Folktale and Fairytale Heroes

fairy tale prince

Do you feel that the guys get left out when you study folk and fairy tales? Here are three lesson plans at different levels of complexity that focus on the heroes of the stories.

Let’s hear it for the boys

As you read folktales and fairy tales, create character maps for each of the male characters: the woodsman in Little Red Riding Hood, the boy in The Boy Who Cried Wolf, the soldiers in Stone Soup, and so on. Keep them on a bulletin board or in a pocket chart. Once you have a good collection, sort them out into fathers, magical creatures, heroes, princes, and so on.

You’ll find that there’s a great variety of male characters in these stories, and for young students, that’s probably enough: just show them that fairy tales aren’t all princesses. For older students, play a game to help them to think more deeply:

  • Put the names of each character you’ve studied onto slips of paper and put them into a hat or bucket. Have a student choose a slip and silently read the name of the character.
  • Have the student act out the character, as for charades, until a classmate guesses the character correctly. The correct guesser pulls the next slip from the hat.

Sauce for the goose…

“What’s sauce for the goose,” goes the old saying, “is sauce for the gander.” The point is that males and females should be treated alike. Here are some books in which the fairy tale princess from a familiar story is played by a male character:

Read any or all of these books and discuss how the story differs from the more familiar stories with female characters.

Challenge students to create examples of their own: what if Goldilocks were a boy? What if Snow White were a guy? Once the stories are completed, choose one as a class and make it into a play. Perform the play and discuss how the gender change affected the experience. Were the male characters more heroic than the female ones? Did some of their actions seem implausible or need to be changed? What does this tell us about our ideas of males and females — or our ideas of stories?

Prince Charming, Jack and the Younger Son

Many of the heroes of folk and fairy tales fall into one of three general categories: Prince Charming, as in Sleeping Beauty; Jack, as in Foolish Jack or Jack and the Beanstalk;  and the Younger Son, as in Puss in Boots.

Venn diagram for folklore heroes

Use a Venn diagram to list the traits of these three types of characters and to compare and contrast them.

Having defined the three types, have students find further examples of each. Then consider whether any characters in modern books, movies, or other works could be said to fall into the same categories.

Is one of these types more heroic than another? Prince Charming is brave and noble, Jack is (sometimes) a clever rascal, and the younger son is a mild-mannered but kind fellow who usually relies on help from others to get his heroic deeds done. Discuss these images of heroes and how they mesh with our cultural ideas about heroism.

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