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I've been working on a comprehensive document that funnels tales into broader categories, and would value feedback from this community of experts. Do your tales fit within these categories, or do some spill into other genres/types? What categories would you add? Do the definitions align with your own? What changes might you make?

EPIC: Long film, book, or other work portraying heroic deeds and adventures or covering an extended period of time.

FABLE: Short story, typically with animals as characters, conveying a moral.

FAIRY TALE: Children’s story about magical and imaginary beings and lands.

FOLK TALE: Story originating in popular culture, typically passed on by word of mouth.

MYTH: a traditional story, esp. concerning the early history of a people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events

LEGEND: a traditional story sometimes popularly regarded as historical but unauthenticated

PARABLE: a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson, as told by Jesus in the Gospels

PERSONAL TALE: tale, exaggerated or otherwise, based on a personal experience

SAGA: a long story of heroic achievement, esp. a medieval prose narrative in Old Norse or Old Icelandic

TALL TALE: an improbable (unusual or incredible or fanciful) story

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Hey, Layne -

Looks good to me, professor - but, I thought of the BALLAD; perhaps you've included it beneath one of the above categories, which is fine - or, maybe I'm just a bit strange because I include'em in my arsenal of "tales" shared with the folks. So, for what it's worth...

When will you be sharing your "comprehensive document" with us?

Carry on!

Best Wishes,

Tom T
Hi Tom,

Nothing extravagant, I assure you. Just a simply study guide for students to know the diverse roads storytelling can follow. I hadn't considered ballad. Thanks for the tip!

Layne: I'm sure if you were to look at any one of those terms, Legend, Myth, Fable; you would find that the definitions blend between them. For Example, the 1828 Noah Webster American Dictionary of the English Language would better define Fable as 1. A feigned story or tale, intended to instruct or amuse. 2. Fiction in general; as, the story is all a fable. 3. An Idle story, vicious or vulgar fictions. 4. The plot, or connected series of events, in an epic or dramatic poem. 5. Falsehood; a softer term for a lie….. This would thus automatically include Parable's, Tall Tale's, Myth, fairy tales and so forth.
I'm sometimes cautious about calling myself a Folklorist for fear of pigeonholing myself. I’m not a Tall teller even though many of the tales I tell are Tall Tales. I don’t consider myself a Historian even though I often tell historically correct stories about events that took place long ago. I often admit to people that I am a professional liar and they probably wouldn’t believe the true stories I tell because they are so unbelievable. I am not a children’s storyteller even though the children love my stories, many about when I was a child. Thank God for children for otherwise, at times, there would be no audience. I can’t even define myself, let alone all of the different genre of stories I tell. It’s a good endeavor you are embarking on; I’m willing to give it a try, shall we?
So, you are looking for broader Categories to those terms. The library has done a good job with Fiction and Non Fiction etc, etc, but I think you are looking for something a bit more esoteric. I’ve decided that the terms “Fables” and “Folklore” might cover an immense category each one on its own. Again, if you study their 1828 meaning you will find an interesting thing, the word Folklore is missing as is Folktale. There must have since then been someone such as yourself who wasn’t satisfied in the terminology of the day when it came to Folk (People) and Lore (to learn, learning; doctrine; lesson; instruction. And with much simplicity put the two together and saved history from being lost. I don’t know what we would have done without him.
Of course you know I’m jokingly a bit tongue in cheek but it’s true. We had Folklore before there was a name for it and thank goodness someone found that out so we could more easily find what we are looking for on an internet search.
Now, after this brief analysis, I believe I may best describe myself as an “Orator of Fables and Folklore”, which pretty much sums it up. So, what have I left out? Oh, that’s right. Folks are now calling for new folklore and fables because the old ones are, well, old. So, should I be an Orator of “New” Fables and Folklore just because I write my own material? Gosh, then I wouldn’t be able to tell any of the old ones. Yet, I sort of specialize in Western American Fables and Folklore so perhaps that’s what I should be, but then I can’t tell about the stories of my great, great, great grandfather John Henry who swallowed the Mule down in the Southern Part of the United States after the War Between the States. What kind of stories do I tell? We’ve got to come up with a general term that would eliminate all of the explaining. Gee, how about “story.” Oh, wait, I think I get what you are going for now. Perhaps you don't want to broaden it at all but rather refine the definition; honing it down into all of the various categories. That's important so we can find the niche we are looking for but we also exclude so much because of semantics. I'm looking forward to finding new words as definers such as Balads, minstrils, legends, traditional stories, urban myths, and the like so we can refine our needs.
Anyway, it’s meant to tickle your thinker not to be taken too totally seriously.
You have undertaken a wonderful but dangerous journey in to the intellectual. Wonderful because I think we need these definitions as storytellers and story listeners. Dangerous because each scholar has their own definitions. May the Story be with you.

I like the definitions of MYTH as a story held sacred by a group or groups of people either currently or in the past, i.e. stories of worship, honor and reverence. All too often however, people use the word MYTH as meaning false or fake. "oh, that's just a myth."

I think you should also include Urban Legend as a category. They read, research and tell very different then Legends. Jan Harold Brunvand has written many books on Urban Legends and has a given them a place in Modern lore and Storytelling.

