Myths, Legends & Folktales

Myths, Legends, Folktales

Prose Narratives

Myths, legends, and folktales are narratives in prose – referred to as prose narratives. This distinguishes them from proverbs, riddles, ballads, poems, and other verbal forms.


Myths 

Myths are prose narratives which, in the society in which they are told, are considered to be truthful accounts of what happened in the remote past.

Characteristics of Myths

  • Accepted on faith, taught to be believed, and can be cited as authority in answer to ignorance, doubt, or disbelief.
  • Embodiment of dogma, usually sacred, and often associated with theology and ritual.
  • Main characters are usually not humans, but they often have human attributes – they are animals, deities, or cultural heroes, whose actions are set in an earlier world, when the earth was different than it is today.
  • Account for the origin of the world, of mankind, of death, or for characteristics of birds, geographic features, and phenomena of nature.
  • Recount the activities of deities – including their love affairs, family relationships, their friendships and enemies, their victories and defeats.

Legends

Legends are prose narratives which, like myths, are regarded as true by the narrator and his audience, but they are set in a period considered less remote, when the world was much as it is today.

Characteristics of Legends

  • More often secular than sacred.
  • Principal characters are human.
  • Tell of migrations, wars and victories, deeds of past heroes, chiefs, and kings, and succession in ruling dynasties.
  • Include local tales of buried treasure, ghosts, fairies, and saints.

Folktales

Folktales are prose narratives which are regarded as fiction.

Characteristics of Folktales

  • Not considered as dogma or history, may or may not have happened, and are not to be taken seriously.
  • Though they are often told only for amusement, they may present moral truths.
  • May be set in any time and any place, and in this sense they are almost timeless and placeless.
  • Fairies, ogres, and even deities may appear, but folktales usually recount the adventures of animal or human characters.
  • Have been called “nursery tales” or “fairy tales.”

Sacred Narrative: Readings in the Theory of Myth
Sacred Narrative: Readings in the Theory of Myth

Edited by Alan Dundes

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