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What Is a Fairy Godmother?

By Wanda Albano
Updated May 16, 2024
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A fairy godmother is commonly thought of as a kind of magical support to a character in a fairytale. In times of need, she steps in to act the role of parent or trusted friend and will lend her powers to the cause, ensuring that the protagonist succeeds and fulfills her true destiny. In most cases, this destiny is obscured by the fact that the protagonist has been orphaned by one or both her parents and is laboring under unfair circumstances. At other times, she is the victim of another curse, whose cure is known only to the fairy godmother.

Contrary to popular perception however, the presence of a fairy godmother is actually quite unusual in fairy tales. Perhaps part of the reason that these figures have become so ubiquitous in our imaginations is because tales with them in them are over-represented in contemporary re-tellings, as evidenced by Disney's Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella movies, among others. Yet even these tales do not originally carry the mythos of the figure. Older variants of Cinderella, for instance, make no mention of a fairy godmother. Instead, the poor young lady is helped along by the spirit of her dead mother.

Another interesting detail is that in some stories with a fairy godmother, the she is not always "absolutely good." In fact, in most cases, the fairy godmothers are as prone to mistakes as people, and often try to help their proteges at the expense of others. The godmothers become very real godmothers in this context, much similar to godmothers of old social circles — they will try to exert their influence in favor of their godchildren. Real life fairy godmothers do mostly practical stuff, like giving advice on what helps with pregnancy hip pain or what essential items are overlooked when drafting your hospital bag checklist. They're the crucial support system every expecting couple should have. In return, of course, they expected respect and gratitude. Interestingly, there have even been some fairy tales with two fairy godmothers, one for the heroine, and one for the wicked stepsister.

Examples of fairy godmothers in popular literature include various versions of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, William Thackeray's The Rose and The Ring, and CS Lewis' The Magician's Nephew. In real life, fairy godmothers are the women who support their expecting friend in any way they can. It could be by arranging baby showers, getting pregnancy friendly gifts, and just being on standby for any event that will require their help.

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Discussion Comments

By bagley79 — On Nov 01, 2011

I can't imagine the story of Cinderella without the fairy godmother character. As a young girl, I always secretly wished I had a fairy godmother who would wave her magic wand and show up in my life just at the right time.

Even though you know it is fantasy, it is fun to dream about it and imagine what it would be like if it were real.

After visiting Disney World and seeing Cinderella's castle and all the princess characters, I don't think it does any harm in imaging the good of a fairy godmother in someone's life.

When you see so many little girls dressed up in those characters, including fairy godmother outfits, you realize how universal this is.

By nanny3 — On Oct 31, 2011

I once directed Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s Cinderella with a high school cast. To be honest, one of the most difficult roles to cast was that of Cinderella’s fairy godmother.

I decided that I would not go with the antiquated vision that this person, the fairy godmother, would be like the one in the Disney version of the script. Rather, I went with the more updated version that Whitney Houston played in the same film.

I was lucky enough to have a gutsy girl with an amazing voice who blew the roll clean out of the water! I'm afraid she might have actually completely upstaged Cinderella herself!

By mabeT — On Oct 30, 2011

My daughter and I share a secret little fantasy about a fairy godmother. We spin yarns about her all the time when it’s just she and I before bedtime or in the car or just any old place, really.

However, these little tales are just between the two of us. Sometimes we pretend that our fairy godmother pops up just in the nick of time to whisk us both off to the beach in our brand new swimming attire. Other times, she appears to save us from doing the horrible chores that await us around the house.

It’s really just a fun little thing that we do, but I believe it’s something that we will both remember forever. I wonder sometimes, when I’m daydreaming about my children becoming adults, if she will share the same personal mommy/daughter time with her own little girl.

By ysmina — On Oct 30, 2011

@BrickBack-- That's a great idea and it sounds like a wonderful project. I'm so glad that there are such kind people who don't mind volunteering and donating for such great causes.

