Introduction to Fairy Tales, Fables and Myths
Every country has its own fairy tales, fables and myths as we have seen in Best-Loved Folktales of the World. However, the most popular ones in the west, are Andersen’s Fairy Tales, Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Aesop’s Fables, all written by Europeans, although Aesop was a slave. Robin Hood was also written by a European.
The next time I do the Virtual Literary World Tour, I will intentionally include fairy tales, fables and myths from non-Western countries. Despite the non-world representation of the fairy tales, fables and myths, there are some strong moral themes present that everyone can learn from.
We start off in Odense, Denmark with Hans Christian Andersen, move to Hanau, Germany via the Brothers Grimm, off to Ancient Greece with Aesop’s Fables, then to the UK with Robin Hood.
Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm
Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm wrote most of the fairy tales that we have been enjoying for over a century. Although neither Andersen nor the Grimm Brothers spell out the morals behind their tales as is the case with Aesop’s Fables, the lessons are there.
UPDATE: First Published in May 2013
Popular Andersen’s Fairy Tales, Hans Christian Andersen
- The Mermaid
- The Tinder Box
- The Real Princess (The Princess and the Pea)
- The Snow Queen
- The Red Shoes
- Little Tuk
- The Ugly Duckling
Some of the lessons we learn from Andersen’s Fairy Tales are beauty is skin deep and the fallacy of wanting the wrong things in life and the price we will ultimately pay.
Popular Grimm’s Fairy Tales, The Grimm Brothers
- Hansel and Grethel
- The Sleeping Beauty
- Snow White
- The Golden Bird
Like Snow White, we often make the same mistakes several times before we finally learn our lessons. And there are times when we have to go through certain experiences to grow and there is nothing we can do get around it.
What I found interesting, and more so for the Grimm’s Fairy Tales is that their versions of the tales are very different from the ones we learned as children. We live in an environment where people crave happily ever after, and content providers give people what they want.
For instance, I have read several versions of the Cinderella story, and in none of the versions that I had read prior to reading the Grimms version, did the stepsisters pare down their feet to force them into the slippers.
In addition, birds threw down her ballroom dress and beautiful slippers from the sky – Cinderella did not get her clothing from her fairy godmother. The story ends with pigeons picking out one eye from each sister. After reading this story, I will never view the Cinderella story the same way.
Although both these books are children’s look, they are great for adults because they take us back to a time when we were very curious so we can recapture that curiosity. And also, one thing that I found very interesting is the way in which Disney takes a tale and transforms it into something different.
So we see the potential in something, and what it can become. This allows us to reflect on ourselves, and what we might become. Andersen’s Fairy Tales and Grimm’s Fairy Tales assist us in unlocking our hidden potential. If you took one fairy tale, how might you change it so that it resonates even more with today’s audience?
What I have discovered, is that the more I read, the more connections I am able to make among seemingly unrelated things. Take Superwomen by Albert Payson Terhune for example, what connection could there be with fairy tales. Well it so happens that in Superwomen, one of the 12 women mentioned is Madame du Barry (Marie Jeanne Gomard de Vaubernier) who met Grimm the fairy tale man (probably was her lover), and she describes him in her Memoirs as “a cunning fox; witty … very ugly and very thin.” Although Terhune does not specify which Grimm brother it was, I am going to guess that it was Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm since he didn’t marry.
I read the version of Aesop’s Fables that was translated by Laura Gibbs and published by Oxford World’s Classics. This edition of Aesop’s Fables consists of 600 fables. They were first published in English by William Caxton in 1484.What makes Aesop’s Fables interesting and very enjoyable and entertaining, are the morals of the story that follow. And most of us can clearly remember three that were told to us over and over again: “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” “The Tortoise and the Hare,” and “The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs.”
Have you ever heard someone say, slow and steady wins the race, or the race is not for the swift, but for those who endure? Those two sayings come from The Tortoise and the Hare. What about familiarity breeds contempt? That comes from The Fox and the Lion.
I found that most of the stories are still applicable to work and life. I only found a few that were somewhat offensive because of the changing times. There are also a few stories that I do not agree with, but when you think about it, there are 600 fables, therefore it’s highly unlikely that any reader will enjoy all of them.
