Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time

Monday, February 4, 2019

Once upon a time, it was decreed that February 26 would forevermore be Fairy Tale Day. Whether you fancy woodland sprites, fire-breathing dragons, princesses locked in high towers, or talking animals, fairy tales and the lessons they impart are integral parts of every culture. Scientists have traced the first fairy tales back to an era before the written word. An old folktale entitled “The Smith and the Devil,” which is about a blacksmith selling his soul to the devil in order to gain magical abilities, dates back to the Bronze Age—6,000 years ago.

Researchers from the New University of Lisbon in Portugal believe that this ancient tale was shared orally in a language that does not exist today. It is no surprise that fairy tales are so old. The purpose of these stories, after all, is to teach children clear distinctions between good and evil and right and wrong. Fairy tales are, in essence, morality tales filled with magic and wonder as a means to attract the attention of a young audience. Yet, adults are no less in need of morality tales.

The brothers Wilhelm and Jakob Grimm, famous for their collection of fairy tales, also believed that many of the stories they found had existed for centuries before they wrote them down. They listened to old-timers tell the beloved tales “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Cinderella,” “Hansel and Gretel,” and “Snow White” and then transcribed their versions of the tales into print. The Brothers Grimm were the first scientists of folklore. They even took positions as librarians and historians at the University of Göttingen in Germany.

It would be wise on Fairy Tale Day to choose a story collected by Wilhelm Grimm, for this brother’s birthday falls on February 24. If you’ve grown tired of the same old tales, then perhaps you can read a new tale, such as “The King of the Golden Mountain,” “Hans My Hedgehog,” or “Cat and Mouse in Partnership.”