Jack Swann on myth, legend, and folktale

Folklore scholars generally recognize three major forms of folk narrative: myth, legend, and folktale. Myths are etiological narratives that use gods (divine, immortal figures) to explain the operation and purpose of the cosmos. Legends are quasi-historical narratives that use exceptional and extraordinary protagonists and depict remarkable phenomena to illustrate cultural ideals, values, and norms. Finally, folktales [including fairy tales] are entertaining narratives that use common, ordinary people as protagonists to reveal the desires and foibles of human nature. The following outline illustrates the relationship of fairy tales to other folk narratives.

Jones, Steven Swann. The Fairy Tale: The Magic Mirror of the Imagination. New York: Routledge, 2002. Print. (8.)

Marcia Lane on fairy tales, myths, and legends

My own definition of fairy tale goes something like this: A fairy tale is a story-literary or folk-that has a sense of the numinous, the feeling or sensation of the supernatural or the mysterious. But, and this is crucial, it is a story that happens in the past tense, and a story that is not tied to any specifics. If it happens “at the beginning of the world,” then it is a myth. A story that names a specific “real” person is a legend (even if it contains a magical occurrence). A story that happens in the future is a fantasy. Fairy tales are sometimes spiritual, but never religious.

Lane, Marcia. Picturing a Rose: A Way of Looking at Fairy Tales. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1993.

What is fiction?

Here is a psychological (not literary) definition of fiction:

…But fiction is not empirical truth. It is simulation that runs on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers. In any simulation coherence truths have priority over correspondences. Moreover, in the simulations of fiction, personal truths can be explored that allow readers to experience emotions — their own emotions — and understand aspects of them that are obscure, in relation to contexts in which the emotions arise. [color added]

Why Fiction May Be Twice as True as Fact by Keith Oatley

What is a fairy tale?

Posted to SurLaLune:

I think that “fairy tale” has always carried the connotation of “improbable fiction,” for as long as the term has been around. That’s one of the distinguishing characteristics of a fairy tale, as opposed to a myth or a legend — the listeners understand it as a fiction crafted for entertainment purposes. Legends carry some semblance of belief — they’re usually told in a manner that suggests that somebody, somewhere, believes this to be true, even if the teller doesn’t. Myths are understood to be true on some level, at least in the culture that adheres to them. Of course, none of those categories can be absolutely fixed either, and there’s a lot of overlap. Too, as fairy tales became adapted for children, and then came to be seen as fit ONLY for children, the term became more derogatory. It’s linked, i think, to Andrew Lang and the cultural evolutionists; peasants (the folk) are sort of in the childhood of civilization, and therefore their products are on the same level as those of upper-class “civilized” children. All primitives, think alike, see. This theory died out, rightfully, in the 20th century, but the use of “fairy tale” to mean something juvenile stuck.

Fairy tales differ from more realistic folktales chiefly in the construction of the tale world. In a fairy tale/Zaubermarchen/wonder tale, magic is absolutely taken for granted. Nobody stops and says “Frogs don’t talk!” Strange things happen, and nobody bats an eye; that’s the major difference between a fairy tale and a realistic folktale. The main characters are generally human, as opposed to gods or demigods, and are of stock types. The fairy tale world is amorphous, unconnected to a time more specific than “Once upon a time” or a place more specific than “a faraway kingdom.” Legends, by contrast, take place in our own world — if not the here and now, than some specific time or place.

That’s the definition that I give to my students, and it seems to work well; there are, of course many others, but I’ve found this one the most useful. How’s that for a start?


Complex sentence

Traditional grammars organize sentences into 4 categories:

  • Simple sentence
  • Compound sentence
  • Complex sentence
  • Compound-complex sentence

A complex sentence has just one independent clause and at least one dependent clause:

Rex barks when the postman comes.
Rex barks [INDEPENDENT CLAUSE] when the postman comes [DEPENDENT CLAUSE].
when [DEPENDENT MARKER WORD] the postman [SUBJECT] comes [VERB]

Richard Nordquist defines “clause
Identifying Independent and Dependent Clauses (OWL)
Clauses (Richard Nordquist at about.com)
The Main Clause (chompchomp)
Dependent Clauses: Adverbial, Adjectival, Nominal (Towson)
Clauses and Sentences (Internet Grammar of English)

Independent clause


An independent clause has:

An independent clause does not have:

  • a subordinator or a relative pronoun at the beginning [“I did my homework” is a independent clause. “When I did my homework” is not an independent clause. “I got that at the mall” is a complete sentence. “that I got at the mall” is not an independent clause.]

Rex || barks.

An independent clause is a complete sentence in and of itself. It can “stand alone.”

Independent clauses:
Rex barks.
Rex chases the cat.
Rex seems hungry.

Independent clauses inside compound sentences:
Rex barks, and he growls.
Rex || barks, and he || growls.
Rex [SUBJECT] barks [FINITE VERB], and he [SUBJECT] growls [FINITE VERB].

Rex barks, and Tigger meows.
Rex || barks, and Tigger || meows.
Rex [SUBJECT] barks [FINITE VERB], and Tigger [SUBJECT] meows [FINITE VERB].

Each one of the clauses in the compound sentences above has a subject and a finite verb, so each on can “stand alone” as a complete sentence:
Rex barks.
He growls.
Tigger meows.

Independent clauses inside complex sentences:
When the postman comes, Rex barks.
Rex is chasing the cat that belongs to my next door neighbor.
Rex seems hungry although I just fed him.

When the postman comes,” “that belongs to my next door neighbor,” and “although I just fed him” are all dependent clauses.  They must be attached to an independent clause in order to be grammatically correct.

They cannot “stand alone.”

Richard Nordquist defines “clause
Identifying Independent and Dependent Clauses (OWL)
Clauses (Richard Nordquist at about.com)
The Main Clause (chompchomp)
Dependent Clauses: Adverbial, Adjectival, Nominal (Towson)
Clauses and Sentences (Internet Grammar of English)
Sierra College Handout – Combining clauses – Subordinators & relative pronouns