What is a Fairy Tale?

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Well, this seems like an easy question to answer, now doesn’t it? However, there is not a definitive definition for the term fairy tale, which was first coined to describe a French tale about, you guessed it, fairies. Over the course of many centuries “fairy tale” has been used to describe a wide range of stories.

History

Fairy tales evolved from folktales. Folktales are oral narratives that circulate among a group of people that share similar interests and beliefs. These tales illustrates the group’s culture by highlighting certain areas of their traditions such as their actions (hula dance), beliefs (the land is treated as an older sibling), knowledge (how to make an herbal tea to treat a cough), skills (lei making), and sayings (Aloha). These are examples from Hawai’i as a folk group.

Fairy tales are fictional narratives that contain magical elements such as a witch or talking animal. They are a source of adventure for the readers and address latent hopes, fears, and anxieties of the common person. Originally, fairy tales were intended for adult audiences, told around knitting circles, watering holes, etc. The oldest oral versions are much more erotic and grotesque than the sanitized Disney versions we all know and love today.

Tale Types

A system has been devised in order to group folk and fairy tales. The Aarne Thompson Uther (ATU) index categorizes tales by recurrent components such as narrative (same plot), similar themes, and motifs. A motif is an identifiable pattern that is repeated. For example, all versions of “Little Red Riding Hood” contain the motif of a wolf disguising himself as a grandmother.

There are several other ways to describe a fairy tale, but for the purpose of my project this is how I will approach the widely used term.

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Aside

Currently I am working on a research project in order to obtain a rather insignificant “Honors” attached to the end of my diploma. For three years I was a Nutrition major at University of Hawai’i Manoa, and in my fourth year decided to double major in English because I’ve always been drawn to writing. With all the biology, physiology, and chemistry lab reports I’d been writing, it was quite refreshing to switch gears to analyses on poems and novels where my argument was based on supporting my interpretations rather than explaining how concrete data and observations did not support my hypothesis. After finding out that I could graduate in May 2014 with a BA in English, and that it would take another two years for a nutrition degree, I decided to ditch the science classes. But my love for food is still alive and has been the inspiration for my honors project, “Feasting in Fairy Tales: A Focus on Food and Consumption.”

My project will focus on food in specific fairy tale types, and how making food the center of analysis changes our interpretations of the tales. I have chosen to do two tale types; ATU 327 the Children and the Ogre, ATU 333 the Glutton, and the third section will center around a cluster of food motifs. Some specific titles I will be using are “Hansel and Gretel”- the Brothers Grimm, “Hop O my Thumb”- Charles Perrault, “The Story of Grandmother”- Paul Delarue, and “The Chinese Little Red Riding Hoods”- Isabelle Chang. Most of the tales are of Western origin and were first collected between the 17th and 19th century.

Within the various version I have been focusing on incidents of cannibalism, preparation of food, gender associations with food and cooking, and how sexuality and the pleasure of food are related. I started this blog to post my work, and hopefully someone will read it and find my research interesting, provide feedback, or point out aspects I did not see myself.

Fairy tale research