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In Short

Types of folktales

The folklore of a culture or large group includes among other things legends, proverbs, jokes, fairy tales, stories and tall tales. Humour is into many folktales. People who study folklore may be referred to as folklorists. Folklore and mythology are linked.

A folktale may or may not have connotative meanings to ponder, and may or may not have mysterious content. It depends in part on the interpretations made. Many tales are presented and understood to have very little formal, religious content, or be a bit sacrilegious. But other tales are express religious, pious. Legends stand out among them.

Many types of folktales have been classified in a big work (Uther, 2004), that is, given a "skeleton" to describe or hint at each classified tale, and a classification number called ATU now, and AT before 2004. Even though many types of folktales and motifs are not included yet, this classification catalogue often makes it easier to compare tales of different countries, compare motifs, and see how themes have developed over centuries.

Moral is a lot in some forms of tales

Folk beliefs may elaborate on moral sentiment, on what to do or not to do, and what may happen if (something). The telling of stories appears to be a cultural universal, common to basic and complex societies alike. Ancient Greek and Roman literature contains much folklore and popular beliefs, often with counterparts in later folktales and later legends.

A folk narrative can have both a moral and psychological scope, as well as entertainment value. It may or may not derive from a printed source. Contemporary legends are called urban legends.

Types of folktales

A search to get to grips with life is into some folktales. Folklore can serve to validate a culture and transmit a culture's morals and values. Folklore can also stimulate arts, both visual arts, performed (opera, ballet), and music. Folklore is at times used to assert or relieve social pressures, by its well adapted humour.

How many folktales are built up along large lines

Vladimir Propp's study Morphology of the Folktale (1928) disclosed underlying structures of Russian folktales collected by Alexander Afanasyev. His work influenced later research, and scholars like Algirdas Greimas adapted Propp's scheme to other tales than Russian ones.

  • There may be some underlying elaborate scheme (Propp's) behind Russian folktales of Afanasyev. Much simpler schemes are detected in other European folktales (Greimas; B�, in Sundland, p. 40-95; Engelstad). A folktale may not necessarily contain all the parts of a tale that such schemes lay out; only a few of them.

  • One may regard and treat some folktales as kinds of poems. And the motifs of many tales derive from ancient poems of Homer, for example his Iliad. In folktales there are many poetic grasps - rhetoric ones too. Repetitions are among them. Also, there are long tales that are rich in content, and short tales that may be barbed and to the point - but all the same less rich in word-pictures - less in such content.

  • Placing the action away from here and how in some undefined time or space, rarely divulging just who the main characters are: Deft distancing may help telling of and dealing with tough issues.

  • Stylistic formulas are poetic grips that ease the communication in different ways. For example, "Once upon a time" says "Here is a tale" to listeners or readers.

  • There are type characters, called actants in narrative theory. They act, are "action figures", first and foremost.

  • The embellishment is sparse. Hardships are hardly elaborated on.

  • Tales are barely sentimental. Sentimentalism is understated or not an issue in most tales that deal on portrayals that help people comprehend sides to life better, and how to evolve.

  • Heroic strides: How the hero or heroine advances through a tale's turns and phases, is a dominating feature of many tales.

  • Characters embody qualities. Among the role characters are some that embody how virtue is rewarded at last - they exemplify qualities, traits and moral that may conquer and lead to prosperity and happiness. Being kind to old persons and animals is typically illustrated.

  • The hero stands out. There is often the view that the conform "crew", or "Peter and Paul" easily succumb to haughtiness, vainglory, drinking and bragging, and after trying to kill their brother they may end up in jail or get a lot worse punishment. Against those conform ones - so easily sullied - many folktales portray a non-conform hero. The hero differs and stands out from the conform ones, be they brothers and courtiers willing to crawl and cheat and bully for glory.

  • Contrasting elements and contrasted people. A rich and a poor brother, a pretty and a not so pretty sister. Such a presentation device may help young folks identify the role characters more easily, since simple schemes (schematas) manages to easy such recognition. Further, contrasted persons may be in some form of opposition to the others.

  • Built-in repetitions. In some tales repetitions are parts of the build-up - similar scenes are repeated a few times. For example, in many folktales two persons go into the world, meet the same challenges and deal differently with them, and reap different end results: good and polite deeds are rewarded, puffed up responses hardly ever. Or in other words: some succeed and some reap defeat. Often there are three wishes, three brothers, where the third and youngest is the most valuable of them. At least he has to get into the world to make his fortune. There are three dresses - of copper silver and gold - three horses with matching gear - and folktales take listeners through these rounds toward a happy ending.

  • Ending of "some good things happen, some bad". A simple rounding-off hardly ends on a tragic note for the hero or heroine who get or inherit lands, lots of lands and live happy lives together afterwards, at least till they get children, or have difficulties in getting children. Such problems often start other tales, like Snow-white. But in a happy ending, conspiring rivals and enemies may be punished in gruesome ways that are meant to suggest "poetic justice" and illustrate that evils are cut down near the root. A final end formula is often found too, like "They lived happily ever after". There are many other formulas around, and some serve to take us back to the here-and-now.

