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'Beauty and the Beast' and stories like it truly are tales as old as time

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'Beauty and the Beast' and stories like it truly are tales as old as time

WATCH| The history of great fairy tales come to life. 

Disney's remake of "Beauty and the Beast" comes out March 17, but that fairy tale, like many others, can be traced back thousands of years.

When you think of these popular fairy tales, authors like The Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen often come to mind.

Researchers from Durham University in the United Kingdom, however, found that many of these tales began as oral traditions and some are even older than the earliest literary records.

The study, which was published in 2016 in the journal Royal Society Open Science, focused on 275 "Tales of Magic" listed in the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Index. The index is a classification system that is used to group the tales based on similarities. The authors noted that they chose to focus on magic stories because they represent the largest and most widely shared collection of tales. 

Sara Graca da Silva and Jamshid Tehrani, the authors of the study, used techniques employed by biologists to trace the links between languages and stories. 


"Our findings suggest that these tales were passed down from generation to generation long before they were first written down, showing the remarkable stability of oral transmission and enduring appeal of these stories," Tehrani told Durham University.

The popular fairy tales, "Beauty and the Beast" and "Rumplestiltskin," were first written down in the 17th and 18th centuries. Some researchers claim their storylines are rooted in Greek and Roman mythology while others suggest they can be traced back 2,500 to 6,000 years ago.  

"Jack and the Beanstalk," which is also known as "The Boy Who Stole the Ogre's Treasure," was traced all the way back to when eastern and western Indo-European languages split 5,000 years ago. 

The folk tale called "The Smith and the Devil" was traced back to the Bronze Age. The story is all about a blacksmith who exchanges his soul for the power to weld any type of materials together and then uses that power to stick the villain to an immovable object to back out of his side of the bargain.

Because metalworking is mentioned in the tale, researchers noted that supports the theory that Proto-Western-Indo-European languages emerged during the Bronze Age.

So how have these fairy tales managed to survive the test of time? 

Tehrani said the "key ingredient" to the success of fairy tales is the combination of the ordinary and the extraordinary. 

"Although these stories are frequently updated to suit different times and places, many elements - both magical and mundane - can survive for generations," Tehrani told Durham University. 

He added that the success of fairy tales can give researchers insight into the enduring fears and fantasies of our society as well as the ones in which they were born from. 

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