Top 10 Greatest Fairy Tales EVER
VOICE OVER: Emily Brayton
WRITTEN BY: Michael Wynands
Once upon a time doesn't get much better than this. For this list, we're looking at the most influential, and widely loved, classic fairy tales. Though we'll be including folk tales, stories that began as relatively contemporary novels or theater productions won't be considered, no matter how popular they've since become. Translation? As much as we love Peter Pan and Pinocchio, they won't be seen here today. Our list includes Rapunzel, Beauty and the Beast, Rumpelstiltskin, Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood and more! Join MsMojo as we count down our picks for the Top 10 Greatest Fairy Tales Ever.
Top 10 Greatest Fairy Tales Ever
Once upon a time doesn't get much better than this. Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’ll be counting down the Top 10 Greatest Fairy Tales Ever.
For this list, we’re looking at the most influential, and widely loved, classic fairy tales. Though we’ll be including folk tales, stories that began as relatively contemporary novels or theater productions won’t be considered, no matter how popular they’ve since become. Translation? As much as we love Peter Pan and Pinocchio, they won’t be seen here today.
#10: The Ugly Duckling
We all go through an awkward phase growing up, which makes this tale something most can relate to. Written by Hans Christian Andersen – who was a bit of an ugly duckling himself – this fairy tale is the story of a young misfit who’s mistreated by his peers for looking different. The bullying proves so taxing that the poor little outcast chooses to live away from them. After some time however, he discovers that he doesn’t just look different from other ducks, he IS different - he’s a swan! A timeless classic, it reminds us that there’s a place for everyone in this world.
While the titular character of this fairy tale may have some impressively long locks, her publication history is even longer. Thanks to its inclusion in their 1812 publication “Children's and Household Tales,” the story of Rapunzel was popularized by the Brothers Grimm. But earlier versions of this story, credited to various writers, can be found dating all the way back to 1634. Despite its age, as Disney’s 2010 adaptation “Tangled” proves, Rapunzel still has the power to enchant. It might be a traditional tale of love overcoming obstacles, but that unique twist, or rather… braid, ensures that it stands out, even centuries later.
#8: Beauty and the Beast
It’s been adapted for film countless times, and has served as the basis of more than one theater production, as well as a ballet. So… you’d think that people would have grown tired of this property by now, but with the release of Disney’s 2017 live action remake following its 1991 animated version, Beauty and the Beast proved that it has staying power - it’s truly a timeless classic. Though it is credited to Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, whose version was published in 1740, researchers have found proto-versions of the fairy tale dating back 4,000 years. Talk about a “tale as old as time”.
#7: Jack and the Beanstalk
Thought Beauty and the Beast was old? Well, researchers estimate that the roots of this tale of shopping gone wrong can be traced back 5,000 years. We all know the story of Jack and his magic beans, and the world of trouble they open up to him. While fairy tales typically include surreal elements, Jack and the Beanstalk – or "The Story of Jack Spriggins and the Enchanted Bean" as it was published in 1734 – is a standout because the magical aspects are just so fantastical. Over-sized vegetation, giants, a golden-egg laying goose, an enchanted harp - what more could you ask for?
#6: One Thousand and One Nights
Also known simply as “Arabian Nights,” this epic tale brings together many folk stories and legends from various cultures across South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Its age and complex history leave us to guess as to exactly how it came together. Arabian Nights is the tale of Scheherazade, the new wife to a king who takes and kills a new bride each night, and the stories she told him every evening to survive. From within this framing narrative, countless stories are told. A masterful tapestry of folk tales, it introduced many to Aladdin, Ali Baba, Sinbad, and other such famous characters.
It’s certainly a mouthful, but that’s the fun of it. From a young age, children seem drawn to the absurd name of this impish little creature. Parents can appreciate the story because it teaches valuable lessons - don’t be greedy, and never make a deal or promise you can’t keep. Of course, if you’re presenting it to very young children, make sure to select one of the tamer versions. Depending on the variant you’re reading, Rumpelstiltskin either leaves in anger, falls into a hole in the earth or rips himself clean in two. Whatever edition you select… it’s sure to make for a memorable experience!
#4. Snow White
Today - thanks to Disney – most people think of it as “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, but originally, this German fairy tale was simply titled “Snow White”, after its fair-skinned princess. In fact, the original dwarves didn’t even have names until a century after its first publication, first given during a Broadway play and then with Disney in 1937! There’s no denying that these changes played a crucial role solidifying its enduring popularity, but the animation studio never would’ve had a movie to make were it not for the Brothers Grimm, who published the first written version of the tale as part of their 1812 collection.
#3: Hansel and Gretel
It's a little dark, and a whole lot grim. More so than perhaps any other tale on our list today, Hansel and Gretel has moral lessons that feel remarkably relevant in today's society. First and foremost, it’s the perfect cautionary tale about stranger-danger. Nothing’s gonna keep your kids away from people they don’t know quite like the fear of being eaten. Secondly, in this age of childhood obesity, it teaches a strong lesson about overeating and nutrition. But most importantly, it’s a fun, sinister tale with the sort of plucky industrious child characters that kids love to hear about.
#2: Little Red Riding Hood
Taking stranger-danger to the next level, this iconic fairy tale reminds kids that they always need to trust their instincts. Riding Hood and her red cape are iconic in their own right, but credit where credit is due… the wolf is what really makes this story such a thrilling one. His conniving, deceitful ways, and success in gobbling up not only the grandmother but our titular character as well makes him one of the most formidable and memorable villains in fairy tale history. And he would’ve gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for that meddling hunter.
Before we unveil our top pick, here are a couple honorable mentions:
The Frog Prince
The Little Mermaid
Few fairy tale princesses are as iconic or popular as Cinderella. Though the versions from Charles Perrault in 1697 and the Brothers Grimm in 1812 are the best known, her story, in its various forms, can be traced back to Ancient Greece, 9th century China, and countless other cultures. It’s not surprising that this folk tale has proved so transcendent and enduring - it’s the ultimate tale of rags to riches, of love that overcomes, and of fantasy come to life. Cinderella is kind, brave, selfless, and willing to dream big, which is why hers is a story that will continue to enchant one generation after another.