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What do Fairytales Mean in Today's World?

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by Bryony Harrison (subscribe)
Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from
Published December 12th 2013
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Fairytales have been around almost as long as language itself. They are a way of communicating ideas through imagery, symbolism, and most importantly, entertainment. Fairytales today have changed a lot since their early beginnings - from their definition, message, to the way they are told. So what do fairytales mean in modern society? Do they still have the same significance or have the been too diluted to be of any use? To answer that we first have to look at fairytale's history.

Before genre fiction existed, fairytales were simply thought of as 'Märchen', the German word for 'little story'. They were set 'once upon a time', long ago when magic still existed. This could explain why so many mythical creatures feature in fairytales, such as elves, goblins, trolls, and giants. The English word 'fairytale' actually came about because so many French stories included fairies.

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A similar type of fairytale was a folk story, which is meant to be based on a legend that is passed down through the generations through word of mouth. For example, the legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood are often considered part of fairytale genre.

alice in wonderland, cheshire cat
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When novels came into being, any old fantasy story that contained magical characters seemed to have the term fairytale banded about. For example, The Lord of the Rings, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, etc. One day will Harry Potter be considered a fairytale?

Fairytales aren't confined to legends and fantasy books either. They can also be found in music. Ballets like The Nutcracker Suite and Swan Lake can also be considered fairytales.

snow white
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Since the arrival of cinema, many classic tales have been turned into films, and there is no better example than with Disney. Disney really changed the face of fairytales. They used to be quite gruesome, sad, and did not always have a happy ending. Examples include the wicked queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves being forced to dance in burning iron shoes until she died, the ugly sisters of Cinderella cutting off their toes so they could wear the glass slipper, or the little mermaid having her tongue cut out, and turning to foam when her prince would not lover her back. You'll find nothing so bloody in Disney.

Fairytales were told as a way to teach morals, good behaviour, manors, and warn against misdeeds. Do you still think the fairytales that are told today do that? What do fairytales mean to you? What's your first memory of them, and do you have a favourite? What makes it so special?
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Great article Bryony. Fairytales very much remind me of my childhood. And I think what made them so special was that they fuelled my imagination and brought magic into an otherwise mundane reality.
by Kaye (score: 1|13) 1890 days ago
I hope it gives children the hope that people are good and that through our lessons in life, good comes to al of us. They also provide the ability to expand your creativity and imagination.
by Susan J Bowes (score: 2|957) 1890 days ago

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