Myths, Legends and Folktales


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The categories of myth, legend and folktale have commonly been used as synonymous terms, however, this is not correct. Each have a style of their own although borders between the three are often blurred. The misconception that they are all one in the same is understandable as they do share several characteristics. Upon closer examination, however, it is obvious that they each have distinct traits.

Common attributes found amongst myths, legends and folklore are to blame for the common generalization. All of them begin as stories told orally and passed down, changing over time, from generation to generation. They also follow the same guidelines of a story. Each has elements of a traditional story including a plot.

Myths are unique because they deal primarily with supernatural entities acting as the primary characters. Secondary characters are often humans. In a myth, time is not easy to measure. Often the story takes place outside of human chronology, although it may loosely entwine elements of history. The predominant intention of a myth is to provide an extraordinary explanation for unexplained naturally occurring events. People use myths to explain what they do not know. They also pass cultural values on through their morals. Myths tackle issues concerned with the human-supernatural (gods) relationship.

Legends deserve their own category because they differentiate from myths and folktales in that their primary characters are human heroes and heroines. These heroes and heroines are typically formed from the same blueprint. They are typically aristocrats who have a hindering weakness. They may also have secondary supernatural characters. They take place in the distant past in places that either are real or resemble to be. Legends tell of events in human past that justify the present state of man, containing a definite element of history. They are typically stories of great accomplishments that relate to the modern world.

Folktales are also unparalleled in meaning because they deal with primary characters that are ordinary people or anthropomorphic creatures.

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The main character is often an outcast in the beginning who changes greatly at the end. They take place in an imaginary setting, including the place in time, which is irrelevant to the story. They are devised to entertain but also include morals and lessons in order to reinforce behavior. Folktales are commonly called fairy tales and involve fortune reversals and happy endings.


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