Gods and Monsters
MYTHS, LEGENDS, FOLKTALES (Fairytales)
A legend is a heroic story set in the recent past that is popularly considered historical but remains unverifiable. Straddling the line between sacred and secular, legends don’t usually have religious significance but often have national or cultural significance (re: King Arthur and Robin Hood for the British, William Tell for the Swiss). Legends may be based on historical figures, but the actual adventures said figures partake in are often fictionalized or exaggerated.
A folktale (or folk tale) is a secular, fictional story that is passed down among common people and is often rooted in a superstitious belief. Unlike myths and legends, folktales are not considered sacred or truthful by storytellers (or story-listeners) and are usually told solely for entertainment’s sake. Furthermore, folktales are often described as “timeless” and “placeless”, meaning you can change a folktale’s setting—from past to present or vice versa, and/or from this land to that land or vice versa—without losing the essence of its narrative. The fluidity and adaptability of folktales further distinguish them from other story categories, as myths (and to a lesser extent, legends) tend to have not only fixed settings, but also fixed meanings.
A fairytale (or fairy tale) is a secular, fictional story, often geared toward children, that features fantastical lands, forces, and/or characters, such as fairies, elves, goblins, trolls, giants, dragons, and wizards. A sub-genre of the folktale, a fairytale does not necessarily need to feature fairies in order to earn its classification, but it does require a happy ending or “turn”—hence the expression, “fairytale ending.” According to Hobbit and Lord of the Rings author J. R. R. Tolkien, a defining characteristic of the fairy tale is that it transports readers and listeners to an alternative (but still rational and consistent) world that operates under a different set of rules than our own world. The purpose of this transportation, however, is not simply to escape from the cruelties of the real world, but to gain perspective and inspire hope. To quote Tolkien: “The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially “escapist,” nor “fugitive.” In its fairy-tale–or otherworld–setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.” (source: On Fairy-Stories) There is little doubt that Tolkien’s famed fairy otherworld, Middle-Earth, was inspired, at least in part, by the Otherworlds of Irish and Celtic mythology (e.g. Tír na nÓg, the Land of Youth; Magh Mell, the Plain of Happiness; Dún Scaith, the Fortress of Shadows). And the numerous Irish fairytales associated with these mystical realms were likely sources of further inspiration.
MythA myth is a traditional story that may answer life's overarching questions, such as the origins of the world (the creation myth) or of a people. A myth can also be an attempt to explain mysteries, supernatural events, and cultural traditions. Sometimes sacred in nature, a myth can involve gods or other creatures. It presents reality in dramatic ways.Many cultures have their own versions of common myths that contain archetypal images and themes. One common myth that spans multiple cultures is that of a great flood. Myth criticism is used to analyze these threads in literature. A prominent name in myth criticism is that of the literary critic, professor, and editor Northrop Frye.
Folklore and FolktaleWhereas myth has at its core the origins of a people and is often sacred, folklore is a collection of fictional tales about people or animals. Superstitions and unfounded beliefs are important elements in the folklore tradition. Both myths and folklore were originally circulated orally.Folktales describe how the main character copes with the events of everyday life, and the tale may involve crisis or conflict. These stories may teach people how to cope with life (or dying) and also have themes common among cultures worldwide. The study of folklore is called folkloristics.
LegendA legend is a story that's purported to be historical in nature but that is without substantiation. Prominent examples include King Arthur, Blackbeard, and Robin Hood. Where evidence of historical figures, such as King Richard, actually exists, figures such as King Arthur are legends due in large part to the many stories that have been created about them.Legend also refers to anything that inspires a body of stories or anything of lasting importance or fame. The story is handed down orally but continues to evolve with time. Much of early literature began as legend told and retold in epic poems that were passed down orally originally, then at some point written down. These include masterpieces such as the Greek Homeric Poems ("The Iliad" and "The Odyssey"), circa 800 BCE, to the French "Chanson de Roland," circa 1100 CE.
Fairy TaleA fairy tale may involve fairies, giants, dragons, elves, goblins, dwarves, and other fanciful and fantastic forces. Although originally not written for children, in the most recent century, many old fairy tales have been "Disneyfied" to be less sinister and to appeal to kids. These stories have taken on lives of their own. In fact, many classic and contemporary books, such as "Cinderella," "Beauty and the Beast," and "Snow White," are based on fairy tales. But read the original Grimm brothers' fairy tales, for example, and you'll be surprised at the endings and how they differ from the versions that you may have grown up with.
Nine Examples from Around the World
THE BULL OF HEAVEN (Middle East)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bull_of_Heavenhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epic_of_Gilgamesh
LI CHI THE SERPENT SLAYER (China)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Li_Ji_slays_the_Giant_Serpenthttps://www.rejectedprincesses.com/princesses/li-chi
THOR (Scandinavia)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorhttps://www.worldhistory.org/Thor/ ALATANGANA (Kono People, Africa)African Mythology (Yale): https://teachersinstitute.yale.edu/curriculum/units/1998/2/98.02.03/4https://mythcrafts.com/2019/02/07/a-creation-myth-from-guinea-death-and-his-son-in-law/
QUETZALCOATL (Aztec, Mexico)https://www.worldhistory.org/Quetzalcoatl/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quetzalcoatl
SEDNA (Inuit, Canada)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sedna_(mythology)https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/the-goddess-of-the-sea-the-story-of-sedna