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Fairy Tale Tropes
Tropes common to fairy tales. See also mythical motifs.
Surprisingly, fairies in the winged, fluttery sense are absent, as are modern, pointy-eared versions of the fair folk. Also, a fair number of tropes that are thought of as "fairy tale" do not actually appear in fairy tales.
- Abduction Is Love: In all tales of the type "The Golden Bird."
- An Aesop
- An Arm and a Leg: All variants of the Girl Without Hands have her mutilated.
- Androcles' Lion
- Anthropomorphic Personification: Rare but not unknown to appear; personified Fates and Months can intervene.
- Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: When a talking animal advises you to take the dull object, not the shiny one — listen.
- Back from the Dead: Common (though not invariable) for heroes, but rare for other characters. In some cases, being killed in a certain way is the Curse Escape Clause for the faithful Non-Human Sidekick who has accompanied the hero on his journey.
- Bad Boss: Kings, queens, ogres, and witches don't need you to work for them to assign you the Impossible Task, but it seems to encourage them.
- Baleful Polymorph/Animorphism: Frequently a curse cast by a Wicked Witch, Wicked Stepmother, or so on.
- Bears Are Bad News: Invariably dangerous, though frequently good
- Be Careful What You Wish For: Especially about your baby
- The Big Bad Wolf
- Big Fancy Castle: Whether the prince's or the monster's
- Blue Blood: Rare but not unknown. Characters of noble blood can act as the Love Interest of a peasant, like a prince or princess; or be the ones who marry up into royalty.
- Bride and Switch: It can be the whole plot, when the heroine is replaced en route to her wedding, or a final complication.
- Cain and Abel: Older brothers often turn violently on their youngest, successful brother.
- Changeling Tale
- Cinderella Circumstances: Cinderella and a fair number of its variants — not all.
- Child Marriage Veto: Almost never portrayed in a good light. A girl who refuses the husband her father chooses for her either faces trials until her pride is broken or misses out on an incredibly good catch. The exception is when the father chooses himself as his daughter's husband.
- Clingy MacGuffin
- Damsel in Distress: Women often end up endangered in some form or another, whether or not they're the protagonists.
- Dances and Balls: But be back before midnight! Or show up at it — read your fairy tale carefully to know which one.
- David Versus Goliath: The youngest or smallest one will turn out to be smarter than his big enemies.
- Deader Than Dead: Common in disposing of the villains
- Deceased Parents Are the Best: The Missing Mom or Disappeared Dad will have been a saint; the living dad and his Wicked Stepmother will be indifferent or actively hostile to the young protagonist.
- Distressed Dude: Men need rescuing as often as women, if not more so.
- Don't Go in the Woods: Going into the wood triggers the tale. This is not a good thing.
- Don't Touch It, You Idiot!
- Dragons Prefer Princesses
- Dude, Where's My Respect?: Kings often treat any success as proof that more should be demanded.
- Due to the Dead
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Some fairy tales require enormous effort for this.
- Engagement Challenge
- Evil Matriarch
- Evil Sorcerer: Particularly dangerous when you're apprenticed to him.
- Evil Tower of Ominousness
- Exact Eavesdropping: Talking Animals have a marvelous tendency to talk where the hero can overhear them.
- The Fair Folk: Despite the name, these rarely appear. Powerful magical folk tend to be unambiguously good or evil,with appearances to match.
- Fairest of Them All
- Fairy Godmother: Although a Newer Than They Think trope.
- Fake Ultimate Hero: A form of the false hero
- Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: Run away from the father who wants to marry you? You still have to eat, don't you? Princess or not?
- Family-Unfriendly Aesop
- Family-Unfriendly Death
- Family-Unfriendly Violence
- Faux Death
- Feminine Women Can Cook: The heroine sometimes has to prove her worth as a bride by doing household chores. Often crosses over with Impossible Task.
- Fetch Quest
- The Fool
- Forbidden Fruit: Very common.
- Frogs and Toads: Odious creatures. You may be cursed by having them drop from your lips as you speak, or you might have to Earn Your Happy Ending by having the honor to marry one.
- Fractured Fairy Tale: What you get when these tropes are parodied.
- Gender Flip: Usually played straight
- Giant Food
- Gingerbread House
- Girl in the Tower: One tale type is usually named this.
- The Girl Who Fits This Slipper: In two forms — this is how Prince Charming finds his bride, and this is why the heroine's father wants to marry her.
- Goldilocks And The Mines Of Moria
- The Good King
- Green-Eyed Monster: The stepmother can hate the stepdaughter's beauty on behalf of herself or her less-attractive daughters; older sisters (and brothers) frequently envy the success of younger sisters (and brothers)
- Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: More in the illustrations than in the text, though it's not unknown there.
