Who wrote the most popular fairy tales?
Fairy tales seem to be with us from the beginning of time, yet certain authors and collectors need to work hard before we got a chance enjoying in them. Who are the most popular fairy tale authors, collectors, editors, and translators? Who was the first, who the most original, who the most prolific? Some of them are well-known to everybody, others to die-hard fans only. This page is dedicated to all of them. Enjoy in the learning process!
Italian Fairy Tale Authors
Giovanni Francesco Straparola (1485-1558)
Giovanni Francesco Straparola was also known as Zoan Francesco Straparola di Caravaggio. He was a poet, writer, and collector. His life is a mystery to historians and even his birth and death dates are unreliable. It’s suspected he worked as a ghostwriter for different noblemen. Straparola is almost certainly a pseudonym (roughly meaning “The one who talks too much and only useless stuff”).
His most important work is definitely Le Piacevoli Notti Di M. Giovanfrancesco Straparola da Caravaggio) The Facetious Nights or The Pleasant Nights), published in Venice in two volumes (1551 and 1553). This book is a collection of 75 stories with first printed fairy tales (only some of the stories can qualify as fairy tales), organized in a frame format, modeled on Boccaccio’s Decameron. The Facetious Nights presents the oldest variants of The Master Thief, The Puss in Boots, Iron Hans, etc.
Giambattista Basile (1566-1632)
Giovan Battista Basile started his political career as a soldier and a mercenary. In this time he briefly visited Venice as a birthplace of fairy tale (thanks to Straparola) and Crete, as a melting pot of all major Mediterranean culture. While he improved his social position to administrator, organizer, a governor and finally became a count, simultaneously built a literary career as a poet, dramatist, writer, and collector.
Dozens and dozens of his literary successes are forgotten today, but he’ll stay forever remembered by a work which was published only after his death: Lo cunto de li cunti, Trattenemiento de li Peccerille (The Tale of Tales, or Entertainment for Little Ones) and by a pseudonym: Gian Alesio Abbattutis. This is the first national collection of fairy tales (50 altogether), a work, written in Neapolitan dialect, which set standards for all later collections, and a collection of stories with dominant riches-to-rags-to-riches plot which also became one of major a standards for all literary works.
The Tale of Tales, popularly named Pentamerone (suggesting the same structure as Decameron) presents some of the oldest versions of fairy tales, like Cinderella, The Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Diamonds, and Toads, etc.
Carlo Collodi (1826-1890)
Carlo Collodi was a pen and a stage name of Carlo Lorenzini, who took it from the mother’s native village where he lived for the most of his early years. His father, a cook, and mother, a seamstress, worked for Marquis Lisci. Carlo was a talented student and got an offer for a paid scholarship if he becomes a priest. Instead of that he rather started working at a bookstore and later enrolled into a Tuscan army. He not only served as a volunteer during the Italian independence war but founded a satirical paper as well.
His literary work was later described: “At first Carlo makes you laugh. Then he makes you think.” His first literary works were political and often censored. He started using a pen name Collodi in 1860. Disappointed with the political situation after the unification of Italy, he started writing for children. His first work was a translation of Charles Perrault’s The Tales of Mother Goose in 1875.
Collodi’s original stories for kids were educational and focused on the foundation of united Italy. He started a weekly newspaper serial about adventures of a wooden puppet. It was titled Story of a Puppet, with a subtitle Adventures of Pinocchio. After the 15th chapter the serial was canceled but due to the protests of the audience, it reappeared later. It was published as a standalone book in 1883. It became a huge hit only after Collodi’s death and is still considered as one of the most recognizable characters in children’s literature.
Laura Gonzenbach (1842–1878)
Laura Gonzenbach was a Swiss folklorist born in Sicily. She collected many fairy tales in different Sicilian dialects. She visited peasants and workers in their home places listening to the oral tradition and preserving it in what eventually became Sicilian Fairy Tales, a book in two volumes. She is one of the rare women who worked that way. Her work, originally published in German (she was fluent in many languages) was ignored for a long time before it was translated in Italian (Rubini, 1999) and English (Zipes, 2004).
French Fairy Tale Authors
Madame d’Aulnoy (1650-1705)
Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy, often also credited as Countess or Baroness d’Aulnoy, lead controversial life with a husband (she was forced into arranged marriage) accused of treason, several lovers, children of unknown father(s), temporary (for about two decades) exclusion from society, living in exile, working as a spy, and numerous literary works with free minded heroines who shared many elements from her personal life, mixed with folklore.
