I give a breakdown of the most well-known fairy tales, with a grouping which shows at a glance the main collectors or tellers of each tale. I was curious to have this, and although this little site is hyperlinked to the shoulders of giants, felt that other sites were more focussed on the scholarly. It was originally just my own "control" document for fairy tales, but I realised it could be of use to others, so I neatened it into this. I found Google's blogger excellent in this regard, and was almost shocked at the speed with which I could do it.

Parents, teachers and educationalists - This site should in general be child friendly, but fairy tales are not necessarily children's tales, and I don't usually link to expurgated retellings; for example, note that Perrault's Little Red Riding Hood ends badly! Also, I believe that the Burton 1001 Nights can be both sexual and prejudiced. Other tales may feature attitudes of the nineteenth century or earlier.

This site is unashamedly eurocentric - the folk tales of, for example, India, or China, are beyond my ken, but I would like to link to any sites with a similar approach to mine for tales of other continents or regions. At the moment, the furthest I go afield is the 1001 nights, and my brief section on Russian Tales. I ought also to note that some tales, such as Cinderella, pop up in one form or another near-universally (and Cinderella may in origin be Chinese - witness the concern with foot size.)

I wanted to include a link to Uncle Remus tales, but they don't seem to have a good web presence - in origin Afro-Carribean or possibly Cherokee, featuring the trickster figure Brer Rabbit, and Brer Fox. Brer Rabbit seems to be the original Bugs Bunny.

The research regarding "most well-known" is fairly minimal, but I think accurate and without any glaring omissions; please let me know if you think anything is conspicuous by its absence. I would be interested to see, with a broader sampling, which in the top twenty or so are less familiar to me.
Before going into this, the names I knew were - Grimm and Andersen. Realising the significance of Perrault has been enlightening; I'd heard of him, but wasn't clear on just how many of his tales are the classics - and he only published a small number. Another eye-opener is Joseph Jacobs, who emerges from the main list as a significant collector. I'd never heard of him, but he's something of an English Grimm!

Something that isn't so clear, and deserves a mention - the significance of French courtly women in taking the "old wives' tales" in a literary direction. I give a link for Madame d'Aulnoy, of singular importance in this regard though none of her tales seem to be in the premier league, and Madame de Villeneuve's Beauty and the Beast also emerges from this nexus. There's an interesting article on the web at http://www.endicott-studio.com/rdrm/forconte.html which argues that they used these "fanciful" tales as a subterfuge way of critiquing matters of court.

It seems to be D'Aulnoy who is responsible for the term "fairy tales" - tales of the fairies - as our genre term, confusing since few tales feature fairies as such. It seems to me that this might best be understood as "tales told by the fairies."

A similarly good essay, this one on Russian Fairy Tales -

I've avoided Disney so far, and link only to classic tellings, but inevitably, the taste of most of us has been to some extent subject to a process of disneyfication - I wonder if Andersen's "The Little Mermaid" would figure at all if not for Disney? Some people are mentioning Bambi, and so far I've discounted this, but we are dealing with a fuzzy category. An amusing thing I came across, when trying to find if I could hyperlink Winnie the Pooh or whether it was still in copyright, was that Disney and the people who own the copyright from A.A. Milne have locked horns in a multi-million pound dispute over Winnie; somewhere, Disney have an office devoted to this case, and it's been going on for a decade. It seems that Disney may well lose, and it could have serious repercussions for the company. Clearly, the bear of little brain has grown up a cow of big cash.

Above, I give brief breakdowns of the Aarne-Thompson system of classification, the main system for classifying folk-tales, and of Propp's morphology. Both of these are highly influential - the Aarne-Thompson system still seems to be the international standard.

I give a fuller breakdown of Aarne-Thompson in the archives of this site, but it is in rough. I will try to make it more presentable soon, but I am probably reaching the limits of what this blog can do; I have a much neater Microsoft Word Outline document available on request. My personal feeling is that the Aarne-Thompson system ought to be obsolete, but isn't; developments of information technology provide us with much better tools for ontologies, taxonomies and such, and perhaps the Aarne-Thompson system is now an obstruction. I am not here disparaging their work, which I'm sure was pioneering for the time. I also find it quite frustrating that whoever has ownership of this system does not have a dedicated website, or at least not one which is easy to find, especially as folk-tales and fairy-tales are the heritage of the world.

Propp's morphology is similarly given a fuller but, at the moment, rough presentation in the archives where I give the earlier and most influential chapters of his book in full, and I similarly feel that the morphology has been over-rated, or at least marketed past its sell-by date. Again, this is not the fault of Propp, whose work is admirable, but a fault of ourselves, that we are underlings. From the web, one gets the impression that he has an excellent morphology of - Star Wars. It seems to fit well with a certain kind of quest story, but, without a lot of pushing and shoving, not to most of our data.

I intend to include some stuff on Jungian archetype theory and its later developments (also in danger of being an excellent theory of Star Wars) soon, but my notes are at the moment personal to myself and include too many unacknowledged sources.


