You never know what you will pick up from twitter. I started following Ferguson Library tweets after the death of Michael Brown. The library has wonderful tidbits about books, among other topics.
A tweeted tidbit on the antiquity of fairy tales is from Science magazine.
David Shultz writes, “A new study, which treats these fables like an evolving species, finds that some may have originated as long as 6000 years ago.
“The basis for the new study, published in Royal Society Open Science, is a massive online repository of more than 2000 distinct tales from different Indo-European cultures known as the Aarne–Thompson–Uther Index, which was compiled in 2004. Although not all researchers agree on the specifics, all modern Indo-European cultures (encompassing all of Europe and much of Asia) descended from the Proto-Indo-European people who lived during the Neolithic Period (10,200 B.C.E.–2000 B.C.E.) in Eastern Europe. Much of the world’s modern language is thought to have evolved from them.
“To conduct the study, Jamshid Tehrani, an anthropologist at Durham University in the United Kingdom, and colleagues scanned the repository. They limited their analysis to tales that contained magic and supernatural elements because this category contained nearly all the famous tales people are familiar with. This narrowed the sample size to 275 stories, including classics such as Hansel and Gretel and Beauty and the Beast. …
“Tehrani says that the successful fairy tales may persist because they’re ‘minimally counterintuitive narratives.’ That means they all contain some cognitively dissonant elements—like fantastic creatures or magic—but are mostly easy to comprehend.
“Beauty and the Beast, for example contains a man who has been magically transformed into a hideous creature, but it also tells a simple story about family, romance, and not judging people based on appearance. The fantasy makes these tales stand out, but the ordinary elements make them easy to understand and remember. This combination of strange, but not too strange, Tehrani says, may be the key to their persistence across millennia.”
(from a Ferguson Library tweet)
An illustration of Beauty and the Beast from 1913.