Unveiling the Fascinating Origins and Evolution of the Tooth Fairy

The Tooth Fairy is a beloved childhood figure that has captured the imaginations of many generations. Let’s observe the fascinating origins and evolution of the Tooth Fairy!

Just For Fun Pop Culture
Tooth with crown and wings floating with clouds

In the realm of childhood wonder and magic, few characters hold as much allure as the Tooth Fairy. With a flutter of wings and a promise of treasures, this mystical being has played a vital role in comforting young hearts and celebrating a universal rite of passage: losing a baby tooth. However, the origins of the Tooth Fairy are harder to grasp as her story spans across time and continents. Current research shows that if there was a tooth fairy in previous tales, it had a less innocent nature compared to modern depictions.

The disposal of baby teeth was already a common practice in many cultures, both ancient and modern. Many of these methods were rituals that involve burning the tooth, burying it in a hole or a wall, or swallowing it. In some cases, rodents or crows were called upon to help the person get a new and better tooth. These customs were found to be prominent in Europe and the Americas, which is where the search for the original “Tooth Fairy” began.

Fairy curled up on a wooden surface

There are many cases of European folklore regarding children’s teeth, which often involved witches as a motivating factor. These legends would advocate for disposing of the teeth so that a witch does not find them. If a witch found a person’s teeth, it was believed that she might be able to gain complete control over that person. A more benevolent example of a Tooth Fairy-like creature would be Marantega in Venice, Italy. Marantega is an old crone who gives children gifts at Christmas, much like Santa Clause. Notably, Marantega would also give children gifts when they lost a tooth.

Italian doll of Marantega witch

The most direct precursor to the American Tooth Fairy, however, can be found in the 18th-century French fairy tale La Bonne Petite Souris. It is one of the many fairy tales written by Baroness d’Aulnoy, also known as Countess d’Aulnoy, who was a French author known for her literary fairy tales. In the story, a queen is imprisoned by a malicious king and enlists the help of a resourceful mouse. The mouse turns out to be a fairy who frees the queen and knocks out the king’s teeth. The fairy-mouse then hides the teeth under the king’s pillow, before eventually having him assassinated.

Madame D'Aulnoy fairy tales cover with prince leading horse

When this French story was re-released as an illustrated children’s book in English in the 1920s, the mouse fairy took on her most familiar form as a winged creature. Still, her presence as an integral part of mythology had yet to be implemented. This may be due to the atmosphere of war at the time when giving out your last nickel for a tooth seemed like a waste when resources were scarce. This also wasn’t a time when parents would naturally cater to their children with fairytales and gifts.

Mice resting on the floor

Of course, after WWII, the Tooth Fairy became more prominent as a child-friendly figure. The media also played a role in this, introducing modern audiences to the idea of good fairies and fairy godmothers during the 1950s, particularly with animated characters like the Fairy Godmother from Cinderella or Tinker Bell from Peter Pan. In terms of written tales, Collier’s magazine, one of the most popular of its time, featured a short story in 1949 called “The Tooth Fairy“, written by Lee Rogow.

Cinderella transformation with Fairy Godmother

The monetary factor behind the Tooth Fairy comes with a multitude of theories. Her gift is far more practical to modern culture than that of Santa Clause, whose gifts are pre-monetary. While Santa Clause promises gifts in exchange for goodness, the Tooth Fairy makes the case that anything (including your own body) can be monetized. This falls into the idea of a free market, which refers to an economy where the market determines prices, products, and services rather than the government.

Fairy waving wand beside an orchestra

Despite her mysterious origins, the Tooth Fairy has emerged as a delightful figure in popular culture. With her monetary gifts and delicate aura, she has become a source of comfort and joy for generations of children, marking the passage from babyhood to growing up. From ancient rituals of tooth disposal to tales of witches and crones, the complex nature of the Tooth Fairy is one to behold. In tracing the journey of the Tooth Fairy, we uncover not just the story of a magical being, but a reflection of the ever-evolving human experience that connects us across generations.

For a deep dive into the Arabic origins of some of the most popular fairytales, click here!