Fairy Tales


























 © January 2002




































Fairy Tales





André Marhaun





„Fairy Tales are the dreams of a native world, which we yearn for and in which we belong with our true inner being.”






(„Märchen sind Träume von einer heimatlichen Welt, nach der wir uns sehnen und in die wir mit userem eigentlichen inneren Wesen gehören.“)












A. A Preliminary Remark


Let me give a short self - introduction and some hints on what and why I am saying this.

My name is André Marhaun, and currently, I am working as a Coordinator for International Relations at Moriya Town Office. I was born in Kassel in Germany which is a part of the German “Märchenstraße” (Fairy Tale Route), a route of over 600 km which goes through towns and landscapes where the hitherto orally transmitted fairy tales have been collected by the Grimm Brothers to prevent them from being forgotten and where they have lived.[1] Close to Kassel, there was a restaurant where Dorothea Viehmannn was born. She told the Grimm Brothers those Fairy Tales which were later published in the second part of their collection (in 1815).


 And, like every German and perhaps every child in the world, I have been raised with stories we call in German “Märchen”: “fairy tales”. Quite recently, I have been to “Harry Potter” in Tsukuba. I always loved fairy tales and fantasy, and one of my favourite books is “The Lord of the Rings”. But with visiting “Harry Potter”, I was confronted with a world again, that sometimes recedes into the background because other - some might say “more real” factors - claim attention, but which I now feel so vital again, that I hope to share ideas with you, which might let you, too, enter a world, to which the door fairy tales open might lead.


B. Main Part


Fairy Tales


The realm of fairy tales is infinite. Not only in that sense, that they are part of the tradition of almost all peoples in the world - though their form might vary -, but also as to their inner core. Even if they are restricted to a certain country or to a certain contents, they still touch the people’s hearts and move them towards a world, were Good conquers Evil, were purity overcomes greed, and were, ultimately, happiness will emerge for those who obey to the laws of simplicity, truth, benevolence and goodness and self - respect for their inner voice.


But before going into detail and depths, let us have a look on the form in which we can meet their world.


I. Fairy Tales, Sagas, Myths and Legends, Fables


1. Märchen


The English term “Fairy Tales” and the Japanese term “otogibanashi“ (お伽話)[2] are the (more or less rough)  equivalents for the German term “Märchen” which describes the phenomenon this speech is about.


In it’s origin, “Märchen” can be traced back to the word “märe” which means tidings, news, tale, fable, adventure, thus covering a broad range of stories. For the people of old, „märe“ did not mean anything „untrue“, invented; a true „märe“ meant it was truth, and there was no separation as in “fact and fantasy”.


But later, as to „Märchen“, fairy tale, it has become common to use it in a more narrow sense, being different from “saga“ and „myth“and as well from „legend“ and „fable“.


“Fairy tales”, as for the word, refers to fairies, and so one might be enticed to describe it as a “story that is most likely to be for children that contains characters such as elves, hobgoblins, dragons, fairies, or other magical characters”[3]. Nevertheless, even although it is it is sometimes said that the term “Märchen” serves as a collective term for stories originally handed down orally and thus includes animal stories, fables, legends, novel stories, anecdotes, tall stories and so on, today’s usage is narrower.[4]


Tolkien provides the following interesting definition: “[. . . ] fairy-stories are not in normal English usage stories about fairies or elves, but stories about Fairy, that is Faerie, the realm or state in which fairies have their being.”[5]



2. Saga


The German „Sage“, which is not necessarily a story of heroes as is the English “saga”, is linked to a special place, special lineages, names, monuments, churches, castles, certain places in the woods, groves, meadows, roads or bridges; but the „Märchen“ is, as Ludwig Bechstein has put it, the “rest- and homelessly soaring bird of paradise of childlike lore”. If it is linked to a certain area, it gets one with the “Sage”. An example is “Der Schmied von Jüterbogk” (“The Smith of Jüterbogk”) in a collection by Bechstein. Vice versa, many  Sagen” touch the fairy tale.

The „Märchen“ can be compared to the childhood of humanity: all wonders, all miracles are possible. No closeness and no distance really to be measured exist as to space, no year and no date, there may only be names, and these are either very common or very strange ones like those invented by children.

