Research project “Estonian Fairy Tales”



The objectives of the research project “Estonian Fairy Tales” (1999-2008) at the Department of Estonian and Comparative Folklore at the University of Tartu:

-         to digitalize all fairy tales (ATU 300-745) stored at the Estonian Folklore Archives;

-         to systematize and publish a typology of Estonian fairy tales;

-         to study various aspects of Estonian fairy tales;

-         to create a data base of published fairy tales;

-         to publish a two-volume scientific type anthology “Estonian Fairy Tales”.


All in all, five and a half thousand versions of fairy tales have been collected at the Estonian Folklore Archives. In the course of the fairy tale project all fairy tale materials stored at the Estonian Folklore Archives will be made accessible to researches in a digitalized form. During the years the project has been active, all in all 5700 fairy tales on more than 17.500 pages have been added to the text corpus.


Although Antti Aarne made a classification of the fairy tales belonging to J. Hurt’s collection (1918, FFC, 25), this makes up but a small fraction of the whole body of Estonian fairy tale material; later, the typologisation of Estonian fairy tales has been carried out relatively irregularly. In the course of a systematic typological check the typological affiliation of the stories that hitherto have not been labelled as fairy tales will be re-examined and determined. The results of the typology control carried out so far show that according to estimations about a quarter of the existing story type specifications have to be corrected.


A survey on the state of the art of the typologisation of the Estonian fairy tales that is constantly being renewed as the work progresses is available on the Internet (


As the beginning of the large-scale collecting of folklore at the end of the 19th century falls into a period when Estonians had become overwhelmingly literate, materials influenced by literature (the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, fairy tales by the Estonian authors F. R. Kreutzwald, J. Kunder and others) have reached the archives. In the course of the project attempts have been made to estimate the proportion of such material. The compilation of a data base of the fairy tales included in the Estonian printed sources has been started that is to record information about all kinds of printed material containing fairy tales (textbooks, almanacs, popular books, journalistic publications).


As elsewhere in Europe, in Estonia fairy tales have more or less disappeared from the traditional narration retreating into the realm of children’s lore. Still, storytellers of the traditional village communities can be found, especially in the periphery of Estonia, but also among the Estonian settlers outside Estonia. In the course of the project the telling of the story types in the surviving lore of the descendants of the late 19th century West Siberian settlers has been studied.


The participants in the fairy tale project are graduate students of folklore at the University of Tartu; also undergraduates have been involved. The head of the project is Risto Järv, Ph. D., Senior Research Fellow at the Department of folklore at the University of Tartu; its co-researchers are MA students Mairi Kaasik, and Kärri Toomeos-Orglaan. The project has been financed by the Estonian Science Foundation research grant “Estonian Fairy Tales” (1999-2002) and within the framework of State Programmes “The Estonian language and national culture” (2003), “The Estonian language and national memory” (2004-2008).




Estonian Fairy Tales. Preliminary typology


Concordance of well-known collections of literary folk-tales that make use of the plots of popular fairy-tales (Ch. Perrault, J. and W. Grimm, J. C. Harris)