A fairy tale (alternative names include fairytale, fairy story, magic tale, or wonder tale) is a short story that belongs to the folklore genre. Such stories typically feature magic, enchantments, and mythical or fanciful beings. In most cultures, there is no clear line separating myth from folk or fairy tale; all these together form the literature of preliterate societies. Fairy tales may be distinguished from other folk narratives such as legends (which generally involve belief in the veracity of the events described) and explicit moral tales, including beast fables. Prevalent elements include dwarfs, dragons, elves, fairies, giants, gnomes, goblins, griffins, mermaids, talking animals, trolls, unicorns, monsters, witches, wizards, and magic and enchantments.
In less technical contexts, the term is also used to describe something blessed with unusual happiness, as in "fairy-tale ending" (a happy ending) or "fairy-tale romance". Colloquially, the term "fairy tale" or "fairy story" can also mean any far-fetched story or tall tale; it is used especially of any story that not only is not true, but could not possibly be true. Legends are perceived as real within their culture; fairy tales may merge into legends, where the narrative is perceived both by teller and hearers as being grounded in historical truth. However, unlike legends and epics, fairy tales usually do not contain more than superficial references to religion and to actual places, people, and events; they take place "once upon a time" rather than in actual times.
Fairy tales occur both in oral and in literary form; the name "fairy tale" ("conte de fées" in French) was first ascribed to them by Madame d'Aulnoy in the late 17th century. Many of today's fairy tales have evolved from centuries-old stories that have appeared, with variations, in multiple cultures around the world.
The history of the fairy tale is particularly difficult to trace because only the literary forms can survive. Still, according to researchers at universities in Durham and Lisbon, such stories may date back thousands of years, some to the Bronze Age. Fairy tales, and works derived from fairy tales, are still written today.
Folklorists have classified fairy tales in various ways. The Aarne-Thompson-Uther classification system and the morphological analysis of Vladimir Propp are among the most notable. Other folklorists have interpreted the tales' significance, but no school has been definitively established for the meaning of the tales.
Some folklorists prefer to use the German term Märchen or "wonder tale" to refer to the genre rather than fairy tale, a practice given weight by the definition of Thompson in his 1977  edition of The Folktale: "a tale of some length involving a succession of motifs or episodes. It moves in an unreal world without definite locality or definite creatures and is filled with the marvellous. In this never-never land, humble heroes kill adversaries, succeed to kingdoms and marry princesses." The characters and motifs of fairy tales are simple and archetypal: princesses and goose-girls; youngest sons and gallant princes; ogres, giants, dragons, and trolls; wicked stepmothers and false heroes; fairy godmothers and other magical helpers, often talking horses, or foxes, or birds; glass mountains; and prohibitions and breaking of prohibitions.
As Stith Thompson points out, talking animals and the presence of magic seem to be more common to the fairy tale than fairies themselves. However, the mere presence of animals that talk does not make a tale a fairy tale, especially when the animal is clearly a mask on a human face, as in fables.
In his essay "On Fairy-Stories", J. R. R. Tolkien agreed with the exclusion of "fairies" from the definition, defining fairy tales as stories about the adventures of men in Faërie, the land of fairies, fairytale princes and princesses, dwarves, elves, and not only other magical species but many other marvels. However, the same essay excludes tales that are often considered fairy tales, citing as an example The Monkey's Heart, which Andrew Lang included in The Lilac Fairy Book.
Steven Swann Jones identified the presence of magic as the feature by which fairy tales can be distinguished from other sorts of folktales. Davidson and Chaudri identify "transformation" as the key feature of the genre. From a psychological point of view, Jean Chiriac argued for the necessity of the fantastic in these narratives.
Originally, stories that would contemporarily be considered fairy tales were not marked out as a separate genre. The German term "Märchen" stems from the old German word "Mär", which means news or tale. The word "Märchen" is the diminutive of the word "Mär", therefore it means a "little story". Together with the common beginning "once upon a time", this tells us that a fairy tale or a märchen was originally a little story from a long time ago when the world was still magic. (Indeed, one less regular German opening is "In the old times when wishing was still effective".)
