Friday, April 6, 2012

The A to Z Challenge: Today's Words: Fairy Tale,Fable, Folklore

Do you know the difference between a fairy tale, a fable, and folklore? They are definitely not the same. Everyone over the age of 3 has heard of Andersen's Fairy Stories and Grimm's Fairy Tales, but these stories were not originally for children.

Let's talk about where the term "fairy story" came from. Apparently, the term originated from the German word Mär, which means story or tale. The word
Märchen is a diminutive and means "little story." If that is put with the common beginning "once upon a time," it means a little story from long ago when the world was still magic.  Got that?

What we have come to know as a fairy tale is a short story with fantasy characters such as fairies, elves, goblins, brownies, trolls, dwarves, giants, and gnomes, and almost always have magic and many types of enchantments. Actually, only a small number of these stories feature fairies, while some feature an animal as the "bad guy", such as the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs. But if you are writing a fairy tale, it must include elements of magic, and have one or more of the following: princesses and princes, ogres, giants, dragons, trolls, wicked stepmothers, fairy godmothers, humble heros, other kinds of magical "helpers," and you can even throw in a talking fox, or horse, wolf, or other animal, either hero or villain. Oh yes, AND you can even have a fairy or two!

A fable is a distinctly different genre. It is a fictional story, and can be either prose or verse, but it always features animals, mythical creatures such as dragons, plants, flowers, or trees, some kind of inanimate object, or a force of nature such as a storm, tornado, or hurricane. Each of those animals, plants, etc. have been anthropomorphized and each fable imparts a moral lesson. The best example of a fable is found in Aesop's Fables. In legend, Aesop was supposedly a slave in ancient Greece, around 550 B.C. No one knows for sure if he actually existed or not. Some of his better known fables are The Lion and the Mouse, The Crow and the Pitcher, and The Tortoise and the Hare.

Fables are among the most enduring of folk literature, being carried forward through the centuries as a form of oral story telling, until it finally became part of the written word. Fables exist in every country's literature in the world: we have the Buddist Jataka Tales, India's Ramayana, and of course, from the Middle East, the One Thousand and One Nights, better known in the Western world as the Arabian Nights.

There aren't many fables to be found in modern children's literature today. I think the main reason for that is because as authors, we've learned that children don't like to be preached to in their story books, and since fables all teach a "moral" lesson, we've learned to stay away from them. However, the concept has made its way into adult literature, although probably not in the form it was originally created for. The most well-known (to my knowledge) of a more "modern day" fable is the story by George Orwell, Animal Farm, written in the mid-1940s, which was a satire of the Communist Party under Stalin in the guise of an animal "fable."

Folklore differs from each of the above types of stories. Folklore is the accumulation of oral history, stories, music, legends, fairy tales, proverbs, popular beliefs, and customs that are traditional to a specific culture, subculture, or group of people. Folklore consists of the artifacts, oral traditions, and the ritualistic behaviors of that culture, and these things have been handed down from generation to generation over centuries.

Folklore can also contain religious or mythic elements, it can have both moral and psychological elements, it can include ghost stories, gossip, children's rhymes and riddles, and ethnic stereotypes. It validates a particular culture and transmits its morals, values, and political sturcture. One of the areas in which contemporary society is the most familiar with is music: country, blues, and bluegrass music all originate from American folklore. Some of the best known artists in music derived from folklore are: Country >> Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell; Blues >> Ray Charles, Eric Clampton, Fats Domino; Bluegrass >> Bill Monroe ( known as the grandfather of bluegrass), Earl Scruggs, and of course, Dolly Parton, whose music goes back to the folklore of her home ground in the Appalachian Mountains.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.


  1. Ah, what a wonderful coincidence cos I was just blogging on Andersen's tales. :) I loved reading fairy tales when I was a child but I stayed away from fables. The moral messages were coming down a bit too thick for me. Folklore is interesting, as long as the writing wasn't too taxing me back then.

    1. When I first knew that Grimm's "Fairy Tales" were first written for adults, I thought that was so strange...until I read the original versions! I've always liked forlklore, but never fables.

  2. This is a great post. I'm glad I'm not the only one weird... er, interesting enough to know the difference between these types of stories. I really enjoyed this, Mikki.

    (Psst, Claudine, I hated Aesop's Fables too. Especially the one with the fox and the grapes. LOL)

    1. Weird? Nah, that wouldn't apply to us, now would it? LOL. I've never liked Aesop's Fables, either...somehow, so many of the "lessons" seemed mean-spirited.

  3. Oh, and Mikki? I gave you an award. Come on by and collect.