In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Fairy Tales and Folktales

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Anthologies and Classroom Resources
  • Journals
  • Childhood Studies
  • Folkloristics and Tale Type Analysis
  • Classic Tale Type Analyses
  • Structuralism and Formalism
  • Psychological Approaches
  • Oral Tradition
  • Sociohistorical Approaches
  • Gender Studies and Queer Theory
  • Film and Popular Culture
  • Illustration, Comics, and Television
  • New Directions in Fairy-Tale Studies

Childhood Studies Fairy Tales and Folktales
Julie Koehler, Claudia Schwabe
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 September 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0195


Though many assume fairy tales have always been children’s fare, prior to the nineteenth century, fairy tales were told to and written primarily for adults, and many tales feature themes and plots that would be considered inappropriate for children today. For instance, although Giambattista Basile’s 1630s Tale of Tales carries the alternate title, Entertainment for Little Ones, the stories within are depicted as being told by adults to other adults, and their contents are bawdy and violently graphic: depicting rape, decapitation, and live burial. Fairy tales written by the French conteues of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries often were written with the distinct and adult purpose of covertly critiquing the Sun King, King Louis XIV. Charles Perrault’s fairy tales from the same period were also initially written for adult audiences but later became popular in educational materials due to their short length and succinct morals. Similarly, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s collection, Children’s and Household Tales, though referencing children in the title, was initially meant for an academic audience. Over time, as children’s literature took off in Germany, and it became clear that children were reading their collection, the Grimms edited their collection with children in mind; however, many elements that we might consider too racy for children’s literature in the twenty-first century still remain—such as violent executions, cannibalism, and sexual assault. This can be confusing for 21st-century child readers, who may be given a copy of Grimms’ Children and Household Tales without much context. As beautiful illustrated editions became popular gifts in the golden age of illustration this connection to children’s literature was enhanced. Disney films connected the fairy tale to a growing commodity in the twentieth century: children’s entertainment. Still, fairy-tale films, television, and narrative for adults continue to be produced today. In this article, the main traditions of Italy, France, Germany, and the Arabian Nights will be discussed in connection with the major nodes of criticism: childhood studies, folkloristics, tale type analysis, structuralism, psychology, oral tradition, sociohistorical approaches, gender studies, and media studies, among others. Colonial folktale collections that branded unique traditions, often much older than the fairy tale, as fairy tales are not included here, though they are discussed in criticism sections. Although most of the field treats fairy tales as stories meant for an adult or mixed audience, specifics on connections to childhood studies wherever applicable are discussed throughout this broad overview of fairy-tale scholarship.

General Overviews

For a general overview of the field, Teverson 2013 and Tatar 2015 are good introductory works. Tatar 2015 is a representative collection of recent scholarship throughout the field, while Teverson 2013 provides a thorough theoretical overview and gives readers a good understanding of fairy tales in relationship to folklore. Teverson 2023 gives an excellent overview of different national traditions and discusses some of the complexities of the formation of the canon. In addition, the landmark works Tatar 2003 and Zipes 2006 (from the same giants in the field) together with Lüthi 1976, each provide a solid foundation of contextual information about the field in general, together with each author’s groundbreaking scholarship. For a succinct work for students, Ashliman 2004 offers a good summary and answers many common questions about folklore and fairy tales. Mayer and Tismar 2003 and Klotz 1985 focus more specifically on literary fairy tales but include many of the important folk traditions across Europe in their discussions. Duggan 2021 provides a broad analysis of the cultural history of the fairy tale, illustrating trends and nuances of the fairy tale in Western culture from Antiquity to the present.

  • Ashliman, D. L. Folk and Fairy Tales: A Handbook. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2004.

    A good summary of scholarship on fairy tales and folk tales and their relationship to each other. Offers students a basic understanding of the field.

  • Duggan, Anne E., ed. A Cultural History of Fairy Tales. 6 vols. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2021.

    These six volumes feature fifty experts in the field, each contributing an overview of a theme applied to a period in history. With the help of a broad range of case material, the scholars illustrate broad trends and nuances of the fairy tale in Western culture from Antiquity to the present.

  • Klotz, Volker. Das Europäische Kunstmärchen: Fünfundzwanzig Kapitel seiner Geschichte von der Renaissance bis zur Moderne. Stuttgart, Germany: Metzler, 1985.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-476-03204-1

    One of three main investigations of the literary fairy tale or Kunstmärchen in German. Klotz provides a broad overview across European texts from the Renaissance to the modern, including many important early collections, such as Basile 2007 and Straparola 2012 (cited under Italian Tradition) and Perrault 2016 (cited under French Tradition). Unfortunately, Klotz fails to discuss the many literary fairy tales written by women.

  • Lüthi, Max. Once Upon a Time: On the Nature of Fairy Tales. Translated by Lee Chadeayne and Paul Gottwald. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1976.

    Originally published in German in 1962, this book has long been used as an introduction to fairy tales. Lüthi’s work is from the perspective of literary analysis but sought to identify specific narrative traits across the traditions of the folktale and folk narrative.

  • Mayer, Mathias, and Jens Tismar. Kunstmärchen. 2d ed. Stuttgart, Germany: Metzler, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-476-04122-7

    Originally published by Tismar in 1983, Mayer expanded and updated the work in 2003. Mayer and Tismar provides a less thorough review than Klotz 1985 but reflects a more comprehensive theory. Like Klotz, however, Mayer and Tismar fail to recognize the important tradition of women writers.

  • Tatar, Maria. The Hard Facts of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales. 2d ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003.

    A second edition of the original work from 1986, Tatar is not only an important work in the history of fairy-tale scholarship but also a well-written and easily accessible entry into the tradition. Tatar examines violence in particular and how readers and listeners are drawn to it. Providing literary, psychological, and folklore perspectives throughout, Tatar develops rich context for the Grimm collection alongside engaging analysis.

  • Tatar, Maria, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Fairy Tales. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

    This collection provides 21st-century scholarship from many of the most important names in fairy-tale studies from a variety of approaches. Together they paint a picture of the diverse and complex scholarship in the field.

  • Teverson, Andrew. Fairy Tale. London: Routledge, 2013.

    DOI: 10.4324/978020336103

    This volume provides clear definitions, a good overview of the history in Europe, and a broad view of the major theoretical traditions. It is particularly useful to students new to theory and critical analysis.

  • Teverson, Andrew. The Fairy Tale World. Abingdon, UK, and New York: Routledge, 2023.

    Originally published in 2019, this volume brings together a selection of the most respected voices in the field of fairy-tale studies, offering analysis of the fairy tale in relation to ethnicity, colonialism, feminism, disability, sexuality, the environment, and class. This volume also contains an overview of the formation of the canon and different national traditions.

  • Zipes, Jack. Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion: The Classical Genre for Children and the Process of Civilization. 2d ed. New York: Routledge, 2006.

    The second of Zipes’s most important early works, together with Zipes 2002 (cited under Sociohistorical Approaches), Zipes provides a thorough contextual overview of the field and breaks down much of the important German scholarship previously unavailable to English speakers. Zipes’s sociohistorical perspective and Marxist discussion of fairy-tale appropriation is solidified in this work, making it an excellent starting point into for scholars of fairy tales.

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