The loving, helpful fairy godmother is largely a figment of Disney’s imagination.
If you take a good look at the original fairy tales, fairy godmothers appear most often in stories written by the French précieuses, the best-known being Madame d’Aulnoy. These fairy godmothers are not the grandmotherly rescuer of Disney’s Cinderella, nor are they the well-meaning but sometimes slapstick versions portrayed as Flora, Fauna, and Meriwether in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Fairies who choose to help human beings most often do so because it serves their own purposes. Madame d’Aulnoy and her colleagues made everyone in their stories members of the nobility, especially the fairy godmothers. Even the shepherds and maids were princes and princesses sent into hiding for their protection.
Classic fairy godmothers are willing to guide their godchildren and lend a little magic to the cause, but in return, they expect obedience and respect. The godchild who fails to show proper appreciation is in for serious trouble. That could range from the fairy godmother withdrawing her support to actively thwarting the godchild’s hopes and dreams.
The fairy godmother underwent another transformation when the Brothers Grimm collected folktales from all over Germany. Thanks to the brothers’ scholarly background, they introduced elements and motifs from Norse and Greek mythologies. Once again, the fairy godmother, much like the heroes and heroines of the stories, became a member of the nobility, often a queen or princess. When the more visceral nature of the pre-Christian versions of the folktales raised protests, the Brothers Grimm removed the sex and violence. The folktales gained a strong moral or became warning stories, such as “Hansel and Gretel” or “Red Riding Hood.”
Tinkerbell herself is not a fairy godmother per se. She is, however, perhaps the best-known fairy thanks to Disney’s Peter Pan. Tinkerbell loves Peter and does all she can to help him. When she thinks Wendy has stolen Peter from her, she tricks the Lost Boys into almost killing Wendy. As punishment, Peter exiles Tinkerbell. At that point, Tinkerbell has no problem selling the Lost Boys out to Captain Hook.
Fairy godmothers have become a cherished part of fairytales. Whether in Disney’s sugary versions or the more violent pre-Christian tales, it’s important to remember Rumplestiltskin’s warning: All magic comes with a price.
Ms. Csernica has been published in Weird Tales, These Vampires Don’t Sparkle, and Fantastic Stories. Her story, “Beware the Fairy’s Price” will be published in the upcoming After the Happily Ever After anthology. A California native, she currently resides in the Santa Cruz mountains with her her husband, two sons, and three cats. Visit her at lillian888.wordpress.com.
Photo Source: “Mornfalma” (c) Heliofob