Fairy tales differ across cultures, but almost every society in the world has shared folk tales or folklore passed down from generation to generation. Present-day readers in the USA will have Disneyfied fairy tales as part of their cultural background, many of which came from the Brothers Grimm or Charles Perrault and the European fairy tale tradition. Louis Sachar draws on elements that can be attributed to part of this tradition, imbuing the characters and the setting of Holes with fairy tale tropes. In this way, he connects his modern novel to a much longer tradition, emphasizes the importance of inheritance and passing down stories across history, and engages the reader in a magical story with an otherwise impossibly happy ending.
The characters of the novel can be seen to "fulfill archetypal roles," writes Laura Nicosia. This is certainly true when we look at Madame Zeroni as a fairy godmother (although she turns into something of a wicked witch when she curses the Yelnats family), and Stanley as the hero with a pure heart who must go on a quest (across the desert and up God's Thumb) to break his family's curse. Nicosia also sees Kate Barlow as an example of the archetype of the "wronged woman" who seeks revenge for her lover's death. Sachar's allusion to these traditional fairy tale roles allows his readers to categorize the characters in their minds and understand the schema of the novel.
In addition to characters that fill well-defined traditional roles, magic is also present in Holes. Pat Pinsent refers to the "magic objects and formulae" of the novel, and Laura Nicosia has also paid attention to the "magic animals" and "magical potion[s] or spell[s]" in the novel. The magic animals, Nicosia claims, are the yellow-spotted lizards, who are inconceivably lethal and plague the characters' imaginations throughout the whole book - they can only be warded off by the "magic potion" of Sam's onions. Kissin' Kate's peaches and Stanley Yelnats III's anti-odor solution, "Sploosh," are two more examples of magic potions. The song that Madame Zeroni passes down to her descendants and Elya Yelnats passes down to his is an important example of a formula that can have magical effects (strengthening whoever drinks from the mountain stream), and eventually help to break the curse on the Yelnats family. Nicosia points out that the most important fairy tale element in Holes is "the presence of the two curses (the one levied against Elya and his descendants, the other against Trout Walker and his descendants)." Such curses don't operate as neatly or as simply in real life, if they exist at all, but their presence in the novel makes the conflict much easier to resolve.
Pat Pinsent's analysis of Holes through the lens of the traditional fairy tale examines how elements of fairy tales are mixed with the grittier realism of the present-day characters' lives at Camp Green Lake. The effect is a realistic, relatable, and ultimately uplifting story. In particular, Pinsent attempts to explain how Sachar manages to pull off the fairly unrealistic ending without swerving into unsatisfying cliche by blending both realism and fantasy. The fairy tale elements make Holes accessible because readers already have the tools, developed from long exposure to fairy tales, to understand the characters and the ordeals they must go through to find redemption.