Cinderella · Fairy Tale · NovElla

Who’s the Most Popular One of All?

Fairy tales are everywhere. There are story collections, movies, retellings… and I was curious to know which ones are the most popular. How often are different stories referenced or retold? How do favorites change over time?

Fairy Tale Open Book

I used the Google Ngram tool to plot different fairytale titles. It’s important to note that this isn’t always a fair comparison. For example, the eponymous “Cinderella” is the name of the main character and the name of the fairy tale. We can’t compare the character or title of Cinderella directly to, say, Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” because the name Belle (or, often, simply “Beauty”) from the fairy tale would also pick up a whole host of other non-related references to the same words. Despite this caveat, we can still have fun comparing the data for fairy tale titles.

The left side of the graph shows how often the titles appear over time. The titles are color-coded on the right.

Fairy Tale NGram

I also included the generic “Fairy Tale”. At times, “Cinderella” actually looks more popular!

Here are a few more:

Beauty Riding White NGram

On the below copies of the graphs, I labeled significant fairytale events, such as publications and releases, that correspond to bumps in frequency. This was probably the coolest part! I color-coded the label when it corresponds to a specific tale.

Here are important dates of fairy tale collections:

1697: Charles Perrault’s Histoires ou Contes du Temps passé (Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals), subtitled Les Contes de ma Mère l’Oye (Tales of Mother Goose) contained

  • Cinderella
  • Sleeping Beauty
  • Little Red Riding Hood

1812: The first publication of Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales) by the Brothers Grimm contained

  • Cinderella
  • Sleeping Beauty (as Little Briar-Rose)
  • Rapunzel
  • Little Red Riding Hood (as Little Red Cap)
  • Little Snow White
Grimm's Kinder- und Hausmärchen
Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales)

1889: Andrew Lang’s The Blue Fairy Book, included

  • Cinderella
  • Beauty and the Beast
  • Sleeping Beauty in the Wood
  • Little Red Riding Hood

1890: Andrew Lang’s The Red Fairy Book also included Rapunzel.

Fairy Tale NGram Labeled


Beauty Riding White NGram Labeled

*Snow White silent film, directed by Dawley.

Not everything matches perfectly, but many spurts of interest are quite close to the publications that may have caused them. Several of these tales were also published by Giambattista Basile in his Pentamerone collection of fairy tales in 1634, although that looks too early to make a mark on the graphs.

Perrault Frontispiece


2 thoughts on “Who’s the Most Popular One of All?

  1. Fascinating! It figures the Disney influence is so strong. I’d never really thought about it before, about what an abundance of attention Disney (or any films for that matter) can bring to old works.

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