(grades 5 & up)


If you click on the words that are UNDERLINED, you will find out more information

Folklore includes the stories that were told by people for a very long time. These stories started as oral (telling) stories. We can consider these stories as Folktales if you define a Folktale as a "people story."

A story is a Folktale if-

1. The story is well-known to a group of people who have something in common. They feel that their story is their own.

(Sometimes there are similar stories in other places. That happens when people travel from one place to another place and tell the stories that they know and love.)

2. The story was originally an oral (telling/spoken) story and not written down.

3. The story has been handed down from one
generation to the next.

4. Usually, original author of the story is not known.

In the next sections, there will be descriptions of
different types of stories which have the characteristics listed above. Some people think of them as types of folktale because they began as oral stories, and are therefore "people stories." . Other people, however, think they are in separate categories in Folklore, Folktales being one of the separate categories. This is especially true when thinking about legends and myths.


Because there are so many different opinions about these old stories, understanding what Folktales are can be confusing. Many stories have the characteristics of more than one type
of Folktale. For example, The Fox and the Crow
is a Fable. But it is also an Animal Tale and a Trickster Tale.

The most important thing is to enjoy the stories and come to your own conclusions about them.





also called


Most well-known Fairy Tales (Tales of Enchantment)are very old stories. They were oral (telling) stories at the beginning. They were passed down through the generations.
Fairy Tales can be considered one type of a Folktale.

Fairy Tales (Tales of Enchantment) have special characteristics.

1.They usually have magical characters.


Here are some types of magical characters in
Fairy Tales.

other magical creatures

2.Magical characters have magical powers.

We can also call the magical characters "creatures." A creature is some sort of living thing that talks or makes noises.

Not every Fairy Tale has fairies in them. Actually, not many Fairy Tales do have fairies. However, many of the stories have magical people in them.

Fairy Tales can have regular people and animals too. Some
of the regular people can do magic.

3. Many familiar Fairy Tales also have kings and queens, princes, princesses, and common(regular) people, such as farmers, millers, etc.

4.Magical things happen in Fairy Tales.

For example:

In Fairy Tales, trees might talk and flowers could have eyes.

In Fairy Tales witches might cast an evil spell.
A spell is a word, or sentence that has magical powers.

A good deed, by a good person, or a kiss from a good lady can break the spell

Fairy Tales are make-believe stories.

Anything is possible in a Fairy Tale!

4. Most Fairy Tales are not set in any particular time period .There is the sense that it happened " a long time ago." Some Fairy Tales begin with "Once upon a time,..."

5. Most Fairy Tales are not set in a particular place.They are very general when describing where the tale happens. They might say something like, " In a place far away," or "In a small kingdom," or " In a dark wood."

6. The story goes through some changes over time. Because they started as oral stories, things were added or taken out through the years by many different people telling the story. The basic idea of the story usually remains the same.





Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin, Repunzel and Snow White.

These are Fairy Tales from Europe. There are also many versions of Cinderella and Snow White from different parts of the world.




Some very famous Fairy Tales from Europe are in the Grimms Fairy Tales collection. Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm were two brothers who listened to the stories and wrote them down.

Joseph Jacobs collected tales from England. Some of them are Fairy Tales.|

In France,Charles Perrault is a well-known collector of Fairy Tales. It is thought that he made up some stories as well.



Some known authors have written stories with magical creatures too. Stories like Peter Pan (originally written by J. M. Barrie), Alice in Wonderland, and The Wizard of Oz are Fantasy Stories which are just like Folktale/Fairy Tales. But these stories are not folktales because they do not have the basic characteristics of a Folktale.

Sometimes these stories could be called LITERARY FAIRY TALES.

Here are the differences between literary Fairy Tales, and Fairy Tales that are Folktales.

l. Fairy tales / folktales began as ORAL stories; that is, telling stories that were not originally written down first.

Literary Fairy Tales were written down first.

2. Fairy Tales / folktales are usually not traced to a specific author. Literary Fairy Tales can be traced to a specific author.

3. Fairy Tales are associated with a group of people who have passed the stories down through the generations. A Literary Fairy Tale was written by an author at a certain time and place.

4. Fairy Tales undergo changes as they are told. Literary Fairy Tales remain as the authors wrote them.

Some Literary Fairy Tales have become so famous that people think of them as we think of Folktales. Hans Christian Anderson, who lived in Denmark,made up many of his stories.. But we sometimes think of his stories in the same way we think about Grimms Fairy Tales which were originally old Folktales.

Many people think that "Beauty and the Beast" was originally a Literary Fairy Tale, but later became part of the the Folktales from Europe. Some people believe that "Beauty and the Beast " might have been based on an older Folktale.








