Olden tales | Fairy-tales
From the Kid Blog at Miss Missy’s School where Marica talks with kids (and their grownups) about reading and writing. Your comments are most welcome.
We have been doing some research on fairy-tales. But let’s not call what we’re doing “research.” That sounds too serious, and no fun at all. What we’re really doing is exploring the world of Folk-tales, especially Fairy-tales. That’s much more interesting. In the previous Kid Blog post we discovered the difference between fables and fairy-tales, and learned that along with legends, they were both types of folktales.
Folktales. Stories passed down through word of mouth, and partially modified or changed by successive re-tellings, before being written. The category Folktale includes legends, fables, and fairy stories. Many folktales involve mythical creatures and magical transformations.
How long ago would these tales have been passed down before being written? When were they first written down? I don’t know the answer to the first question–I’ll have to explore some more! But the first written tales that we know of were probably collected as early as the 6th century, and several collections of tales, including those in The Arabian Nights, were certainly in existence by the 9th century. These stories weren’t written for children to read, or to be read to children. At that time, they were written for, and read by grownups.
It wasn’t until the late 17th century that written stories we would recognize as fairy-tales started to become popular in France, and a little later in England.
Let’s pause a moment and do some math.
(I never promised we weren’t going to do math. I love math just as much as Rocky does!)
The 6th century refers to the years A.D. 501-600 (though some people say 500-599). How long ago was that? Since we can’t accurately know the year, and it could be that the ‘first time’ happened about the same time several times or places, we’ll just use the year 600. And because we know our answer isn’t going to be exact, we’ll just use 2000 as our current year. The year 2000 minus the year 600 equals 1400 years. Folk tales have been written down for fourteen centuries!
While some books specifically for children (in England they were called ‘chapbooks’) did include a few fairy-tale like stories like Tom Thumb, the first real, written collection of fairy-tales for kids was published in 1697. Among other stories, it contained Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and Puss in Boots. These stories were collected and published by a father and son in France. The book became very popular and was translated into many, many languages. It became known in English as Mother Goose’s Tales. [Grownups, see note below.]
With this information, we can be a little bit more careful in our next calculation. 2023 – 1697 = 326. Books of fairy-tales for children have existed for over three-hundred years!
You’d be surprised to learn how many people in those three-hundred years have become interested in, and did a lot of serious exploring and research on, fairy-tales. In the next post about fairy-tales, we’re going to meet a scholar from modern times who took a deep interest in fairy-tales and published 12 fairy-tale books for children.
Until then, what’s your favorite fairy-tale? Have you read any lately?
The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Chris Baldick. Oxford University Press, Oxford. 1990.
The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature. Humphrey Carpenter and Mai Prichard. Oxford University Press, Oxford. 1995. 1984.
Note: The father and son were Charles and Pierre Perrault (1628-1703 and 1678-1700, respectively). There is some controversy regarding the authorship of the original Histoires, ou contes du temps passé, avec des Moralitez (Stories, or Tales of Past Times, with Moralites), and later works. Various scholars have claimed the Pierre was chiefly responsible for the later works. Its English title is taken from “Contes de la Mère l’Oye,” “Mother Goose Tales,” which appeared on the title page.