The Function of Animals in Fairy Tales and Fables

Term Paper, 2013

12 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents

1. Introduction: The Question of “Why”

2. The Function of Animals in Fairy Tales and Fables
2.1 The Difference between Fairy Tales and Fables
2.2 The Function of Animals in Fairy Tales and Fables
2.2.1 Animal Symbolism
2.2.2 Example: Little Red Riding Hood
2.2.3 Example: The Fox and the Crow

3. Conclusion: Animals as Symbols

4. Works Cited List

1.Introduction: The Question of “Why“

At last she reached the path again but her heart leapt into her mouth at the sound of a gruff voice which said: “Where ' . . are you going, my pretty girl, all alone in the woods?”

“I'm taking Grandma some cakes. She lives at the end of the path,” said Little Riding Hood in a faint voice.

When he heard this, the wolf (for it was the big bad wolf himself) politely asked: “Does Grandma live by herself?”

“Oh, yes,” replied Little Red Riding Hood, “and she never opens the door to strangers!”

“Goodbye. Perhaps we'll meet again,” replied the wolf. Then he loped away thinking to himself “I'll gobble the grandmother first, then lie in wait for the grandchild!”[1]

This excerpt from Grimm’s classical fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood” is a good example of the fact that plenty of fairy tales contain talking animals as characters and that these talking animals always have an important function in fairy tales and fables. This is the topic I will concentrate on in this paper. I will refer to the example of “Little Red Riding Hood” again later.

The first fairy tales and fables emerged more than thousand years ago. Almost as long as fairy tales exist, animals play a role in them. Of course there are fairy tales without animal characters but in most fairy tales, at least one talking animal or mythical creature – like a beast, a dwarf or a unicorn – appears. Because of the oral tradition of fairy tales, there are frequently several different versions of certain fairy tales but the fact that specific animals play an important role in these tales never changes. With fables, it is a bit different. I will explain the difference between animals in fairy tales and animals in fables in subchapter 2.1 ‘The Difference between Fairy Tales and Fables’.

The circumstances just mentioned raise questions about the significance of animals in fairy tales: Why do fairy tales and fables contain talking animals? Why are not humans instead of animals the characters of the tales? And why are the emerging animals not mentioned casually, but play such an important role for the development of the tales? These questions constitute the topic I want to deal with and I will try to find answers to these questions in this term paper.

I will approximate the above-mentioned issues by first explaining the main differences between fairy tales and fables, because I want to make it accessible to the reader that there is an important differentiation between fairy tales and fables. This serves to avoid confusion, problems of comprehension or the like. Additionally, it makes clear why the title of this term paper involves both fairy tales and fables. Moreover, I will briefly introduce the genre of Animal Tales, because it is similar to fairy tales and fables. Second, I will thematise and answer the questions mentioned above by expounding the function of talking animals in fairy tales and fables. To demonstrate the results of this part of the paper, I will illustrate them using the examples of the fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood” and the fable “The Fox and the Crow”. Finally, I will analyse the results of the main part of this paper by summing up the most important aspects and reflecting them critically.

As an aid, I will mainly use the books “The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Folktales and Fairy Tales: A-F” by Donald Haase, “Folk and Fairy Tales: A Handbook” by D. L. Ashliman, “ Celebrating Latino Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Cultural Traditions” by María Herrera-Sobek and “Piercing the Magic Veil: Toward a Theory of the Conte” by Harold Neemann , because these elaborate on fairy tales and fables and provide a lot of important information for me about the significance and the function of the talking animals in literature.

2.The Function of Animals in Fairy Tales and Fables

2.1 The Difference between Fairy Tales and Fables

In this chapter, I want to explain the main differences between fairy tales and fables. Furthermore, I will briefly broach animal tales, because they closely resemble both fairy tales and fables but are not to be confused with them.

Fairy Tales are well-known short stories which are not based on true events. They are fantasy stories; hence it is common for mythical creatures like beasts, dwarfs or unicorns to appear in diverse fairy tales among humans and animals. In some fairy tales, magic elements, for example witchcraft, are also involved. Fairy tales almost always have a happy-ending, indicated by the phrase “happily ever after”. In most cases, fairy tales do not imply a moral; they are rather told to entertain children and even some adolescents and adults (Ashliman 2).

Fables, however, are even shorter than fairy tales. The characters of fables are always and solely animals, consequently no mythical creatures are included. The same applies to magic elements. Accordingly, the whole story of the fable could happen to humans in real life. I will elucidate this circumstance later. Another difference between fairy tales and fables is that fables do not have a happy-ending. Fables always have an unlucky ending, because this negative kind of ending is the basis for the moral, which is the lesson that should be drawn from the fable. To understand why solely animals and no humans are the characters of fables, it is important to take a look at the origin of this genre. I will address the roots of fables in subchapter 2.2.1 ‘Animal symbolism’.

In addition to fairy tales and fables, so-called ‘animal tales’ exist. Animal tales are short stories that are normally, in contrast to fairy tales and fables, quite unknown and written by little-known authors. Like fables, animal tales solely have talking animals as characters. But in most cases, contrary to fables, animal tales do not imply a moral: “There is a difference, however, between fables that feature animals and animal tales. Although similar, the latter is distinguished by the lack of a clear moral message and usually attempts to explain certain animal traits, such as why turtles have shells or why snakes do not have legs.” (Herrera-Sobek 483). So, the purpose of animal tales is the same as that of fairy tales: they are meant to entertain: “An animal tale is an entertaining story in which roles are given to animals, which makes the narrative attractive and interesting but always fanciful. […] Their purpose is to entertain and, although the animals may at times play roles related to their images or to their observable traits, the general drift of these stories is unrealistic and often comical.” (Haase 42).


[1] Grimm, The Classical Works of the Brothers Grimm 111.

Excerpt out of 12 pages


The Function of Animals in Fairy Tales and Fables
University of Paderborn
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function, animals, fairy, tales, fables
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Lara Teupe (Author), 2013, The Function of Animals in Fairy Tales and Fables, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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