Introduction: What is a Folktale

To understand folk stories, we must start with the word folk, which comes from the German word volk, meaning people. A folk story is a tale that originated from a particular cultural group in a distant time and place.

The word folk actually suggests plain or simple people who have the best and worst traits of a culture but lack education or sophistication. The knowledge and beliefs embedded in a folk culture come intuitively from the heart and from the accumulated experience of a group of people. The folklore of all cultural groups deals with nature and natural remedies for physical and psychological conditions and reveals practical knowledge that is useful in daily life.

The identities of the authors have usually been lost through time, but the stories live through repeated telling; they are passed down from one generation to the next to illustrate a lesson, moral value, belief or custom that is considered extremely important by a particular folk culture. The stories teach by example and have one or more of the following characteristic features.

Simplicity: Folk stories are simple tales about simple people. The language is easy to understand. The ideas are clear and straightforward. The characters are either good or bad, strong or weak, rich or poor, wise or foolish. It is easy to love them or hate them, to respect or abhor them. Folk characters are transparent and simple to understand.

Fantasy, magic and the supernatural: Folk stories usually have one or more of these elements. In almost every folktale, something very magical happens. Trees and animals speak. Gods descend from the heavens and change things in supernatural ways. Wizards, witches, fairies, or goblins may cause mischief or perform wonders. Fantasy, magic, and supernatural intervention in the course of ordinary events make a good story and appeal to the reader’s imagination

Customs, traditions and beliefs: Folk stories remind people of their cultural origins. The customs, traditions and beliefs expressed in folktales link people to their history and root them in their past. And, thus, these cultural components are passed on through the generations in the retelling of the tales.

A Moral: Folk stories always contain a moral. In other words, they teach an important lesson about human nature that is clear and convincing. It is the moral lessons they teach that make them live through the centuries. Parents use them to teach their children important lessons that will prepare them to live well with a deeper understanding of their fellow human beings.

Now that you are more familiar with the features of folktales, you can read them for their deeper meaning and focus on the simple but vivid stories that depict the moral struggle of the human mind and spirit as magically as they narrate fanciful events.

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