A new study published in the Royal Society Open Science journal shows us that fairy tales are much older than we think. Moreover, fairy-tales which pass out as classics, like “Jack and the Beanstalk” or “Beauty and the Beast” apparently have more than 5000 years old.
The discovery was made by Jamie Tehrani, an anthropologist hailing from the Durham University and Sara Graca da Silva, a folklorist working with the University of Lisbon. Throughout their study, the two scientists analyzed over 275 Indo-European fairy tales.
Their conclusion was that fairy tales in their written form are fairy modern compared to the oral form. According to their study, tales like Beauty and the Beast or Rumpelstiltskin have more than 4000 years old, while “Jack and the Beanstalk” may allegedly have more than 5000 years old.
With this new discovery, the team of scholars managed to straighten Wilhelm Grimm’s view on the ancestry of the fairy tale. In the 19th century, Wilhelm Grimm, himself a famous storyteller and folklorist affirmed that fairy tales are much older than we come to realize. In fact, there is strong evidence that fairy tales predate the art of writing.
It would seem that all the evidence points out to the fact that the oldest fairy tale known to man is more than 6000 years old, and can be traced back to the Bronze Age. The fairy tale is called The Smith and the Devil and is allegedly the oldest story known to man.
Now, we can all agree on the point that oral tradition predates the written word. It may be very well that forms of writing were invented in order to preserve knowledge passed down through oral tradition. Such a necessity arose due to the fact that with each generation, the form and the content of a story, for example, would suffer various mutations, meaning that each generation added something new to the story or forgot other aspects.
Having this aspect in mind, it can be easily demonstrated that some of the tales as old as time itself like Beauty and the Beast, Pinocchio, Rumpelstiltskin, Jack and the Beanstalk and many others, can indeed be traced to pre-Christian era, but not as a whole, and not under those titles. It is easily conceivable that the modern stories which are known to us through those names possess the basic signs and symbols, whose roots can be traced back to oral tradition, easily meaning that Jack might not have been Jack and the beanstalk could have been any other form of passage into the other world.
Having this in mind, we can easily say we can establish a direct link between Collodi’s Pinocchio and the Greek myth about Pygmalion the sculptor, which entreated Venus into giving life to Galatea. Indeed, fairy tales, in the modern acceptation of the term, do possess common features with tales passed down through oral tradition, but more research is needed if we are to uncover if written tales have a lot in common with oral tales, or if they are rather a variation on the signs and symbols passed down from immemorial times.