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Fairy Tales in the Romance Genre

By Bianca Rochelle (2017)


Image result for german fairy tales grimm cover(Grimms, 2011)



In many countries around the world fairy tales are considered a staple of childhood, a staple that exists largely thanks to the Grimm Brothers. In 1812 the first edition of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales Book was published, and since then it has garnered a place among the most widely known works of literature. (History Today) With 209 tales, ranging from some of the most renowned fairy tales, such as Ashputtle (now know as Cinderella), to the more obscure, such as The Seven Ravens, the Grimm Brothers set out on a mission to turn fairytales into a way to preserve the German culture from the events that were plaguing it at the time.

In 1789, the French Revolution began, and soon after in 1792, France invaded Germany. Before Napoleon, the French dictator at the time, invaded Germany, the country did not have a true national identity (History, 2009) However, after the invasion, German citizens began to develop a sense of national pride and a desire to reform the existing system (Norberg, 2017). It is this desire that many scholars attribute with the timing of the Grimm fairy tales, as it is widely believed that the brothers sought to create some sort of lasting Germanic culture, and that may not be all they accomplished. Modern romance novels draw on tropes introduced in fairytales, the most common ones being those found within Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella.


What characterizes a classic romantic fairytale?

“Once Upon A Time” is the first phrase that comes to mind when thinking of a classic romantic fairytale. After this introductory phrase, the tale then takes you on a journey with the heroine/hero of the story, and within a short time frame their situation is explained. Then there are Grimm’s Tales which start differently than the widely known Disney fairytale classics. Take for instance Tale 21, Ashputtle, the story begins with a scene. (Grimm, 1812/2013) This scene, similar to other tales in the book, starts with the death of the mother of the heroine. Then it pushes Cinderella into a spiral of events that will forever change her life. Taking her through three levels of changes to finally emerge no longer a peasant but rather, as a woman in society ready for marriage to the Prince. In the fairytale world, marriage to a prince coincides with what the heroine deserves for her morality and good looks.

Fairy tales tend to have all the good apples in one basket, meaning that heroines and heroes must end up with the correct alignment of good traits. Take Snow White for example; in the beginning of the tale she is treated unfairly by the Evil Queen. Snow White is beautiful, and her moral compass is essentially always “pointing towards North”. She then goes through three trials, and eventually marries a prince. Such stories tend to take away any  bad qualities that inhibit the lives of the heroines and heroes so as to ensure that they get a “deserved” Happily Ever After, whereas those characters with less than desirable morals get punished, as is the case with the two stepsisters in one version of Cinderella in which they had their eyes pecked out by birds.  

Max Luthi in his 1986 edition of The European Folktale: Form and Nature describes the fairytale as being both abstract and depthless, or rather that the descriptions in the tale are done in a rigid and undetailed way. (Luthi, 1986) To make his point, Luthi references different tales. They tend to only speak of events that are necessary to keep the “action-plot” moving forward. There are no unnecessary events in the tales. Every event’s focus is ultimately helping the hero advance to the desired outcome. Luthi also speaks on the distinct pathway all fairytale characters must follow, and the way everything seems to click into place for the hero without any questioning of how this came to be. Luthi’s talk on the abstract personality then leads to his next chapter on the depthlessness that tales tend to adhere to. Tales tend to stray away from inward emotion and goes directly to outward expression. In this sense we never get a view into the minds of our heros to find out what exactly they’re thinking about the task, and why it’s happening. We only see actions.


What characterizes a modern romance novel?

The Romance Writers of America defines the romance novel as having two basic elements: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. “The main plot centers around individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work.” (My RWA) There is a main conflict that keeps the hero and heroine away from each other for the length of the book. Then, close to the ending is the black moment: the moment when the reader is to feel that all is lost, and there is no way the hero and heroine will end up with their happily ever after. This moment is characterized by some force that comes and makes it almost impossible for the book to end in an emotionally satisfying way. However, in the end both lovers are “rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.” In a sense, the two characters’ end with their Happily Ever After.  

