A short story filled with fantasy elements. It is a perfect imaginary world where heroes defeat their adversaries, succeed to kingdoms and marry princesses. A world filled with archetypical people and beings ranging from princes to ogres and dragons. Where talking animals, magic and over the top unrealistic things are common, like trees of money and rivers of milk. Despite the name, actual fairies don’t have to be a part of the story. Talking animals and magic is more common than fairies. Animals that talk do not make a fairy tale, though. Some people argue that magic does, others say that metamorphose is the key to making a fairy tale. Fairy tales don’t have references to real people, places or time. It always starts with “once upon a time”, they are placed in an unreal world. The ending is usually always “…and they lived happily ever after.” For that reason it is also used to describe a real life situation as a “fairy tale ending” because of its unusually happy ending. However sometimes a fairy tale has a tragic ending and so it is called an anti-fairy tale.
The term fairy tale is used mostly for stories originally from European tradition. They were originally meant for adults just as much as children but in the 19th century there was a shift towards children. The oldest fairy tale novel known is “The Golden Ass” from the late second century. The first known literary version of Cinderella is written in China in the 9th century called “Ye Xian”. Fairy tales can be found in literary or oral form, but it is hard to trace how far back they go because only the literary form survives. It is believed to date back to thousands of years ago.
A lot of fairy tales were modified, The Brothers Grimm focused on sexual references which had to be cut out. However, contemporary writers have focused on retelling fairy tales through the use of explicit sexuality, dark or comic themes, multicultural and LGBT. Fairy tales have been enacted dramatically, in the past enacting and oral telling were the only ways, but recently they have been performed in pantomimes and even played in cinemas. A lot of Disney films are fairy tale adaptations, some known ones are: Aladdin from Arabian Nights, Mulan from traditional chinese story of Hua Mulan, Frozen from The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen.
Fairy tales may transform into legends if the writer and reader agree that it is grounded on historical truth. Before fantasy was its own specific genre, many works that would be fantasy were classified as fairy tale including “The Hobbit”. The difference is that fantasy focuses on magic as its main plot.
Common fairy tale traits:
- Good character: innocent, kind, clever, helped by others
- Evil character: witch, demon, sinister gnome, evil stepmother, loses in the end
- Royalty: castle, prince, princess, king, queen
- Poverty: poor working girl or family, poor people trying to make enough money to eat
- Magic: talking animals/objects, fairies, trolls, dragons, unicorns, etc
- Patterns: things, tasks, phrases appear in “threes”, “sixes” or “sevens”
- Human weakness explored, human strength glorified
- Triumph of the poor
- Struggle between good and evil
- Impossible tasks
Some of the most known fairy tale authors are: Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault, Hans Christen Andersen, Charles Dickens.
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Heidi Anne Heiner. (2014). Fairy Tale Timeline. Available: http://www.surlalunefairytales.com/introduction/timeline.html. Last accessed 2nd Oct 2016.
Wikipedia contributors. (2016). Ye Xian. Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ye_Xian. Last accessed 2nd Oct 2016.
Etymologically the word legend comes from the Latin word “Legenda” and it means “that which should be read”
In the world of uncertainty, they are never completely believed in but also never completely denied. They have facts and truth to them, people just use their creativity and imagination to expand on that fact and use that to explain something that is a mystery or that can’t be explained scientifically. They are not outside of realm of possibility but they may include miracles. There is no proof of many of the things and what is made up gets mixed up with the truth.
Initially, during the medieval times, legends would tell stories about saints but they began transforming into stories that speak about the culture and traditions of people. Now they usually involve notable people from history, their heroic deeds, overcoming obstacles or even evildoing. Often transmitting the spiritual beliefs of the culture they originate in. It has well known examples all over the world: Werewolf story, loch ness monster, Jesus, Atlantis, and Robin Hood.
We can take it as a degeneration of Myth because as the popular Portuguese saying goes “Quem conta um conto aumenta um ponto” which translates to: Whoever tells the story adds a little bit more. Since legends are retold orally from generation to generation they suffer a lot of change during the years. Unlike myths, legends are placed in a given timeline. Ernst Bernheim asserted that a legend is simply a longstanding rumour. As they get popular they may become written down as fairy tales.
Urban legends are related to things that are modern or that happened recently with the objective to scare people. They have a sensationalist characteristic. Unfortunately urban legends die off quickly because the scare factor is gone.
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The word myth is derived from the Greek word “mythos” (μῦθος), which simply means “story”.
They were first told by ancient people in the form of a narrative to explain origins of the world, Man, nature’s phenomenons and anything that still had not been explained by science. These stories were told with the use of a lot of symbolism, supernatural people, gods and heroes. However, there is no evidence to prove it as fact; no evidence that any of the events occurred or the people existed. They take place in a timeless past, and are not set in any timeline. There is a famous myth about Prometheus stealing fire from Zeus and giving it to humans so they could keep themselves warm. Prometheus is then chained and has an eagle eating his liver every day and it regenerates during the night. No proof, no timeline. So it is a myth. They’re merely fictional stories created to explain some type of creation that is not understood. Historical events can become myths as long as the people from that culture assign a symbolism that makes that fact relevant to their lives. Sometimes myths were even accepted as fact, for example the Greek and roman gods. All cultures have their own myths, some issues, like the creation of the world are basis for a lot of different myths.
