There are heroes…and then there are superheroes. There are tales…and then there are fairy tales. What do superheroes and fairy tales have in common? They’re both awesome subgenres of speculative fiction, of course! And we’re going to dig into them today.
The subgenre of superhero fiction falls under the fantasy side of speculative fiction, but it can really flit into the science-fiction genre depending on the world in which it takes place. Superheroes took off in the comic book world. Actually, they originated there and then bled into novels.
Characteristics of superhero fiction: the superhero is usually a human and almost always has a special power or access to something that gives him/her unique abilities — flight, laser vision, super-human strength, quick reflexes. These characters are also characterized by a Robin Hood-ish duty to the people. They almost always have a secret identity and they fight crime to protect their people, their city, their world, etc.
Superheroes don’t just fight villains…they fight supervillains. These are criminals who have powers of their own or they know the superhero’s one weakness, like Lex Luther using Kryptonite against Superman. Here are some examples of superhero stories:
- The Failstate Series, by John Otte
- The Incredibles (Pixar movie)
- Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Captain America, (do I really need to go on?)
Fairy Tales & Fairy Tale Retellings
Fairy tales don’t always have fairies in them. Let’s get that straight. There was actually an argument about this, you know. J. R. R. Tolkien himself agreed that there aren’t always fairies in fairy tales. So there you have it.
The plot or design of a fairy tale is usually drawn from folklore. This includes folklore characters such as goblins, hags, fairies, trolls, dwarves, elves, giants, sorcerers, etc. These stories usually try to import some sort of wisdom or message to the reader. THey are characterized by small things like talking animals, magic, enchantments, foreign lands, or starting with “Once upon a time…”
There is nothing cemented for a definition of “fairy tale” other than it originates from folklore. Fairy tale wasn’t always a subgenre. In the early years of its use, it referred to a story in general. I guess the stories at that time just happened to be drawn from folklore and eventually defined the word.
I like my fairytales in movie form most of the time. (*gasp.* Blasphemy!) But I’ve become a recent sucker for fairytale retellings like Cinder by Marissa Meyer. I mean come on…a cyborg Cinderella living in dystopian futuristic Bejing battling the moon queen? You can’t say no to that.
Overall, fairy tales came from European stories derived from folklore and grew from there. They almost always feel a bit more magical with a pursuit of “happily ever after.”
- Heartless, and other books by Anne Elisabeth Stengl are written in fairy tale style.
- Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine
- Once Upon a Time TV Series
- The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
- Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty & the Beast, etc.
- The Narnia Chronicles, by C. S. Lewis (these fall in many subgenres)
Who’s your favorite super hero?
What’s your favorite fairy tale?