At some points throughout the story the romance may seem real, but inevitably it’s fiction. Romance authors create their characters as if they were living and breathing humans. The detail placed in creating the perfect setting, plot, and characters seem to make the book come alive. It inevitably become a part of you during the reading. You get to know the heroine personally since the novels are usually in their point of view or an omniscient narrator. The heroine’s thoughts and feelings etch their way onto your soul consuming part of you with every trial and tribulation they face. With every twist and turn you feel what they heroine feels. The love, the conflict, and the resolution will have you sitting on the edge of your chair begging for more. Romance novels are more than books; they’re a view into a fictional life.

The hero in the romance genre is easily defined as someone who the reader hates to love in the beginning, but as the story progresses you love them nonetheless. For a majority of the story you see these two people fall in love with each detail of their passionate love story together. The women are less experienced and lower in status than the hero. (DuBois, 2017) Throughout the plot they both change each other for the better, and eventually get to their Happily Ever After.


Why do romance authors use fairytales as bases for their stories?

Romantic Fairytales can be an additive to the original fairy tales to help elaborate on the stories that are often heard. As discussed previously, Fairy tales are very linear and depthless meaning that they have lots of gray areas that leave the reader uninformed.  The small details that genre romance has, have been abandoned in tales because they have been viewed as unnecessary additives that don’t help the hero reach it’s end goal. Fairy tales are short stories whereas Romance Novels are usually around 400 pages long. This gives Romance Authors a lot more description and wiggle room when molding the attitudes, feelings, and details about their characters. With both the linearity and depthlessness of the tales, romance authors found a way to mold and shape the story from material that was already present. As Sabrina Jefferies said during her talk in the Unsuitable Series, “Most romance novels borrow stories from history or other places.” (Jefferies, 2017) Authors tend to twist the original story to make it their own, but keep the details that easily distinguish it as a fairytale. The depth that authors added include getting a “look under the hood” at the thoughts and feelings characters had during their respective tales. The romance genre brought the fairytales to life.

When asked why she created her Fairytale Romance series Eloisa James stated that she wondered, “What on earth was Cinderella’s prince thinking when he set up the infamous ball? How did Beauty feel about getting that particular nickname? And what would the princess in The Princess and the Pea think of her future mother-in-law, once she learned of the tests?” (HeroesandHeartbreakers) In order to answer her questions she wrote an entire series based around the three books she discussed having thoughts about. Like many of the readers her interest in answering the questions came about after she began to read the tales.

Both Romance Novels and Fairy tale Stories have similar motifs. “Former Harlequin editor Sherie Posesorski has said that all romance novels are “built on” fairy tales, and romance author Tiffany White writes that “fairy tales were the beginning of my love affair with the romance genre” (220).” (Crusie) Many authors have seen the connections between the two genres. For a majority of re-worked tales the ending is already partially written. When considering the amount of similarities between the genres it is important to understand that authors can use motifs and tropes between the two interchangeably. To recognize a fairytale inside a romance book that isn’t necessarily a fairytale romance can show the crossovers that the two genres have without the story being a reworked Fairytale Romance. Indigo by Beverly Jenkins, has a woman of lower status finding her “prince” by accident. (Jenkins, 2014)  In the end she shows the same mobility between classes that the classic Cinderella story shows. The two genres are very intertwined, and authors have taken advantage of what is already there by blantly using fairytales as basis for their stories.

The Beast trope is used in various Romance novels as a way to explain the rash behavior and attitude of the main hero. Eventually, the heroine changes the hero for the better and he becomes the man that she needs. Romance authors use the Beast trope more than any other trope, both in-text and as the overall title/theme of the book. Upon conducting research on Amazon the extent of this trope became even more evident. Of the first twelve books on the page, five of them had Beast in the title. This trope is an important aspect in the characterization of the romance’s hero. The hero is the alpha male, powerful, mysterious, but along the way he changes to become someone that is worthy of the heroine. In more ways than one the heroine breaks down outer beast to get to her prince on the inside. This is an existing template that authors continue to use. The love and recognizable traits associated with The Beast creates a concrete product that ends with the happily ever after and true love that every romance novel is required to have. The Beast is an easy to love character as he gradually changes for the better making him a loveable hero which is what a reader wants, to love the hero. 


