Imagine a world without fairy tales.
While every culture has developed it’s own tales and fables through time, the success of fairy tales can be traced back to a small group of people.
Four of the most prolific and important of those authors were French writer Charles Perrault, German brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, and Danish author Hans Christian Andersen.
From: France, late 17th century
History: Born to a wealthy family, Perrault studied law and had a career in the French government. He was involved in the development of art and literature during his lifetime.
Writings: Perrault spent much of his career publishing essays on art, literature, and even the development of opera. In 1686, he wrote an epic poem about the Christian saint, Paulinus of Nola.
Then at the age of 67, Perrault published a collection of fairy tales, Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals, subtitled Tales of Mother Goose. Later would come to publish a French translation of 100 Fables from the Latin poet, Gabriele Faerno.
Inspiration: Perrault drew mostly from the tales that were handed down orally for generations.
Most Famous For: Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Puss in Boots, and Sleeping Beauty.
Legacy: Perrault is considered by many to be the founder of the modern fairy tale genre, even though it had existed previously.
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
From: Germany, early 19th century
History: The Grimm brothers were two in a family of eleven. While initially fairly well-off, their father’s early death forced them both to assume more responsibility. They were both hard-working and studious, graduating at the top of their respective classes from a prestigious school. They went on to study medieval German literature at the University of Marburg. Jacob was appointed the court librarian for the King of Westphalia and later, along with Wilhelm, became a librarian in Kassel.
Writings: In 1812, the brothers published Children’s and Household Tales, a collection of 86 fairy tales. They revised it and added to it over the years, until it contained over 200 stories. They also published two volumes of German legends and a volume of early literature history. The Grimm Brothers also published works on Danish and Irish folk tales and Norse mythology.
Inspiration: The brothers, like Perrault, drew from the traditional stories they had grown up hearing. They also included their versions of some Perrault tales, like Cinderella. They wanted their work to reflect the German culture; therefore, most tales are specifically German, or the German version.
Most Famous For: Cinderella, The Frog Prince, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, Rumplestiltskin, and Snow White.
Legacy: The Brothers Grimm are the main source of fairy tales. They popularized the genre and had a comprehensive collection of works that are still well-known today. The Disney empire was built on movies based on their work. While some scholars today debate how appropriate the grim and often violent tales are for children, they are still shared, though perhaps with happy endings.
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Hans Christian Anderson
From: Denmark, mid 19th century
History: Andersen was the only child of a poor family. He received a basic education and at 14, moved to Copenhagen to pursue a career in acting. Eventually he was encouraged to write.
Writings: Andersen was a prolific writer. He published the first two installments of his now famous Fairy Tales in 1835, completing the first volume in 1837. They sold poorly, especially compared to the two novels he wrote around the same time, which were quite famous.
In 1838, he wrote another collection of stories, Fairy Tales Told for Children.In 1845, Andersen finally began receiving recognition for his fairy tales. He published three more collections and continued to write fairy tales in installments until 1872.
Inspiration: Andersen first began his writing by using the stories he grew up hearing. As he grew more confident, he began writing original stories, drawing on the common themes and motifs of fairy tales.
Most Famous For: The Little Mermaid, The Snow Queen, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and The Ugly Duckling.
Legacy: Andersen was one of the first authors to write original fairy tales, rather than transcribe them.
What fascinated you most about the founders of fairy tales? Do leave a comment!
K A T E G . J A M E S O N has a deep fascination for fairy tales. When not researching legends of magic and the Fair Folk, she can be found editing Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr. children’s magazines, acting in plays, or writing tales of her own creation.