Now, this may come as a surprise to some of you, but I read a lot of fairy tales.
Shocking, I know.
Lately I’ve been making an effort to read fairy tales from around the world, instead of just the Grimm Brothers, Charles Perrault, or Hans Christian Andersen. But I’ve discovered an interesting thing happens when you search for fairy tales around the world.
The lists aren’t accurate.
That’s not to say that the lists don’t have a variety of stories from around the world. They do. It’s just that quite a few stories on the lists I’ve found aren’t actually fairy tales. It seems like a lot of people use the term fairy tale interchangeably with myth, legend, and folktale. All three deal with magic and otherworldly beings, but are they the same?
What’s a writer to do but start researching what each term means and the differences between them? Luckily, I found a couple other people who have chimed in on the topic.
So what is the difference? Well, let’s look at each term individually to figure out the nuances.
The major trait of a myth is that it’s rooted in religion. Creation stories, explanations of nature, and stories concerning gods (like the Greek or Norse pantheons) are all categorized as myths. They may contain elements of magic or supernatural occurrences, but that power is tied to the gods, not magic as an entity.
A legend is a story about a specific event or person, though often exaggerated for impact. For example, Johnny Appleseed is a story based on a true person, John Chapman. The truth of his story, however, is that by planting apple seeds across a wide area, he was laying claim to the land for himself. Or King Arthur, who was a real king and warrior, though likely did not do most of what the stories say he did.
A sort of subset of legends are tall tales, which are about fictional people who represented a culture. Think Paul Bunyan, an entirely fictional character who was a stand in of sorts for lumberjacks.
Fairy tales are the most fictional of the three story types. They aren’t rooted in any sort of history or faith, nor do they tie in to real events or places. Magic is the driving force of most of them and magic creatures feature prominently. Though they do often have a moral lesson included.
What’s your favorite fairy tale and what part of the world is it from? I’m trying to expand my reading list.
Until next time, word nerds!