Comparing and Contrasting Folklore and Literature

Journal entry for 1/17/17

Today in class we discussed the differences between literature and folklore. The main difference between the two is that there is a record of literature. This means that in literature, there is usually an author to attribute the work to. On the other hand, in folklore, an author is almost always unknown. This is due to the fact that folklore is the traditional beliefs, customs, and stories, passed through generations by word of mouth. So, in other words, folklore is the retelling of oral tradition.

More so, folklore has no set style and is considered changeable with a dynamic, or ever changing, structure, while literature is has a stable structure that is seen rather than heard. The book goes further to say that literature’s ownership can be traced back and, contrasting, the work in a folklore tale becomes more important that the author themselves. Thus, ownership of a folklore is often difficult, if not impossible, to pinpoint.

Another key difference is the type of relationships that are present and grown in the two different genres. In folklore the relationship is within the boundaries of the presenter and the listener. In literature, the relationship lies between the author and reader. This notable difference is the foundation of why folklore and literature differ. Folklore is the oral tradition and literature is the written record of the story. In some ways, because of this foundation, literature is sometimes considered “high culture”, with an air of importance and knowledge, while folklore is considered “low culture”, often attributed to a lower class or status. However, this view is often disregarded since folklore is repeatedly used as an inspiration for the basis of literature stories.

In class today, we also discussed the topic of morphology in folklore and fairy tales. The book defines morphology as the “description of a tale according to its component parts and the relationship of these components to each other and to the whole“. Basically, this means that just because one story or tale is passed down from generation to generation does not mean that there is no variation of the story, and that the same themes are used throughout, even if the story itself has a different setting and characters. The book laid out four examples that we discussed in class:

  • A tsar gives an eagle to a hero. The eagle carries the hero away to another kingdom.
  • An old man gives Sucenko a horse. The horse carries Sucenko away to another kingdom.
  • A sorcerer gives Ivan a little boat. The boat takes Ivan to another kingdom.
  • A princess gives Ivan a ring. Young men appearing from out of the ring carry Ivan away into another kingdom.

In class, we dissected the similar themes of all four short blurbs from stories of different cultures and areas while also looking at the differences between the four. To begin, we picked out the similarities. These included that there is a main character; we inferred that in all four examples the main character could be looked at as a male hero of sorts. In all of the story samples, the “hero” is given a gift from someone of significant power, whether it is royal, diplomatic, position or magical power. More so, in all the examples the “hero” is taken away to “another kingdom” by the gift that is bestowed upon them.

Even though the central themes of all the samples of folktales are basically the same: a man is given a gift and taken to another kingdom by way of the gift given. There are some key differences that show the diverse cultural variations of the same story. For example, the main character is different in three of the four stories, while the “gift-giver” is different in every variation. Another difference can also be seen in the gift itself. In all four samples, while it serves the same purpose, the gift is ultimately different from story to story.

In conclusion, today was one of the first days that we have really delved into the book and looked into different genres that are common among children’s literature. I think it will be really interesting to come back to this segment of the book once we begin reading specific stories. I think it will be a good resource to better understand how stories vary across cultures.



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