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Tale as Old as Time

Storytelling is an art as old as humanity itself. No doubt the first stories ever told were likely embellished recountings of valiant hunting excursions and confident guesses on what makes the sun and moon rotate across the sky. But it eventually evolved into a vibrant art form designed not only to entertain but to educate, warn against dangers both physical and moral, and pass on traditions. Fairy Tales played this role through the inclusion of obviously fictitious elements such as dragons, magic, mythical beasts, and acts which defy all known physics. The fantastical elements capture children’s attention, and the protagonist’s struggles with evil and moral conundrums worm their way into young psyches, instilling in them an aversion of dark places and all-consuming fear of disappointing their elders. 


According to the research of folklorist Sara Graça da Silva and anthropologist Jamshid Tehrani (article here), some of our most enduring tales have existed long before the written word. One of the oldest tales, The Smith and the Devil, has roots stretching back 7,000 years.


These tales are not restricted to the European proto-cultures, either. Many of these were carried across the known world of their times, shared and exchanged as different peoples met, birthing updated versions more tailored to their new home.


Versions of Hansel and Gretel and Beauty and the Beast can be found in most cultures around the world. Cinderella is also fairly widespread, which began as the Story of Rhodopis back in 7 BCE Greece. Not only is this the “poor girl marries into wealth by virtue of being kind” trope we are familiar with, but it also had an element of cross-cultural cooperation. Rhodopis was Greek and the king she married was Egyptian. The story then made its way into Chinese tradition before developing into the French version we know so well today thanks to Disney. 


The French version of Beauty and the Beast is also the most well-known today, but likely sprung centuries earlier from Greek tales of Eros and Psyche. Other tales that go back at least as far as Ancient Greece include Hansel and Gretel, Rumpelstiltskin, and the entire repertoire of Aesop.


While most view fairy tales as targeted to children, early stories could be quite frightening - even for adults - and often included cruelty, torture, cannibalism, and forced labor of the weak, poor, and “othered”. As cultural sensibilities changed, the scarier aspects of Fairy Tales diminished and became more palatable for nervous parents and young children. 


Urban Fantasy is in many ways re-imagined fairy tales for the modern age. Readers are well aware the fantastical elements are nothing more than unadulterated whimsy, but the moral conundrums the characters face in their myth-infested world very much parallel real-world issues, even if filtered through the lens of pure fiction. They include themes, lessons, moral codes, and to never judge a person (or monster) by their outward appearance - just like their ancient predecessors. When tailored for adult readers, those early scare elements have made a resounding comeback, and many include extra Spice™ (heavy romantic and even erotic subplots) just to titillate the reader further. 


The idea of magic in a mundane world has always captivated the human species, and always will. From classic myths to urban legends, folklore to cryptids, the magical, the unknowable, and the fantastical will always have a place in our psyche and our culture. Maybe that’s why I enjoy writing it so much.


Until next time, Stay Magical!


1 Comment


Michalea Moore
Michalea Moore
May 26

Excellent!


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