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Changes in Folktales: “Snow White”, “Rapunzel”, “The Sleeping Beauty” Essay


Folktales are passed down from one generation to the other in different forms. The tales are passed down orally or through writing. They can also be communicated through films. There are different types of folktales. They include fairytales, trickster stories, fables, myths, and legends. The narratives are based on the culture and subculture of people in society (Boudinot 3). They reflect the oral traditions that were meant to explain various phenomena in society. They were also meant to teach morals and other life lessons.

In this paper, the author will analyze how folktales change with time. To this end, the author will focus on Snow White, Rapunzel, and The Sleeping Beauty. The common elements and variations in the tales will also be reviewed. The changes made by the Grimm Brothers to the folktales before publication will be analyzed. Finally, psychoanalysis of the storyteller behind the three tales will be provided.

Common Elements in Folktales

Most folktales share some specific characteristics. The traits are categorized into motifs and tale types (Yenika-Agbaw et al. 76).

Repeated Motifs

In traditional storytelling, some common words were used at the beginning and at the end of the tale (Yenika-Agbaw et al. 76). For example, most stories begin with “once upon a time…” and end with “…and they lived happily ever after”. The traits are similar in The Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, and Snow White. The opening and closing words in the three folktales are similar.

The Setting of the Story

Fairytales are set in the past. The stories involve characters that existed a long time ago. The three folktales analyzed in this paper talk of kings, queens, princes, and princesses (Keyser 8). All these are characters that were once in existence. The use of imagination in the three stories is another indication of the fact that the events took place in the past.

The Use of Clearly Defined Good and Evil Characters

A case in point is the use of these characters in Snow White. In the tale, the queen represents the evil character. She was jealous of Snow White and planned to kill her (Greenway 12). Other common elements in the folktales include the existence of supernatural beings. Fantasy and royalty are also common elements of the characters used in the tales. In Snow White, Rapunzel, and The Sleeping Beauty, there is a king, a prince, a queen, and a princess. In addition, there are magic objects and subjects, such as animals and people.

Changes in the Folktales over Time

With time, the narration and content of the three stories have changed significantly. It is believed that these variations are inevitable and can be caused by various factors.

Variations due to Changes in the Society and the Culture of the People

Changes among the target audience due to generational dynamics lead to evolutions in storytelling. A case in point is the change of language, time, and age of the storyteller (Raynard 34). For instance, in Snow White, the violence perpetrated against the princess in the original version is missing in the new edition of the tale (Greenway 12). Instead, the hunter became the protector of the princess. Sexuality is also evident in Rapunzel (Smallman 12). The little Rapunzel is heard singing alone in the forest by the princess. The part where she claims her clothes are smaller and cannot fit her anymore suggests pregnancy (Smallman 8). Most of these scenes are missing in the new edition.

Changes in Geography and Intentions of the Story

Most stories are told to teach a moral lesson. It is also noted that some tales targeted at the children are aimed at helping them understand their environment (Boudinot 6). In The Sleeping Beauty, the audience is taught that resilience and patience are required to overcome obstacles in life, including curses (Crane 5). Consequently, the intentions of the story and the needs of the target audience determine the packaging of the narrative. For instance, the geographical location determines how the storyteller integrates various objects and symbols into their narrative.

A Detailed Analysis of the Common Elements in The Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Rapunzel

As already indicated in this paper, most folktales are characterized by common motifs, which define them (Raynard 8). The same case applies to the three tales analyzed in this study.

Royalty and Characters

All three tales contain characters of royal descent. In Rapunzel, for example, the princess hears Rapunzel singing in the forest from the tower (Smallman 5). The three tales are characterized by kings, queens, princes, and princesses.


The three folktales are characterized by scenes depicting violence against some of the characters. For example, in Snow White, the hunter is ordered by the queen to harm Snow White (Greenway 13). However, in the new edition of the folktale, the hunter becomes the protector of Snow White. In The Sleeping Beauty, a spell is cast on the princess. As a result, she sleeps for 400 years (Crane 3). The cruelty meted out against the characters is eliminated from most of the scenes in the latest editions of the tales. For instance, in the three tales, the stepmother is portrayed as a cruel person in the original versions of the stories (Crane 4). However, in the new editions, the cruelty is toned down.


All the three tales published by the Grimm Brothers ends with a marriage between the prince and the princess (Grimm and Grimm 8). In Rapunzel, the princess went with Rapunzel after hearing him sing from the tower (Smallman 20). However, similar to the other common elements in the tales, sexuality in Rapunzel changes between the original version and the latest edition of the folktale. For instance, the small dress that connotes Rapunzel’s pregnancy in the first edition is not mentioned in the latest version (Smallman 8). In The Sleeping Beauty, the prince comes and kisses the princess who had been sleeping for 400 years (Keyser 6). They start talking and fall in love. Such scenes are missing from the recent edition. Elimination of these scenes may be informed by the shifts in the interests of the target audience. The sex scenes may also have been eliminated to cater to the needs of the children (Cavendish 9). The three tales are popular among children. As such, the publishers felt it important to reduce the explicit sex scenes (Raynard 5).

