UCL Centre for languages & international education (CLIE)


Fairy Tales and their Retellings

Key Information

Module code
Taught during
Session 2
Module leader
Dr Elizabeth Dearnley
None. Standard UCL Summer entry criteria apply.
Assessment method
Presentation (25%), Essay (75%)
Download syllabus (PDF)
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Module overview

Why are fairy tales so popular? Why are the original fairy tales darker than the ones we know? This module will give an introduction to different forms of storytelling, exploring the origins and evolution of fairy tales with a focus on contemporary retellings. A variety of fairy tales will be examined, ranging from ancient myths and medieval storytelling tradition to Disney’s adaptations and TV series such as Once Upon a Time and Grimm.

The module will introduce students to different literary genres, such as children’s literature (by looking into how children’s novels such as Alice in Wonderland and The Adventures of Pinocchio have been retold) and graphic novel studies. They will learn different approaches of literary analysis, such as comparative criticism and psychoanalysis. The module will include excursions to relevant exhibitions and interactive workshops on storytelling.

Learning outcomes

Upon successful completion of this module, students will:

  • Be confident in the basic principles of comparative studies as well as in the methodology of comparative literature.
  • Have experience in critical analysis of literary texts, films and visual arts using different theoretical approaches such as psychoanalysis and feminist theory.
  • Have developed their knowledge of different literary genres such as myth and fairy tale studies, children’s literature, popular culture and its relation to ideology.
  • Be familiar with the practice of interdisciplinary studies by analysing examples from different fields such as film studies and graphic novel studies.
  • Have expanded their creativity through discussions and interactive workshops on storytelling.

Module prerequisites

This is a level one module (equivalent to first year undergraduate). No prior subject knowledge is required to study this module but students are expected to have a keen interest in the subject area.

Module hours

Classes (usually three or four hours per day) take place on the Bloomsbury campus from Monday to Friday any time between 9am and 6pm.


  • 10-minute presentation (25%)
  • 2,500-word essay (75%)

Module leader

Elizabeth received her PhD at the University of Cambridge, after which she held a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship at UCL tracing the travels of three fantastical tales (a medieval werewolf story, Red Riding Hood and Slender Man). Having previously taught at Cambridge and Birkbeck, she now teaches the history of fairy tales at UCL and works with arts festivals to create immersive installations with a fantastical, feminist slant. Elizabeth is currently touring a bedtime story with a bite (BIG TEETH: http://redhoodproductions.co.uk/bigteeth.html) and writing a book about forest folklore. Her main research interests are fairy tales and their retellings, folklore, narratives of place, interactive storytelling, and collaborative authorship.

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