Poster for Jules Massenet's Cendrillon (based on Perrault's Cinderella) showing the titular character's fairy godmother.

In fairy tales, a fairy godmother (French: fée marraine) is a fairy with magical powers who acts as a mentor or parent to someone, in the role that an actual godparent was expected to play in many societies. In Perrault's Cinderella, he concludes the tale with the moral that no personal advantages will suffice without proper connections.

The fairy godmother is a special case of the donor.

In fairy tales and legends

Actual fairy godmothers are rare in fairy tales but became familiar figures because of the popularity of the literary fairy tales of Madame d'Aulnoy and other précieuses, and Charles Perrault. Many other supernatural patrons feature in fairy tales; these include various kinds of animals and the spirit of a dead mother.[1] The fairy godmother has her roots in the figures of the Fates; this is especially clear in Sleeping Beauty, where they decree her fate, and are associated with spinning.[2]

In the tales of précieuses and later successors, the fairy godmother acts in a manner atypical of fairies in actual folklore belief; they are preoccupied with the character and fortunes of their human protegees, whereas fairies in folklore have their interests.[3]

Typically, the fairy godmother's protégé is a prince or princess, who is the protagonist of the story, and the godparent uses her magic to help or otherwise support them. The most well-known example is probably the fairy godmother in Charles Perrault's Cinderella. Eight fairy godmothers appear in Sleeping Beauty in Charles Perrault's version and in the Grimm Brothers' version titled Little Briar Rose, the thirteen godmothers are called Wise Women. The popularity of these versions of these tales led to this being widely regarded as a common fairy-tale motif, although they are less common in other tales.

Indeed, the fairy godmothers were added to The Sleeping Beauty by Perrault; no such figures appeared in his source, "Sun, Moon, and Talia" by Giambattista Basile.[4]

While fairy godmothers are traditionally portrayed as kind, gentle, and loving, there are exceptions. In Sleeping Beauty and Little Briar Rose, a fairy not invited to the royal christening curses the eponymous princess to die from pricking her finger on a spindle, only for one of the invited fairies to alter the spell into a century-long slumber. In Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve's fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, the Prince's evil fairy godmother had not only turned him into a Beast for rejecting her marriage proposal but had even attempted to seduce his uncle, a king whose daughter (Beauty) a good fairy switched at birth with a merchant's dead baby because said godmother tried to have the princess killed.


In the works of the précieuses, French literary fairy tales, fairy godmothers act much as actual godmothers did among their social circles, exerting their benefits for their godchildren, but expecting respect in return.

Madame d'Aulnoy created a fairy godmother for the evil stepsister in her fairy tale The Blue Bird; in this position, the fairy godmother's attempts to bring about the marriage of her goddaughter and the hero are evil attempts to impede his marriage with the heroine. Likewise, in The White Doe, the fairy godmother helps the evil princess get revenge on the heroine. In Finette Cendron, the fairy godmother is the heroine, but after helping her in the early portion of the tale, she is offended when Finette Cendron does not take her advice, and Finette must work through the second part with little assistance from her.

In Henriette-Julie de Murat's Bearskin, the heroine has a fairy godmother, but she is offended that the heroine's marriage was arranged without consulting her, and refuses to assist.

In fiction

Illustration to Cinderella by Gustave Doré: the fairy godmother preparing an enchantment for her goddaughter Cinderella.

Fairy godmothers appear frequently in fairytale fantasy, especially comic versions and retellings of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. Mercedes Lackey presents a gently lampooned version of the concept in her Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms series, in which Fairy Godmothers are magically gifted women who monitor magical forces across the kingdoms. Whenever events are right for a fairy tale to recur, the relevant Fairy Godmother steps in to make sure that the tale in question runs its course with as few fatalities as possible.

See also


  1. ^ Katharine Briggs, An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Boogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures, "Fairy godmother", p147. ISBN 0-394-73467-X
  2. ^ John Grant and John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, "Fairy godmother" p 330 ISBN 0-312-19869-8
  3. ^ K.M. Briggs The Fairies in English Tradition and Literature. p.177 Chicago, University of Chicago Press. 1967
  4. ^ Jane Yolen, p 23, Touch Magic ISBN 0-87483-591-7
  5. ^ Stephen Prickett, Victorian Fantasy p 69-70 ISBN 0-253-17461-9
  6. ^ Janice Daurio, "Is It Good to be Bad?" p 123 Gregory Bassham ed. and Jerry L. Walls, ed. The Chronicles of Narnia and Philosophy ISBN 0-8126-9588-7