Semantic Shifts of Power in Folk and Fairy Tales

Cinderella and the Consequences
  • Jack Zipes


The study of the relationship between orality and literacy has always had great significance for folklorists in their investigations of folk tales and their derivations. However, they have generally felt called upon to defend the “purity” of the oral genre and its resilient character against the “creeping disease” of literary adaptation, and the production of the tales in distorted but attractive forms as commodities to make money. In contrast, literary critics have largely ignored the importance of oral sources and orality in their studies of the literary fairy tale, although there are some exceptions. At most, they make passing reference to oral and popular versions while honoring the consolidated literary form of a finished work. In recent years there have been attempts made by various literary critics, folklorists, anthropologists, and historians—such as Jack Goody,1 Walter Ong,2 Heide Göttner-Abendroth,3 Dieter Richter,4 August Nitschke,5 Raymonde Robert,6 Rudolf Schenda,7 and others—to rectify this situation. They have sought to explore the reciprocal effects in the development of both the oral and literary tales and to establish reasons for the canonization of certain tales and authors. In consideration of their work I want to point out some of the productive results that their efforts may have for literary theory by focusing on the ambivalent nature of the tensions between the oral folk tale and the literary fairy tale.


Literary Critic Oral Tradition Fairy Tale Literary Genre Literary Adaptation 
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© Jack Zipes 2002

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  • Jack Zipes

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