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Folklore definitions: Myths, Legends, Fables, and more

So, what exactly is the difference between a myth and a legend? A folktale and a tall tale? Where do you draw the line between a fable and a fairytale? What is the difference between a normal legend and an urban one? For those of you who have spent many a sleepless night pondering such mysteries, I have written up a quick folklore vocabulary list to help solve the murky intricacies of folklore and allow you to sleep at night.

Folklore definitions.

Folktale: A story or legend forming part of an oral tradition.

Tall Tale: An extravagant, fanciful or greatly exaggerated story. Usually focuses on the achievements of the ultimate hero.

Myths: Traditional, typically ancient stories dealing with supernatural beings, ancestors, or heroes that serves as a fundamental type in the worldview of a people. The purpose of myths is to account for the origins of something, explain aspects of the natural world or delineate the psychology, customs, or ideals of society.

Legends: A traditional tale handed down from earlier times and believed to have an historical basis.

Urban Legends: Apocryphal stories involving rather fantastic contemporary incidents which have a tantalizing bit of plausibility to them. Urban legends contain many folkloric elements and are disseminated through mass media.

Fable: A short narrative making a moral point. Often employs animals with human characteristics (powers of speech, etc.) as the main characters of the story.

Fairy tale: A fanciful tale of legendary deeds and creatures, usually intended for children.

Sources Used: URL: Accessed 5-5-05.
Axelrod, Alan. 2000. The Penguin Dictionary of American Folklore. Penguin Reference: New York.


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