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The Art of Storytelling | The significance of fairy tales and folklore

“Once upon a time…” These words have implored stories across time and remain significant as an opening which transcends genre.

However, they are most traceable in fairy tales and folklore and have been prevalent as a narrative opening since at least 1380. Storytelling can be traced back to ancient civilisations, where the roots of narration were set through oral recitals of myths. Over years, the narrative literature evolved into folk (oral) and fairy (written) tales. Originally, these tales began as oral narrations shared amongst communities, supposedly dating back to the Bronze Age. The genre, however, experienced a shift by writers of the Renaissance, such as Straparola and Basile, and later and most notably, the Brothers Grimm. Known for their whimsical and uncanny qualities, fables often adopt the typical characteristics of an engaging, witty, and imaginative story. Subsequently, they are frequently dismissed as mere children's stories. However, their significance is much greater than this. The age-old stories began as a way to minimise conflict and to model ideal morals and behaviours, espoused by the communities they resonate with. Motifs of love and the battle between moral and immoral continue to be depicted, influencing storytelling across genres. Not only do they inspire generational writers, but they bind the rapid movement of today’s society with its cultural roots. Fables weave cultural traditions, values, and heritage hidden behind the mask of myths and legends.

The formal qualities of fairy tales have shaped contemporary literature. These narratives capture the complexities of the human condition in ways that preserve their significance throughout time. Often fables convey didactic teachings simply and engagingly with the aim of guiding people toward moral conduct. Literature even now holds a similar significance, exploring moral dilemmas and the repercussions of choices and actions. The works of several writers aim to reinvent the ideologies behind fairy tales, using the form to convey their own heuristic morals whether through the feminist Gothicism of Angela Carter or the postmodern deconstructions of Salman Rushdie. Thus, folklore has survived the passage of generations, experiencing reworkings and adaptions to evolve with the changing social and artistic climate.

Literature has a transformative power that expands beyond escapism and when contemporary writers take the pen of those centuries before, the tales themselves are reinvented and reconstructed. Carter, a predominant writer of such practice of reinvention, emphasised that “fiction absolutely conscious of itself as a different form of human experience than reality… can help to transform reality itself.” Here, the capabilities of literature expand once more, transforming the socio-political values through their own didactic teachings. This is literature's power, where it not only grants vicarious experience but also catalyses shifts in perspective. As writers reconstruct past narratives, they challenge the boundaries of conventions. Therefore, literature has the potential to have an indelible impact by deconstructing prejudices and capturing the human condition.

In storytelling, fairy tales and folklore remain timeless and bind the past to the present. Beyond being fascinatingly obscure tales, they function as repositories of morals and identity throughout time. The art of storytelling is ever evolving and as contemporary writers draw inspiration from these age-old stories, they ensure that the words, "Once upon a time" endure.

By Carys, Year 13 
Image credit: Science


The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Tonbridge Grammar School.