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LibGuide: Fairytales

Fairytales are often conceptualized as their Disney version, however some extra curious learners will know the complicated pasts of stories that come from the Brothers’ Grimm and Hans Christen Anderson. When investigating the different variations of these stories, students are able to look at the different audiences who were reading them, work to understand why stories change, who changes them, and many other topics. Using fairytales as a starting place allows for learners to engage with the familiar and slowly understand how it has been altered over the years. The resources below include sources to find fairytales from the past, databases to begin your searches, and other useful articles that can be used as a starting point.

Where to Start

Search Terms

  • English
  • Victorian
  • Fairy Tales OR Fairytales
  • Folk Tales OR Folktales
  • Tales
  • Storytelling
  • Children
  • Chapbooks
  • Historical Literature
  • Written narratives
  • Oral Literature

Useful Databases

  • Academic Search Complete: Indexes some literary criticism and education journals and some of the Children's/Young Adult review periodicals.
  • MLA International Bibliography (ProQuest): Covers some of the literature & folklore journals of interest to scholars of children's literature.
  • Artemis Literary Sources: Collection comprising Literature Resource Center, Literature Criticism Online, encyclopedias and e-books devoted to literature.
  • ERIC (EBSCO): Education-related literature, from pre-K through adult education.
  • PsycINFO: Academic, research, and practice literature in psychology and related disciplines, 1872 to present.

Digitized Historical Children's Literature 

University of Southern Mississippi: The Cinderella Project

Tthe Cinderella Project, a text and image archive containing a dozen English versions of the fairy tale. The Cinderellas presented here represent some of the more common varieties of the tale from the English-speaking world in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries. Materials to construct this archive were drawn from the de Grummond Children's Literature Research Collection at the University of Southern Mississipp

University of Minnesota: Kerlan Collection

The Kerlan Collection contains more than 100,000 children's books as well as original manuscripts, artwork, galleys, and color proofs, and other production materials for more than 2,000 authors and illustrators. A large number of books in the collection are inscribed by the author or illustrator.

University of Florida: The Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature

The Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature in the Department of Special Collections at the University of Florida's George A. Smathers Libraries contains more than 130,000 books and periodicals published in the United States and Great Britain from the mid-1600s to present day. The Library also has manuscript collections, original artwork, and assorted ephemera such as board games, puzzles, and toys. The Baldwin Library is known for comparative editions of books, with special emphasis on Robinson Crusoe, Pilgrim’s Progress, Aesop’s Fables, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Library of Congress: Children's Literature

Children's literature selected from multiple collections across the Rare Book and Special Collection Division.

University of Pittsburg: Folklinks

Designed as a companion to Folk and Fairy Tales: An Handbook, this site provides another libguide with databases similar to ours, further links, and access to digitized fairytales through Google Books.

Useful Resources and their Abstracts

Bettelheim, B. (1975). The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. Vantage Books.

Bruno Bettelheim was one of the great child psychologists of the twentieth century and perhaps none of his books has been more influential than this revelatory study of fairy tales and their universal importance in understanding childhood development. Analyzing a wide range of traditional stories, from the tales of Sindbad to “The Three Little Pigs,” “Hansel and Gretel,” and “The Sleeping Beauty,” Bettelheim shows how the fantastical, sometimes cruel, but always deeply significant narrative strands of the classic fairy tales can aid in our greatest human task, that of finding meaning for one’s life.

Bishop, J. C. (2016). From “Breathless Catalogue” to “Beyond Text”: A Hundred Years of Children’s Folklore Collecting. Folklore, 127(2), 123–149. https://doi.org/10.1080/0015587X.2016.1187383

This lecture draws attention to research into children’s folklore in Britain from the last century, stressing its potential to inform understandings of contemporary childhoods, particularly children’s play. The emphasis is on archival sources, such as the collections of Norman Douglas, James Ritchie, and Iona and Peter Opie. The author compares the historical sources with the collectors’ published work, and highlights the need for rigor in appraising these differing forms of evidence.

Saha, R. (2011). Children in the Mind: Paginated Childhoods and Pedagogics of Play. Economic and Political Weekly, 46(48), 53–60.

This paper examines in detail the transnational growth in literature for and about children in 18th and 19th century Britain and France. This development hinges on the Lockean and Rousseauian "pedagogy of play", and how it has determined the emergence and growth of the "permissible" and the "prohibited" in a child's world. The paper presents a detailed analysis of the development of respectable, modern, middle-class children's literature of the time.

Schenda, R., & Bottigheimer, R. B. (2007). Semiliterate and Semi-Oral Processes. Marvels & Tales, 21(1), 127–140.

Until the late 1970s a hard divide separated those who saw pre-eighteenth century European underclasses as illiterate and therefore innocent of literature-based knowledge and those who, on the other hand, wished to grant the folk some experience of reading. In 1978 Reinhart Siegert burst through that divide with his work on Rudolph Zacharias Becker, an Enlightenment educator of the masses, and his citations of countless instances of reading aloud in towns and villages. A group that had heretofore communicated exclusively from mouth to ear absorbs particulars of literary culture via the medium of those who are able to read.

Sircar, S. (1993). Children’s Fantasy Fiction in English: Early Generic Discriminations and our Modern Critical Inheritance. Merveilles & Contes, 7(2), 423–449.

A detailed discussion of the gradual cultural acceptance of Marchen, or fairytales, with comparative analysis of contemporary critics.

Zipes, J. (1975). Breaking the Magic Spell: Politics and the Fairy Tale. New German Critique, (6), 116–135. https://doi.org/10.2307/487657

Zipes discusses the importance of investigating oral folk tales in their socio-political context and traces their evolution into literary fairy tales, a metamorphosis that often diminished the ideology of the original narrative. Zipes also looks at how folk tales influence our popular beliefs and the ways they have been exploited by a corporate media network intent on regulating the mystical elements of the stories.

Zipes, J. (n.d.). The Cultural Evolution of Storytelling and Fairy Tales: Human Communication and Memetic. In The Irresistible Fairy Tale: The Cultural and Social History of a Genre. Princeton University Press. Retrieved from http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s9676.pdf

Zipes presents a provocative new theory about why fairy tales were created and retold--and why they became such an indelible and infinitely adaptable part of cultures around the world. Drawing on cognitive science, evolutionary theory, anthropology, psychology, literary theory, and other fields, Zipes presents a nuanced argument about how fairy tales originated in ancient oral cultures, how they evolved through the rise of literary culture and print, and how, in our own time, they continue to change through their adaptation in an ever-growing variety of media.

Still stuck? Check out who was cited in the articles above to find more resources!