The Fairy Tale Tradition
Fairy tales occupy a unique niche in the literary world. They are the subject of intense and extensive academic discourse at the same time as they are animated and commercialized for children by major production companies. The identity of the fairy tale as literature is hotly contested. Angela Carter's view on fairy tales was that they were on the same "cultural level" as classic works like Paradise Lost. In contrast to Carter's view, an experienced librarian at a major metropolitan library informed this writer that the library does not consider fairy tales literature and shelves them on a separate floor from works by major fiction writers. Whatever their place in the canon, fairy tales originate from the oral tradition; they were passed down from one generation to the next by word of mouth, both to entertain and to teach life lessons. Author Steven Swann Jones traces the evolution of the fairy tale from Boccaccio's highly-regarded Decameron, written in the 1300s, to Maurice Sendak's 1963 illustrated children's classic, Where the Wild Things Are. Despite their compilation and classification by writers such as the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault, fairy tales have no definitive versions. Jones explains that because it exists in hundreds of oral and written variations across cultures, a certain fairy tale, such as Snow White, must be "defined as a sum of its versions." The fact that there can be so many versions of the same basic tale proves the story's wide-ranging significance. Fairy tales, Jones explains, endure as they do because they simplify the human experience into a form that anyone can recognize and enjoy. As Carter has added in her writing, fairy tales also contain topics that many people choose to ignore in them, such as incest, rape, and cannibalism. As the essence of human experience, fairy tales inevitably involve aspects of that experience to which people do not want to admit. Despite their variety, fairy tales tend to...
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