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Fairytale Motifs
Motifs using characters, creatures, and settings from classic Fairy Tales to represent characters or ideas, for example, a love interest being equated with a Knight in Shining Armor. Modern day Cinderella stories commonly mine this fairy tale trope as well.

Many of them are, in fact, Dead Unicorn Tropes. Dragons, unicorns, fairies, and knights are in fact exceedingly rare in fairy tales. For tropes actually found in fairy tales, see Fairy Tale Tropes.

Fairytale Motifs are used to add romance to a story, especially one set mainly in the grim and gritty real world. The fact that most people have read the fairy tales means that the symbolism isn't likely to be lost.

Fairytale Motifs differ slightly from Mythological Motifs. While the former features specific fairy tale characters — such as Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty — it also includes general, archetypal examples, usually a "species" rather than one particular person/animal. The latter tends to use specific characters belonging to a recognizable mythology. For example, most people recognize a unicorn when they see one, but the creature itself has a rather vague history and there is no named unicorn who was the "first of its kind." Therefore, it's a Fairytale Motif. Pegasus, the winged horse, on the other hand, is one specific character from Greek myths with a Canon history , making it a Mythological Motif.

Some fairytale motifs include:

  • Dragons: Western dragons can be used to represent very strong or fierce characters, where as eastern dragons are more likely to be wise.
  • Fairies: The more popular versions of the fairy are carefree, innocent creatures, usually associated with little girls. May indicate a Cloud Cuckoo Lander, since "away with the fairies" is another way to say "constantly daydreaming" or "slightly crazy." The fairies taken from older traditions, such as Celtic Mythology, aren't quite so cutesy — in fact they're downright malevolent at times. Modern literature increasingly employs this version of the fairy-folk, usually as Tricksters.
  • Knights: Often, a very noble character, akin to the Knight In Shining Armor, however, the symbolism linked to a knight could easily be used for a Knight Templar character as well (perhaps due to the association in the trope name).
  • Royalty: Generally used to represent power, wealth or prestige. These are often used in High School settings to refer to "the popular kids".
    • Princess: Often the Alpha Bitch, however, a wealthy or popular girl of any sort will often be equated to a princess (for an example of this comparison, look no farther than this site). A Queen will often refer to the same stereotype, especially if there is a corresponding?
    • King: Generally the leader of a group or organization or the reigning champion of something (i.e. "The King of Table Tennis"). In the aforementioned High School settings, the king will often be a Jerk Jock.
  • Unicorn: The mythological "horse with a horn," although many different descriptions of them exist. Usually pure, gentle and noble, but there are exceptions. Being able to draw a unicorn's attention is generally a Virgin Power because they are strongly associated with chastity, and often a motif for young girls.
  • Wolves: Initially they were savage monsters that attack travelers and devour live stock and while the wolf's image has been getting better in modern times, increasingly being seen as a "spirit of the wild," people can't quite get over The Big Bad Wolf. While the wolf is an animal motif at the same time, the wolf as a threat to young girls/ sexual predator seems to have its roots in the fairy tale.
    • In Germanic countries, the wolf is (or was historically) the equivalent of the Devil - they even have an expression about them that's interchangable with "Speak of the Devil".

