Five Types of Folklore
A legend will typically tell the story of a real person, place or event that happened in history. While they are rooted in historical fact, legends often morph and change over generations of tellings and retellings.
A legend often tells the story of improbable events within our everyday world. Within a legend, it is up to the reader to analyze any supernatural or extraordinary events and decide whether or not to believe them as fact.
For example, think about the story of Robin Hood and his merry band of thieves. Almost everyone knows the story of Robin Hood - he robbed from the rich to give to the poor. While Robin Hood is a fictional character, he is based on a popular English hero from medieval times.
In a tall tale, you’ll have no problem knowing that the truth has been stretched. Tall tales are folk stories about amazing heroes with incredible and unbelievable abilities.
For example, think about Johnny Appleseed, Davy Crockett, and John Henry. These three American heroes are based on real people, but their characters and abilities have been embellished over time to impossible heights.
Johnny Appleseed transformed from a Revolutionary-era apple orchard caretaker named John Chapman into a tireless leader and pioneer, planting apple trees to help lead other Americans on the journey out west. Davy Crockett transformed from an American politician and soldier into the famous cap wearing “king of the wild frontier”. John Henry transformed from a railway worker of the same name into an incredibly powerful man who won a steel-driving race against a steam powered drill.
Watch read-aloud versions of these classic folktales below.
Myths tell the stories of supernatural beings and often offer explanations for how they relate to natural phenomenon here on Earth. Myths also offer explanations for both the cultural and religious views of a society. While many myths were believed to be true at one time or another, there is no way to verify a myth as historically accurate.
Myths often discuss the beginning of the world, and the essential events and extraordinary acts of divine beings that helped shape it. Myths help to validate cultural and societal norms and explain why things are the way they are.
Today, we often use the term “myth” to describe a story that is untrue, but within literary folklore, myths are considered sacred and deeply true to the culture or community from which it originates.
If you’re reading a story that involves talking animals or magical powers, chances are you’re reading a fairy tale. Fairy tales often depict a struggle between the forces of good and evil.
Fairy tales take place in an imaginary world with elements, creatures and events that are often wondrous and whimsical. While fairy tales are seen as stories for children today, they were once considered to be entertainment for all ages, even adults.
Fairy tales can be used in a variety of ways - they can entertain and inspire, warn and caution, and even instruct and advise. Throughout history, different cultures have adapted this incredibly versatile form of folklore to fit the specific needs of their community.
Fables are a sub-category of Fairy Tales that have a strong moral component. The most important part of a fable is the lesson learned through reading the story. Fables teach readers the difference between right and wrong and often give advice on culturally appropriate expectations on etiquette and behavior.
Fables can also be summed up by their moral message. For example, think of the phrase “slow and steady wins the race”. This phrase originates from the fable of The Tortoise and The Hare. In the fable, the two animals have agreed to run against one another in a race. At the starting line, the hare brags about being so much faster than the tortoise. During the race, the hare sprints and then takes several long breaks, wasting time and allowing the tortoise to advance steadily and win the race in the end.
You can watch read-aloud versions of The Tortoise and The Hare, as well as two other fables below.