If you're looking for a way to pin down the difference in style between fairy tales and modern fantasy, a good place to start would be comparing the Welsh Mabinogion with Evangeline Walton's tetralogy based on it. The series (which I've just finished reading for the second time) starts with Prince of Annwn, continues in the more tightly connected The Children of Llyr and The Song of Rhiannon, and ends in The Island of the Mighty. The books weren't written in the internal chronological order, but (perhaps because they're based on different parts of a pre-existing story) this doesn't much show. One can, perhaps, notice some improvement in Ms Walton's writing skills from her early The Island of the Mighty (first published in 1936) to the books written in the early '70s -- particularly in how the philosophy is combined a bit less skilfully with the storytelling in the earlier book. But on the whole, the series is remarkable for its consistency in quality.
The author takes the mythic adventures of the heroes of
the Mabinogion and, while remaining almost
perfectly faithful to the events related there (so far as I
recall - it's been five or six years since I've read the
original), adds so much of characterization and motivation
that the import is completely different. It becomes a story
about the painful changes in customs that followed when new
peoples invaded the Island of the Mighty (Britain) and lived
alongside the native people for many generations before they
became one (just in time to be invaded again -- but that's
another story). The parts about the slow spreading of the
discovery that men are partly responsible for the coming of
children are particularly fascinating. I recommend it
highly, but I would suggest you try to find a translation of
the original and read that first, so that the contrast will
improve both versions.
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