Subgenre Study: Fairy Tale Fantasy

Once upon a time, there was a writer who wrote a writing/reading/scifi/fantasy blog, and she and her pet Landsquid and the Landsquid’s nemesis the Alpaca all decided to go to a coffee shop to get some peppermint mochas.  All seemed to be going according to plan until the Alpaca attempted to eat the pastry display and then…


Fairy tale fantasy runs the gamut from original works that incorporate fairy tale tropes to retellings of classic fairy tales, but like many of the subgenres we’ve discussed, there’s very fuzzy lines.  Sometimes you read something and it just feels fairy-tale-y, you know?  But it’s subjective.  Some people consider Lord of the Rings to be a modern fairy tale, based on the mythos it has inspired, but a lot of people just consider it to be epic fantasy.

It really makes you wonder where the line is drawn.  I mean, most fairy tales, while not written down until the 1800s, are based off of folklore that had been passed down for generations, and if you think about it, the Lord of the Rings is as well; Tolkien certainly didn’t invent elves and dwarves.  But by that argument, you can take any truly influential story and assign it fairy tale status, which is diluting things.  (I admit I am in the LotR =/= fairy tale camp.)

(=/= means does not equal for those of you who didn’t spend a million years taking math in high school and college.  Just to be clear.)

On the other end of the spectrum, you have the fairy tale retellings, which don’t necessarily follow the classic fairy tale format but are based off of stories that have been around forever.  Some of these have been rewritten to make the protagonists stronger, or to explain plot holes in the original, or to make things darker (though one can argue that some tales are dark enough as it is.  The originals contain rape, cannibalism, murder, torture, mutilation, and suicide).  Fairy tale retellings have appeal because they take something that almost everyone is familiar with and twists it in some way, which I admit appeals to me greatly.  (Did you play Epic Mickey?  The “evil” Sleeping Beauty song is my most favorite thing in the world.)

Some authors who have fairy tale fantasy books include Robin McKinley, Jasper Fforde, Gail Carson Levine, Margaret Atwood, Jane Yolen, Patricia Wrede, etc.  This is a popular subgenre.

What are your feelings about Fairy Tale Fantasy, Squiders?  I admit it’s one of my very favorite subgenres.

3 responses to this post.

  1. I was a huge fan of Patricia Wrede and Gail Carson Levine when I was younger. I still adore Wrede, and I’m usually all in for fairy-tale retellings, whether dark and gritty or witty or feminist.

    I think a very pure definition of “fairy tale” would involve both style and the moral-of-the-story flavor of classic fables. You could put things like Narnia or Roald Dahl’s Matilda in that category, but I wouldn’t classify LotR as a fairy tale. (Doesn’t sound like you would either, but I’m just sayin’.)


  2. I love ‘fairy tales’. My favorite recent read is Kelly Barnhill’s The Mostly True Story of Jack.

    I’m also a fan of Michael Buckley’s The Sisters Grimm.

    Last year my attempted Nano was based on fairy tales as well.


  3. […] SUBGENRES Subgenres within the Fantasy genre Arthurian Fantasy Comedic Fantasy Dark Fantasy Fairy Tale Fantasy Fantasy Romance High and Low Fantasy Historical Fantasy Mythic Fantasy Off-world Fantasy Quest […]


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