The fairy tale .... what is it?
Maerchen or Fairy Tale: a working definition
A fairy tale is a fictitious story, originally conveyed orally to a group or community, bound together by language, custom or geography. Often fairy tales describe universal human experiences, core beliefs or values of the community. The problems of every day life are often explored: living within a family structure, finding a mate, securing status or riches, establishing oneself in life, seasons and cycles of the year. Main characteristics include fabulous or fantastic elements (for example, talking animals), a storyline that is played out independently from any specific time or place, an anti-hero or anti-heroine winning out against all odds (i.e., the youngest, smallest, dumbest, poorest succeeds over the oldest, tallest, smartest or richest). Fairy tale justice means the last shall be first and the first shall be last. As an oral tradition, the fairy tale often uses a narrative template with three-fold repetition. Only in the third segment is the adversary overcome, victory assured, success achieved. The setting of fairy tales is often the forest. The forest is dark and forbidding but also imbued with magic.
Fairy tales often contain explicit violence, sex or macabre events, nonetheless their appeal is timeless.
The Brothers Grimm write in their Preface to the First Volume of fairy tales that “Fairy tales, sagas and history stand together and present us with the fresh and lively spirit of pre-historical times. …The fairy tale is more poetic, the saga is more historical in nature.”
The saga is anchored in a specific time, often a particular year, geographic region or city/town/place. Persons are mentioned by name, often a historical figure or king is mentioned. The saga frequently explains strange phenomena, unusual features in the landscape, the origin of an ethnic group or names that were once of local significance. Sagas are the memory of an historical event. History is explained by a community remembering its past and offering explanations for local custom and tradition. The saga is a means of connecting current circumstances to precise past reference points. Some of these reference points may be authentic, others are probably completely invented.
The saga commemorates a distant folk memory or tradition. It has not been altered or corrupted by current events or commentaries.