Examples

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     Anime and Manga  
  • Revolutionary Girl Utena uses a Fairytale Motif (the romance fairytale of the Prince as male love interest saving the Princess) for major drama. Gender roles in fairy tales are throughy played with, explored, subverted and deconstructed, sometimes in the most brutal ways imaginable.
  • Skip Beat! 's Kyouko seems to believes that fairies are real, and very often acts following Cinderella-like Fairy Tales tropes, seeing the (mostly villainous) characters she interprets as princesses under a curse. There is not Wrong Genre Savvyness, just a girl whose life has been so horrible she just prefer to believe she could be rescued and become a Real Princess, even if she knows it isn't. Pity nobody had informed her how The Fair Folk and the Old Fairy Tales truly are...
  • Princess Tutu mixes Magical Girl tropes and fairy tale motifs with references to specific stories and ballets. The first season mostly plays the typical fairytale structure straight (outside of the fact that the princess is saving the prince), only to defy it in the second season when the characters rebel against their assigned fairy tale roles as the prince, princess, villain and knight and decide to (literally) rewrite the story.
  • Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade draws on (and quotes) the more traditional darker version of "Little Red Riding Hood" for its story of a relationship between a young terrorist girl, and a 'wolf' from the elite Kerberos Panzer police. The anime film makes the point that such relationships are always fated to end badly.
  • Monster uses a fairy tale (or several) to foreshadow the antagonist's modus operandi.
  • Cowboy Bebop uses the tale of Urashima Taro as a constant recurring motif and theme, with most of the characters having connections to it, most literally Faye.
  • Prétear, plain and simple. Although, considering it's based on "Snow White", maybe that's not really surprising.
  • Cyber Team in Akihabara invokes many fairy tales motifs, but the main one is the wish of 13 year old protagonist Hibari for meeting and falling in love with a fairy tale prince and live Happily Ever After with him. Her Character Development is essentially to get rid of that mindset, usually via Be Careful What You Wish For.
  • AR∀GO: City of London Police's Special Crimes Investigator uses a great many motifs from fairy tales and mythology in general, and it tends to go with the older versions of the stories.
  • Gaba Kawa actually follows the theme/basic plot of "The Little Mermaid", becoming more obvious about it in the final two chapters.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica follows the theme/basic plot of "The Little Mermaid" in Sayaka's arc, to tragic conclusion. The other motif is Faust, but that's most definitely not a fairytale.
  • Mawaru-Penguindrum has had allusions to various fairytales involving apples, but so far the most prominent motif seems to be the resemblance of the siblings' lives to an in-universe fairytale about a man named Mary and his three little lambs offending a goddess.
  • Alice from Mahou Tsukai No Yoru possesses magic which revolves around fairy tales.
  • The manga Akagami no Shirayukihime is based on the tale of "Snow White". (The title literally means "Red-haired Snow White".) The first chapter in particular has a lot of tributes to the original story.
  • Ponyo was inspired by the Little Mermaid. It's shown a lot with the whole 'true love' theme...and Ponyo being, ya know, a fish girl turned human.

    Film 
  • The second movie of Hellboy has lots of fairy tale motifs, including fairies, elves and trolls.
  • Adele Hasn't Had Her Dinner Yet:
    • The Gardener grew a magical rose that puts ladies into sleep — probably for a hundred years — if they get hurt by its thorn. From Sleeping Beauty. However, a kiss did not wake them up, and the rose was actually used to invoke the coma.
    • The Gardener managed to grow fast-sprouting beans and he used their stalks to carry him up to windows of New York apartments which he robbed. From Jack and the Beanstalk.

    Literature 
  • The Discworld revels in playing with every Fairytale Motif it can get its hands on. For example, to paraphrase Granny Weatherwax, unicorns are just big angry horses that come to a point. However, it plays the Virgin Power part straight:
    Granny: I could hold it with a feather.
    Nanny Ogg: Oh? Oh!
  • Jacqueline Wilson's Midnight involves an idealistic young girl obsessed with the fairy characters of her favourite author. The fantasy and idealism represented by the fairies are her escape from a world of cynical, self-obsessed people.
  • It seems that the entire 500 Kingdoms series by Mercedes Lackey was created so she could play with every fairy tale trope ever created, from fairy godmothers to the dragon and the princess.
  • In Natalie Mooshabr's Mice, the country suffers under the terror of Albin Rappelschlund, but the rightful ruler is Duchess Augusta and people rumour she's hiding somewhere and that her restoration will bring them hope. There are rural inns in the capital, despite the fact that the country has also underground transport system and flights into space are common. Several everyday objects like cakes are described in such terms that they easily gain symbolic meaning, like in fairy tales.

     Live Action Television  
  • The cartoon unicorn on J.D's diary in the Scrubs episode "My Unicorn" was a pretty apt symbol for the head-in-the-clouds doctor. However, it was also there to prove a plot point: J.D. insists that the cutesy unicorn was a mighty horse with a sword on its head, when he imagines the drawing coming to life, saying "You know I'm a unicorn!" Accepting the truth is a major theme of the episode.
  • Sherlock has Moriarty narrating a fairy tale about a knight named Sir Boast-a-Lot(representing Sherlock), with Lestrade cast as King Arthur. Later, Sherlock's brother Mycroft accuses him of wanting to be a "dragon slayer," backing up the knight motif and making Charles Augustus Magnussen the dragon by association. However, a shot of Sherlock exhaling cigarette smoke hints that he might be in danger of becoming a dragon himself. Magnussen also refers to John as Sherlock's "damsel in distress".

