In a recent craft discussion at the GLVWG monthly meeting, professional storyteller Charles Kiernan discussed the evolvement of literary storytelling. Before the invention of the Guttenberg Press, or handwritten accounts by trained scribes, legends, folktales, and mythology were passed down through generations by word of mouth. The following are notes from Charles’ seminar.
Mythology, legends, folktales, and fairytales can be lumped together as pre-literary.
Mythology: Myths are the creation stories of a given culture, replete with characters representing fundamental aspects of that culture. And yet those characters have personality traits that appear to be individual. These gods and goddesses are both universal and unique. We, as individuals, tend to identify with one or another of these divine beings. Each of us has our primary myth.
Legend: This form of storytelling deals with maybe/historical heroes and heroines, again associated with a given culture. King Arthur, Sigurd, and Roland come to mind. They touch on and converse with mythological figures. The distinction between the two is not always clear.
Folktales: More often stories of the common people, although not always. Legendary figures like the indomitable Irish warrior Fionn mac Cumhaill can appear as Fin McCool, a downgraded, buffoonish giant in the folktale.
Fairy Tales: These are a sub-category of folktales. The distinction between the two is that fairy tales have the element of magic. It hurts me to say “sub-category.” Fairy tales are superior to folktales and perhaps the origins of myth.
There is the argument among folklorist about whether fairy tales come out of myths, or if myths come out of fairy tales. I suggest the answer is “yes.”
Literary Fairy Tales: These are, of course, fairy tales written down with an eye on the literate reader, one use to literary conventions. His name is Hans Christian Andersen.
Ok, maybe that is not fair, but he does exemplify the literary treatment of fairy tales.