Madame d’Aulnoy is best remembered by her two collections of fairy tales, aiming at an adult audience in French literary saloons, where fairy tales were read aloud and sometimes partly played as stage works. She is credited as the author who coined the phrase fairy tale (conte de fees).
Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve (1685-1755)
Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve was a member of a rich protestant family from La Rochelle but mostly lived in Paris. She was married to a man who lost almost all family inheritance (his and her) in just a few months, separated from him, became a widow at 26 years, started writing fairy tales and novels to support herself, and eventually met Prosper Jolyot de Crebillon, who was the most famous playwright in France.
While living with de Crebillon, helping him at his duties, she wrote her biggest commercial success, a novel Beauty and the Beast, oldest written and very long story which is today known in shortened fairy tale format.
Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont (1711-1780)
Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont was a daughter of a Jean Baptiste Nicolas Leprince , who was a painter ans sculptor. Due the mix of circumstances she received extraordinary education (for girl), initially being predestined to become a nun. Yet, at 24 years she left school and became a governess in the court of Duke Leopold, close relative of Louis XIV.
Education of children, especially young girls, became her major occupation for the rest of her life. She led pretty lively and sometimes mysterious private life. Her first marriage was annulled, but she got daughter, who later became grandmother of Prosper Merimee. Her second husband (if they were even married) was a spy. It is believed there were several other important men in her life between both of them, but her affairs remained secret.
In 1748 Jeanne-Marie left France for 15 years and, while being a governess again, this time in London, established an educational magazine, which set standards for the future periodical educational material. She also set standards in education of children. Her influence is undoubtful – she was a governess of the future lady Charlotte’s daughter and Lady Charlotte who became a governess of 15 children of Edward III, used Jeanne-Marie’s methods in their education.
One of the characteristics of her magazine was use of stories and fairy tales for education and the most popular among these stories is definitely The Beauty and the Beast, a shortened and simplified version of the same story written by above-mentioned Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve.
The Beauty and the Beast is still one of the most recognizable fairy tales in the world. Accordin to World Catalog it had 218 reprints in seven languages between 1818 in 2017! The Beauty and the Beast is considered the most popular French fairy tale outside of Perrault’s original collection.
Charles Perrault (1628-1703)
Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force (1654-1724)
Sophie Segur (1799-1874)
German Fairy Tale Authors
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (1785-1863, 1786-1859)
Ludwig Bechstein (1801-1860)
William Hauff (1802-1827)
English Fairy Tale Authors
Andrew Lang (1844-1912)
Andrew Lang was an anthropologist, collector, critic, historian, journalist, poet, and writer. As an extremely prolific and productive author he is mostly remembered by his collections of fairy tales, today simply called Lang’s Color Fairy Books, published between 1889 and 1910. His wife Leonora is credited as a translator of the majority of these fairy tales.
Lang’s Color Fairy Books are named after colors (Blue, Red, Green, Yellow, Pink, Grey, Violet, Crimson, Brown, Orange, Olive, and Lilac) and present huge volume of fairy tales and fables from all over the world, many first published in the English language. Lang didn’t collect the stories from oral sources, but from different printed books in other languages. Considering this and the huge, yet not clearly known contribution of his wife he should rather be credited as an editor than author or collector.
Lewis Carrol (1832-1898)
Joseph Jacobs (1854-1916)
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
Oscar Wilde wrote only two books of fairy tales: The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888) with five and A House of Pomegranates (1891) with four titles. Despite the low number several of them became classics. They are relatively long, with strong messages, very emotional, and with Wilde’s signature wit. While he initially wrote his first book of fairy tales for his own two sons believing the already available books of fairy tales were simply not good enough, he described the second one as ‘never meant for a British child or British public’.
All nine stories deal with deep moral issues, have much darker tones as typical stories for kids, are sometimes truly pessimistic, with a notable influence of another great writer: Hans Christian Andersen. Huge impact on both books had Oscar Wilde’s wife Constance who definitely worked as an editor on them, but we’ll never know how much of the final result came from Oscar and how much from Constance’s mind. While she also tried herself in the field of children’s literature with an adaptation of classic fairy tales, she never signed anything nearly as important and lasting as her husband.
More about her and their relationship can be read here:
Frank Baum (1856-1919)
Russian Fairy Tale Authors
Alexander Afanasyev (1826-1871)
Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837)
Scandinavian Fairy Tale Authors
Peter Christen Asbjornsen and Jorgen Moe (1812-1885, 1813-1882)
Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875)
to be continued…