Fairy tales – Literary text types

What is a fairytale?

Related imageThe fairy tale belongs to the small forms of the epic . In short prose texts, elements of the real and magical world are interwoven. The term is a diminutive of Middle High German maere = narrative, customer, report .

For centuries, folk tales have been handed down orally. In the epoch of Romanticism (1795 – 1835) fairy tales and legends were first recognized as literary genres and written down. In addition, the fairy tale reached its peak during this time. This does not come from the folk tradition, but is the work of a single poet.

Typical features of a fairytale

  • Fixed initial and final formula
  • Neither tied to place nor to time
  • Typical figures, which are strongly contrasted (poor – rich, ugly – beautiful, good – evil)
  • Fixed narrative scheme (crisis situation, exams and probation, redemption)
  • Fantastic figures and enchantments
  • Balancing justice: good wins, evil is punished
  • Can not be attributed to a writer as Volksgut

Description of the textform fairy tale


With “Once upon a time …” almost all folk tales are introduced. And children often end a fairy tale lecture with the hopeful formula: “And if they have not died, they still live today.” Both underline the utter detachment of a fairytale of space and time and its universality.

Most folk tales, especially those of the Brothers Grimm, follow a well-known narrative scheme beyond the known initial and final formulas. Basic situations always return in variations:

  1. The fairy tale hero gets into a crisis situation and has to leave his homeland;
  2. On his journey he has to prove himself and pass (mostly three) exams;
  3. In the end there is salvation and reward.


The staff in the fairy tale consists of strongly typed and contrasted figures. The king faces the poor miller’s daughter (social opposition), the ugly frog the beautiful princess (physical opposition) and the evil witch the good Hansel (moral opposition).

In addition to figures from the real world, fantastic creatures such as witches, dwarfs and giants emerge. Animals can talk or transform. Reality and magical world permeate each other.

Frequent motive in fairy tales is hiking, also in the figurative sense: old or survived things are left behind. Humans undergo maturation processes by confronting their own challenges with trust in good powers. He overcomes himself and reaches a new level of being.

The roles of good and evil are clearly divided in the fairy tale: the good always wins and the evil is severely punished.

historical development

Folk tales come from times long past. Each nation has its own fairytale treasure rooted in its history and traditions. Especially in the lower social classes, fairy tales have been passed on from generation to generation. In German-speaking countries, it was the great merit of the nationally-conscious romantics to gather and publish oral tradition until then.

The first German collections of Musaeus (folk fairy tale of the Germans, 1782) or Ernst Moritz Arndt were changed by massive stylistic interventions according to the understanding of the romantics from legends to art fairy tales. Only the two 1812 and 1815 published books of the Brothers Grimm actually contain traditional fairy tales, although they were stylistically edited and cleaned up.

Well-known folk art collections from the Romantic era

  • “The boy’s wonderhorn”
    Folk song collection by Achim von Arnim and Clemens von Brentano (1805 – 1808))
  • “Children’s and Household Tales”
    Fairy tale collection by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (2 Bd., 1812 and 1815)
  • “Germans say”
    Sagas by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (2 Bd., 1816 and 1818)
  • »German Folk Books«
    Collection of legends and legends by Gustav Schwab (1836 to 1837)
  • “Most beautiful legends of classical antiquity”
    Collection of Ancient Myths by Gustav Schwab (1838 to 1840)

Related imageFrom ancient times, only the “fairy tale of Cupid and Psyche” is known. The German romantics are regarded as the true founders of art fairy tales . They appropriated the fantastic and enchanting presentation of folk tales. Unlike these, fairy tales are sometimes constructed and often psychologically or philosophically oriented.

At the beginning, their poets maintained a superior distance from the traditional folk material. For example, Johann Karl August Musäus (1735 – 1787) or Christoph Martin Wieland (1733 – 1813) wanted to entertain the enlightened society with their fantastic stories.

It was only through the influence of Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) that a shift to the simple and the original began: they tried to imitate the simple patterns of action and the natural-looking style of the folktales. Longer art fairy tales are often referred to as fairy tale novels .

Distinguishing features of the fairy tales of folktales

  • The work of a specific and named author
  • Authored under artistic aspects
  • Artful language
  • Occasionally designed
  • Underground “message”

Differentiation to other types of text

Fairy tale or myth?

A myth (Greek = word, story) is a traditional narrative that deals with gods, demons, cultural heroes and heroes. From him the fairy tale differs above all by the absence of a divine sphere. Nor in myth is the victory of good over evil taken for granted.

Fairy tale or legend?

A legend is a traditional narrative that can deal with fantastic events or so-called miracles and objectively contain the untrue. But it has a real core and contains information about place and time as well as names. In addition, she differs from the fairy tale by a self-proclaimed main character and an often tragic outcome.

Fairy tale or legend?

The legend (lat. Legenda = to read) is about a real figure, often a saint or God-fearing man, who can trust after a probation for a good outcome. In contrast to the legend, the fairy tale lacks the reference to God. In addition, the often exemplary events are spatially and temporally fixed there.

Art fairy tales for adults

  • Novalis, “The Fairytale of Hyacinth and Rose Blossom”, 1802
  • Ludwig Tieck, “The Blonde Eckbert” , 1797
  • Ludwig Tieck, “The Rune Mountain” , 1804
  • Friedrich de La Motte Fouqué, “Undine” , 1811
  • Adelbert von Chamisso, “Peter Schlehmil’s Wondrous Story,” 1814
  • ETA Hoffmann, “The Golden Pot” , 1814
  • ETA Hoffmann, “Small Zaches, called Zinnober,” 1819
  • Clemens Brentano, “Gockel, Hinkel and Gakkeleia”, 1838

anti tales

Antimalarchs are similar to folk tales and art fairy tales, for example they have fantastic elements. However, as the term suggests, they turn key features of the fairy tale upside down. The main character does not experience salvation in the end. There is no naive trust in the victory of the good. Instead, the reader experiences insecurity and questions the existing world order. A well-known example of a so-called Antimarch is Franz Kafka’s The Transfiguration of 1915.