Key Terms for Folklore and Fairy Tales

Common Elements, Tropes, and Themes found in Fairy Tales:

Multiple Levels of meaning – a fairy tale, no matter how simple it may seem, is always going to have multiple levels of meaning. As they weren’t originally intended for children but were meant to be either guides in how people should live or a way to talk about fears or taboo topics, they often take these aspects and weave them into the stories in many ways to make them both enjoyable to listen to and meaningful to the audience.

Style – The writing style is very important in fairy tales. They are often considered “simple” (hence why children really took to them), tightly constructed to avoid complications or redundancies, and contain very limited dialogue and description.

Duality/binaries – good vs. evil, young vs. old, etc.. This

Numb3rs – very significant, should be paid attention to for how it plays in the story (examples of significant numbers: 2, 3, 7, 13 . . .)

Names – often either very common or, more likely, titles of the character’s role; if a name is given that’s not in line with those two then it’s probably symbolic of something (e.g. – Snow White, Rose Red)

Forests – symbolic in multiple ways, they can represent freedom, danger, a pathway, a journey, etc.

Magic – Pretty self-explanatory, all fairy tales have elements of fantasy involved, usually through magic such as curses and spells.

Protagonist/Hero – typically male and typically “disadvantaged” in some way, they’re almost always ordinary and relatable and are commonly demeaned in some form

Key Literary Terms:

Literature/Literary: When we refer to “literature,” or “literary texts,” we are primarily referring to written texts. While we understand that the term literature does not necessarily limit itself to texts of these (written) types, it is simply more convenient for this study to frame the term in this way, as a contrast to texts of a “visual,” “cinematic” or “comic” nature.

Oral tradition: Most all fairy tales grew from oral traditions, as they were shared from person to person, before inquisitive writers sought them out and transcribed them into written works (most notably Perrault, Brothers Grimms, Andersen).

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