The „Sage“, like fairy tales being passed on orally for a long time, can be compared to the age of youth, there is already something  musing, some reflect ion. The “Sage” might already give a hint - even, if it might be different from real history, yet in some respect already leaning towards maturity (of age), history - to when and where things have happened. Sometimes, it uses historical events and reflects the regional ethnic beliefs. Especially well - known are the sagas (“Heldensagen”).



3. Myths


A „myth“ - in certain respects a basis for fairy tales - is sometimes interwoven with “Sagen”, but often independent. It is the realm of the spirits. They tell from gods and mythical men, from the army of Wotan to Mother Holda (“Frau Holle”, who is, inter alia, responsible for snowing in folk lore ) and Rübezahl, the „Lord of the Mountains“, a mountain spirit.


Mostly, they are a condensation of archetypical experiences (and in so far close to the “Märchen”) or interpret the world in a sort of religious way. They are almost always based on a polytheistic worldview and are closely linked to the cultures in which they were born. The experiences depicted are constructed in analogy to human life and human relations and are therefore easy to understand.

The old core of myths is often modified and combined with new motives or subjects and therefore not always too easy to recognize.



Sagen“ and myths also can serve as a source for present scholarly researchers of history who are interested only in the “outer facts”, although they have to be handled carefully, but fairy tales can, to them, only be a source of cultural history.



4. Legends

„Legend“ is history of saints and martyrs, there ways and wonders. Legends encompass only the christian myth, and within this a treasure of poetry.



 5. Fable


 Finally, a short look on the phenomenon of the „fable“ might also help to define the term „Märchen“:


“[The Fable is a] short literary composition in prose or verse, conveying a universal cautionary or moral truth. The moral is usually summed up at the end of the story, which generally tells of conflict among animals that are given the attributes of human beings. The fable differs from the parable, also a short narrative designed to convey a moral truth, in that the fable is concerned with the impossible and improbable, whereas the parable always deals with possible events. Both fables and parables are forms of allegory.“[6]





II. Famous German Fairy Tales


One of the most famous German fairy tales - at least in Germany -  is “Hänsel und Gretel” (“Hansel and Gretel”), describing how two children manage to vanquish an evil witch who wants to eat them. It has also - like other fairy tales, for example “Undine” (Lortzing) or “Rusalka” (Dvorak) - inspired musicians, and the music that was played before my speech and the final music I will introduce to you afterwards are good examples of what the feeling, the atmosphere of a “Märchen” is really like and might show you more directly what the salvation you will find in the positive end of fairy tales, might mean.


Ohters are „Schneewittchen“ (the English equivalent is „Snow White“), Dornröschen (“Sleeping Beauty“), „Aschenputtel“ ( „Cinderilla“),  Rottkäppchen“ („Little Red Riding Hoot“) or “Das tapfere Schneiderlein” (“The Valiant Little Tailor”), among many others. They have been collected by the Grimm Brothers, in their „Kinder und Hausmärchen“. They have been an inspiration to many an artist and have also been transferred into modern forms, e. g. by the German writer “Janosch”. They became famous throughout many countries (Japanese “anime” sometimes do show fairy tale - characteristics as well), and even have been adopted by modern entertainment industry (as everyone knows who has visited Disneyland…).  


Another famous collection of fairy tales is that of Ludwig Bechstein, for example.


There is a certain difference between “fairy tales” and “literary fairy tales“ (= “Kunstmärchen” in German), the latter having an identifiable author (e. g. Hans Christian Andersen; Wilhelm Hauff), there are also embellished fairy tales like in the case of Ludwig Tieck ) . “Literary fairy tales” are in general modeled to a greater or lesser extent on folk tales. “Folk tales” or “folk fairy tales“ (=  Volksmärchen”), being the older form, are originally oral and communal (i. e., in the process of passing it on orally,  each person who retells it makes his/her own contributions to the story and so alters it in some way).[7]





III. German and Japanese Fairy Tales compared


In Japan, there is not always such a strict difference between the various kinds of stories as described above. It is especially difficult to distinguish between “Sagen” and “Märchen”. This can already be seen by the fact, that the „Grosses Deutsch - Japanisches Wörterbuch“ (Large German - Japanese Dictionary) published by Shogakukan gives the following equivalents for the German word „Märchen“: “monogatari” (物語), “minwa“ (民話), “dowa“ (童話),  otogibanashi“ (お伽話) and even, as a loan - word from German, „merhen“ (メルヘン).