The French writers and adaptors of the conte de fées genre often included fairies in their stories; the genre name became "fairy tale" in English translation and "gradually eclipsed the more general term folk tale that covered a wide variety of oral tales". Jack Zipes also attributes this shift to changing sociopolitical conditions in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that led to the trivialization of these stories by the upper classes.
Roots of the genre come from different oral stories passed down in European cultures. The genre was first marked out by writers of the Renaissance, such as Giovanni Francesco Straparola and Giambattista Basile, and stabilized through the works of later collectors such as Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm. In this evolution, the name was coined when the précieuses took up writing literary stories; Madame d'Aulnoy invented the term Conte de fée, or fairy tale, in the late 17th century.
Before the definition of the genre of fantasy, many works that would now be classified as fantasy were termed "fairy tales", including Tolkien's The Hobbit, George Orwell's Animal Farm, and L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Indeed, Tolkien's "On Fairy-Stories" includes discussions of world-building and is considered a vital part of fantasy criticism. Although fantasy, particularly the subgenre of fairytale fantasy, draws heavily on fairy tale motifs, the genres are now regarded as distinct.
The fairy tale, told orally, is a sub-class of the folktale. Many writers have written in the form of the fairy tale. These are the literary fairy tales, or Kunstmärchen. The oldest forms, from Panchatantra to the Pentamerone, show considerable reworking from the oral form. The Grimm brothers were among the first to try to preserve the features of oral tales. Yet the stories printed under the Grimm name have been considerably reworked to fit the written form.
Literary fairy tales and oral fairy tales freely exchanged plots, motifs, and elements with one another and with the tales of foreign lands. The literary fairy tale came into fashion during the 17th century, developed by aristocratic women as a parlour game. This, in turn, helped to maintain the oral tradition. According to Jack Zipes, "The subject matter of the conversations consisted of literature, mores, taste, and etiquette, whereby the speakers all endeavoured to portray ideal situations in the most effective oratorical style that would gradually have a major effect on literary forms." Many 18th-century folklorists attempted to recover the "pure" folktale, uncontaminated by literary versions. Yet while oral fairy tales likely existed for thousands of years before the literary forms, there is no pure folktale, and each literary fairy tale draws on folk traditions, if only in parody. This makes it impossible to trace forms of transmission of a fairy tale. Oral story-tellers have been known to read literary fairy tales to increase their own stock of stories and treatments.
Sometime in the middle of the 17th century, a passion for the conversational parlour game based on the plots of old folk tales swept through the salons. Each salonnière was called upon to retell an old tale or rework an old theme, spinning clever new stories that not only showcased verbal agility and imagination but also slyly commented on the conditions of aristocratic life. Great emphasis was placed on a mode of delivery that seemed natural and spontaneous. The decorative language of the fairy tales served an important function: disguising the rebellious subtext of the stories and sliding them past the court censors. Critiques of court life (and even of the king) were embedded in extravagant tales and in dark, sharply dystopian ones. Not surprisingly, the tales by women often featured young (but clever) aristocratic girls whose lives were controlled by the arbitrary whims of fathers, kings, and elderly wicked fairies, as well as tales in which groups of wise fairies (i.e., intelligent, independent women) stepped in and put all to rights.
The first collectors to attempt to preserve not only the plot and characters of the tale, but also the style in which they were told, was the Brothers Grimm, collecting German fairy tales; ironically, this meant although their first edition (1812 & 1815) remains a treasure for folklorists, they rewrote the tales in later editions to make them more acceptable, which ensured their sales and the later popularity of their work.
This consideration of whether to keep Sleeping Beauty reflected a belief common among folklorists of the 19th century: that the folk tradition preserved fairy tales in forms from pre-history except when "contaminated" by such literary forms, leading people to tell inauthentic tales. The rural, illiterate, and uneducated peasants, if suitably isolated, were the folk and would tell pure folk tales. Sometimes they regarded fairy tales as a form of fossil, the remnants of a once-perfect tale. However, further research has concluded that fairy tales never had a fixed form, and regardless of literary influence, the tellers constantly altered them for their own purposes. 2b1af7f3a8