Fairy tales are centuries old. They are feudal and rural in their setting, and hierarchical in their social structures, from the king and his queen down to the seventh son of a poor miller who lives at the edge of the village. They existed in thousands of constantly changing oral versions and some have analogues in the folklore of other continents.
In the best-known stories, the geographical landscape is essentially a European landscape of cities, rivers, mountains and - most of all - forests. But the moral and social landscape is more equivocal; the protagonists of fairy tales have to make their way through a puzzling world of strict rules and unpredictable outcomes. There are prohibitions and taboos, bargains and promises, severe penalties for apparently well meaning actions, and the terrible consequences of reckless wishing. But such ironies are rarely made explicit. Fairy tales rarely stop to reflect, preach or analyse. They are ‘naked narratives’ composed only of imagery, protagonists, landscape and action.
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