Robin: Scholars of all descriptions from philosophers to psychologists have studied the traditional fairy tales and formed opinions about their inner meanings. Historians try to uncover the actual events they were supposedly based on. Literary scholars study their language and speculate about where they originated. Social scientists ponder their effects on society.

Gnomes who like to pore over enormous tomes will doubtless be pleased to have some of these in the fairy palace library, to enhance their studies of the curious habits of humanity.

“On Fairy Tales” is an essay by J. R. R. Tolkein which influenced many other scholars, defining what a fairy story actually is.

“The Ethics of Elfland” is an essay by G. K. Chesterton from his Orthodoxy. The master of paradox mounts a splendid defence of fairy tales as the soundest of moral and democratic teachers: “The things I believed most then, the things I believe most now, are the things called fairy tales. They seem to me to be the entirely reasonable things. They are not fantasies: compared with them other things are fantastic. Compared with them religion and rationalism are both abnormal, though religion is abnormally right and rationalism abnormally wrong. Fairyland is nothing but the sunny country of common sense”.

The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales edited by Jack Zipes is an illuminating collection of brief essays on classic fairy tales of Europe, both modern and ancient, their authors, illustrators and regional differences.

The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell is a ground-breaking cross-cultural study of myth, legend and fairy tale. It can be considered vital and inspiring reading not only for students and scholars but for all writers and readers of fantasy.

Fairy Tales: Allegories of the Inner Life by Jean C. Cooper, a traditionalist writer, compares stories from various places to uncover common themes, symbols and archetypes which are of importance to the individual’s spiritual journey.

The Owl, the Raven & the Dove: The Religious Meaning of the Grimms’ Magic Fairy Tales by Ronald Murphy claims that “Hansel and Gretel,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Cinderella,” “Snow White,” and “Sleeping Beauty” were seen by the Grimms as Christian fables.

The Wisdom of Fairy Tales by Rudolf Meyer focuses on the Germanic tales using his scholarly studies in theology and philosophy, and shows that they can aid the development of ideals and imaginative creative thinking.

The Witch Must Die: The Hidden Meaning of Fairy Tales by Sheldon Cashdan takes both an historical and a psychological look at a wide range of stories, showing that they contain inner journeys and moral quandaries which explain their wide appeal.

The Hard Facts of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales by Maria Tatar examines the origins of the tales and the story of their subsequent rewritings and reinterpretations, taking a textual rather than a doctrinaire approach.

The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettelheim, professor of pschiatry, is widely regarded as a classic. It presents a Freudian interpretation and insists on the value of the tales in the development of a child’s mind.

Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie and Folklore in the Literature of Childhood by Jane Yolen, a well-known author of children’s books and fantasy, is a collection of essays which explore the cultural importance of myth and fairy tale.

The Interpretation of Fairy Tales by Marie-Louise von Franz, is a study by a follower of Carl Jung, a psychologist who spoke of the “collective unconscious”, the human heritage of which fairy tales are a part. Her Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales examines the mysterious, the other, the dark side in the hidden meaning of the tales. She also wrote a number of other examinations of fairy tales in terms of Jungian concepts such as animus/anima and archetypal patterns.

“Once Upon a Time: How Fairy Tales Shape Our Lives” is a brief essay by Jonathan Young on the psychological impact of fairy tales.

Breaking the Magic Spell: Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales is by Jack Zipes, a professor who has written extensively on fairy tales as well as producing a definitive translation of the complete Brothers Grimm. His works also include Fairy Tale As Myth, Myth As Fairy Tale and Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales, Children, and the Culture Industry. He examines the tales and the way they are presented in the context of modern society.

Fairy Tales by John Thackeray Bunce looks at their origin and meaning and adds an “account of dwellers in Fairyland”.

Hidden Meanings of the World’s Greatest Stories by E. Matthews Dawson gives a mystical/occult interpretation of some of the world’s best known stories.

Spinning Straw into Gold: What Fairy Tales Reveal About the Transformations in a Woman’s Life by Joan Gould discusses feminine archetypes in traditional tales and their influence on the personas adopted by women, demonstrating how fairy tales subtly incorporate powerful symbols and beliefs about the nature of a woman’s roles and her relationships.

National Dreams: The Remaking of Fairy Tales in Nineteenth-Century England by Jennifer Schacker considers the period 1820 to 1850 when the fairy tale revived in England after a long period out of fashion.

Slightly off the subject…

Troublesome Things : a History of Fairies and Fairy Stories by Diane Purkiss, a social historian, is less about fairy tales than about people who are interested in fairies, who go looking for them, write about them, draw them, act them on stage.

Collections of folk and fairy tales are too numerous to mention, but this deserves special attention: A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales in the English Language by Katharine M. Briggs, a comprehensive four-volume collection, by the scholarly author of The Personnel of Fairyland and The Anatomy of Puck: An Examination of Fairy Beliefs Among Shakespeare’s Contemporaries & Successors.

The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries by W. Y. Evans-Wentz covers folk-lore, history, anthropology and psychology.

And all scholars of fairy tales should have a look at this catalogue of books online.

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