    Theatre 
  • Fairy tale motifs are found in lots of William Shakespeare's plays, most prominently in his festive comedies and romances. Often his protagonists and characters are members of aristocracy or magical creatures, and his settings have elements of magic.
    • The Merchant of Venice: Portia is an extremely wealthy and amazingly beautiful heiress associated with gold. Several noble men try to gain her hand in marriage and her inheritance. There are three caskets made of three metals, and Portia gives to her betrothed a ring to recognize her.
    • As You Like It: The rightful ruler is hiding in magical forest with fairy tales creatures. The characters are from royal court.
    • A Midsummer Night's Dream is set in magical forest near Athens with fairies and other fairy tale creatures. It's full of magic tricks.
    • The Tempest is set on magical island. There is a monster Caliban and Prosperos's invisible servant, a magical creature Ariel. Ferdinand is a prince whose ship got lost and wrecked on the island.
    • The Winter's Tale combines pastoral idyll with royal court. It is set in two Kingdoms — Bohemia and Sicily, and the main characters are of Royal Blood. Sicilian princess was doomed to death as a baby, but she was saved by Bohemian shepherds and raised as one of them. Bohemian prince falls for her.

    Video Games 
  • The Night Of The Rabbit: The game premise, a kid who follows a rabbit into a magical world, is reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland.
  • The Longest Journey: The game features two worlds, one the scientific world of Stark and the other Arcadia, a fairy tale-like world.
  • Rule of Rose: The game is a World of Symbolism, so these are superfluous. Your save-point is a make-shift knight (labelled "Bucket Knight") sworn to remember your story, every main character is labelled a "Prince" or "Princess" (except Jennifer, the "Unlucky Girl"), there are many storybook presentations in the style of a Fractured Fairytale, summarising the events of the chapter to come, the enemies are animal-themed imps, and the whole game is arguably a Coming of Age Story about Jennifer working through her past traumas, moving on, but promising to never forget.

     Webcomics 
  • Homestuck In SBurb, all players are given a particular class and aspect that determines their powers. The classes are themed around typical High Fantasy character types such as 'prince', 'witch', and 'knight'. Then there's the kingdoms of Derse and Prospit who double up this trope with Chess Motifs, as well as the fact that all Sburb players are considered to be princes or princesses of one or the other. Then there's Terezi loving dragons and Tavros liking fairies (and since god tier trolls possess wings, they're sort of fairies as well) and Feferi being an actual princess. Of course, all the fantasy elements are mixed with a good deal of science fiction and technology as well.
  • The "Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On" arc of Roommates has both general fairy tale motifs and more specifically Swan Lake allusions in it's dream sequences to symbolically communicate information to the main character (Jareth)note . The fair folk don't do simple.

    Web Original 
  • Tales of the Big Bad Wolf uses Red Riding Hood and The Wild Swans as a guide to establishing characters and themes for two separate volumes, "Tales of the Big Bad Wolf" and "Queen of Swans."

  • RWBY: The setting and many characters are deliberately inspired by various fairytale, literature and historical references from around the world. The setting focuses on four kingdoms that have become beacons of civilisation in a world swarming with Monsters of Grim, creatures of anonymity that threaten humanity's existence and which were named after the Brothers Grimm.
    • Ruby Rose is inspired by Little Red Riding Hood. She's a small, optimistic girl with a signature hooded red cloak. She sleeps with a wolf mask and in her opening trailer fights an army of beowulfs in an isolated forest.
    • Weiss Schnee is inspired by Snow White. Her name translates to "White Snow", she dresses in white and blue and her signature power is snow-themed. She is the heiress to a very powerful family.
    • Blake Belladonna is inspired by Beauty and the Beast. In her opening trailer, her partner is a Little Bit Beastly man called Adamnote  and her own name captures the "Bella" element. Blake's "beauty" is alluded to by her distancing herself from Adam and the White Fang because their policies are too "beastly" for her. As of Episode 15, there's also the fact that she is a Little Bit Beastly.
    • Yang is inspired by Goldilocks. She's obsessed with her golden locks and in her opening trailer she fights "Junior" and a DJ in a bear-mask.
    • Melanie and Miltia are inspired by Snow-White and Rose-Red. They're twin sisters carrying the red (Miltia) and white (Melanie) themes of the original twins.
    • Roman Torchwick is inspired by Pinocchio. His name and weapon come from Candlewick.
    • Sun Wukong is inspired by Journey to the West. He is a monkey-faunus who's named after the Monkey King and who fights using Monkey-style and nunchucks.
    • All of the characters in Team JNPR are basically gender-flipped historical/mythological heroes. Jaune Arc is very obviously based on Joan of Arc. Pyrrha Nikos is primarily Achilles with some elements of Odysseus. Lie Ren is a male version of the Chinese heroine Hua Mulan. Nora Valkyrie is based heavily on the Norse god of thunder, Thor.


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alternative title(s): Fairytale Motif
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