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The Dark Fairy Tale: Stepmothers, Vampires and Heroines

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Duration 10 weekly meetings
Tutor Dr Juliette Wood
Course code FOL22A5485A
Fee £175
Concessionary fee £140 (find out about eligibility and funding options)

John Percival Building
Colum Drive
CF10 3EU

Fairy tales are with us throughout our lives. We hear them as children, read them in school, and encounter them in films, fantasy literature, and theatre.

But not all fairy tales end ‘happily ever after’. Sometimes they are filled with darkness, threats, and monsters.

This course will examine contexts ranging from the brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson to ancient Greece, including China and Japan and, even earlier, Vedic India.

We will explore reasons for the popularity of the dark fairy-tale in modern culture and the many ways in which the dark side of classic fairy tale texts have been transformed in literature, art, internet games, television and film.

The course will consider a wide range of subject matter from well-known works of fantasy to more unusual, and perhaps surprising, sources, but, most of all, we will consider why these dark fairy-tales continue to fascinate us today.

Learning and teaching

The module will be delivered through ten sessions incorporating lectures followed by class discussion on specific topics relating to the module.

The discussion will enable you to think critically and contribute to the debates and topics presented during the lectures.

The discussion-led sessions and the lectures will be supplemented by resources available to the students via Learning Central.


  • What makes a fairy-tale dark?
  • Fairy tale collecting from the ancient world to the Brothers Grimm.
  • Mothers, monsters, and characters who are not what they seem to be
  • Can traditional heroines adapt to modern perils?
  • Dangerous journeys to alternate worlds
  • Ghouls, ghosts, evil fairies, and other supernatural beings
  • Dark magic and evil magicians in traditional and contemporary fiction
  • Demon lovers, vampires and outlaws
  • Confronting Godfather Death – the real villains of the fairy tale genre
  • Into the Woods, meetings with wolves, werewolves and other monsters

Coursework and assessment

You will be expected to complete two pieces of assessed work:

  • a short critical review
  • a 1000-word essay.

Advice and support will be provided for both assignments and you will receive detailed feedback relating to strengths and areas for improvement on both pieces of work.

Reading suggestions

  • Cristina Bacchilega, Fairy Tales Transformed? Twenty-First-Century Adaptations and the Politics of Wonder (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press; 2013)
  • Sidney Eva Matrix and Pauline Greenhill, Fairy Tale Films: Visions of Ambiguity (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press 2010)
  • Jack Zipes, The Irresistible Fairy Tale: The Cultural and Social History of a Genre (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012)

Library and computing facilities

As a student on this course you are entitled to join and use the University’s library and computing facilities. Find out more about using these facilities.


Our aim is access for all. We aim to provide a confidential advice and support service for any student with a long term medical condition, disability or specific learning difficulty. We are able to offer one-to-one advice about disability, pre-enrolment visits, liaison with tutors and co-ordinating lecturers, material in alternative formats, arrangements for accessible courses, assessment arrangements, loan equipment and dyslexia screening.