What Makes a Fairytale a Fairytale?

Ever wonder why a fairytale is called a fairytale? I have, because seldom does it ever have a fairy actually in the tale! After doing some research, I have found that there are three aspects that nearly every fairytale contains:

1. The setting is an indistinguishable far off time and place

This is why we begin fairytales with “Once upon a time” and end with “and they lived happily ever after”. It creates distance from everyday life with the fairytale world. This allows us to escape from reality and allow for the possibility that anything can happen. Which brings us to #2…

2. Magic is the norm

Since the story has established that this is far from your everyday life, anything is possible. Of course everyone knows, that magic is the best part of a fairytale. They are wonderful little phenomenons in the hero’s story that help them out or set them back. However, the hero never bats an eye at these peculiar occurrences because meeting strange creatures, casting magical spells and materializing objects from thin air are completely normal in the land of fairytales.

Most fairytales were not written in English and there are many translations of what we read “Once upon a time”. One that I like in particular is “This is a story from a long time ago, when the world was still magic”.

3. The hero has to overcome an obstacle or finds happiness in the end

Just like any well written story there must be conflict and resolution. This is what makes fairytales truly unique. The resolution is never found through ordinary means. There is always a fairy godmother or magical spell that saves the day.

This is the most important part of why we tell fairytales. The character may be completely stuck in his or her situation (in quite a few cases the hero is dead), but no matter what this obstacle is — it is always overcome. I think it is so important to teach children from an early age that anything is achievable and nothing is impossible.

“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist,
but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”
– G. K. Chesterton

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