A Detailed Analysis of the Variations between the Three Tales

The variations between the three tales are brought about by geographical differences, time overlap, culture, and the needs of the target audience. For example, the stories set on forested areas include characters drawn from the forest. A case in point is Rapunzel, which revolves around a forest setting. On its part, Snow White creates a picture of land covered in snow during winter (Greenway 8).

Omission and Addition of Elements to the Original Folktales before Publication

Originally, most folktales were preserved through oral traditions. However, with the emergence of the print media, most of these oral tales were published. A comparison between the original and the published versions of the tales indicates that some items were omitted or added before publication (Cavendish 10). There are various reasons why these changes are introduced. In the three tales analyzed in this paper, the omissions and additions were mainly made due to memetic and cultural ‘evolution’, as well as changes in the target audience (Keyser 9).

Memetic and Cultural Evolution

The desire of the storyteller is to ensure that their tales remain relevant to the society within which they are told. Examples of memes used in Snow White, Rapunzel, and The Sleeping Beauty include tunes, ideas, fashion, and expressions (Crane 7). The memes were changed to reflect the evolution of culture in society. Consequently, the Grimm Brothers made sure that the tales remained alive in modern society. For example, the idea of pregnancy is missing in the published edition of Rapunzel. The aim is to ensure that the thought of the prince making her pregnant is eliminated. As such, the Grimm Brothers ensured that they did not appear to be glorifying the thought of sex and pregnancy among teenagers.

Changes in Target Audience

In the three tales, the biological mothers in the original narratives were turned into stepmothers and their cruelty reduced in the published versions. The aim was to ensure that mothers remain sacred and the tastes of the readers are not offended (Raynard 23). In addition, the cruelty in the original tales had to be toned down in the published versions for the sake of the child reader. The same applies to the alterations made to the sex scenes. For example, in the original version of Rapunzel, Rapunzel says, “Tell me, Godmother, why my clothes are so tight and they don’t fit me any longer” (Smallman 8). The scene changes in the published version. Instead, Rapunzel says, “Tell me, Godmother, why is it that you are so much harder to pull up than the young prince?” (Smallman 8).

Psychoanalysis of the Storytellers

Most folktales are told using the voice of the third person narrative. The persona employs different techniques to tell the story. The techniques used include the use of songs, gestures, foreshadowing, dialogue, and models. The motivation behind these strategies is to make the stories more interesting (Cavendish 11).

The psychoanalysis of literary works falls under three categories. The categories include the object, the author, as well as the reader or the fictional character in the text (Grimm and Grimm 8). In the three Grimm Brothers’ tales, the storyteller uses objects with supernatural powers. The use of violence by the persona is intended to teach specific lessons to the audience. On its part, sexuality is used to make the stories more interesting to the audience. An example is in The Sleeping Beauty. The prince kisses the princess and she wakes up.


Culture, beliefs, and history about people and regions are passed down from one generation to the other through stories. The stories are told differently depending on the aim of the storyteller and the within which they are narrated. It is evident that most of them have changed significantly with time. As was made evident in the three folktales analyzed in this paper, the reason for this change is mostly due to shifts in the needs of the audience and the geographical regions within which the narratives are set.

Works Cited

Boudinot, David. The Looking Glass: New Perspectives on Children’s Literature, vol. 9, no. 3, 2005, Web.

Cavendish, Richard. “The Publication of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.” History Today, vol. 62, no. 12, 2012, pp. 8-12.

Crane, Walter. The Sleeping Beauty Picture Book. Forgotten Books, 2016.

Greenway, Jennifer. Snow White. Andrews McMeel Publishing, 1991.

Grimm, Jacob, and Wilhelm Grimm. 2005, Web.

Keyser, Hannah. Mental Floss, 2016, Web.

Raynard, Sophie. The Teller’s Tale: Lives of the Classic Fairy Tale Writers. State University of New York Press, 2013.

Smallman, Steve. Fairytales Gone Wrong: Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Wash your Hair!. QED Publishing, 2015.

Yenika-Agbaw, Vivian, et al. Fairy Tales with a Black Consciousness: Essays on Adaptations of Familiar Stories. McFarland, 2013.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Changes in Folktales: "Snow White", "Rapunzel", "The Sleeping Beauty"." November 12, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/changes-in-folktales-snow-white-rapunzel-the-sleeping-beauty/.


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