Fairy tales with good adoptive (or step) parents

Are there any fairy tales that have good adoptive (or step) parents? I can’t think of a single one.

The best I can do is works that subvert the traditional fairy tale… immediately springing to mind are Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle and Tanith Lee’s story “Red as Blood.” Are there others?

I guess there are also a good number of myths that involve people or gods taking care of children who are not their biological children. In Welsh myth, Gwydion brings up Arianrhod’s child Lleu Llaw Gyffes (although honestly I always kind of thought Gwydion was involved in his conception), and there are some Greek myths, e.g., Hephaestus getting kicked out of Olympus by his parents and getting brought up by Thetis. Are there others you can think of?


MODERATOR COMMENT: Please note that this thread is from May 2012, until post #38 when it is resurrected in Jan 2014. – CKDH

The wolves who brought up Romulus and Remus. Though they could have emphasized the whole brotherly love thing a bit more, I guess.

The closest I can think of is The Red Shoes. The adoptive mother is a decent sort, but her adopted daughter (the protagonist) is overly vain and is punished for it by an angel.

That’s the thing about fairy tales that I don’t understand. The stepparent is often the truly evil one (especially the stepmother). I don’t blame anyone but the father. Who in the hell sits back and lets their child be abused by a stepparent like in Cinderella and many others? Shitty parents who care more about a supply line for sex and public standing than anything else on earth that’s who.

Kick the bitch out along with the skanky-ass stepdaughters too. Medieval divorce courts might not be as tolerant of such a thing as they are today but they never explain why he had to marry her in the first place. That is your own flesh and blood, your little girl, you are talking about. Make better life choices fairy tale men and stand up for your own when you have to.

The problem with Cinderella is the father died shortly after marrying the stepmother and bringing her and the daughters into his house.

In Nick O’Donohue’s The Magic and the Healing, there is the Stepfather God, who finds an orphaned infant and asks other gods/goddesses to feed it. Finally one god or goddess says “Feed the child yourself”, and the Stepfather God does so. However, this isn’t a traditional fairy tale.

I can’t think of a single traditional fairy tale where the stepmother is good. And I can’t think of any stepfathers in traditional fairy tales. Possibly there are some, and I’m just blanking right now.

I enjoy reading modern retellings of fairy/folk tales, such as Beauty, by Sheri S. Tepper. I also enjoy the Fables graphic novels.

As well as the stories (such as Cinderella) where the remarried father is dead, there are also many cases in which the original had no stepmother: it was the mother/parents who were nasty to the kids, sent them to the forest to die of starvation, etc. Adding the “step” part was a first attempt at what’s now called “disneyfication”.

You may want to check out the works of Bruno Bettelheim, specially his Psychology of Fairy Tales. He defended that the violent elements are there for specific reasons: letting the kids work their troubles with their relatives in an acceptable way, providing a reference for how bad things can get, etc. In his view, tales which lack any kind of difficulty are failing, by projecting what the grown-ups want the world to be like for their kids rather than providing the kids with tools to deal with the complexity (and often, the ugliness) of what the world really is like.

Brady Bunch count?

Thanks for the answers! Some things to check out… I’d never even heard of “The Red Shoes,” thank you Monkey.

Nava, I’d read the originals, but many years ago, and I’d totally forgotten that they were originally the real parents. So now my question is, what does Disney have against step parents? :slight_smile:

I have a book of non-Disney fairy tales, and the wicked queen from Snow White and the mother in Hansel and Gretel are definitely step-mothers. In fact, Snow White starts with her mother pregnant and hoping her daughter will be “white as snow, red as blood, and black as ebony.” Then she dies in childbirth and the father remarries. (Interestingly, in this version when SW marries the prince who falls in love with her corpse, the evil queen is invited to the wedding, where suddenly she is forced into iron shoes and made to dance until she’s dead. Talk about your surprise endings.)

Now Hansel and Gretel’s father has no excuse. He lets his wife talk him into leaving the kids in the woods not once but twice! He’s all, “boo hoo I love my kids so much” but he allows them to be left to starve in the forest. When they finally get back the step-mother is dead, yay! But damn those kids ought to be asking Daddy what the hell he was thinking! :mad: :wink:

Since we’ve mentioned non-fairy tales as well…Lt. Worf was raised by loving adoptive parents:


There are several different accounts of the upbringing of King Arthur, and they don’t all agreee… but in most of them, Sir Ector is shown as a good adoptive/foster father to Arthur (not in Disney’s The Sword in the Stone, of course).

So was Clark (Superman) Kent, for that matter.

I can think of quite a few good adoptive fathers and mothers in literature… just not in stories that would generally be considered fairy tales.

Among the GOOD adoptive parents I can think of in literature:

Silas Marner

Joe Gargery, Pip’s adoptive Dad in Dickens’ ***Great Expectations ***(Joe’s wife, Pip’s sister, was a shrew, however).

Clark & Martha Kent, Superman’s adoptive parents

Ben & May Parker, Spider-Man’s aunt and uncle, who raised him.

Please read Gregory Maguire’s Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister for a totally new takr on the Cinderella story. I think it’s better than his best known work Wicked.

In some of the versions I’ve read, there is simply not enough food for everyone. Woodcutters were VERY poor, remember…and a woodcutter’s kids weren’t likely to be able to help much in his work, they were just more mouths to feed. So, Woodcutter and Woodcutter’s Wife decided to lose the kids in the forest, because it was an issue of either the kids dying, or the whole family starving to death. This is one of the reasons that the Witch’s house is so appealing to the kids. Yeah, just about all kids like candy, but the Woodcutter kids had been on short rations for a while, so any food would have drawn them like magnets.

Recently in an online discussion about versions of old tales, I heard that there were several editions of the early Grimm fairy tales even back in the Grimm’s lifetime. They updated and polished as they went.
In the earliest, which contained less tales, some of the ‘evil stepmothers’ were birth mothers. I guess they thought that making the mother that hated the kid into a stepmother makes it more acceptable or something.
Some of the earliest versions are available on line, unfortunately I didn’t bookmark them but I think it was at gutenberg.org

You probably have a collection of Grimm fairytales. The Grimm brothers spent a lot of time and energy collecting folk and fairy tales and one of the things they did, as a previous poster mentioned, was change all the evil mothers in the stories to evil stepmothers because those were less common and would freak kids out a lot less.

Pinocchio counts, I should think.

Other fanciful tales would include Little Big Man and Dances with Wolves. For flat-out science fiction, I would nominate Starbeast, by Robert Heinlein and Kyle XY, the TV series.

How about Auntie Em?