Archetypes in Fairy Tales

In this article you will learn about the archetypes in fairy tales, including the most common examples of archetypes seen in literature throughout the ages.

What are the Archetypes in Fairy Tales?

An archetype is a character, idea, symbol, setting, situation, or challenge that reflects a universal human condition which is recognisable to anyone from any culture or place around the globe because of its universality.

Fairy tales have been passed down through the generations, whether orally or in writing, and make extensive use of these archetypes.

As a result the tales have universal appeal, with readers or listeners able to strongly relate to them.

For example, versions of the Cinderella story exists on five of the world’s continents, with at least 23 different but recognisable versions of the story.

Like most other fairy tales, it incorporates archetypes such as the hero (Prince Charming), heroine and innocent (Cinderella), the evil stepmother, the wicked stepsisters, the fairy godmother and various sidekicks/companions in animal form.

Other recognisable archetypes in fairy tales include the ice queen, princesses, villains, wolves, wise old men, outcast, mentor, wizards, witches and shapeshifters.

Fairy Tales Book Summary

Below are summaries of some of the most famous fairy tales in literature:


Cinderella’s evil stepmother and stepsisters won’t let her go to the ball, so her fairy godmother uses magic to make it happen.

When they dance the prince and Cinderella fall in love, but she runs away as she must leave before the magic ends at midnight.

On doing so she loses a glass slipper, which the prince finds and uses to find her. They marry and live happily ever after.

Hansel and Gretel

Hansel and Gretel’s wicked stepmother abandons them in a forest.

They find a house made of sweets and eat some.

The evil witch that lives there locks them up, preparing to make soup from them.

Gretel escapes her cage and pushes the witch into boiling water.

The children find her treasure, take it home and are never hungry again.

Little Red Riding Hood

Little Red Riding Hood’s goes to her Grandma’s house with a basket of goodies, but on the way she tells a wolf where she is going.

The wolf goes to Grandma’s house, locks her in a cupboard and puts on her clothes.

Little Red Riding Hood remarks how big Grandma’s teeth are.

The wolf says the teeth are better for eating and pounces.

Woodcutters hear her screams and rescue her.

Princess and the Pea

A prince devises a test to ensure he marries a real princess, placing a pea beneath 20 mattresses and 20 feather beds believing only a princess sensitive enough to feel the pea.

The princess says she did not sleep because of something hard in her bed.

The two marry and live happily ever after.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Snow White’s evil stepmother is jealous of Snow’s beauty, wanting to be fairest in the land.

She orders Snow killed but the huntsman spared her.

Snow White stays in a cottage with seven dwarfs.

The stepmother finds her and, in disguise, gives her a poison apple.

She falls into a deep sleep in a crystal coffin.

Prince Charming visits the cottage and she awakes when he kisses her. They marry and live happily ever after.

Fairy Tales Archetype Examples

  • Hero
  • Heroine
  • Evil stepmother
  • Wicked stepsisters
  • Fairy Godmother
  • Sidekick
  • Companion
  • Ice Queen
  • Villain
  • Prince
  • Princess
  • Outcast
  • Wolves
  • Wise old man
  • Mentor
  • Witch
  • Wizard
  • Shapeshifter

Want more literary archetypes?

Go check out our extensive list of archetypes in literature to find out more about the characters seen in literature throughout the ages.

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