In observance of election week, I will NOT write about great political literature. After all, nothing can compete with the surreal experience or creative story telling that have defined this election season. After November 8th, we’ll need a break from all that. So let’s talk about fairy tales for adults.
Of course, fairy tales don’t automatically contain fairies; the term is ascribed to a collection of French stories by Madame d’Aulnoy in 1697. A more accurate term might be the commonly used “folktales”. Researchers at universities in Durham and Lisbon date this form of stories back thousands of years, some to the Bronze Age more than 6,000 years ago.
Everyone has favorite fairy tales, first told to us by adults, then read by ourselves. They appeared in collections of short stories or fully fleshed out tales. All of them carried life lessons which we absorbed through their ability to entertain and excite our imaginations. Perhaps the best known of the earliest recorded morality tales are Aesop’s fables, written in ancient Greece of the 6th century BC.
The fairy tale form we grew up with has its origins in European tradition, evolved from centuries-old stories that have adapted to multiple cultures worldwide. The largest and best-known collection was gathered by German brothers Jacob and Ludwig Grimm in the early 1800s. They started with 86 folktales, published in 1812 and increased the collection to two volumes comprising 585 tales and legends by 1818. The tales referred to today as Grimm’s Fairy Tales number 209.
The influence of fairy tales infiltrated such adult classics as Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Today’s best fairy tales for adults may not have fairies but they creatively mix folks and fantasy to great effect. They prove you will never grow too old to enjoy fairy tales. How many of these have you read:
The Princess Bride – William Goldman
Practical Magic – Alice Hoffman
Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman
The Book of Lost Things – John Connolly
The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern
The Snow Child – Eowyn Ivey
The First 15 Lives of Harry August – Claire North
Uprooted – Naomi Novik