Friday, June 24, 2011

Fairy Tale Fridays - The Appearance of Religion in Fairy Tales

In keeping with my idea that June Fairy Tale Fridays would be devoted to marriage, I came across a tale, in my Grimm's Complete Fairy Tales, titled "The Heavenly Wedding." It starts:

"A poor peasant boy one day heard the priest say in church that whosoever desired to enter into the kingdom of Heaven must always go straight onward." My first thought was that this didn't sound very much like a story that was going to end in a "happily-ever-after" wedding and my second thought was that this was the first time that I had ever read a fairy tale that referred, in any overt way, to religion.

In the tale, the boy begins walking, straight onward until he comes to a church. Having followed the priest's instructions, the boy believes that he must have come to Heaven and refuses to ever leave the church afterward. The priest agrees to let the boy stay. While there, the boy witnesses people praying to "Our Lady with the blessed child Jesus." Seeing how thin she is, the child begins leaving food for the statue. Those who come to the church begin to notice that the statue is indeed getting larger.

After some time, the boy becomes ill for many days and is unable to feed the Virgin. When he returns, he apologizes to her and she tells him that she has seen his good will and that the next Sunday he will go with her to the wedding. The next Sunday arrived and when the host came the boy fell down and died and was at the eternal wedding. Which, if you are a religious person, does end our story with a "happily-ever-after" wedding.

Curious about this appearance of religion in a fairy tale, I did a little research. In one article I found the idea that all fairy tales are based on the originally religious beliefs of people. It was the supposition of the author that this is the only way that fairy tales survived the arrival of Christianity in Europe because the people were banned from telling their old stories by their new religious leaders. Most of what came up when I typed in "religion and fairy tales" had more to do with the idea that all religion is, itself, a fairy tale for grownups. Buried some where in all of those search results is, I'm sure, more information on this topic. I'll be spending some time in the coming week looking further into the appearance of religion in fairy tales and looking for other tales where it makes an obvious appearance, as it did in "The Heavenly Wedding." This has definitely piqued my interest!


  1. This is an interesting development. I have also never come across overt religion or religious overtones in the fairy tales I have read, yet my exposure to fairy tales in general is pretty low. It's intriguing to ponder just how many fairy tales out there have something to do with religion, though I would posit that it is not very many. Thanks so much for sharing this with us. You are finding out some really interesting things within your foray through this genre!

  2. My interest is also piqued!

    I know that fairy tales are not necessarily light reading, but this one seems quite heavy.

  3. That's pretty interesting. I've learned quite a bit from your Friday posts...thanks!

  4. Great post! I'm actually working on a research project right now on the place of religion in fairy tales. I'm going to be presenting on the topic in the next month or so, and I'm going to be focusing on The Snow White and the Huntsman film, the first few chapters of Adam Gidwitz' "A Tale Dark and Grimm" and a yet to be determined "classic" fairy tale. I will definitely have to look this one up. I also did a similar good search and found similar results but I'm trying to look into more. How did your further search go? I've been coming across some religious overtones in the fairy tales I've been reading, not as overt as this one, but still enough that it stood out to me. I first started looking into it when I read this definition of a fairy tale from Marcia Lane that stated "fairy tales are sometimes spiritual but never religious", and that struck me as somewhat strange since I had already been noticing religious symbolism and undertones in some of the fairy tales I'd read, including The Snow Queen...I would love to hear more about how your search went! Thanks for a great post :)