Wednesday, September 9, 2009

New Anthropological Study Confirms Fairy Tales Are Ancient In Origin

My thanks to Diamonds and Toads for finding this article and posting about it! You can find Kate's post HERE. I couldn't help but join in to spread the news... :)

The UK Telegraph just published an article on a study by anthropologists that's 'revealed' the 'origin' of fairy tales is far older than was previously thought. There are many who already believed fairy tales have an ancient origin but this is apparently the first time this has been systematically studied with a scientific system. Quote: "the researchers adopted techniques used by biologists to create the taxonomic tree of life, which shows how every species comes from a common ancestor...".

Essentially this now proves fairy tales existed in some form in ancient times (in as much as proving such a thing is possible) - well before Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm's grandparents were around.

Here are some other quotes from the article, showing how they used the tale of Little Red Riding Hood and the many variants to do their research:

A study by anthropologists has explored the origins of folk tales and traced the relationship between varients of the stories recounted by cultures around the world.
...Dr Jamie Tehrani, a cultural anthropologist at Durham University, studied 35 versions of Little Red Riding Hood from around the world.

Whilst the European version tells the story of a little girl who is tricked by a wolf masquerading as her grandmother, in the Chinese version a tiger replaces the wolf. In Iran, where it would be considered odd for a young girl to roam alone, the story features a little boy.

Contrary to the view that the tale originated in France shortly before Charles Perrault produced the first written version in the 17th century, Dr Tehrani found that the varients shared a common ancestor dating back more than 2,600 years.

...He said: “Over time these folk tales have been subtly changed and have evolved just like an biological organism. Because many of them were not written down until much later, they have been misremembered or reinvented through hundreds of generations. By looking at how these folk tales have spread and changed it tells us something about human psychology and what sort of things we find memorable.

You can read the rest of the fascinating article HERE.

Red Riding Hood by Sanjai Bhana

Dr Jamshid (Jamie) Tehrani of Durham University presented his findings at the British Science Festival on Tuesday in his talk "Fairy Tales and Chinese Whispers: Towards a Darwinian analysis of descent with modification in oral traditions", during the Darwin's Theory and Cultural Sciences event. (If anyone has access to the talk, - video, notes or report - I'd be very interested in looking at it!)

If this subject interests you, you may want to check out the article on "The Quest for the Earliest Fairy Tales: Searching for the Earliest Versions of European Fairy Tales with Commentary on English Translations" (by Heidi Anne Heiner) and the Fairy Tale Timeline at SurLaLune.

I also recommend the book shown below, "Fairy Tale in the Ancient World" by Graham Anderson. Here's the description from

Graham Anderson examines texts from the classical period which resemble "our" Cinderellas, Snow Whites, Red Riding Hoods, Bluebeards and others, and argues that many familiar fairy tales were already well-known in antiquity in some form. Examples include a Jewish-Egyptian Cinderella, complete with ashes, whose prince is the biblical Joseph; a Snow White whose enemy is the goddess Artemis; and Pied Piper at Troy, with King Priam in the role of the little boy who got away. He breaks new ground by putting forward many previously unsuspected candidates as classical variants of the modern fairytale, and argues that the degree of cruelty and violence exhibited in many ancient examples mean such stories must have often been meant for adults.

While well researched and excellent for students of fairy tales and folklore it's a quick and enjoyable read for non-academics too. I recommended it. You can buy it HERE.

NOTE: I couldn't find the artist to credit for the European tole (?) painting in the center of the post. If anyone knows please let me know so I can correct this.

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