Join Kate’s VIP Club Now!

Follow Me


Kate's Blog

Subscribe RSS

SPOTLIGHT: A Brief History of Fairy Tales

Thursday, February 11, 2016


For your enjoyment ...  a brief history of fairy tales!

Myth, Legend & Fairy Tale

The differences between myth, legend, fairy tale & fable can be can simply described as:

Myths: narratives about immortal or supernatural protagonists
Legends: narratives about extraordinary protagonists
Fairy Tales: narratives about ordinary protagonists
Fables: narratives with animal protagonists which convey a moral

History of Fairy Tales

Fairy Tales have their roots in ancient oral storytelling traditions.
All cultures have their own myths & legends. Many fairy tales wear ‘the easy doublet’ of myth.
A.D. 100-200, Ancient Greece – “Cupid and Psyche” written by Apuleius 

A.D. 850-860, China - The first known version of “Cinderella” is written

C. 1300 – Troubadours and travelling storytellers spread tales throughout medieval Europe 

C. 1500 - One Thousand and One Arabian Nights is first recorded 

1550 & 1553, Italy - Gianfrancesco Straparola publishes The Pleasant Nights - he has been called the 'grandfather of fairy tales'

1600s, Italy - Giambattista Basile writes The Tale of Tales – published posthumously in 1634. This contains 'Petrosinella', the earliest known version of 'Rapunzel' 

1690-1710  - The French Salons invented and played with fairy tales - Marie-Catherine D'Aulnoy invented the term 'conte de fées'

1697 France - Charles Perrault's Mother Goose Tales is published in Paris 

1697 – Charlotte-Rose de la Force publishes her collection which includes the tale we now know of as “Rapunzel”

1740 France - Gabrielle de Villeneuve writes a 362 page version of “Beauty and the Beast”

 1756 France – Jean-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont publishes much shorter version of “Beauty and the Beast” - first tale written specifically for children.

1812 Germany - Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm publish Vol 1 of Childhood and Household Tales

1823 Great Britain - Edgar Taylor publishes the first English translation of the Grimms' tales in German Popular Stories. The book is illustrated by George Cruikshank

1825 Germany – Grimms’ first edition for children - known as The Small Edition - illustrated by Ludwig Grimm

1835 Denmark - Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales Told for Children

1889 England - Andrew Lang publishes The Blue Fairy Book -  the first multicultural fairy tale collection 

1890 Russia - Tchaikovsky's “The Sleeping Beauty” premieres in St Petersburg 

1893 Great Britain - Marian Roalfe Cox publishes her book, Cinderella: Three Hundred and Forty-five Variants of Cinderella, Catskin, and Cap O' Rushes’- the first fairy tale scholarship

1910 Finland - Antti Aarne publishes ‘The Types of the Folktale’. Later, Stith Thompson translates and expands it into English in 1961

1937 United States - Walt Disney's first feature length animated film is released, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Now – fairy tales have never been hotter! They dominate our TV and movie screens, and influence advertising, music, and fashion. Plus of course ... fairy tale retellings ...

Fairy Tale Tropes
Pure distillation of plot

Setting is anywhere and nowhere

Traditional sentences & archaic language: Once upon a time ... Long long ago … Once, twice, thrice …. 
‘Abstract style’  - dark forest, brave youth, golden bird

Fairy tale numbers and patterns: the numbers 3 & 7 & 13 i.e. the third sister, the thirteenth fairy

Magic & metamorphosis – talking mirror, prince into frog, girl into bear

Binary oppositions i.e. good & evil, rich & poor, beautiful & ugly, strong & weak

Memorable language i.e. rhythm, rhyme, repetition, alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia 

Motifs & metaphors: ‘the language of the night’

Structure – a series of trials & tribulations (often three)

The Fairy Tale ‘happy ending’ .. 

(Though not all fairy tales end happily. Many of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales are very sad, for example) 


BOOK REVIEW: Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis

Friday, September 19, 2014

Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold by C.S. Lewis

When I was a little girl, I spent many a long summer holiday with my great-aunts in the seaside town of Merewether, about an hour's drive north of my home town of Sydney.

I remember one year, when I was about twelve, lying on the floor in their living-room and looking through the bookshelves in search of something to read. My eye fell upon a novel called Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold by C.S. Lewis, and I grabbed it eagerly. I loved the Narnia books - they were my all-time favourite books - and so I confidently expected I would love this book too.

The very first line both startled me and intrigued me:

I am old now and have not much to fear from the anger of gods.

It was clear at once this was not going to be a tale set in the magical, funny, wondrous world of Narnia, but something much darker and more grown-up. With a little shiver of anticipation, I lay down behind my great-aunt's green velvet wing-chair and gave myself over to the story, the first adult book I ever read.

Till We Have Faces was Lewis's last book, published in 1956, the year that he married Joy Davidman, the American poet and writer whose tragic death in 1960 was immortalized in the movie Shadowlands with Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. It is believed that Joy inspired Orual, the central character in Till We Have Faces.

The book is a retelling of the ancient Greek myth of 'Cupid and Psyche'. I was not familiar with the myth when I read the book, but understood it easily, possibly because of the strong echoes the story has with that of the Beauty and the Beast fairytale.

In brief, the myth tells the story of Psyche, who wed Cupid, the God of Love; he gave her everything a woman could want except the sight of his own face. Her jealous elder sisters convinced her to take a candle and shine it upon her husband's face while he slept. Psyche did so, but a drop of hot wax fell on Cupid's face and woke him. Angry and disappointed, he cast her out and she had to undertake a set of seemingly impossible tasks before she could win him back.

Lewis said that the Cupid and Psyche myth had haunted him all his life. He tried to write it in poetic form, and as a play, before at last writing it from the point of view of the jealous older sister, Orual.

Originally the manuscript was titled Bareface, with an interplay of multiple meanings: Orual's facial deformity, which she hides with a mask; Psyche's mortal beauty; and the invisible gods Cupid and Aphrodite, who are supposedly the most beautiful of all. However, Lewis's editor rejected this title, thinking it sounded like a Western, and so Lewis re-named it after a line from the book in which Orual says, 'How can [the gods] meet us face to face till we have faces?'

When I first read this book, at the age of twelve, I don't think I understood what C.S. Lewis meant by this line. I do know that when I read it – and recognized it as the title and so having some kind of special significance – it stirred all sorts of new thoughts and feelings in me. I dimly realized that Orual could only grasp the truth about the gods – and so understand the meaning of the universe – once she had realized the truth about herself.

Here is the whole quote:

Lightly men talk of saying what they mean... When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the centre of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you'll not talk about joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak openly, nor let us answer. Till that need can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?

I was puzzled and moved and enthralled by this passage, and bookmarked it in my great-aunt's book with a frangipani flower that had fallen from the tree in their garden. That flower, now brown and withered and without fragrance, still marks the page.

With this book, C.S Lewis somehow taught me that stories can contain in them some kind of truth that cannot always be easily expressed, or understood with the intellect alone. He also gave me a deep and abiding love of stories that retell older stories, and find new truths hidden within the old.

Subscribe RSS

Recent Posts



Blogs I Follow