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Folklore is an umbrella term for the entirety of the traditions of a people, ethnic group or subgroup. Folklorists (people who research folklore) divide their subject of study into four areas: physical (artifacts, folk art, traditional costume), behavioral (customs, rituals, festivals, traditional games), cultural (beliefs, social norms and values), and oral (poetry, narratives and sayings).note  The part of folklore that interests us on this wiki is, for the most part, the oral kind alone.

Oral folklore forms a continuum with Mythology, but in contrast to myths and Legends which are predominantly concerned with gods and heroes, folklore is closer to the everyday life of the common people and doesn't exclude the mundane. So-called "low mythology" –- beliefs about non-human beings that someone who holds a mythical worldview might expect to encounter in personal life -– may also be considered a part of folklore.

The term "folklore" was coined in the 19th century, an era when intellectuals became increasingly aware that industrialization and the rapid progress of science and technology caused a massive transformation of society and culture, in the course of which much of the customs and traditions of pre-industrial Europe were falling into oblivion. As a reaction, there arose an academic movement dedicated to the salvaging and documentation of such subject matter before it would be lost forever. This is the reason that nearly all the popular European fairy tale collections date from the 19th century. At the time, folklore was primarily associated, if not equated with the medium of Oral Tradition.

However, the Romantic spirit of the era was also preoccupied with unrealistic assumptions about the high age and pristine „purity“ of oral tradition. Much of these assumptions have been debunked: While folklore sometimes indeed preserves very old elements, it as well is in a constant process of change. As an afterglow of these Romantic ideas, the age of a specific piece of oral folklore has often been, and sometimes still is, overestimated.

Another heritage of the term's history is that "folklore" is primarily connected with old, if not extinct traditions. Other than that, there is no fundamental reason why modern society and culture could not be researched by folklorists.

Folk narratives

Folktales are often equated with fairy tales, though folklorists prefer the former term as "fairy tale" is a somewhat vague term that has no hard definition. The classification of folktales is a matter on which much ink has been spilled; the following is a list of common categories, though these are not necessarily complete nor mutually exclusive:

  • Wonder tales: Quintessential fairy tales, who deal with mostly young heroes or heroines overcoming supernatural enemies, curses or enchantments; often receiving equally supernatural aid in the process. Examples: "Rapunzel," "Sleeping Beauty," "Rumpelstiltskin," "Snow White," and many more.
  • Realistic Tales (a.k.a. "novellas"): Tales where supernatural elements play only minor parts or none at all (though the plot may not necessarily be probable). Examples: "King Thrushbeard," various stories of the "Judgment of Solomon" type.
  • Stupid Ogre Tales: A clever, mostly young hero outwits a stupid ogre, giant, devil, or some other non-human enemy of that kind. Examples: "The Brave Little Tailor," "Jack and the Beanstalk."
  • (Beast) fables: Moral tales that very frequently use animals, with their associated stereotypes, to exemplify a lesson. Examples: Aesop's Fables, "The Farmer and the Viper" type tales.
  • Animal tales: Tales with animal heroes. They rely on the same Animal Stereotypes as beast fables, however they aim for pure entertainment, not moral lessons. Almost always, the tale is about how an ostensibly weaker animal outwits a larger, stronger or otherwise seemingly superior one. Examples: "The Hare and the Hedgehog," "The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids."
  • Religious Tales: Superhuman/divine forces punish evil or foolish behavior and reward honest or morally exemplary behavior. In the West, they often took the form of "legends of Saints," but the type itself is not tied to any specific religion. See "Honest Axe"-type stories; even Perrault's comical "The Ludicrous Wishes" is at its core a religious tale.
  • Just So Stories: What it says. Can be moral in tone, funny, or both. Example: "How the Bear lost its Tail"
  • Cautionary Tales: Tales told specifically to children to deter them from undesirable behaviour by means of Scare 'Em Straight. Consequently they often result in a Downer Ending. "Little Red Riding Hood" is a quintessential cautionary tale.
  • Nursery Tales: Tales specifically intended for smaller children. They often take the form of a "chain tale" (or "cumulative tale") –- the same loop repeats over and over again (though with a little change each time). The plot is usually quite silly, as the fun is more in telling them lively, and they often contain verses that children can learn. Typical nursery tales are "The Gingerbread Man" and "Goldilocks" (a.k.a. "The Three Bears").
  • Tall Tales: Obvious absurdities for entertainment's sake. The name derives from a specific type of such stories about people or things that are improbably tall, such as the Paul Bunyan stories. But Tall Tales are not necessarily about tall things; the Tom Thumb stories, about a hero that is impossibly small, are (ironically) rooted in the Tall Tale genre too.
  • Joke Stories and Anecdotes: Funny stories about people that are exceptionally dumb, clever tricksters that make fools of their fellowmen, and other droll stories. Often satirize human flaws like avarice, hypocrisy and foolishness.

Folk Legends differ from folk tales in that they have an (at least vaguely) fixed setting in time and space. In their origins, they are passed down as something that really happened, or at least possibly happened; this is their difference from folk tales, which are always considered to be non-factual. Of course, the modern age has made this distinction a little more blurry, as we don't believe any more in the historical reality of "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" (a folk legend) than we do in the story of "Hansel and Gretel" (a folk tale). Even today, however, the notion that there is "a true core" behind legends is still quite common. Many folk legends are ghost stories; others extol the memorable deeds of Folk Heroes. To think that all folk legends are products of past ages is a mistake, though: The modern age continues to spawn its own folk legends, commonly called Urban Legends.

Folk Ballads are not so much a separate genre, but rather folk tales or folk legends packaged in folk song (see Narrative Poem).

Non-narrative oral folklore:


Folktales and folktale characters [Literary Fairy Tales will go only on Fairy Tale, traditional fairy tales will be on both indexes.]

Fairy Tales

Nursery Tales

Beast Fables

Tall Tales

Folk Legend [remove from Fairy Tale]

Individual legends

Folk Heroes

... and other Characters of Folk Legend

Folk Legend Subcategories

Folk Ballads

  • The Child Ballads (a.k.a. The English and Scottish Popular Ballads by Francis J. Child, 1882-98)
  • "Tam Lin"

Beings of folk belief



East Asia




Northwestern Europe


[Much more could be collected in this category.]

Folklore subcategories