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Defining Terms: Myth, folklore, legend, etc.

What's the difference?





Fairy tales, myths, legends, and folklore are terms which may seem to mean the same thing: fanciful tales. This conception is seemingly validated by the fact that the terms are often used interchangeably. While it's true that the terms may refer to bodies of writing that are related at their most basic level as stories, they each present a unique reader experience. Here's what they mean...


A myth is a traditional story, which may describe the origins of the world and/or of a people. A myth is an attempt to explain mysteries, supernatural events, and cultural traditions. Sometimes sacred in nature, a myth can involve gods or other creatures.And, a myth represents reality in dramatic ways.

Many cultures have their own versions of common myths, which contain archetypal images and themes. Myth criticism is used to analyze these threads in literature.A prominent name in myth criticism is Northrop Frye.

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Whereas myth has at its core the origins of a people, and is often sacred, folklore is a collection of fictional tales about people and/or animals. Folktales describe how the main character copes with the events of everyday life, and the tale may involve crisis or conflict. Superstitions and unfounded beliefs are important elements in the folklore tradition. The study of folklore is called folkloristics.

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A legend is a story purported to be historical in nature, but without substantiation. Prominent examples include: King Arthur, Blackbeardand Robin Hood. Where evidence of the existence of actual historical figures exists, figures like King Richardare legends due in large part to the many stories that have been created about them.

Legend also refers to anything that inspires a body of stories, or anything of lasting importance or fame. The story is handed down from earlier times, but will continue to evolve with time.

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Fairy Tale

A fairy tale may involve fairies, giants, dragons, elves, goblins, dwarves, and other fancifiul and fantastic forces. While traditionally intended for children, fairy tales have also been draw into the field of literary theory. And, many books are based on the story of "Cinderella," "Beauty and the Beast,and other fairy tales?

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Which of these tales do you enjoy the most? Join the discussion and vote.

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