Feedback -

My main list holds up to most incoming information from you quite well. I did initially have them in order of how well I could remember them, but re-jigged to put like sources together. My initial list’s higher up entries were very similar, if not identical, to Lynda’s -

Lynda –

Snow white and the seven dwarfs
Sleeping beauty
Hansel and Gretel
Little red riding hood
Jack and the Beanstalk

Stacy –

Rapunzel let down your hair!!!!
Little Red Riding Hood,
Puss In Boots,
Princess and the Pea,
The Gingerbread Man,
Sleeping Beauty, thats me now, Ha Ha, am I good or what!!!! :-)

Which drew our attention to –
The Gingerbread Man (scary for some reason) - which seems to be East European / Scandinavian, collected by Asbjørnsen and Moe, the guys who brought us the Three Billy Goats Gruff.
For more information on runaway food see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gingerbread_Boy
Puss In Boots - Perrault
The Princess and the Pea - Andersen

Stacey notes –

The Little Mermaid - Andersen http://hca.gilead.org.il/li_merma.html
Beauty and the Beast - Madame de Villeneuve
(These I’d heard of but didn’t know the full stories.)

Sandra notes –

The Girl Who Trod On The Loaf - Andersen http://hca.gilead.org.il/girl_who.html
(An unusual Andersen entry and completely new to me.)

Phil has –

Stuwwelpeter - Heinrich Hoffmann http://www.fln.vcu.edu/struwwel/struwwel.html
Dwarf Nose - Wilhelm Hauff
(from the same author, this too looks interesting - http://www.gutenberg.org/files/24593/24593-h/24593-h.htm )
Hansel and Gretel - Grimm http://myweb.dal.ca/barkerb/fairies/grimm/015.html
Rapunzel - Grimm http://myweb.dal.ca/barkerb/fairies/grimm/012.html
Pinocchio - Carlo Collodi http://italophiles.com/the_adventures_of_pinocchio.pdf

So I added -

The Little Mermaid (Stacey), The Gingerbread Man (Stacy)
and rate higher -
Beauty and the Beast (Stacey), Puss in Boots, The Princess and the Pea (Stacy).

It is repeated ad nauseam on the web, but I cannot find a reference to a proper original source, that "According to a 2004 poll of 1,200 children by UCI Cinemas, the most popular fairy tales (in the USA) are:
- Cinderella
- Sleeping Beauty
- Hansel and Gretel
- Rapunzel
- Little Red Riding Hood
- Town Musicians"
The last is unfamiliar to me, apparently a Grimm tale.


Notable non-runners -

The Frog Prince / The Frog King - Grimm http://myweb.dal.ca/barkerb/fairies/grimm/001.html
The Goose-Girl - Grimm http://myweb.dal.ca/barkerb/fairies/grimm/089.html
The Fisherman and His Wife - Grimm http://myweb.dal.ca/barkerb/fairies/grimm/019.html
Tom Thumb - Jacobs
Jacobs Miss Mulock
Hop o’ My Thumb or Little Thumb - Perrault
Perrault Lang
Thumbling - Grimm
Thumbling as Journeyman - Grimm
Thumbelina - Andersen
The Little Match Girl - Andersen http://hca.gilead.org.il/li_match.html
The Golden Goose - Grimm
The Twelve Dancing Princesses - Grimm
The Elves and The Shoemaker - Grimm
The Town Musicians - Grimm


Additional Notes -

Andersen’s tales look unfairly low on my original list, but this is simply because he wrote his own tales, unlike Grimm or Perrault who were collectors or re-tellers; The Snow Queen by Andersen is one of my favourite stories of any kind.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears, mentioned only by me, is quite anomalous – it may be a traditional tale, but seems to be by Robert Southey, and in earlier versions was an old woman, or an animal of some kind. It does not seem to be in the usual collections. The moral is allegedly to stay out of people’s private stuff, but I think it should be - blondes can get away with anything!

The Pied Piper of Hamelin, collected by Grimm, but not included in their main collection, seems to have been based on some ghastly event in the early history of the town. (Above, I link to a page of sources which includes the poetic interpretation by Robert Browning.)

I have included two of Aesop’s fables; strictly speaking, they might not be fairy tales, but these two seem to me to be easily susceptible to such treatment, and are widely known.

In notable non-runners, I group the whole "Tom Thumb" complex together, giving the most anglicised first (which is Arthurian, and features Merlin). It's one of those tales where I know the name and the general idea, but no plot details, and since nobody else mentioned it, I've not put it on the main list. Nevertheless, in various forms, the idea of a tiny person seems near universal, and we can see that all our main tellers have a version of it.

Must mention as well that Marie tells me Tinkerbell, from Peter Pan, is known throughout the francophone world as "la fee clochette"! Isn't that lovely!

Rough working notes towards a definition –

Strict definition unnecessary? Much of the above a sort of extensive definition?
long-standing, often but not necessarily author unknown / traditional. Have a large overlap with folk tales.
short and suitable for telling in one or a few nights.
often, anthropomorphised animals or transformation into / from animal.
magical, impossible or miraculous events.
unusual sizes - giants, dwarfs, tiny people, very long hair.
idealised royalty, marriage / misrecognition across social gulfs, inheritance, disinheritance.
contractual spells or curses - forbidding and transgression.
an "other" time - distant past?
subtle stylistic conventions - a certain simplicity to social or contractual problems. 3rd person narration, narrator omniscience?

The only exception I can see on our lists to the magical is The Boy Who Cried Wolf, which is in a sense more of a moral parable / fable; I was in two minds about including the fables anyway; but with enlarged lists, more exceptions to the magical might pop up. I think it can be difficult to differentiate between an animal fable (often involving anthropomorphised, especially talking, animals) and a fairy tale. There might be a grey area between allegory and symbolism; Perrault often gives an allegorical interpretation at the end of his tales - see his Red Riding Hood above.

Tolkien's classic essay On Fairy-stories - note especially his argument that fairy-stories have no essential connection with children – can be found at -


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