What is the Difference?
Let’s examine the differences in words that describe some works of fiction; stories such as fairy tale, folktale, folklore, myth, legend, etc.
Most of us know what a fantasy story is. This is a story made up by the author generally not based on any other source than out of the imagination, although the author may use certain characters out of myth or legend.
Here are the various dictionary definitions of types of writing that are similar from Answers.com:
An extended narrative poem in elevated or dignified language, celebrating the feats of a legendary or traditional hero or a literary or dramatic composition that resembles an extended narrative poem celebrating heroic feats.
A usually short narrative making an edifying or cautionary point and often employing as characters animals that speak and act like humans. A story about legendary persons and exploits.
The creative imagination; unrestrained fancy or something, such as an invention, that is a creation of the fancy.
A story passed on by word of mouth rather than by writing, and thus partly modified by successive re-tellings before being written down or recorded. The category includes legends, fables, jokes, tall stories, and fairy tales or Märchen. Many folktales involve mythical creatures and magical transformations.
The traditional beliefs, myths, tales, and practices of a people, transmitted orally.
An unverified story handed down from earlier times, especially one popularly believed to be historical.
Märchen [mairh-yen], the German term for tales of enchantment and marvels, usually translated as ‘fairy tales’ despite the absence of actual fairies from most examples; also for a single such tale (the singular and plural forms being the same). Märchen have been divided into two categories: the Volksmärchen are folktales of the kind collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in their celebrated Kinder und Hausmärchen (1812), while Kunstmärchen are ‘art tales’, that is, literary creations like the uncanny tales of E. T. A. Hoffmann.
A body or collection of myths belonging to a people and addressing their origin, history, deities, ancestors, and heroes.
A prose narrative usually written in
Last we come to the reason for this article, the meaning of the fairy tale.
A fanciful tale of legendary deeds and creatures, usually intended for children or this definition of a fictitious, highly fanciful story or explanation.
We think of fairy tales as stories written for children but in all actuality this wasn’t always the case especially those that start “once upon a time.” These were actually written for an adult readership. Many that have been handed down were created by females; many more than written by men but in generations back women were not usually recognized as writers such as in the case of George Sand who was actually a woman using a masculine nom-de-plume. Most of these stories had been handed down from grandmother to mother and retold over and over again. Sources state that these fairy tales were much more inventive and clever than some we know of now and have pretty much been lost over time or changed so much they wouldn’t be recognizable compared to the original and are now credited to male authors who collected and changed them.
Originally, stories we would now call fairy tales were merely a kind of tale, not marked out as a separate genre. The German term "Märchen" means, literally, "tale" rather than any specific type. The genre itself was first marked out by writers of the Renaissance, who began to define a genre of tales, and became stabilized through the works of many writers, becoming an unquestioned genre in the works of the Brothers Grimm. In this evolution, the name was coined when the précieuses took up writing literary stories; Madame d'Aulnoy invented the term contes de fée, or fairy tale.
Prior to the definition of the genre of fantasy, many works that would now be classified as fantasy were termed "fairy tales", including Tolkien's The Hobbit, George Orwell's Animal Farm, and L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Indeed, Tolkien's "On Fairy-Stories" includes discussions of world-building and is considered a vital part of fantasy criticism. Although fantasy, particularly in the sub-genre fairytale fantasy, draws heavily on fairy tale motifs, the genres are now regarded as distinct. (wikipedia.org-fairy tale)
Even though many of the stories do not feature fairies per se, those of a literary style out of
The Russian tale Tsarevitch Ivan, the Fire Bird and the Gray Wolf features no fairies, but a talking wolf. One universally agreed-on factor is that the nature of a tale does not depend on whether fairies appear in it. Obviously, many people, including Angela Carter in her introduction to the Virago Book of Fairy Tales, have noted that a great many of so-called fairy tales do not feature fairies at all. As Stith Thompson and Carter herself point out, talking animals and the presence of magic seem to be more common to the fairy tale than fairies themselves. However, the mere presence of animals that talk does not make a tale a fairy tale, especially when the animal is clearly a mask on a human face, as in fables.
In his essay "On Fairy-Stories", J. R. R. Tolkien agreed with the exclusion of "fairies" from the definition, defining fairy tales as stories about the adventures of men in Faërie, the land of fairies, fairytale princesses, dwarves, elves, and not only other magical species but many other marvels. However, the same essay excludes tales that are often considered fairy tales, citing as an example The Monkey's Heart, which Andrew Lang included in The Lilac Fairy Book. Other tales that include no magic but are often classified as fairy tales include What Is the Fastest Thing in the World? and Catskin.
The fairy tale, told orally, is a sub-class of the folktale. Many writers have written in the form of the fairy tale. These are the literary fairy tales, or Kunstmärchen. The oldest forms, from Panchatantra to the Pentamerone, show considerable reworking from the oral form. The Brothers Grimm were among the first to try to preserve the features of oral tales. Yet the stories printed under the Grimm name have been considerably reworked to fit the written form. (wikipedia.org-fairy tale)
Many of the stories did come out of
At the same time, literary fairy tales of great imagination and invention, often quite cruel and gruesome, were being created by the women surrepticiously rebelling against the contraints placed on them by their restrictive society. They were not written for children. (Bob Huang)
Some of these tales were political parody or satirical in nature and people would gather at someone’s home to socialize, dance and tell these stories, still referred to as fairy tales. Many did not have happy endings and when the Countess de Murat told one that satirized Louis XIV she was banished from his court. Many of these tales dealt with love or marriage and sometimes political intrigue concerning the aristocrats.
Charles Perrault had a niece named Marie-Jeanne L’ Heritier who was considered very controversial for the time. She did not marry and devoted her time to writing. This is what peeked Perrault’s interest in the fairy tales. Many of these types of pursuits ran in the family so it wasn’t altogether unexpected that she would choose to be a writer. One tale she wrote was entitled “Adventures of Finette” and was about a woman who wins by her wits regardless of her two lazy sisters and an evil prince. Remember, stories were slightly changed over time but this is reminiscent of Cinderella. Cinderella has over 340 variations. The one that was written by Perrault is different than the one written by the Brothers Grimm. Various versions of Cinderella are included on the site.
Bob Huang, The Origin and Evolution of Fairy Tales
Hamilton, Martha and Mitch, Weiss. Children Tell Stories: A Teaching Guide.
(Original sources listed at end of article)