F is for Fables and Fairy Tales (and telling the difference between the two)

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

Both fables and fairy tales are succinct fictional stories, often with anthropomorphized nature, be it animals plants, personifications of nature, or the like. The fable often ends with a moral; the fairy tale has accepted tropes, such beginning with “Once upon a time” and usually concluding with “Happily ever after.”

Fables appear in the literature of almost every culture. Aesop, an ancient Greek slave, and Jean De La Fontaine (1621-1695) wrote many of our most popular fables. Some critiques suggest George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” is a modern fable.

Another term for fairy tales is “wonder tales.” Transformation is the key to the genre, with goodness finding reward and guidance while the wicked are punished. Three’s often come into play in the stories, and frequently action takes place in a pseudo-medieval setting. Some of our most enduring fairy tales were penned by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in the 1800’s, Charles Perrault, and Hans Christian Anderson. Holly Black writes modern fairy tales, and many authors embrace the story telling opportunities offered within the magical tales. Despite a lack of actual fairy creatures in most wonder tales, the term “fairy tale” was coined by Madame d’Aulnoy in the late 17th century.

College courses explore fables and fairy tales, and such notable scholars as JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis wrote essays on the genre. Many suggest fairy tales and fables allow exploration of difficult issues in a safe environment.

As a point of distinction, Parables are not fables, because although they teach a lesson or have a moral to their stories, they do not allow chatting critters. Further, there is a perception that legends have a basis in reality.