Rhetoric grasps include some of those who have been detected in the folklore-linked cartoon Han Ola og han Per from the US Midwest, first published from 1918 to 1935. [More]

Forms of entertainment - conveying traditional stuff

Much is planted into a life through folklore. It has many forms, such as anecdotes, archetypes, ballads, child lore, counting rhymes, fables, fairy tales, festivals, folk arts, folk beliefs, folk magic, folk medicine, folk narratives, folk plays, folk rhymes, folk songs, games, ghost stories, holiday customs, idioms, jokes, legends, maxims (sayings), mythology, myths, parables, proverbs, riddles, sayings, superstitions, tall tales, taunts, urban legends and weather lore.

In the list, fables and also legends rise high among traditional means to entertain and convey moral. In education, they are tolerated too. The same goes for many forms of fairy tales - leaving out the unsound and unfit ones.

Folklore works have given rise to other pieces of art in the form of music, paintings, ballets and operas. Besides, more recent mass media like cartoons and films often use folkloric motifs to entertain well. Thus, if folklore parts of life were taken away, wouldn't life be poorer, less entertaining? I would say so.

Applied folklore

Social sciences address social problems. Some forms of research tend to give rise to findings, such as conclusions. In earlier times, people wallowed in given conclusions too, but lacked statistical means to help them verify how correct their various assertions (proverbs, sayings) were under typical and varying conditions. Also, lessons from the struggle to get at good life conclusions were blended with jokes and cryptic cunning too.

This is to say that not all forms of proverbs and sayings can be trusted in blindly: It often happens that one proverbs is gainsaid by one or more other proverbs, for people did not agree in their views and conclusions (including proverbs), then as now.

Great caution is needed to handle proverbs of former times well in today's society, for some are fit for life today's world too, and others are hardly so. Yet the entertainment value of blunt, wrong proverbs may be missed in today's world too, like frolic and friendly overstatements called hyperbole. One may mistake the very assertive saying for a truth-saying, so a few neat candid reservations are rarely out of place at all times, now as in earlier times.

Different forms of folklore may also be handled as testimonies of days past - for example of how people thought about and accomplished things - that is, as historical evidence. That folk song and folk dance went into the training of civil rights activists in similar ways.

Beneath the surfaces of various forms of folklore one can glimpse or study how people in former times addressed social issues, how they regarded herbalism and other issues of public health, for example.

Today, some folklorists have begun to work as consultants in city planning and in other fields.

[A source: WP, "Applied folklore"]


Folklore studies, Literature  

Different aspects of folklore are handled in the following books. Some are for surveys, some talk of ancient roots, some (e.g. Bruner 1996) show they are likely to serve cultural transmissions and the like, and then there are recent adaptations to mass media. And some tell of the art of storytelling.


Alexander, Bryan. The New Digital Storytelling: Creating Narratives with New Media. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2011.

Anderson, Graham. Greek and Roman Folklore: A Handbook. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006.

Ashliman, D. L. A Guide to Folktales in the English Language. New York: Greenwood Press, 1987.

Ashliman, D. L. Fairy Lore: A Handbook. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006.

Bottigheimer, Ruth B. Fairy Tales: A New History. Albany, NY: State University of New York, 2009.

Bruner, Jerome. The Culture of Education. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996.

Brunvand, Jan Harold, ed. American Folklore: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland Publishing, 1996.

Dundes, Alan. The Meaning of Folklore: The Analytical Essays of Alan Dundes. Ed. Simon J. Bronner. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 2007.

Engelstad, Irene. Fortellingens mønstre: En strukturell analyse av norske folkeeventyr. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1976.

Green, Thomas A., ed. Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Beliefs, Customs, Tales, Music, and Art. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 1997.

Greene, Ellin. Storytelling: Art and Technique. London: Libraries Unlimited, 1996.

Greimas, Algirdas. Strukturel semantik. Odense: Borgen, 1983.

Haase, Donald, ed. The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Folktales and Fairy Tales. Vols 1–3. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2008.

Hodne, Ørnulf. The Types of the Norwegian Folktale. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1984.

Kvideland, Reimund, and Henning K. Sehmsdorf, eds. Scandinavian Folk Beliefs. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1988.

Propp, Vladimir. Morphology of the Folktale. Austin: University of Texas, 1968.

Sherman, Josepha, ed. Storytelling: An Encyclopedia of Mythology and Folklore. Vols 1-3. Armonk, NY: Sharpe Reference, 2008.

Sundland, Egil. "Det var en gang – et menneske" Oslo: Cappelen Akademisk Forlag, 1995.

Uther, Hans-Jörg. The Types of International Folktales: A Classification and Bibliography Based on the System of Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson. Vols 1-3. FF Communications No. 284-86, Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica, 2004.

Zipes, Jack. Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion: The Classical Genre for Children and the Process of Civilization. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2006.

Zipes, Jack. Speaking Out: Storytelling and Creative Drama for Children. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2004.

Zipes, Jack. Spells of Enchantment: The Wondrous Fairy Tales of Western Culture. London: Viking Penguin, 1991.

Zipes, Jack. The Irresistible Fairy Tale: The Cultural and Social History of a Genre. Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2012.

Zipes, Jack, ed. The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales. Paperback ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Zipes, Jack. Breaking the Magic Spell. Reprint. New York: Routledge, 1992.

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