Fairy Tales, Old Wives and Printing Presses

Ruth Bottigheimer argues that the survival of our best-loved fairy tales owes more to popular print tradition than to fireside story-telling passed down through the generations.

Talking animals, magic numbers, supernatural creatures, and fabulous transformations have drawn children and adults into fantastical narratives for millennia. From the late Middle Ages onwards, one plot in particular dominated these tales in Europe. Rooted in medieval romances, this centred on a prince or princess who had been driven from the royal hierarchy, forced to flee palace or castle, suffer discomfort and danger, before experiencing a reversal of fortune enabling them to marry back in to royalty and regain royal birthright. Such tales, typically, formed part of a lengthy verse romance; scores of them were circulating in the 1400s.

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