Märchen” and “Sagen” are both characterized by close ties to religion and nature, shintoism (and by means of merging with shintoism also buddhistic elements) being the main influence. Especially shintoist activities like ancestor cult, purification rites and honouring of the protection - kamis are present again and again. In the “Märchen” especially the kami, the natural spirits from trees, lakes or rivers play an important role. They join the humans to teach, judge, revenge,reward or to help. They often show the simple Japanese peasant’s life and show a deep connection to the old traditions and customs and to nature. Sometimes, they are rather short. They often have final words like „You shall not do evil to others. This is what I wanted to say.“

Because in Japan a strict distinction between legends, fairy tales, sagas, fables etc. is not possible, they are united under the term “folk stories“ most of the time. Japanese folklore distinguishes between “mukashi banashi” (むかしばなし, stories from the past) and “densetsu” (伝説, legends), not so much in accordance with form or contents, but with the supposed degree of truth. “Densetsu” tell about wondrous events which really have happened according to popular belief (thus being closer to our understanding of “myths“ or perhaps “Sagen“). Mukashi banashi” are generally considered to be invented stories

Yet, German and Japanese fairy tales have certain similarities. Both have a certain, positive moral. Good, clever, religious or helpful people are rewarded, bad ones can expect punishment. Monsters are vanquished.


Researchers believe to have found that the “ideal type” of Japanese fairy tales is like this (of course, often some elements might „miss“ or be added):

A wondrous and exceptional birth of the hero is followed by his growing up (being already someone exceptional as a child), mastering difficulties and dangers when he is young (be it out of his own inner strength; be it with the help of animals or natural spirits [which nevertheless might just be a symbol or outer manifestation of his own inner power]), discovers treasures or receives rich rewards and, in the end, marries an exceptional wise and/or beautiful lady.


This is quite the way as many of the German fairy tales go, as well.


Nevertheless, outer forms vary, Japanese fairy tales are determined by other traditions, other ways of depicting nature and other ways of life. Animals and foods are different. Traditional Japanese characteristics like modesty and politeness, and the emphasis on harmony in human relations are much more common in Japanese fairy tales. They are shorter, and longer, more complicated courses of action are rare. Natural disasters are used as topics, and often ascribed to the acts of gods or demons. In Japan, sometimes fairy tales were also used to describe the „heavenly“ descent of a certain family.[8]


Still, as to contents as just shown, but also as to forms, similarities are significant:

On New Year’s Eve, I read a fairy tale called „The gratitude of the crane“ („鶴の恩返し“) It’s beginning was exactly like that of European fairy tales: “Once upon a time somewhere there lived a kindhearted old man and woman “ (“むかしむかし、あるところに、心のやさしいおじいさんとおばあさんが住ん でおりましたそうな”)[9] Other typical Japanese beginnings are “Mukashi zutto mukashi no omukashi", むかしずっとむかしのおおむかし, conveying the general sense of “a long, long time ago“.


The ending in Japanese fairy tales also use certain formula: “Sorekiri, sore” (それきり、それ) or “Mukashi koppori” ( むかしこっぽり). Its function is to intensify the happy end. One of the typical German endings is often „Und wenn sie nicht gestorben sind, dann leben sie noch heute.“, meaning: „And if they have not died, they still do live today.” (In English fairy tales it is often: “[…] and they lived happily ever after.”).

 One reason for this set formula may be the early oral narrative tradition of the fairy tales.





IV. Other Countries Fairy Tales


There are fairy tales or their equivalents in probably all countries and all peoples. Since this speech is just short, we cannot examine this here. But you will all have heard of the “Tales of  one thousand and one nights”. I would also like to hint at the great series “Märchen der Weltliteratur” which is a large collection of fairy tales around the world, published By Eugen Diederichs Verlag, Munich.





V. Functions of Fairy Tales, The inner Core and what they mean to our world


At the first sight, fairy tales might just be considered as entertainment for children.


Nevertheless, even then it can be realized that they fulfill at least two functions in the life of  a child. They usually teach a certain moral, which, in the abstract, is that good is victorious, and they impart hope, because usually the end is good.


