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Author Comment
Limor
Unregistered User
(10/3/01 2:49:51 pm)
definition of fairy tales
hi,
Great amount of different stories with various forms, themes and structures, are regarded as fairy tales. Can you help me to define literary fairy tales and discuss their functions, so the next time Iíll read such a story, Iíll surely know that I read a fairy tale?

Read for example the following definition: ďa fairy-story is one which touches on or uses FaŽrie, whatever its main purpose may be: satire, adventure, morality, fantasy. FaŽrie itself may perhaps most nearly be translated by Magic Ė but it is a magic of a peculiar mood and power, at the furthest pole from the vulgar devices of the laborious, scientific magician" (A partial quotation, but important one, from tolkienís definition Ė important but not satisfactory).

thank you all, Limor.

Heidi
Unregistered User
(10/4/01 2:00:53 pm)
Not an easy answer
Limor,

Since you referred to Tolkien in your post, I assume you have read a little on this topic. The problem is that no clear definition exists. We have discussed the topic previously, and I have provided the link below. However, I can also recommend that you read Jack Zipes' intro to his "The Great Fairy Tale Tradition." It is one of the more recent essays on the topic, I remember correctly.

The link to our past discussion is:

../may2001/definefairytale.html

Please feel free to post more ideas here. The board has been a little slow the past few weeks, but this is the type of topic for which many people usually have comments.

Heidi

limor
Unregistered User
(10/4/01 3:40:03 pm)
thanks for your help
Hi Heidi,

I was really glad to get your answer, and I find your discussion on this topic very interesting and helpful.
I want to confess somehow: since I have been familiar with this forum (about two weeks ago), I visit here often.
I will be happy to consult with you about my thoughts and ideas, which related to my research. My research deals with literary fairy tales in general, and with Hebrew fairy tales in particular.
I will be happy to help you also, as much as I could.

Thanks again, Limor.

Midori
Unregistered User
(10/5/01 4:00:15 am)
"fairy tale"
Probably one of the difficulties of pinning such a definition down to a few lines is that it often doesn't allow one to read/experience the narratives cross culturally. And yet, since the tales travel so freely, we have versions in Europe which may fall under a narrow "fairy tale" description appearing in a similiar structural form in another non European culture, but with different fantastic elements that do the work in the tale of the European fairy. Cinderella has a wide range of magical helpers, some that look like our European fairies and in Asian versions, and South African versions, those magic helpers are composed of very different images, but they do the same work in the story.

I would suggest having a look at an old classic, "Morphology of the Folktale" by Vladimir Propp. This is a very early structuralist work but it's useful because he talks about the "function" of images and the fantastic in the tales;how they work to organize the meanings of the tale by establishing certain patterns, relationship between the real and the fantastic, metaphorical transformations and so on, rather than focusing on a set definition. For instance Baba Yaga, the Russian forest witch who lives in a house with chicken legs and likes to eat little children in some stories, quite often has beautiful daughters and helps the brave hero in others. She has a variety of uses in a tale and they shift depending on what the tale needs at any given moment. Looking at her function in a tale might be more useful than trying to pin her down to a specific catagory of fairy-tale female.

But I think you could make a catalogue (such as the wonderful Katherine Briggs "Encyclopedia of Fairies") of fairy types and mythological archtypes from a specific culture, and define them according to how they function in tales within a specific culture. But once you get comparative, the definitions have to become more elastic to allow that non-fairy looking types might actually perform the same functions. (can Djinns function the same as the Sidhe? Does a fairy horse-who is really a man enchanted by fairy-- function the same as fantastic Eland--who is really man enchanted by a angry father/sorcerer? Does the one legged fairy ogre of Scotland function the same as the one legged cannibal Zim in Xhosa tales?)

I hope this doesn't make life more complicated! I am so used to reading narrative cross culturally (and sometimes looking at their transformations over time as well as Helen has suggested in another post) that I am leery of trying to nail down a definition of the "fairy tale" since it seems like an artifical construct--and one that perhaps many traditional societies were less worried about making--but which scholars love because it purports to organize all this wonderfully messy and resisting body of creative expression.

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