The Oral Tradition in Literature Myths, Folktales, Fables, and Legends
The Oral Tradition in Literature Myths, legends, fables, and folktales are all a part of our folklore, that is stories that originated long before reading and writing began. They survived by being handed down from generation to generation. Taken together, these stories make up what is known as the oral tradition in literature. All cultures have their own myths, legends, fables, and folktales.
Why Did the Oral Tradition in Literature Develop? • To explain something about the world • To entertain • To teach moral lessons • To keep alive the culture and history of a people
Myths • Myths are stories that convey the beliefs and ideals of a culture and usually involve gods and goddesses. • Myths often provide examples of the way humans should behave. For example, the story of Phaethon warns mortals against attempting to be as powerful as the gods. • Myths also were used to explain events in nature such as the seasons.
Folktales • Folktales are stories composed orally and passed from person to person by word of mouth. • Folk tales are set in the past and usually reflect the beliefs, goals, and customs of a people. • Folk tales differ from myths in that they do not involve gods and goddesses but rather tell tales of ordinary people. • Folk tales change over time, often leading to exaggerations. • “The People Could Fly” is an example of a folk tale.
Fairy Tales • Fairy tales are a type of folk tale. • They are set in the past • They typically involve fantasy, supernatural, or make-believe. • There are clearly defined good and evil characters. • They often have a happy ending. • Yeh-Shen and the Algonquin Cinderella are considered to be fairy tales.
Fables • A fable is also a type of folk tale. • It is usually very brief and is told to teach a moral or lesson. • Often the characters in fables are animals who can speak. • The most famous fables of all were told first by Aesop who lived in Ancient Greece. • “The Fox and the Grapes” and “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” are two examples of fables.
Legends • A legend is a widely told story about the past. • Legends combine historical people and events with made-up events. There is usually a little fact and a lot of story. • Legends normally tell the stories of heroes whose lives and deeds have become exaggerated over time. • The most famous hero of legend in Western literature is King Arthur.
Motif • A motif is a feature that is repeated in stories throughout the world. • Among the popular motifs are evil family members, the granting of wishes, the ability to fly.
In Summary • The oral tradition in literature consists of stories that have been told for hundreds and hundreds of years. • These stories include myths, which are about gods and goddesses; folktales, which are about ordinary people; fairy tales, which are about fantastic situations; fables, which usually contain animal characters and teach morals; and legends, which are based on historic fact and people.
In Summary #2 • As these stories were told for many, many generations before they were first written, the stories changed and the characters and events became exaggerated. • For example, while King Arthur may have been real and strong, he could not have pulled a sword from a stone. • Also while slaves did escape from the fields, none of them actually flew. • Remember each culture has its own rich oral tradition.