Märchen” are those stories one will probably be told first as a child. Thus, they can have a tremendous influence in the life of young people and their development. “Most of us heard these stories as children and they are imprinted into our minds, like a seal into wax, and guide our very thoughts, wishes, dreams, and the like.“[10]


That the power of fairy tales lasts beyond the age of childhood can be easily seen by the success of  “Harry Potter“ or the “Lord of the Rings“. Maybe not being fairy tales in a strict sense according to the definition, they are nevertheless as to their contents stories related to fairy tales in various ways. But why do they develop such an influence ?. Just because they are „imprinted in our mind“, as stated above, and because of the good marketing of the entertainment industry ?


Probably not.


There are deeper reasons, and these reasons are to be found in the archetypical world the fairy tales provide, in their basic lessons for life, which seem to be simple but are some of the most precious to be learned in our society and in the hope they give to man’s unconscious, that evil may and will not prevail.


The good fairy, the evil witch, the devil or even God - they symbolize powers the child does not only encounter with in its daily life when it grows older and leaves the protected[11] realm of it’s parents home in a way that is easy to be understood and conceived[12], thus providing it with a clear measure it might unconsciously apply to the human relations which are not so obviously determined by the directions of good or evil in the outer life, but they also show him what is deep inside himself. The emotions, the powers and - as the Swiss psychologist C. G. Jung has called it and elaborated in his work - the archetypes of good and evil[13], they are all present in his soul, and if the child learns - even if it is no conscious process yet - to cope with them on a metaphorical level which is just the outer sign of the level of the forces of the soul -, how they work together and what they do mean for the life of the hero (himself) or to others, then it will be prepared to face life, to live it in the best way possible.


The “Märchen” show that love for the good, purity of intentions and heart, and living to one’s own inner truth are the elements out of which a life of happiness and joy is born. And what adults sometimes have forgotten (and need to learn again, for else less would be willing to see the films of Harry Potter or the Lord of the Rings) and what is being clearly shown in these films and is being shown in the folk fairy tales and is that to sacrifice desires and greed brings the crown:


There are fairy tales which do have a sad ending, and some people might say, it is true experience of life which is reflected in those tales. But those are the literary fairy tales, like those of Hans Christian Andersen who, for maybe one of the first times, allows a bad ending. But, as Ida Gräfin Hahn - Hahn has put it[14], it shows much mental pain and a heart full of sorrow.


This is not the natural state of man, as it is usually shown to us by childhood, and to assume that losing this is the natural development is just a sign of resignation but not of truth. Even if the initial position of the heroes in the fairy tales may not appear to be good at the first glance, even if they appear to be an anti -  hero, they still do not resignate, and in the end, the reward will come. Normally - and this is true for Japanese fairy tales as well, as I have heard, almost always good triumphs over evil. Thus, and taking into consideration the function of the fairy - tale - figures as archetypes, it can truly be said as Reinold Schneider has put it:


“The fairy tale is the solution, there is no other.”


„Das Märchen ist die Lösung überhaupt, es gibt keine andere.“[15]






C. Sources and Resources



The books mentioned below may also be available in English or Japanese. As to non - English or non - Japanese homepages, you can try to use an automatic translation programme (available on the internet as well) if necessary.



I. Sources



1. Books and articles


Bechstein, Ludwig: Vorwort, aus: Ludwig Bechstein‘s Märchenbuch, Zwölfte

Auflage, Leipzig 1853, cit. according to Morscher, Wolfgang, http://www.sagen.at/maerchen/bechstein/maerchendef.html.


Dieler, Katrin Sarah: Japanische Märchen und Mythen, http://www.uni-mainz.de/~dielk000/MAERCHEN/index.htm.


Grimm, Jacob and Grimm, Wilhelm: Deutsche Sagen, 1816/18.

Grosses Deutsch - Japanisches Wörterbuch. Shogakukan 1990.


Jung, Carl Gustav: Gesammelte Werke. Düsseldorf: Walter 1995.


Kawauchi, Sazumi: The gratitude of the crane. Compiled by Sazumi Kawauchi. Translated by Ralph F. McCarthy. Tokyo, London, New York: Kodansha International 2000.


Märchen von Andersen und Grimm. Illustriert von Giesela Pferdemenger. München: Mahnert - Lueg1979.


Savory - Deermann, Cornelia: Die Quellen : Mythen und Märchen, Riten und Bräuche, Gedanken und Träume, [excerpt from: „Tiere als Spiegel der Seele und Sinnbilder der Kultur“, unpublished], cit. according to http://home.egge.net/~savory/quellen.htm.