Recently myth has been used to describe a common thing that is believed in but has no proof, in other words, a contemporary myth. A black cat walking across the road gives bad luck, is a widely known one. Some people find offense when their story is called a myth.
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Fable derives from the Latin word “fabula” which means story or tale. The authors of fables are called fabulists. Aesop is believed to be one of the first, if not the first fabulist from around 550 BC.
Also known as apologue, fable is a short prose or verse text in which the characters are animals, legendary creatures, plants, inanimate objects or forces of nature with anthropomorphic attributes. Not only do they speak, think and act like humans, they also have acquired human vices and virtues (greed, pride, honesty, scepticism, etc.) Although they still do behave like animals sometimes.
They are usually educational and provide a moral at the end of the story. It usually has a proverb like “slow and steady wins the race”, “a man is known by the company he keeps” or “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.
Fables around the world: Africa has a rich oral story-telling tradition where the grandparents fill the role of story tellers. India has a rich tradition of fabulous novels. Indian fables have a mix cast of humans and animals, but humans are not superior to animals. The dialogues are longer than in Aesop’s fables and they are usually animals trying to outwit each other. In Europe fables became part of high literature. In the 17th century Jean de La Fontaine saw that the heart of fables lied in the moral and set out to satirize the court, the church and everything of his time. He was the model for future fabulists from other countries. In the modern age fables have also been adapted to adult literature. Fables can be found in almost every country’s literature.
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A parable is a short story in prose or verse that tells a lesson or a principle. Unlike fables, it excludes animals, plants, inanimate object and forces of nature; instead it has only humans in it. It sketches a setting describes an action and shows the results. Usually a person is faced with a dilemma; the person makes a bad decision and faces the unintended consequences. With the presence of a subtext it suggests how we should behave or what we should believe in. Parables frequently use metaphorical language, in fact a parable could be said to be a metaphor that was transformed into a narrative. But they differ from allegories because an allegory may have multiple non contradictory interpretations and may have ambiguous or hard to interpret implications. The Bible contains numerous parables. Jesus relied heavily on parables to teach the world and tell them the truth. These parables from the bible were previously thought to be allegories. Parables also appear in Islam and in Sufi tradition. A great modern parable is “Parable of the broken window” which criticizes part of the economic thinking. The word parable comes from the Greek “parabole” meaning “comparison, analogy, illustration.” Conclusively, the word is an analogy.
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7 types of stories
The meta-plot has 5 stages:
- Anticipation stage: Introduction of Hero and his adventure
- Dream stage: The hero has some success at the start of his adventure
- Frustration stage: The hero faces his first enemy and resolution seems harder to get
- Nightmare stage: Final ordeal, climax of the story
- Resolution stage: End of story, final plot twist or hero overcoming his ordeal.
The original 7 basic plots of story:
- Man against man
- Man against nature
- Man against himself
- Man against god
- Man against society
- Man caught in the middle
- Man and woman
A more recent version has been written by Christopher Booker, which is less confusing:
- Overcoming the monster – The hero sets out to defeat a great evil that threatens him or his homeland.
Ex: Star wars, Harry Potter, Braveheart.
- Rags to riches – A common and simple protagonist acquires some type of wealth or power or success and ends up living happily ever after.
Ex: Cinderella, Aladdin, The Hunger Games
- The quest – The protagonist goes on a journey to find an important item or get to a location facing many obstacles in his way.
Ex: The Lord of the Rings, One Piece, Indiana Jones
- Voyage and return – Travel to an unknown land and after overcoming the difficulties there, return to original place.
Ex: Back to the Future, Chronicles of Narnia, Finding Nemo
- Comedy – A community divided by some sort of problems cause confusion but in the end they are reunited.
Ex: Much Ado About Nothing, Four Weddings and a Funeral, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
- Tragedy – The opposite of rags to riches, where the protagonist makes a fatal mistake which is their undoing.
Ex: Macbeth, Bonnie and Clyde, Breaking Bad
- Rebirth – Follows the same path as a tragedy but the hero realizes his mistake before too late and transforms into a better person
Ex: How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Despicable Me, Beauty and the Beast
Booker also spoke about 2 other types of story which were much less common: Rebellion against “the one”; Mystery.
These two types of story are much less relevant, and rare so Booker didn’t give them as much importance because they don’t have as much depth.
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Len Wilson. (2015). THERE ARE ONLY SEVEN STORIES IN THE WORLD.Available: http://lenwilson.us/seven-stories/. Last accessed 2nd Oct 2016.