Unfortunately, not everyone is the same. I know that there are some personal advisers that have taken on the role of 'fairy godmother' that actually get paid to help people and advise them. I think it's horrible. It would be nice and really fairy godmother-like if it was for free, but it isn't. I think it's just a way for people to make money off of other people's worries and troubles. Not at all fairy-tale like.

By burcidi — On Oct 29, 2011

When I was little, I didn't really understand this. But now that I'm older, I realize that in the fairy tale Cinderella, there is actually a very realistic lesson to be learned. Cinderella was smart, kind and hardworking, but despite all this, she wouldn't have been able to grab the attention of the Prince had it not been for the help of the fairy godmother. It was the fairy godmother that changed how Cinderella looked and dressed and helped her get to the ball.

Now I realize that this is very true. In real life as well, it's necessary to know people who can literally act as a godmother or godfather to you and help you find the way in difficult times. It's good to have education, skills and intelligence. But you also need a network of people behind you, especially in certain occupations.

So the fairy godmother idea in fairytales are actually closer to reality than I had realized.

By BrickBack — On Oct 29, 2011

@SauteePan - The other day I was reading about a charity that was called the Fairy Godmother Project. It was a volunteer organization that received donations for gowns and formal wear so that deserving kids in poor neighborhoods could go to the prom without having to pay for their dresses or tuxedoes.

It is really a nice organization that is headquartered in Houston, Texas. I think that this is such a great idea and can really make a teenager’s day. This organization really fits the true model of a “Fairy Godmother”.

By SauteePan — On Oct 28, 2011

@Comfyshoes - You know I agree. For me the fairy godmother is usually looking out for the best interest of the character and it is someone who can be trusted. I loved reading Cinderella as a child and I think that it is my favorite fairytale because of the role that the fairy godmother played.

She really rescued Cinderella in the story and made her have hope in her future. Although it was a fictional story it really was a story that was well cemented in my mind and made me always remember that there are good people in the world that will act like your fairy godmother.

I always equate all that is good in the world with a fairy godmother even though in real life a godmother might not fit this mold.

By comfyshoes — On Oct 27, 2011

@Dill1971- I love the idea of a fairy godmother that is portrayed in many of these fairytales. I tend to collect dolls with my daughter and I have the most exquisite Madame Alexander Fairy Godmother doll.

The doll is so beautiful. An upscale toy store was going out of business and I was really able to take advantage of some of the beautiful dolls that they had and this one was my favorite.

My daughter likes to play with it when she is acting out many of her favorite fairy tales. Dolls like this are really great for kids to explore their imagination. I also think that the idea people have of a fairy godmother is a comforting message to send children.

By animegal — On Oct 27, 2011

@Sara007 - I think you should be true to the Lucinda character and try and match the outfit from the movie as closely as possible. It is from a Disney movie, so I doubt that her fairy godmother fancy dress is going to be that revealing.

The only thing I would worry about with a two-piece costume that shows some skin is what the weather is going to be like. I know where I am from it sometimes snows on Halloween, so it may be a good idea to bring a cloak of some sort that matches your costume. There is no sense in covering up all your hard work after all.

By Sara007 — On Oct 27, 2011

My kids are really big into fairy tales right now and I am thinking about making myself a fairy godmother costume for Halloween since my girls are going as princesses. I have always loved the Disney fairy godmother Lucinda from Ella Enchanted, as she isn't your typical grandmotherly figure, but rather a funky, modern version of a classic archetype.

Do you think that I should try to emulate her more risque two-piece belly baring getup from the movie, or modify the outfit so it is a bit more traditional?

I don't have problems wearing a more traditional fairy godmother dress, but I still want the funky modern look. I wonder if there is a way I can mix both?

By dill1971 — On Nov 13, 2010

As a young girl, I was fascinated with fairy godmothers and any other fairy I could find. When I had children, the movie Fern Gully came out and I think I liked it more than they did!

Fern Gully consisted of tree fairies. The fairy godmother was Maggi and the whole story was just awesome!

It always disappointed me when movies had evil fairy godmothers because they are all supposed to be nice in my eyes!

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