Here are fairy tales about talking cats and other animals, and also fairies, goblins, elves, trolls, witches, giants, odd events and enchantments. But there are not fairies in all sorts of fairy tales. One the whole, talking animals and magic seem more common to the fairy tale than fairies.
Folktale is a wide, inclusive term that spans many traditional narratives in oral and literary forms. The main three sorts of folktales are myths, legends, and fairy tales. Märchen is the German term for fairy tales. Many folktales combine elements from many sources and defy classification. Folktales also include a vast body of jokes and anecdotes that circulate in any society, and are widely spread.
Urban legends are contemporary stories that are set in an urban environment and reported as true (sometimes in newspapers). Such concocted tales may revolve around about urban living, including privacy, death, decay, revenge, and vermin. Many of them contain patterns and motifs that reflect legends rather than solid truths.
It also happens that gods of old myths reappear in the guise of heroes in some folktales, and even that such derived heroes are thought of as gods too, as when ancient Vedic myths of Indra appear in among stories of Krishna.
There are good reasons to question what functions the different sorts of folktales could have in the society that has taken them to heart. To amuse and entertain are two functions, and forming attitudes that are thought well of, is another, deep-going one. The forming of conform attitudes serves the transmission of many sides to a culture, holds Jerome Bruner and others. [Jerome Bruner on the cultural value of stories]
Fairy tales have been enacted dramatically, and it still occurs, in the home or Waldorf school or otherwise. Years ago, fairy tales were told to both adults and children, and some were enacted too. Such events still occur.
Literary fairy tales (by named authors) and oral fairy tales (as recorded by collectors) have freely exchanged plots, motifs, and elements with each other and with the tales of foreign lands. A little difference may be seen: In many tales there is a happy ending, while legendary narratives may not end on a happy note.
Folklorists classify fairy tales and elements in them in different ways. In the ATU system of classifying folk tales, some more or less identifying features are picked out to decide which tales belong together in overarching groups that are called types of tales.
Also, fairy tales tend to take on the colour of their location, through the selected motifs, the style of telling, and the depictions of characters, animals, and landscapes.
The history of the fairy tale is difficult to trace. The fairy tale has ancient roots. The oldest known written fairy tales come from ancient Egypt.
Some tales teach or suggest moral lessons, which at least partially reflect a dominant moral value. Others seem first and foremost for solid enjoyment. Now, there are many forms of enjoyment, base and otherwise. One is to pick and choose from among all the tales that are told, for example with valuable lessons in view.
There is much, much more to say and go into. There are written a lot of books on folktales, fairy tales and legends. But the above offers a grip on much variegated material.
Briggs, Katharine M. 1991. A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales in the English Language Incorporating the F. J. Norton Collection.. Part A, Folk Narratives, Vols. I and II - Part B, Folk Legends, Vols. I and II. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
Haase, Donald, ed. 2008. The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Folktales and Fairy Tales, Vols 1–3. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Lang, Andrew, ed. The Blue Fairy Book. London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1889.
Lang, Andrew, ed. The Red Fairy Book. London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1890.
Lang, Andrew, ed. The Green Fairy Book. London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1892
Lang, Andrew, ed. The Yellow Fairy Book. London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1894.
Lang, Andrew, ed. The Pink Fairy Book. London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1897.
Lang, Andrew, ed. The Grey Fairy Book. London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1900.
Lang, Andrew, ed. The Violet Fairy Book. London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1901.
Lang, Andrew, ed. The Crimson Fairy Book. London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1903.
Lang, Andrew, ed. The Brown Fairy Book. London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1904.
Lang, Andrew, ed. The Orange Fairy Book. London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1906.
Lang, Andrew, ed. The Olive Fairy Book. London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1907.
Lang, Andrew, ed. The Lilac Fairy Book. London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1910.
Thompson, Stith. 1955-1958. Motif-index of Folk-literature: A Classification of Narrative Elements in Folktales, Ballads, Myths, Fables, Mediaeval Romances, Exempla, Fabliaux, Jest-books, and Local Legends. Revised and enlarged ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Uther, Hans-Jörg. 2004. 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.
Zipes, Jack, ed. 2002. The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales. Paperback ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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