5 WORLD-FAVORITE FAIRY TALES
And the Stories Behind Them
5 World-Favorite Fairy Tales – Even though we often read fairy tales to children, most adults love these magical stories as well. Most fairy tales have wondrous characters, such as wizards and elves. Many others contain animals with human abilities and characteristics. It might surprise you to know that most fairy tales have been around for thousands of years. However, it wasn’t until the 16th century that people began writing these stories down and then getting them published.
On these pages, we explore 5 World-Favorite Fairy Tales and the stories behind them.
Cinderella is a young woman who lives with her wicked stepmother and stepsisters. Eventually, thanks to a glass slipper and some magic along the way, she gets to escape her difficult life and marry her Prince Charming. Some historians believe the first version of this story came about between 7 BC and 23 AD. This story focused on Rhodopis, a Greek slave who marries the King of Egypt. There has also been a Chinese and Italian version of the story.
It wasn’t until 1697 that the Cinderella story we are most familiar with was written and published. French author Charles Perrault wrote a story called “Cendrillon” based on folk tales. In French, the word “cendrillon” is actually a girl’s name that means “little ashes.” Her stepsisters gave her this nickname because she was forced to sleep in the cinders by the fireplace. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, aka The Brothers’ Grimm, published their version of Cinderella in 1812.
2. Beauty and the Beast
Like many other fairy tales, Beauty and the Beast contains characters of royalty. This time, however, the prince is spoiled and selfish. As a result, he gets turned into a beast. The beast imprisons a beautiful young woman named Belle. It is only when he learns to love Belle that the beast becomes a prince again. This fairy tale may have been inspired by a real-life couple who lived in France in the 1500s. A man by the name of Petrus Gonsalvus had a condition called hypertrichosis. This condition is characterized by abnormal growth of hair.
Sadly, he was known as the hairy “wild man” and kept in a cage for part of his life. In 1559, after becoming King Henry II’s widow’s property, Gonsalvus married a royal court servant’s daughter. Her name was Catherine, and together they had 7 children. Four of the children had the same condition as their father. In 1740, a lengthy version of Beauty and the Beast was published. Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont wrote the version we are most familiar with today. This version came out in 1756 and was later retold by Andrew Lang in 1889.
3. Hansel and Gretel
Famous fairy tale writers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm are better known as The Brothers Grimm. One of their most famous fairy tales is the story of Hansel and Gretel. Like many fairy tales, Hansel and Gretel consists of some very dark themes. This particular story involves abandoned children and a cannibalistic witch. The witch lives in a house made of gingerbread and tries to fatten the siblings up so she can eat them. Thankfully, Gretel outwits the witch and shoves her into the oven.
The themes of hunger and lost children spring from times of famine during the Middle Ages. Families struggling to put food on their table made horrifying choices that manifest themselves into oral histories. Those histories evolved into tales like Hansel and Gretel. Other versions of Hansel and Gretel appeared in 1590 and again in 1697. The Brothers Grimm first heard the story in 1809. They wrote their first version of Hansel and Gretel in 1810 and, after several rewrites, completed their final version of the fairy tale in 1857.
4. The Emperor’s New Clothes
Hans Christian Andersen is considered the most famous and prolific writer of fairy tales in history. He published his first fairy tale called the “Dead Man” in 1835. One of Andersen’s most famous fairy tales is about a vain emperor who is tricked and exposed by his subjects. The story encourages many questions for philosophical discussion. Some of these questions include, “Have you ever convinced yourself something was true when you knew it wasn’t?” And also, “Have you ever lied for a good reason?” The idea for the cautionary tale stems from a medieval Spanish story called “El Conde Lucanor.” This story came about in 1335. Andersen published “The Emperor’s New Clothes” in 1837 along with another popular fairy tale, “The Little Mermaid.”
5. Goldilocks and the Three Bears
This famous fairy tale features three walking, talking bears who decide one day to go on a walk to give their hot porridge time to cool down. While on their walk, a naughty girl named Goldilocks trespasses onto their property, enters their home and proceeds to try the bears’ porridge, chairs, and bed. Robert Southey published the modern version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears in 1837. Before the 1837 version, Goldilocks didn’t have a name, and her hair wasn’t even golden. Instead, an old woman with silver hair did the trespassing into the bears’ home.
Eleanor Mure wrote this older version of the fairy tale written in 1831. In her version, the old woman (who may have been a witch) did not escape from the bears. Instead, the animals tried to burn her and then drown her before impaling her on a church steeple. (Can you believe she wrote this story for her nephew’s fourth birthday?) Mure’s version was based on an old English tale written decades prior. The English version (likely the original) featured a fox named Scrapefoot, who entered a castle uninvited where three bears lived.
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