There are some stories that seem to have facts of history in them. They are stories about something or someone from the past.

Some parts of the story may be true.

Other parts may not be true.

Sometimes we know which parts of the story are true.
Sometimes we are not sure whether something in the story
is true or made up.

Ususally, we do not know who made up the Legend at the start. The Legend has been told by a group of people for a long time.

Unlike most other tales which are not specific about a time and place(many of these tales might simply say, "a long time ago,in a faraway land....) Legends tend to be more specific about a time period of history and a specific place or general locality.

Legends often focus on human activity . Many Legends are about individual people who have been heroic. There are even some legends about animals, such as the Loch Ness Monster and Big Foot. Most legends, however,are about people.

Some people feel that Legends are a separate category from Folktales, especially since they are often like historical narratives (the telling of a factual historical story). However , when Legends become closely linked to, and becomes part of the development of a particular culture and have the characteristicsof a Folktale, then Legends might be considered a type of a Folktale.

Many Legends were originally telling stories, or oral stories, and have been passed down from generation to generation.

The Robin Hood story is a famous Legend from England.

There were many stories about Robin Hood.
So it is actually more correct to say THE LEGENDS OF ROBIN HOOD.






There are many legendary stories about a piratge named Blackbeard. He sailed the seas near North Carolina in the early 1700's.


from England, is thought to have inspired a Sherlock Holmes story called THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES.







Myths are sometimes thought of as Folktales.

Some Myths are thought of as Religious stories.

Myths are old stories, usually ancient, which have to do with how people in a group see the world. The people often believe that the story in the myth describes something real and true. Many myths explain why things happen in the natural world. There were few scientific explanations long ago. Myths helped people understand the world, how it began, and all that was happening around them.

Myths usually involve something supernatural.

Myths that talk about the creation of the world are sometimes called CREATION TALES

Myths that explain nature are called EXPLANATORY TALES. These stories are sometimes called POURQUOI TALES. Pourquoi, in French means "why."

For example, some Myths explained the causes of

Some myths are about heroic people.

Myths were and are sometimes used to support ideas about life that are believed by a group of people. They are used as examples to show what they believe is true about people and the world.

As is true of legends, some people think of Myths as being separate from the folktale category. I believe that if the myth has the general characteristics of a folktale, and it is no longer part of a practicing religion, then it might be considered a varied form of a Folktale.



The Greeks and Romans living in ancient times had many
myths. The Greek and Roman myths are sometimes thought of as religious stories. That is because these Myths were stories in the Greek and Roman religion.

The Greek and Roman myths were told over 2,000 years ago.In the Greek and Roman religion, there were many Gods and Goddesses

The most important Greek God was ZEUS.
In Roman mythology, Zeus was called JUPITER.

Many Greek and Roman Myths were stories about the Gods and Goddesses. Some of their myths were about heroes, such as HERCULES.



Native peoples in many lands have Creation and Explanatory Myths. These myths were made up because there was a need to explain the creation of the world and how nature operated. Native Americans had and have many of these types of myths.






Paul Bunyan

Tall Tales are stories which are exaggerated.

The word "exaggerated" means to make someone or something bigger or greater than is really true. What could be true is stretched and stretched and strechted--
way bigger or more than what could be real.

for example:


A man named John is strong. He is so strong that he can pull a large stone the size of a big pot all by himself.


A man named John is strong. He is so strong that he can pull a wagon-load of stones, all by himself.

Think of a balloon before air is blown into it. Picture it in your mind.

What does the balloon look like? This is like a true story.



When you blow air into the balloon it gets bigger and bigger and bigger. Be careful not to let it pop! This is what happens to a story when it is expanded into a Tall Tale.


Tall Tales can be found in many places in the world.

Many Tall Tales are about individual people. When these stories are set in a particular place at a particular time and reflect some history, they might also be called Legends. What makes them Tall Tales is that they are exaggerated.Certain aspects of the tale might be true, but much of what happens in the story is much BIGGER or MORE than real.

Some of the most famous Tall Tales are from the United States.

Some great American Tall Tale heroes are:


PAUL BUNYAN- great lumberjack
FEBOLD FEBOLDSON- hero of the midwest
the western hero
OLD STORMALONG-hero of the seas
DAVY CROCKETT- king of the wild frontier

There are Tall Tales in many other countries, but the most famous tall tales are from the United States.







Fables are special stories which teach a special lesson about living

1. In a fable, there is usually just one lesson taught and
this is called the "moral of the story." Very often, the moral
is written in one or two sentences at the end of the story.

Though many folktales teach living lessons, fables are very
directed toward that one living lesson. Fables teach good values.

