A preliminary and incomplete definition of folktales based upon G. S. Kirk’s Myth. Its Meaning and Functions in Ancient and Other Cultures. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970 (pg. 37):

Traditional tales, of no firmly established form, in which supernatural elements are subsidiary; they are not primarily concerned with ‘serious’ subjects or the reflection of deep problems and preoccupations; and their first appeal lies in their narrative interest.


specific characters,
often superhuman

lack of ordinary logic

unpredictable sequence of events

due especially to supernatural elements


element of seriousness

deals with timeless past


generic characters,
usually ordinary

logical progression of events

use of ingenuity

kind of wish-fulfilment fantasy

reflect simple social situations

element of entertainment

historical time


This material has been published on the web by Prof. Tom Sienkewicz for his students at Monmouth College. If you have any questions, you can contact him at toms@monm.edu.

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