The Lure of the Fairy Tale

There are two varieties of fairy tales. One is the literary fairy tale, the kind written, most famously, by Charles Perrault, E. T. A. Hoffmann, and Hans Christian Andersen. Such tales, which came into being at the end of the seventeenth century, are original literary works—short stories, really—except that they have fanciful subject matter: unhappy ducks, princesses who dance all night, and so on. To align the tale with the hearthside tradition, the author may also employ a certain naïveté of style. The other kind of fairy tale, the ancestor of the literary variety, is the oral tale, whose origins cannot be dated, since they precede recoverable history. Oral fairy tales are not so much stories as traditions. In the words of the English novelist Angela Carter, who wrote some thrilling Grimm-based stories, asking where a fairy tale came from is like asking who invented the meatball. Every narrator reinvents the tale. — The Lure of the Fairy Tale : The New Yorker.