First, a note about terms. Folk tales are traditional tales that (like

First, a note about terms. Folk tales are traditional tales that (like fables) were circulated orally for centuries before they were written down. A subset of folk tales are tales involving magic, more commonly called fairy tales. This term, “fairy tales,” can also mean literary tales following the form of traditional tales that have been written by a single author more recently. I’ll ask you to think about these distinctions with a reading later in the lesson.
Folk tales originate from an oral tradition that dates back hundreds of years. As the name suggests, folk tales are stories that were told by ordinary people to entertain each other and pass the time. They were originally shared by adults and adolescents, both for amusement and to introduce adolescents to a metaphorical way of thinking about problems in the adult world. These stories may have exaggerated or unexpected elements. So, for example, a young woman’s nervousness about who her family might arrange for her to marry is symbolically represented by her marriage to a bear (in “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”). Cultures all over the world have their own folk and fairy tale traditions, though they often have some basic things (like talking animals) in common.
Because folk tales and early fairy tales were written for adults and adolescents, and later fairy tales are usually written either for children, for adults reading to children, or adolescents, Barbara Wall’s categorization of address is useful to consider. She defines three modes of address: single, double, and dual. Single address describes narration that is entirely directed to an audience of children. Double address describes a narrative style that slips back and forth between addressing children and adults (for example, the moral at the end of a fable is usually written for adult understanding). Dual address is narration that simultaneously appeals to both children and adults (for example, Charlotte’s Web, which is written in a style that is easy for children to understand but also suggests deeper questions that both adults and children think about). What kind of address does “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” use, and is it different from the address used in “Beauty and the Beast”? What kinds of address do you see in the different versions of “Little Red Riding Hood”?
We know many European folk tales through the literary adaptations in 17th-century France by Madame d’Aulnoy and Charles Perrault (his 1697 book Histoires du temps passe ou Contes de ma mère l’Oye (Stories of past times or Tales of My Mother Goose) contains well-known characters like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Puss in Boots, and Little Red Riding Hood) and in the 18th century by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont (who was French but lived in England). In the 19th century, scholars became more interested in collecting traditional tales from people still telling stories aloud, although there was still some editing and adaptation into writing. In Germany
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm wanted to study traditional language, proverbs, and tales, and they first published Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales) and kept republishing (and re-editing some of the stories) through 6 more editions. (Please read the “Collaborations” section in the Wikipedia link above to learn more about the cultural context of their work.) In Great Britain, some of the active tale collectors were George Webbe Dasent, Andrew Lang, and Joseph Jacobs.
In the 20th century, folklorists became very interested in trying to classify and analyze tales from around the world. The Finnish folklorist Antti Aarne was the first scholar to try to compare and classify folk tales from around the world. He published his first classification system for folk tales in 1910, and it has since been updated by Stith Thompson and Hans-Jörg Uther. If you’re curious about this classification system, you can learn more at Folklore and Mythology Electronic Texts (Links to an external site.)
Links to an external site.
(these links are optional reading).
Starting in the 1970s, some authors became very interested in what else could be done with fairy tales. Three major trends have developed:
1) Feminist fairy tales – these are either collections of traditional folk tales with strong female heroes or new literary tales re-imagining the conventions of fairy tales from feminist perspectives. (The tv show Once Upon a Time has drawn from this trend.)
2) Parodic fairy tales – Shrek (need I say more?)
3) Adapting fairy tales for modern contexts or into different genres.
I want you to understand the basic components of a tale: motifs, character types, functions, and tale type. That’s how we (folklorists) track tales across versions and in different forms. A motif is any significant element repeated across tales. It can be an object (like an enchanted ring), a specific kind of character (like a wicked stepmother), or a specific event (like falling into an enchanted sleep).
Character types are the major kinds of characters in fairy tales: Hero (protagonist), Helper (someone who offers advice or intangible assistance), Donor (someone who gives the hero a tangible gift), the Villain, and the Princess (who can be any object of a quest or anyone who needs assistance, not necessarily a princess. These character types are used in other genres, too. So, for Star Wars, the Hero is Luke Skywalker, the Helpers are the droids, Han Solo, and Chewbacca, the Donor is Obi-Wan Kenobi (he gives Luke the lightsaber as well as advice), the Villain is Darth Vader, and the Princess is Princess Leia.
Vladimir Propp, a Russian folklorist, developed a universal outline for traditional fairy tales. The elements of the outline are called functions. Not all functions are present in all tales, but they occur in certain sequences in order. (See the reading below for more details.)
A tale type is the basic narrative that allows us to recognize different versions of “Cinderella” as all being basically the same story, and allows us to tell “Cinderella” (AT 510) apart from “Beauty and the Beast” (AT 425-C). Motifs are repeated across tale types in different combinations, but each tale type has a unique sequence of motifs