Should every Fairy Tale have a fairy?
We all know what a fairy tale is. Or at least we think we know what is. There is no unique definition of fairy tale as literary form. As name suggests, it is relating to telling (in old form tale) and of course fairies.
Is there really at least one fairy in every fairy tale? There are thirteen of them in Sleeping Beauty, there is one in some versions of Cinderella, there is a witch (not really a fairy, but closely related) in Snow White...
At the same time we very fast bump into fairy tales without fairies: Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks, Three Little Pigs... And no witches too!
For everybody's interest, I created huge list of fairy tales available online. They are in public domain, so everybody can read or download them to enjoy and explore their tremendous telling power. Fair enough?
(Image credit: Open Clip Art Library)
In lack of better solutions I will provide my own simplified definition:
Fairy tale is short literary form featuring fantastic characters (witches, dragons, giants, fairies) and / or improbable events (becoming invisible, transforming from animal to human or vice versa, walking seven miles in one step...).
If we look at fairy tales more closely, we'll find they are very different. Fairies are not so common guests and there is not so much magic as one would expect. If we look at fairy tales about Jack and giants, typical for great Britain, as example, we can see the point of the stories is not in battles between Jack and his enemies, there is no special magic involved and we could easily replace giants with some other monsters (not necessary imaginary).
Most important event in Jack and giants type of stories is always transformation of Jack from young irresponsible boy to serious mature man who became able to take care of his future. And right here lies the point of all fairy tales. There must be some sort of transformation of the main character (maybe more characters). This transformation can be achieved through one or more events, there can be one or more helpers, more or less magic involved, transformation can be more or less obvious, but it has to be somewhere, or we are not talking about fairy tale.
(Image credit: Wikipedia, author Arthur Rackham, transformation of a girl into a hind, Public Domain on base author + 70 years)
Origin of word
In English it is called fairy tale, in French conte, in Croatian bajka, in Slovenian pravljica... All these are different names for the same kind of story. Are the meanings of the names different too?
Croatian ... bajka
Czech ... pohadka
Danish ... eventyr
Dutch ... sprookje
English ... fairy tale
Esperanto ... fabelo
French ... conte
German ... maerchen
Hungarian ... mese
Italian ... fiaba
Latvian ... pasaka
Polish ... basn
Romanian ... basm
Russian ... skazka
Slovak ... razpravka
Slovenian ... pravljica
Spanish ... conseja
Swedish ... saga
Turkish ... masal
Ukrainian ... kazka
Yes and no. With some basic knowledge of word origins we can say some languages don't distinguish between fable and fairy tale. Word fable has Latin origin (fabula) and essentially means story. Necessary condition to name something a story is something must happen, there is no need for fantastic elements or life changing transformations. Every news can be called a story. In Esperanto or Polish the word for fairy tale is same as fable.
But in most cases the root of the word has same origin as word to tell (in Middle English: tale, old Croatian: bajati = bajka), saying (Swedish: saeger = saga, Russian: skazat = skazka), narrate (Slovenian: praviti = pravljica) or something similar. Because telling was always related with some sequence of events, which can be counted, we can trace word origins to the root of to count. French conte is great example and even English tale has secondary meaning related to counting.
And when do fairies come in? As we can see, they are more an exception than rule.
No need to worry. You can enjoy in a fairy tale without a degree in linguistics!
(Image credit: Open Clip Art Library)
Our little examination shows "fairy tale" is in most languages related to telling, expressing, saying.
Fairies are not necessary included and as we know there are no fairies in most of fairy tales.