Fairy Tales Have Ancient Origins

Posted on September 9, 2009

A new study reveals that fairytales, such as Little Red Riding Hood, are actually much older than anyone thought. The tales are told in all cultures, with subtle differences. But they all have the same basic plotline which is around 2600 years old.

The study was led by Dr. Jamie Tehrani, a cultural anthropologist from Durham University, who studied 35 different versions of Little Red Riding Hood. Tehrani found a common ancestor for the story dating back to over 2,600 years ago. He also identified 70 variables in the story's plot and character among the different versions.

Tehrani told The Telegraph, "Over time these folk tales have been subtly changed and have evolved just like an biological organism. Because many of them were not written down until much later, they have been misremembered or reinvented through hundreds of generations. By looking at how these folk tales have spread and changed it tells us something about human psychology and what sort of things we find memorable. The oldest tale we found was an Aesopic fable that dated from about the sixth century BC, so the last common ancestor of all these tales certainly predated this. We are looking at a very ancient tale that evolved over time."

Tehrani also says that the original ancestor of the Little Red Riding Hood tale is tsimilar to another tale, The Wolf and the Kids. In this fairy tale a sneaky wolf pretends to be a nanny goat in order to gain entry to a house full of young goats.

There are stories in Africa, Japan, China and Burma that all descend from the original story. Traders most likely spread the tales all over the world where they changed over time to suit various cultures. Professor Jack Zipes, an expert on fairy tales, believes fairy tales evolved to pass on knowledge of how to survive to younger generations, which makes sense. The witch in Hansel and Gretel was clearly some kind of Jeffrey Dahmer serial killer. Actually there are quite a few warnings about serial killers, liars and con men in fairy tales. No wonder the stories are so gruesome: they are warnings.

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