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Classwork Series {Literature} – Folktale and Its Elements


Folktales are stories that grew out of the lives and imaginations of the people, or folk. They have always been children’s favorite type of folk literature. Their popularity springs from their imaginative characters, their supernatural elements, their focus on action, their simple sense of justice, their happy endings, and the fundamental wisdom they contain. A folktale is a story that is passed down through generations by word of mouth. Storytellers recount folktales, adding their own personal touches to entertain listeners and to teach a moral, or lesson. Myths, tall tales, legends, fables, and fairy tales are all folktales.

Elements of Folktale


  • Characters are flat.
  • Usually very good or very bad with most characteristics exaggerated.
  • The hero and heroine are usually young.
  • The heroine is usually fair, kind, charitable, and caring.
  • The hero is usually honorable, courageous, unselfish, and caring.
  • Both usually have special abilities or powers.


  • Place is described easily and briefly (humble cottage, magic kingdom) that fits the typical geography of the culture or it is not mentioned but assumed.
  • Time is in the past (usually long-ago) embedded within the history of the culture.
  • Time is fantasy time (Once upon a time sets the stage and They lived happily ever after closes the tale.) any time or any place, timeless or place-less, or long long ago.


  • Very simple, though interesting.
  • Thought provoking to didactic.
  • Is full of action and follows specific and simple patterns. The plot starts right out with fast moving action that grabs the listeners interest and keeps it. Conflicts are usually resolved with great deeds or acts of human kindness related to good and bad/evil.


  • Usually universal truths, lessons, and values related to people, their actions, and/or material goods that is valued by the group that creates the folktale.
  • Often the tales tell what happens to those who do not obey the groups traditions.


  • Descriptions are quick and to the point with little description and detail.
  • Plausibility story is possible but not probable.
  • A promise father promises to send one daughter, if set free; promises first son, if spin gold;
  • Number three father has three daughters and three sons, and three weeks to return
  • Magic Supernatural beings Objects (mirror, beans, golden objects) Spells, Enchantments,
  • Magical transformations, Character transformed by a spell and only the love or loyalty of another character can break the spell Ugly person casts a spell on … Spell is broken and turns into a …
  • Repeat phrases, develop logic and sequential thinking (for pre-operational children), and understanding for more sophisticated literature. The House that Jack Built, The Old Lady that Swallowed a Fly.
  • Extraordinary animals, monster, or other animated things. Three Little Pigs, Shrek
  • Explain a natural phenomena or custom. How Rabbit Stole Fire, Why Mosquitoes Buzz in people’s Ears, Tikki Tikki Temkbo.


  • Good versus bad/evil

  • Reflection of human strengths, weaknesses, or imperfections.

  • Reader is lead to new insights and/or understandings.

Below are the most prevalent kinds of folktales (note that some folktales have characteristics of two or more folktale categories):

  1. Animal tales are perhaps the oldest of all folktales. They are part myth, part fable, and part fairy tales. They play significant roles in early stories and legends. Talking animals appear in many European folktales. For example, “The Three Little Pigs” and “Little Red Riding Hood”.
  2. Wonder tales (also known as fairy tales) are the best known of the traditional folktales. They are stories of supernatural wonders typically depicting the conflict betweengood and evil. Most conclude with the triumph of virtue and a happy marriage. In fairy tales, the supernatural wonder is derived from either a magical person (a fairy godmother, a wicked witch), a magical object (a wondrous beanstalk, a talking mirror, a magic lamp) or an enchantment (a miraculous sleep that lasts until love’s first kiss). For example, “Cinderella”, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, “Sleeping Beauty” and “Jack and the Beanstalk”
  3. Cumulative tales are the ones in which successive additions are made to a repetitive plot line. They are generally very simple in plot and brief, for with each addition, the entire sequence is repeated. For example, “The Gingerbread Man” and “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”.
  4. Pourquoi tales (“pourquoi” means “why” in French) seeks to explain natural phenomena. They provide primitive explanations for the many “why” questions early humans asked. They are found throughout the world and especially popular in African and Native American folklore. There is a strong connection between pourquoi tales and myths; however, the setting in pourquoi tales is earthly and deities play no role in pourquoi tales as they do in myths. For example, “Why the Sun and the Moon Live in the Sky” (from Southern Nigeria), “Where Stories Come From” (from Zulu), and “Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears” (1976).
  5. Noodle-head tales are light-hearted tales about silly people doing silly things. These tales are popular because of their pure nonsense and jocularity, and sometimes we enjoy the triumph of the good-hearted simpleton over the craftier evil characters of the story. For example, “Hans in Luck” by the Grimm brothers and “The Three Wishes” by Joseph Jacobs.

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