Folk Tales and Fairy Tales

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FOLK TALES AND FAIRY TALES: WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE? The answer to that is: not much. I could write a book on what makes a folk tale a folk tale or a fairy tale a fairy tale, but I won't do that (lucky you!). Some experts say that fairy tales are simply a sub-genre of folk tales and are different only in that they involve magic and/or fantastic creatures. That's a bit of an oversimplification, but without more instruction about the structure and elements of each story, it will do for now. There is more to know about the structure of these stories, but if I teach you everything now, you'll have nothing left to learn in high school, and that would be a bad thing! To make things even more confusing, these days, many books are written that cross genres, so you may find elements of a folk tale in a fantasy novel or a mystery. You may find elements of or characters from fairy tales in contemporary fiction, updated for a modern audience. This new approach to storytelling keeps literature alive and is something to celebrate even if it sometimes blurs the lines between genres and makes it hard to give you easy definitions. Folk tales: To be a true folk tale, a story must have its origins in what we call the oral tradition. This means the story was first passed down orally by storytellers. Along the way it may have had things added or subtracted as each storyteller made it his or her own. It eventually was written down, which is why you're able to read it in a book now, but it wasn't written down first. For example, Paul Bunyan reads like a folk tale and has many folk tale elements in it, but it is not a true folk tale because it was a written story to begin with and not something passed down through the generations orally. Folk tales are instructive. They caution readers/listeners about the consequences of certain kinds of behaviors or attitudes.
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