The narrator, Jack (of "and the Beanstalk" fame) relates to the reader extremely silly takes on a number of classic fairy tales, including "The Princess and the Bowling Ball," "The Tortoise and the Hair" and more. But Jack's production is plagued with problems from the very beginning... literally. Before the book even begins, the bossy Little Red Hen shows up on the front paper and demands Jack tell her story (she's also on the back of the book, complaining about the UPC and wondering "Who is this ISBN guy?"). The table of contents goes missing, only to end up as the punch-line to one of the stories. Another story gets left out of the book by accident, forcing Jack to put it on the dust jacket of a later anniversary printing of the book to make up for it. And when Jack finally gets around to telling his story, the Giant shows up and threatens him.
Still, it's all in good fun, even if "Fairly Stupid" really is the best way to describe these tales.
- Accidental Murder: In "The Stinky Cheese Man", the fox is carrying the Stinky Cheese Man on his back across the river, but sneezes from the terrible smell. The force of it accidentally throws the Stinky Cheese Man off his back and into the water, where he falls apart.
- Blah, Blah, Blah: The Little Red Hen's rant on the back page eventually trails off into a long string of blahs.
- The Cameo:
- Alexander T. Wolf from The True Story of the Three Little Pigs plays the part of The Big Bad Wolf in "Little Red Running Shorts". Or at least he would have, if he hadn't left in a huff with his co-star after Jack spoiled their entire story.
- In "Giant Story", the illustration of Aesop from Squids Will be Squids (by the same authors) can be seen.
- Cassandra Truth: In "Chicken Licken" no one listens to Jack when he comes to warn them of impending danger. Namely, that the falling sky they were all worried about was in fact the missing table of contents.
- Cold Opening: The story of "Chicken Licken" is shown before the table of contents in the book is shown, which Jack remembers he forgot about until after he started the story. The story ends with said table of contents falling and squashing all the characters.
- Chekhov's Gun: In "Chicken Licken", Jack interrupts the story midway through, claiming he forgot the table of contents. It falls and squashes everybody at the end of the story.
- Crying Wolf: In "The Boy Who Cried Cow Patty", everyone gets fed up with the boy's cow patty pranks, so when he inevitably falls into a pile of cow patty, he cried fire instead to attract firemen to rescue him, knowing full well no one would take his cries of cow patty seriously anymore.
- Cutting the Knot: In "The Princess and the Bowling Ball", every princess who stays at the king's and queen's castle fails the pea test since they can't feel the pea under the hundred mattresses. When the prince meets the girl of his dreams, he solves the problem by replacing the pea with a bowling ball. His parents are satisfied and they get married, and they live happily, if not honestly, ever after.
- Dedication: Parodied with the page dedicated to "(your name here)" by the author and illustrator... which is in the midst of being set up by Jack (and upside down, at that).
- Delusions of Beauty: "The Really Ugly Duckling" is about an ugly duckling who imagines turning into a beautiful swan. Unfortunately, he really is a duckling and only grows up to be an ugly duck.
- Denser and Wackier: Every Fairly Stupid Tale is a much sillier version of the fairy tale it's based off of.
- Did Not Think This Through: Apparently, the old lady who made the Stinky Cheese Man did not stop to consider that a man made out of stinky cheese would, well, stink.
- Downer Ending:
- "Chicken Licken" ends with everyone being squashed by the book's missing table of contents.
- In "The Really Ugly Duckling", the Really Ugly Duckling grows up to just be "a really ugly duck".
- In "Cinderumpelstiltskin", not only does Cinderella not go to the ball and meet Prince Charming (thanks to Rumpelstiltskin showing up instead of the Fairy Godmother), but her stepmother and stepsisters give her an even more embarrassing name.
- In "The Stinky Cheese Man", the eponymous Stinky Cheese Man falls in the river and dissolves after he's thrown from the back of the fox.
- Either/Or Title: "Cinderumplestiltskin, or The Girl Who Really Blew It"
- "Everybody Dies" Ending: The end of "Chicken Licken" has all the characters in the story squashed by the falling Table of Contents.
- Fairy Tale Free-for-All: All the fairy tale characters exist and interact in the same book with No Fourth Wall, often getting into fights with each other.
- Fission Mailed: Jack moves the end of the book up a few pages while trying to escape from the Giant.
- The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: At one point, the titular Stinky Cheese Man smells so bad that the odor actually melts the page.
- Fractured Fairy Tale: This is the meaning of "Fairly Stupid Tales": Every single story not only fractures but demolishes at least one familiar folk or fairy tale. As the introduction notes, "What else would you call a story like 'Goldilocks and the Three Elephants'?"
- Funny Background Event: In the illustration for "Cinderumpelstiltskin", which follows a chapter in which Jack tries to distract the giant with a Nested Story, you can see out the window that the giant is falling from his beanstalk yawning as Jack, still clutched in the giant's hand, yammers on.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: At the end of the book, the Little Red Hen's loudly squawking about how she's going to eat all the bread that no one helped her bake. The noise wakes up the sleeping Giant, who promptly decides he could go for a chicken sandwich.
- Hostile Show Takeover: The giant during "Jack's Bean Problem".
- Massive Multiplayer Crossover: All sorts of fairy tales are rewritten throughout the book.
