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A fairytale is a type of short story that typically features European folkloric fantasy characters, such as dwarves, elves, fairies, giants, gnomes, goblins, mermaids, trolls, or witches, and usually magic or enchantments. Fairytales may be distinguished from other folk narratives such as legends (which generally involve belief in the veracity of the events described) and explicitly moral tales, including beast fables.
In less technical contexts, the term is also used to describe something blessed with unusual happiness, as in "fairytale ending" (a happy ending) or "fairytale romance" (though not all fairytales end happily). Colloquially, a "fairytale" or "fairy story" can also mean any farfetched story or tall tale; it is used especially of any story that not only is not true, but could not possibly be true. Legends are perceived as real; fairytales may merge into legends, where the narrative is perceived both by teller and hearers as being grounded in historical truth. However, unlike legends and epics, they usually do not contain more than superficial references to religion and actual places, people, and events; they take place once upon a time rather than in actual times.
Fairytales are found in oral and in literary form. The history of the fairytale is particularly difficult to trace because only the literary forms can survive. Still, the evidence of literary works at least indicates that fairytales have existed for thousands of years, although not perhaps recognized as a genre; the name "fairytale" was first ascribed to them by Madame d'Aulnoy in the late 17th century. Many of today's fairytales have evolved from centuries-old stories that have appeared, with variations, in multiple cultures around the world. Fairytales, and works derived from fairy tales, are still written today.
The older fairytales were intended for an audience of adults, as well as children, but they were associated with children as early as the writings of the précieuses; the Brothers Grimm titled their collection Children's and Household Tales, and the link with children has only grown stronger with time.
Folklorists have classified fairytales in various ways. The Aarne-Thompson classification system and the morphological analysis of Vladimir Propp are among the most notable. Other folklorists have interpreted the tales' significance, but no school has been definitively established for the meaning of the tales.