- Happily Ever After: The source of the phrase
- Haunted Castle
- Hedge of Thorns
- Heir Club for Men: Tends to be hard on the daughter
- The High Queen
- Hitchhiker Heroes
- Honorary Uncle In The Three Spinners and its variants, the heroine's helpers want to be her Honorary Aunts.
- If I Can't Have You: The prince may be shapeshifted because of his refusal to marry a terrible bride. Conversely, the ogre/witch/what have you that was raising the heroine may curse the prince to forget her after they run away.
- Impossible Task
- Impossible Thief
- Involuntary Shapeshifting: Though not as common as the Baleful Polymorph transformations mentioned above.
- Knight In Shining Armour
- Laser-Guided Karma: Show compassion to the helpless old woman? She's a good fairy who will give you valuable assistance. Kick the Dog? He was a sorcerer disguised as a wolf, and now you're a wolf too.
- Last Request: A frequent cause of the parent form of the Girl Who Fits this slipper.
- Law of Inverse Fertility: Mostly of the "want but can't get" variant, though there are a few fairy tales in which virgins can get pregnant involuntarily by magical means, such a drinking from a certain spring
- Leaf Boat
- Little Red Fighting Hood: Common in fractured fairy tales
- The Lost Woods : A common setting
- Love at First Sight
- Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter: The hero's beautiful love interest may be the daughter of an ogre, a witch, or even the Devil himself.
- Magpies as Portents
- Massive Numbered Siblings: If there aren't three, or only one, it's this, usually.
- Malicious Slander
- Meaningful Name: Characters will be named after their visual appearance or characteristics.
- Merciful Minion: Take the character to woods and bring back — a hand, a heart, eyes, as evidence. (Never the head for obvious reasons.)
- Mock Millionaire: Puss-in-Boots and its variants
- Moving the Goalposts: Often done on top of Impossible Tasks.
- Nameless Narrative: Sometimes one or two characters (hero, heroine, villain) get names, but frequently none do.
- Noble Fugitive
- Obnoxious In-Laws: Mothers-in-law are often murderous toward their daughters-in-law.
- Offered the Crown: Many a hero has succeeded to the throne after the Royal Brat king has been finally hoist by his own petard.
- Offing the Offspring
- Once Upon a Time: The source of the phrase
- Original Position Fallacy: Sometimes the antagonist meets his end according to a method that he himself suggested when asked for a good way to execute a scoundrel.
- Overprotective Dad
- Parental Incest: A common motive for the heroine to flee home is that her father has decided to marry her.
- Pinocchio Syndrome
- Please Shoot the Messenger: That's the way to ensure that the poor boy/girl doesn't marry your child! That is, until someone tampers with the message so that it says to marry the bearer to the child.
- Princess for a Day: prior to being princess for life
- The Promise
- The Quest: Archetypically — the character leaves home voluntarily or not, and pick up something to search for on the way if they don't have it already.
- Rags to Royalty: Often after a decline from royalty, or at least wealth, to rags.
- Rapunzel Hair: In certain stories, especially the ones based on the Trope Namer.
- Red-Headed Stepchild
- Rescue Romance
- Rip Van Winkle
- Royal Brat: Usually the king objects to his daughter's marriage.
- Royal Blood
- Rule of Three: Three siblings of the same sex is the commonest.
- Rule of Seven: Seven children, seven brothers, seven dwarfs, seven goats
- The Runt at the End
- Save the Princess
- Scullery Maid: A common role for the heroine, particularly if she is a princess incognito.
- Secret Identity: In Iron Hans and many (not all) of its variants, the hero is a servant at the court, and disguises himself in armor before fighting in the tourney or battle.
- Secret Test of Character
- Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
- Shape Shifter Showdown
- Shapeshifting Lover
- She Cleans Up Nicely
- Sibling Triangle: The hero's brothers or the heroine's sisters/stepsisters are often the final obstacle to his or her happiness.
- Soul Jar
- Standard Hero Reward
- Swans A Swimming
- Sweet and Sour Grapes
- Talking Animal: Virtually omnipresent. Sometimes justified; usually not.
- Threshold Guardians
- Trail of Bread Crumbs
- Treacherous Spirit Chase
- True Love's Kiss
- Uriah Gambit: A rare but known variant is for the king to send off a married man on the quest to get at his wife.
- Wealthy Ever After
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Characters who served their function often vanish.
- When the Clock Strikes Twelve
- Wicked Stepmother
- Wicked Witch
- Wonder Child
- Year Outside, Hour Inside
- You Have Waited Long Enough
- Youngest Child Wins