- Medium Awareness: The characters are not only perfectly aware they're in a book that's going wrong, they comment and complain about the front matter, table of contents, typography, endpapers, and even the UPC and ISBN on the cover."Could you please stop talking in uppercase letters? It really messes up the page."
- Nap-Inducing Speak: "Jack's Story" has the giant telling Jack to tell him a better story or else, noting he'll probably grind Jack's bones to makes his bread either way. Jack's only way out is to tell a long Nested Story until the giant falls asleep.
- Nausea Fuel: In-universe, the smell of the Stinky Cheese Man. At one point, he smells so bad he melts the very page he's on.
- No Ending: "The Tortoise and the Hair." See Overly-Long Gag. It even wraps up with "Not The End."
- No Fourth Wall: Examples abound, almost too many to count. For starters, Jack interrupts the first story shouting "I forgot the Table of Contents! I forgot the Table of Contents!"
- No Indoor Voice: The Giant. Lampshaded by Jack: "Could you please stop talking in uppercase letters? It really messes up the page."
- Noodle Incident: The "Boy Who Cried Cow Patty" story, shown falling off of the Table of Contents, isn't actually in the book. We can assume, based upon its title, that it's supposed to be a parody of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. It is, however, on the back of the dust jacket for the book's 10th anniversary edition.
- Overly-Long Gag:
- In "Jack's Story," the following passage fills up three-quarters of the page with the font getting progressively smaller and smaller and smaller until it hits the end of the page.Once upon a time there was a Giant. The Giant squeezed Jack and said, "TELL ME A BETTER STORY OR I WILL GRIND YOUR BONES TO MAKE MY BREAD. AND WHEN YOUR STORY IS FINISHED, I WILL GRIND YOUR BONES TO MAKE MY BREAD ANYWAY! HO, HO, HO." The Giant laughed an ugly laugh. Jack thought, "He'll kill me if I do. He'll kill me if I don't. There's only one way to get out of this." Jack cleared his throat, and then began his story.
- The "ending" to "The Tortoise and the Hair" was this as well. The last page for the story consists entirely of the same two sentences repeating ad nauseam until there's no space left.Tortoise ran. Rabbit grew his hair. Tortoise ran. Rabbit grew his hair. Tortoise ran. Rabbit grew his hair. [...] Tortoise is still running. Rabbit is still growing his hair. Not the end.
- In "Jack's Story," the following passage fills up three-quarters of the page with the font getting progressively smaller and smaller and smaller until it hits the end of the page.
- Postmodernism: It, along with The True Story of the Three Little Pigs (also by Scieszka and Smith), were arguably two of the first postmodernist picture books.
- Public Domain Character: All the characters are taken from public domain fairy and folk tales, and then twisted around.
- Rage Against the Author: The characters of "Little Red Running Shorts" get ticked off by Jack and decide to leave rather than finish their story.
- Running Gag: The Little Red Hen interrupting and demanding someone help her.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Little Red Running Shorts and the Wolf both decide to abandon their story after Jack ruins the ending for them.
- Self-Deprecation: The blurb on the back of the book has the Little Red Hen complaining "Who will buy this book anyway? Over 40 pages of nonsense, and I'm only in three of them!"
- Shout-Out: Madeline's hat can be seen in the collage-style illustration that accompanies the Giant's story.
- Slow and Steady Wins the Race: Parodied with the story "The Tortoise and the Hair". The rabbit bets that he can grow one of his hairs faster than the tortoise can run. They both go so slow, the story ends before the race does.Tortoise is still running. Rabbit is still growing his hair. (Not) The End
- Spoiler (in-universe): Jack manages to ruin the ending of "Little Red Running Shorts", to the characters' dismay.
- Strike Episode: After Jack the Narrator gives away the ending of "Little Red Running Shorts," Red and the Wolf walk off the job in protest, leaving the rest of the chapter's pages blank.
- Stylistic Suck: The Giant's Story, which is literally made of pieces cut out ransom-note-style from other fairy tales and makes pretty much no sense. The accompanying image, which is assembled of picture clippings, is just as bizarre.THE END
of the evil Stepmother
said "I'll HUFF and SNUFF and
give you three wishes."
the beast changed into
happily ever after
because a spell had been cast by a Wicked Witch
Once upon a time
- Swans A-Swimming: "The Really Ugly Duckling" thinks he's actually a swan. Nope, he's just a really ugly duckling, who grows into a really ugly duck.
- Tempting Fate: At the end, when the Little Red Hen is going off on another tirade about how no one helped her bake the bread or tell her story, she then asks: "Who thinks they're going to help me EAT the BREAD?" The Giant does when her shouting wakes him up. With her in between the slices.
- Unexplained Recovery: On the flaps of the 10th anniversary edition dust jacket, the Little Red Hen shows up yet again to whine about her lost story, despite the fact that she gets eaten by the Giant at the end of the book.
- Wrong Genre Savvy:
- The Stinky Cheese Man acts as though he's in a straight retelling of The Gingerbread Man, oblivious to the fact that no one can put up with his unappetizing smell.
- Ditto for the Really Ugly Duckling, who thinks he's in a normal retelling of The Ugly Duckling story and that he too is fated to grow up to be a swan. He's not. He really is an ugly duckling, and he grows up to be an ugly duck.