Fairytale H/H vs Romance H/H

A fairytale hero is characterized by his status. He is either a prince or someone of higher status that comes to save the damsel in distress. Both Cinderella and Snow White’s princes come in at the last moment to save them, and in doing so change the heroine’s social status. Heroes in romance are also usually of higher class than the heroine similar to fairy tales, but in Romance the Heroine and the Hero have a long lasting conflict that keeps them apart. They don’t adhere to the sudden social mobility that can be seen in fairy tales. Both heros bring the heroine higher in status there is just a difference in the layout of the plan used to get there.

In the case of the romance novel the hero is anything but the nice prince we see throughout the fairytale genre. The romance hero is often dominant and dangerous giving him the extra sexy edge that he needs to be the sexually experienced person he is in romance novels. In contrast the fairy tale hero is nice and sweet. In the Grimm’s Tales there is no speaking of sex since the scrubbing of the tales by the brothers during early publication.

The Beast from Beauty and the Beast is one of the most widely used characteristics for heroes in the romance genre. They are often rich, powerful, mysterious and strong, showing similarities to the Beast portrayed in the Beauty and the Beast. Parallel with the storyline, the hero is then changed for the better by Belle and eventually becomes the handsome prince she desires.

Snow White and Cinderella are depicted as domestic goddesses. They are shown cooking and cleaning throughout their respective stories. Such humble traits are also depicted in Heather, the heroine from The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss published in 1972, and Hester, the heroine from Indigo by Beverly Jenkins . (Woodiwiss, 1972) (Jenkins, 2014) These heroines created a home for themselves wherever they went no matter the context. This aspect illustrates the more patriarchal parts of the Romance Novel and Fairy Tales because of the assumption that the woman has to be a domestic goddess and adhere to the roles placed on both men and women by both genres.

Fairy tale heroines hardly ever consent to being cast out by their evil step mothers or to any of the other events that leads them astray, yet they still remain brave in the eye of adversity. The Romance genre heroines, such as Hester and Heather, also exhibit bravery, although they do so in a different way. The heroines in romancre novels, unlike those in fairy tales, encounter “true” danger that does not deal with magic, and for this reason, their actions differ from those of characters like Snow White and Sleeping beauty.

The social mobility that is involved in both fairytales and romance novels shows the lower class heroine moving upwards to her destiny with the prince. The female is of lower class because of the connection between class and power. The hero has to be more powerful so that he can fulfil his patriarchal role and save the heroine.



The Fairytales didn’t always start out with happily ever afters. They did evolve into this role, and in doing so they gave into the success that has become romance novels. Two of the most prominent tropes, the Beast and Cinderella, can be seen throughout the romance genre regardless of if the book is a designated Fairytale Romance Novel. Since their creation in 1812 the Grimm’s Fairy tales have shaped societies perception of romantic stories. In that way they have molded certain aspects of the romance novel genre.


Works Cited

“About the Romance Genre.” MyRWA. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.

Grimm, Jacob, Wilhelm Grimm, Walter Crane, and Lucy Crane. Grimm’s Fairytales. Brighton, Vic.: Leaves of Gold, 2013. Print.

History.com Staff. “French Revolution.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2009. Web. 03 May 2017.

Jacob Grimm (Author), Wilhelm Grimm (Author),. “Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales Leather Bound – November 24, 2011.” Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales: Jacob Grimm, Wilhelm Grimm, Margaret Hunt, Ph.D. Kenneth C. Mondschein: 8601200669107: Amazon.com: Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.

James, Eloisa. “When Beauty Tamed the Beast – Eloisa James – E-book.” HarperCollins US. Imprint: HarperCollins E-books, n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.

Janga. “Happily Ever Afters: The Fairy Tale Romances of Eloisa James.” HeroesandHeartbreakers.com |. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.

Jefferies, Sabrina. “Unsuitables.” Unsuitable Series. North Carolina, Durham. 2017. Lecture.

Jenkins, Beverly. Indigo. Place of Publication Not Identified: CreateSpace Independent Platform, 2016. Print.

Lüthi, Max, and John D. Niles. The European Folktale: Form and Nature. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1986. Print.

Norberg, Jakob. “History of the Grimm Brothers.” English 285. North Carolina, Durham. 2017. Lecture.

“The Publication of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.” The Publication of Grimm’s Fairy Tales | History Today. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.

“This Is Not Your Mother’s Cinderella: The Romance Novel as Feminist Fairy Tale.” Jennifer Crusie. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.

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