In The Goat and His Reflection, fable 266, the moral is that weak and poor people should not try to rebel against the high and mighty. Why should the vulnerable and marginalized lay down and quietly accept their “fate”?
Another fable filled with very bad advice is The Lizard and the Snake where the moral of the tale is that you will hurt yourself and accomplish nothing if you try to imitate someone who is far better than you are. In life, we are supposed to be evolving as human beings, and what better way than to emulate the good we see in others. Where the lizard went wrong is that it tried to be like the snake in one go, instead of changing in stages.
I really enjoyed Aesop’s Fables, and it was a treat to read the 600 fables because it was the first time that I had seen so many of them in a book. I must add for those who want to read this version that was translated by Laura Gibbs that there were several fables that are very similar in the book. Here are the key lessons that I gleaned:
- Learn from the mistakes that other people make, so that you do not make the same ones.
- It is important to change and evolve with the time.
- Try to assist yourself before seeking the assistance of others.
- Take care of yourself before your offer to take care of another.
- Do not allow others to make important decisions for you. Don’t give your power away like that.
- Be authentic and do not claim to be who you are not!
- Go into businesses that you know and understand because it will be easier to succeed.
- Don’t be taken in by flattery.
- Show me your company and I will tell you who you are.
- Always have a purpose for doing what you do.
- Do not neglect important things that require your attention.
- It doesn’t matter where you start off in life, it’s where you end up that matters. It’s doesn’t matter what you achieved in the past, what matters is what you are accomplishing now.
- United we stand, divided we fall.
Robin Hood by Henry Gilbert
Robin Hood by Henry Gilbert adheres to the Robin Hood legend. We’ve heard that Robin Hood stole from the rich to give to the poor, but there is so much more to the story. Robin Hood owned land before he became an outlaw. He spoke up about the injustices he saw around him, and that’s what got him in trouble.
Robin Hood observed the bad behaviour of the powerful and criticized them severely. When Robin Hood by Henry Gilbert begins, Robin or Robert of Locksley is 25 years old and owns 160 acres of the richest land. The monks covet his land and were always scheming and plotting to take it away from him. Because Robin paid his land rent, the monks were unable to legally oust him from his farm.
Robin Hood loved Fair Maid Marian, the daughter of Richard FitzWalter of Malaset. But Roger de Longchamp, a tyrannical knight, wants her for himself and is willing to force himself on her. Marian’s father refuses to give her to Longchamp so he plots to take her by force by kidnapping her. While he is instructing his men, Robin Hood overhears the conversation. Longchamps tries to take the rein of the horse out of Marian’s hand. Robin shoots his arrow killing Roger de Longchamp, and that’s how he is proclaimed an outlaw losing his land.
In the story, we see how Robin Hood meets Little John, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet and Alan-a-Dale, and I liked the fact that in Henry Gilbert’s version of Robin Hood, the main character is not superhuman. Yes Robin excelled with his bow and arrow, but there were others who defeated him, and he conceded and brought them into his inner circle.
Robin Hood was a charismatic leader, and he inspired others to be their best. He tried to right the wrongs around him, and he was willing to do what he asked others to do. In today’s world, we view what Robin Hood does as vigilante justice, but there are forums for us to protest today, that were not available in those days. He knew what he stood for, and there was no murkiness around that. Twice in Robin Hood by Henry Gilbert Robin is outlawed. The first time he gets a pardon from King Richard.
When he loses his land and becomes an outlaw, he doesn’t want to propose to Marian because he believes that he doesn’t have anything to offer her now. When her father dies, and there are so many undesirable suitors who want her for her land. Robin Hood marries her.
Robin Hood is innovative in raising the funds needed to pay the price of freedom for King Richard who is locked up in France. When in a tight spot, you need the Robin Hoods in this world. I was very saddened when Fair Marian died and when Robin Hood was betrayed and killed in the end. Robin Hood by Henry Gilbert is no Disney version of the legend. Despite this, I encourage you to read this version because it demonstrates true leadership.
Final Thoughts on Fairy Tales, Fables and Myths
After reading these books, we see that we can let our voices be heard through our writing. The fairy tales, fables, and myths are often social commentary about what the author sees. Their writing is their way of speaking up.
Images: Public Domain, Wikipedia