Zweig, Connie  and  Abrams, Jeremiah [Ed.]: Meeting the Shadow : The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature (New Consciousness Reader). Tarcher 1991.



2. (Further) Pages of the Internet








II. For further resources please view


1. Books


Immoos, Thomas, Die Sonne leuchtet um Mitternacht, Archetypen in der Literatur, Olten, Walter-Verlag, 1986.


 Märchen der Weltliteratur. München: Diederichs. [A collection of fairy tales still being continued.].



2. Internet


On the internet, please look for the terms „Märchen“ („Maerchen“) or „fairy tale“ by using www.google.com (for example), there are plenty of websites, as, for example.






http://www.gutenberg.aol.de/index.htm (Large Archive of books and texts, including fairy tales, but in German.)

























© 2002 by André Marhaun











































[2] For other equivalents please see below.

[4] The folklorist Stith Thompson resisted the term “fairy tales”, noting that such tales rarely contain fairies; his preferred term is Märchen, which he defines as “a tale of some length involving a succession of motifs or episodes, moving in an unreal world without definite locality or characters.”, Wally Hastings, in:


[6] “Fable”, Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2000, http://encarta.msn.com. One of the earliest and most notable collections of animal fables is that of Aesop.

[8] Cf. Dieler, in: Japanische Märchen und Mythen, http://www.uni-mainz.de/~dielk000/MAERCHEN/index.htm.

[9] Kawauchi, Sazumi: The gratitude of the crane, Kodansha International, p. 7. 

[10] (Cit. according to a certain internet page, but I do not remember the source.)

[11] Astrid Lindgren says: „Children do also need a bit of an intact world, something to hold on - not just problems.”, cit. according to Märchen von Andersen und Grimm, Mahnert - Lueg1979, p. 5.

[12]  Charlotte Rougemont, a teller of fairy tales, once said: “Fairy tales are vitamins for the soul. Children understand the language of the Grimm Brothers like music. The fairy tales appeal to their sentiment, impart warmth and safety and stimulate their fantasy more then cinema or television.“, cit. according to Märchen von Andersen und Grimm, Mahnert - Lueg1979, p. 5.

[13] In fact, there are a lot of archetypes to be found in fairy tale lore. For example, an owl may mean wisdom. Often, there is the archetype of  the “hero” whose quest also serves the process of becoming conscious. The witch is the negative part of the archetype of the “Great Mother”. The “Old Sage” can also be found. The devil is an embodiment of the archetype of the “shadow” in which all things enter we learn to think of as being negative and banish from the conscious levels of the personality, cf. Zweig/Abrams [ed.], Meeting the Shadow : The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature , Tarcher 1991..- Why there are, as a whole, less figures like evil witches, sorcerers, stepmothers etc. in Japanese than in German fairy tales and which is the relation of this fact to the Japanese longing for harmony or harmonic description (cf. Dieler, in: Japanische Märchen und Mythen, http://www.uni-mainz.de/~dielk000/MAERCHEN/index.htm) yet remains to be examined.

Being archetypes, the fairy tale figures can also be depicted as aspects of the personality of the dreamer or the hero of the fairy tale. These aspects interact by solving their tasks or solving riddles. When this is done, there will be a wedding, which means the hero has reconciled his divergent aspects of personality in love. He has found his „Self“, which is the archetype of wholeness.  In the fairy tale as well as in psychotherapy an aim is to become more and more „oneself“, a healed, whole being. Cf.  Savory - Deermann, Die Quellen : Mythen und Märchen, Riten und Bräuche, Gedanken und Träume, [excerpt from: „Tiere als Spiegel der Seele und Sinnbilder der Kultur“, unpublished], cit. according to http://home.egge.net/~savory/quellen.htm.

(All those archetypes are symbolized by various animals as well. The raven may be the archetype of the „animus“ which got into the shadow in one fairy tale. In another, a deer may symbolize the inner child. In still another, the stallion is the Old Sage, and the donkey may be a sign of the arduous way to the Self. Cf.  Savory - Deermann, op. cit.)

[14] Andersen Album 1844, cit. according to Märchen von Andersen und Grimm, Mahnert - Lueg1979, p. 5.

[15] Cit. according to Märchen von Andersen und Grimm Illustriert von Giesela Pferdemenger. Muenchen: Mahnert - Lueg1979, p. 5.