Children and adults alike enjoy fairy tales because, to a certain extent, there are universal themes which make the stories predictable. Three of these themes are parental abandonment, victimization, and the all-important happy ending. Fairy tales provide an escape for the reader and a way to vicariously experience a different kind of life in which anything is possible.
The idea of parental abandonment seems an anathema in a children’s story. Nevertheless, Little Red Riding Hood ventures alone into the forest to walk to her grandmother’s house, in spite of the danger presented by the wolf. Snow White and Cinderella’s parents die and leave them with cruel stepmothers. In “Beauty and the Beast”, Belle is without a mother and her father is a bit of a kook who can’t look after her properly.
All of the characters are placed in situations in which they become victims. The three little pigs must protect their homes from a wolf; Little Red Riding Hood must outsmart a wolf who has eaten her grandmother and disguised himself. Cinderella and Snow White, on the other hand, must outsmart their cruel stepmothers in order to find true love.
The most common theme in fairy tales (except, of course, for the Grimm versions) is that they have a happy ending. Cinderella and Snow White defeat their stepmothers and marry the prince, Little Red Riding Hood and the three little pigs outsmart the wolves and save themselves from certain death. A fairy tale just isn’t a fairy tale without a happy ending; after all, the story of Cinderella would be less compelling if she had missed the ball and one of her ugly stepsisters had married the prince. “Beauty and the Beast” would have been less of a fairy tale if Belle’s love hadn’t transformed the Beast.