2. Many fables have animals as characters which makes
them similar in that way to "ANIMAL TALES", also called
"TALKING BEAST TALES." Some fables, however, have
people as characters.

Many fables can be traced back to authors and storytellers, such as Aesop from Ancient Greece. No one really knows for certain whether this man Aesop actually did exist. Because he was supposed to have lived as a slave in Ancient Greece ( a more particular time and place), the story of Aesop, himself, has the characteristics of a legend. His story is historical but is not proven to be true.

These fables were oral (telling) stories, especially since it is believed that Aesop could not write.

Aesop's fables are told in many places. They are famous throughout the world.

Another person who wrote fable-type stories was a French poet named Jean de LaFontaine, who was born in 1621.The existence of LaFontaine is verified. So the stories he made up might be called LITERARY FABLES and do not have some of the characteristics of a folktale. However, some of his fables were based on Aesop's fables. One example is "The Fox and the Grapes." We could say that LaFontaine did some "retelling" of older fables.





Animal Tales are sometimes called




Many of these stories are very old and started as oral stories, passed down through the generations.

1. Animal tales have animals as the main characters.

2. The animals in these tales act like people. They can do what human beings can do.

3. Even though most Fables are also Animal Tales, there are many Animal Tales which are NOT Fables.

Animal Tales are found all over the world.

Many African folktales are animal tales.







These tales can have all the characteristics of a folktale.


1. The events that happen in these stories are possible in real life . Because these stories are fiction, we think that the stories were made up. But everything that happens is realistic.

2. The characters in these stories are like people and animals that could live in real life. But since the stories are made up, the people are made up too.


There are NO magical creatures and magical events as
there are in FAIRY TALES.

There are NO exaggerations as there are in TALL TALES.

Reality Tales are usually not the same as MYTHS. Most myths do not offer modern scientific explanations for nature.

But legends can sometimes also be RealityTales when
the characers in the story are like real people, doing
things that people could do. The events in ROBIN HOOD were realistic in that everything that happened COULD happen in real life. We just do not know if everything in the stories DID actually happen.

Some Fables, such as THE BOY WHO CRIED WOLF
could be considered a reality tale.






Some folktales are Cumulative Tales.


1. Cumulative tales are usually very simple stories.

2. They sometimes have a rhythmic beat in parts of
the story. Some stories have some rhyming as well.

3. These stories have a lot of repetition.

4. Many Cumulative tales are "add on" stories. That means something is repeated, and then something is added. What is added is then repeated, and something else is added.


"THE GINGERBREAD MAN" is agood example

Click on the title to read about the story.

Another example of a Cumulative Tale is


Click on the title to read the story.


CHICKEN LITTLE also known as Henny Penny can be
considered an Animal Tale and a Cumulative Tale.

Click on the title to read the play.

(This version has many changes from the original story --
added characters, different ending. The main character of
Chicken Little was added over the years. The original version
in the Joseph Jacobs collection of English folktales had
Henny Penny as the main character. This version , written
as a play, is also new.)


A funny Cumulative Tale which is sometimes presented as a folksong is called "There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly."









In this type of story, one character is tricking the
other character. The Anansi Spider stories, which are
African Animal folktales are an example of Trickster tales.


In these stories, a main character (or more than one character)is extremely stupid. Things happen in the story are silly. Two examples of Foolish Tales are very similar:

Foolish Hans A story from Austria, and
The Blockhead and the Judge
from England.

For more about Foolish tales, click.. on this website for an excellent summary.


These stories, frequently fairy tales, have a love
story. Cinderella has elements of the Romance tale.


Many Folktales have main characters who are very brave and accomplish very dangerous tasks. The hero of the story is called "The Protagonist." He is usually the "good" character of the story. The enemy, --the "bad" character in
the story is called the "Antagonist."



Cautionary Tales have plots that leave a warning. Something happens in the story that shows the consequences of bad behavior. A good example is the Tale of Enchantment (Fairy Tale), THE FISHERMAN AND HIS WIFE.

In this story, the wife learns what happens when
one is greedy.


Closely related to the the Cautionary Tales and Fables are tales that teach values of good behavior. These tales show the benefits of living
with good behavior values.






Reading folktales is a lot of fun. Whether you want to
read a fairy tale or legend or tall tale or animal tale or
any of the other types of tales, you are in for a enjoyable time.

Every book store has some folktales. Some picture books have individual stories. There are some large
books that contain many folktales. These are called

You can go to the public library or your school library. Folktales have a number . The Dewey Decimal number for Folk Literature is 398.

There are some folktales retold on this website.

Click on the titles if you would like to read them:

Buana Simba's Pride, - a tale from East Africa

The Little Red Hen- a tale from England