Literature vs Folklore 1/17/17

The subject of the Children’s Literature class on January 17, 2017 was a discussion about the similarities and differences of literature and folklore. Before class, we read the introduction of The Classic Fairy Tales. The introduction established that fairy tales come in many different versions. We also read pages three hundred and seventy eight to three hundred and eighty seven. This portion of the book was Vladimir Propp’s interpretation of the irregularities between folklore and literature. As a class we divided into two to three person groups and wrote out what we believed to be the difference between folklore and literature. We established many distinctions between the two forms of artistic language. We concluded that folklore and literature differ in the way that they are preserved, passed down, and derived.

Folklore is preserved by story tellers. The fact that folklore is orally passed down gives the genre a certain dynamic. The presenter can change the story to his or her liking. Literature on the other hand is written down by an author. This does not allow for a changing story. This also means that the ownership of literature is defined by a specific author at a specific time. On the contrary, the ownership of folklore is difficult to determine because of the ever changing version of the same story that is told over long periods of time.

Furthermore, the relationship between the giver and receiver of folklore and literature are quite different indeed. The dynamic in literature is between author and reader. The relationship in folklore is between the presenter and the listener. The relationship between author and reader allows the reader to make different interpretations of the text than the author may have intended but the reader cannot change the story themselves. Also, the reader cannot have any objections to the work of literature because there are likely not any alternative versions of the literary work. In folklore, the listener may object to the presentation of the tale because they may not agree with or prefer the way the current presenter is telling the story.

Folklore and literature also differ in their morphology. 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.” I prefer to think of morphology as simply the study of various forms that stories can take. Literature has no defined forms and can cover a vast array of story structures. Folklore tends to follow a more strict, rigid morphology.

The various morphology of folklore and literature alters the characters that are present in each form of literary art. Literature can contain characters with deep complexities and varying desires, lifestyles, and motivations. Literary characters can undergo subtle or drastic forms of change over the course of the story. On the other hand, folklore characters tend to be more archetypical. Archetypes are very typical examples of a person or thing. For example, Propp’s “Dramatis Personae” includes the villain, donor, helper, princess and her father, dispatcher, false hero, and hero. These characters tend to be simple and unchanged throughout the story unless some outside power acts upon that specific character. Even the settings of folklore are archetypical. For example, the forest represents danger. Dangerous things will occur in the forest and not in the king’s castle that represents protection.

The morphology present in folklore also alters the functions of those archetypical characters. These functions are very limited and propel the story’s plot. Vladimir Propp comes up with thirty one functions of the characters and story that are present in folklore. I will not include the descriptions of the functions but the functions are abstention, interdiction, violation, recon, delivery, trickery, complicity, villainy, lack, mediation, beginning counteraction, departure, first function of the donor, hero’s reaction, provision, guidance, struggle, branding, victory, liquidation, return, pursuit, rescue, unrecognized arrival, unfounded claims, difficult task, solution, recognition, exposure, transfiguration, punishment, and wedding.

Our class has not delved deep into a fairy tale quite yet. The first few days of class have been spent on teaching us students how to read and interpret Children’s Literature. It is key to accomplish this task before diving into any Children’s Literature so that our class can have more intelligent discussions on the topic of Children’s Literature. Learning the difference between folklore and literature is paramount in determining one’s view on Children’s Literature.


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