episode #122 fairy tales

Andre Edouard Marty: Les ailes dans le vent, 1919
Andre Edouard Marty: Les ailes dans le vent, 1919

The origin of fairy tales dates back thousands of years. There are many different names for these tales – wonder tale, magic tale, fairy story or Märchen.

Fairy tales may be distinguished from other folk narratives such as legends (which generally involve belief in the veracity of the events described) and explicit moral tales, including beast fables. Unlike legends and folklore tales, they seldom contain any references to religion, actual places, persons or events. The term “once upon a time” is used rather than an actual reference to date. Oral traditions, including the passing down of stories, were the main method of dissemination for much of the medieval and early modern period: each time stories were told, small details would change, meaning they were constantly evolving and changing over centuries and in different regions. The early written fairy tales text of the literary type were intended for adults. They became more kid’s fairy tales in the 19th and 20th centuries.

What are the defining characteristics of a fairy tale? First, it is a short narrative, sometimes less than a single page, sometimes running to many more, but the term no longer applies, as it once did, to a novel-length work. 

Secondly, fairy tales are familiar stories, either verifiably old because they have been passed on down the generations or because the listener or reader is struck by their family resemblance to another story; they can appear pieced and patched. The genre belongs in the general realm of folklore, and many fairy tales are called ‘folk tales’, and are attributed to oral tradition, and considered anonymous and popular in the sense of originating not among an elite, but among the unlettered, the Volk (the people in German, as in ‘Volkswagen’, the ‘People’s Car’). 

A third defining characteristic of fairy tales follows organically from the implied oral and popular tradition: the combination and recombination of familiar plots and characters, devices and images. They might be attached to a particular well-known fairy tale – such as Puss-in-Boots or Cinderella – but fairy tales are generically recognisable even when the exact identity of the particular story is not clear. Elements in many of the great Victorian and Edwardian children’s stories have a fairytale character. The authors of newly invented stories, such as Charles Dickens and Charles Kingsley, George Eliot, E Nesbit, and JRR Tolkien, do not write fairy tales as such, but they adopt and transform recognisable elements – flying carpets, magic rings, animals that talk – from fairytale conventions, adding to readers’ enjoyment by the direct appeal to shared knowledge of the fantasy code.

Fairy tales typically offer hope of release from poverty, maltreatment, and subjection. The promise of the happy ending carries the tales of terrible dark deeds to their unlikely conclusion.

Spoken word

William Shakespeare: Ralph Fiennes plays Richard III ‘I can add colours to the chameleon’


Al Di Meola: Short Tales of the Black Forest

Letherette: After Dawn

David Holmes: The Real Story

Melody’s Echo Chamber: Endless Shore

Zero 7: End Theme

Darkstar: Hold Me Down

Prelude: After the Gold Rush

Sasha: Healer

Jónsi & Alex: Daniel In The Sea

A community radio midnight show Through the Bohemian Looking Glass is aired Sunday, Tuesday and Friday night at midnight (GMT), that means you stay late on Saturday, Monday and Thursday. A new episode is aired every Sunday midnight (the night between Saturday and Sunday) on Wirral Wave radio or AirTime. Later on SoundCloud for some time.