Two days ago, in the kitchen, a woman (Carlisa’s mother) stands by the sink washing dishes. Carlisa sits at the table, her computer and a blank WordPress document open in front of her. Her mind is scrambling for ideas for a Fairy Tale Friday post because she hasn’t posted one in three weeks and needs to get her butt in gear. Camera focuses in on the blinking cursor. Blink. Blink. Blink.
Me: Mom, what’s a fairy tale thing I could write about?
Camera pans back out to show entire kitchen.
Mom: I don’t know, is Harry Potter a fairy tale?
Carlisa, with her mighty Harry Potter knowledge, sighs.
Carlisa bites her lip, unsure of how to respond…even with her mighty Harry Potter knowledge.
Me: Er, I don’t know. It’s fantasy.
The gears in Carlisa’s head start turning, wondering where the line between fantasy and fairy tale is drawn. They both could have dragons and princesses and even fairies. But the knowledge seems instinctive, she muses. She smiles because she has an idea and then closes the blank page and works on other things until Thursday night when she starts writing the post because she is a perpetual procrastinator.
Here’s the question of the day: Why am I not a professional screenwriter? I mean, look at that genius above.
I’m totally kidding.
…Also, I’m not kidding.
Anyways, the real question today is: What is the line between the fantasy and the fairy tale genre? Let’s discuss
From what I’ve gathered and thought about, this is the almighty answer: Fairy tales are always fantasy but fantasy is not necessarily fairy tale. Like Harry Potter is a fantasy but not a fairy tale. Beauty and the Beast would be both. But how can we make the distinction between what is a fairy tale and what’s exclusively fantasy?
a : a story (as for children) involving fantastic forces and beings (as fairies, wizards, and goblins)–called also fairy story
b : a story in which improbable events lead to a happy ending
2: a made-up story usually designed to mislead
is a genre of writing in which the plot could not happen in real life (as we know it, at least). Often, the plot involves magic or witchcraft and takes place on another planet or in another — undiscovered — dimension of this world.
I think often fairy tales have morals, while fantasy stories don’t. And fantasy stories can have morals. Of course things have morals. They’re just not the main aspects like old fairy tales used to be. Most fairy tales were originally written to scare children into doing the right things so they had these big morals. These big don’t-get-distracted-or-you’ll-be-eaten-by-a-wolf types of morals. But in modern day retellings, a lot of these morals are lost. When people are reading fiction, they don’t want to be chastised. And authors don’t want to chastise their readers. So in old fairy tales, yes. Modern retellings, this is probably not going to be the way you can know if it’s fairy tale or fantasy.
I saw one website that said in fantasy there is much more character development. Again in the old, original fairy tales, this may hold true. But in retellings? In modern fairy tales? I don’t think so. Characters are usually deep and rich no matter the genre or subgenre…so I don’t think this holds up today.
I guess with fantasy, it’s original–or as original as fantasy can be. And fairy tales are deeply rooted in tradition, in their long history. Especially re-tellings. So this does seem to be a legitimate difference.
But Is There Even Much of a Line?
Lewis Carroll called his Alice in Wonderland a fairy tale, but now we would not say the same. That’s fantasy. But the qualities are there. So what is it? Is it just something in our gut, something from what we know Disney fairy tales to be, that tells us whether or not it’s a fairy tale? Is it the handsome prince? What is it?
I don’t know exactly what the line is. I know when a retelling is a fairy tale because I’m familiar with the original fairy tales…but what makes the distinction in the first place? Fairy tales seem to be a sub-genre of the overall fantasy genre. That much is made clear. But other than that, there is a lot of overlap and haziness.
Yeah, so, um, this is awkward. I don’t have an definitive answer for you.
But I want to hear your opinion! Please give me your ideas and thoughts!