change. But where did these stories of the fantastic come from?

I may not have precise answers, but I can talk about where the fairy tale genre first appeared and how others have defined it. (This is a really great article if you have time for a more in depth look; it explores four theories about where fairy tales might have come from.)

The best way I can explain the history of fairy tales is to look at the first few authors of them. Like my recent post about The Big Three, I’ll look at the three authors who were the famous first writers and collectors of fairy tales.

Madame D’Aulnoy

Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville, Baroness d’Aulnoy, also called the Countess d’Aulnoy, was a French aristocrat in the late 17th century. She was an intellect, hosting famed scholars and other nobles in her salon to talk about the world. She was also an accomplished writer. Over the course of 13 years, she published 12 books, 2 of them collections of fairy tales. She named her works contes de fées, or tales of fairies, originating the term “fairy tales” we now use. Madame d’Aulnoy’s stories were written in a conversational style, as they would have been told in a salon.

A popular salon game of Madame d’Aulnoy’s time was to make up fairy tales; to take the elements of magic, social commentary, and good triumphing over evil and make a new story. This practice helped solidify the different aspects of the fairy tale genre.

Giovanni Francesco Straparola

(I couldn’t find a picture of him.)

Giovanni Francesco Straparola was an Italian writer during the late 15th and early 16th centuries. He collected fairy tales. He published a two-volume set of 75 stories, some of which are the earliest written versions of more famous fairy tales.

Giambattista Basile

Giambattista Basile was a Neapolitan soldier during the late 16th and early 17th centuries. A poet and a writer, Basile was most famous for his collection of children’s stories, which the Grimm Brothers later praised as the first national collection of tales. His work contains the earliest written version of  Rapunzel and Cinderella, as well as others.

Basile and Straparola were some of the first people to listen to what tales were being told and collect them to publish. Because of their initiative, we have the fairy tales we do today. Madame d’Aulnoy recognized them as more than just children’s stories, as their own genre of literature.

So now you know a little more about where fairy tales come from! What are some of your favorites?

Until next time, word nerds!

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