I hope that helps more then hinders.
Daniel Bishop, the Storyteller
David, Daniel . . . thanks for the feedback. I know that definitions are squirrelly, even protean. Pesky things, anyway. Tough to nail down in language something so fluid. But I appreciate the insight and suggestions you've brought to this table and will see best to fit it in. Thanks, guys!

Fairy Tale - a story in which magical helpers assist the hero/heroine to complete a task, quest, or other directive.

Fairy Tales are not just for children. Consider the great fairy tale writers of the late 17th century Parisian salons - plus the unexpurgated Brothers Grimm.
Layne, you're on a fun journey I wouldn't want to spoil, but do you know you're reinventing the wheel? Folklorists have spent a couple of centuries trying to provide a comprehensive list of tale categories, along with definitions. One essential reference book for storytellers is The Folktale, by Stith Thompson. His Tale Type Index is of course the masterwork, but The Folktale is a condensed handbook giving descriptions of the main categories of oral tales and similar, along with lots of summaries of the main tale types (read: stories and their variants). Alexander Krappe's The Science of Folklore also grapples with a similar topic, along with describing the main competing theories of folklore. It's rather old, but is wonderfully acerbic. I'm sure there are many more recent books too.

I don't have time to check Thompson but he includes Gestes as a category - comic tales.

Epics are an entire subject of their own, but they certainly aren't films or books. Some films and books borrow that word to describe their grand scope or sheer length, but as a comparison with true epics. I have seen and heard quite a few traditional bards, whose life's work it is to preserve and tell an epic, sometimes several, and they would not recognise a film as being remotely in the same league, even in the story it might express.

Fairy tales - not for children! Before comparatively recent times fairy tales weren't for children at all, and the proof is in all the adult themes. It was the Grimms who started the trend of editing them for kids. Neither were they necessarily about magic etc. This is a convoluted area, with many folklorists rejecting the misleading term in favour of marchen and folktales. Marchen is German for, I think, Wonder Tale - which is the less loaded and more accurate term. There's also the confusing fact that in recent centuries there was a fashionable trend in the French court and elsewhere for gentlewomen and courtiers to actually write 'contes du fées', and these were basically literary tales but based on folkloric structures. They were still mainly for adults though.
I'm really not trying to reinvent the wheel whatsoever. In truth, a simple document for school use is my aim. Nothing grandiose. Nothing expansive. Just a quick snapshot, really, for those unfamiliar with true storytelling. So thanks, Tim, for the tidy recommendations. They'll do quite nicely.


P.S. I apologize for the errant word "comprehensive" which led us into the forest of confusion (see first entry). Daft American anyway.
Great work here, and very helpful!

I don't want to dive in too deeply, but agree with both suggestions of ballad and urban legend. While doing some research awhile back, the folktale I was researching quickly jumped into the world of ballad, showing me how closely the two can be connected! Also, urban legends are a new genre that have firmly established themselves in our world! One that I don't quite understand, but see come up a lot is slam. Does that have a place? I don't know!

Best wishes to you and your project! STEVE

PS - I too look forward to getting the final document!

BTW - I agree that Epic is not film or book, they merely house the story, and Fairy Tales are not just for children!
Have any of you seen this article about fairy tales? What do you think?

I found it referenced in this ALA Direct blurb:

"Scholar claims print origin for fairy tales
Ruth B. Bottigheimer, a professor at Stony Brook University in New York, disputes the idea that fairy tales were handed down orally through generations until “19th and 20th-century folklorists hearkened to peasants’ words” and they were transformed into literature by the likes of the Brothers Grimm. She points to mid-16th-century Venice as the starting point for a specific kind of fairy tale, the “rise” tale or Cinderella story, invented by Giovanni Francesco Straparola, author of the 1550 collection Le piacevoli notti (Pleasant Nights). The Chronicle has a review of her book, Fairy Tales: A New History....
The Guardian (U.K.), May 19; Chronicle of Higher Education, May 22"
Ludicrous position from Bottigheimer, as most of her colleagues seem to have thought too. Firstly the fact is that Cinderella is only superficially to do with rags-to-riches, and traditional forms of it, like All-Furs, are full of deeply profound symbolism traditionally to do with the soul. Secondly the Cinderella story has been well traced through to Classical times, with key parts of it evident as far back as 6th century BC. The oral tales have always dipped in and out of the literary tradition and there's no surprise that literary sources are not only the sole evidence left of the state of oral tales from the past but that literary authors have always adapted them into a literary genre. Most of the well-known fairytales go back to at least Classical times and the Mystery Tradition where they had a more mythical form imparting a profound message. In the intervening millenia they have lost none of the profundity but have been veiled in gradually evolving shapes more suited to the changing cultures.
I'm a Joseph Campell admirer, so the idea that a Story could be originally invented at any time is highly improbable to me in the first place. Other than that, I'm not sure what to think.
Have you ever read Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Sex, Morality, and the Evolution of a Fairy Tale by Catherine Orenstein? It is an interesting analysis of this tale that we all think we know from start to finish, as interpreted by multiple time periods and subcultures.




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