TPO 5 Lecture 4. Literature

TPO 5 Lecture 4. Literature

Narrator : Listen to part of a lecture in a literature class

Now we can’t really talk about fairy tales without first talking about folk tales
because there’s a strong connection between these two genres, these two types of stories. In fact, many fairy tales started out as folk tales. So, what’s a folk tale? How would you characterize them? Jeff?

Well, they are old stories, traditional stories. They were passed down orally
within cultures from generation to generation, so they changed a lot over time.
I mean, every story teller, or, maybe every town, might have had a slightly
different version of the same folk tale.

That’s right. There’s local difference. And that’s why we say folk tales are
communal. By communal, we mean they reflect the traits and the concerns of
a particular community at a particular time. So essentially the same tale could
be told in different communities, with certain aspects of the tale adapted to fit
the specific community. Um, not the plot, the details of what happens in the
story would remain constant. That was the thread that held the tale together.
But all the other elements, like the location or characters, might be modified for
each audience.

Okay. So what about fairy tales? Th⋯they also are found in most cultures, but
how are they different from folk tales? I guess the first question is: what is a
fairy tale?

And don’t anyone say “a story with a fairy in it” because we all know that very
few fairy tales actually have those tiny magical creatures in them. But, what
else can we say about them? Mary.

Well, they seem to be less realistic than folk tales⋯like they have something
improbable happening – a frog turning into a prince, say. Oh, that’s another
common element, royalty – a prince or princess. And fairy tales all seem to take
place in a location that’s nowhere and everywhere at the same time.

What’s the line-up? How do all the stories start? Once upon a time, in a far
away land… oh, in the case of folk tales, each story teller would specify a
particular location and time, though the time and location would differ for
different story tellers. With fairy tales, however, the location is generally
unspecified, no matter who the story teller is. That land far away… We’ll come
back to this point in a few minutes.

Um… I, I thought that a fairy tale was just a written version of an oral folk tale.

Well, not exactly, though that is how many fairy tales developed. For example,
in the late 18th century, the Grimm Brothers traveled throughout what’s now
Germany, recording local folk tales. These were eventually published as fairy
tales, but not before undergoing a process of evolution.

Now, a number of things happen when an oral tale gets written down. First, the
language changes. It becomes more formal, more standard – some might say,
“less colorful”. It’s like the difference in your language depending on whether
you are talking to someone, or writing them a letter. Second, when an orally
transmitted story is written down, an authoritative version with a recognized
author is created. The communal aspect gets lost. The tale no longer belongs
to the community. It belongs to the world, so to speak. Because of this,
elements like place and time can no longer be tailored to suit a particular
audience. So they become less identifiable, more generalizable to any

On the other hand, descriptions of characters and settings can be developed
more completely. In folk tales, characters might be identified by a name, but
you wouldn’t know anything more about them. But in fairy tales, people no
longer have to remember plots. They’re written down, right? So more energy
can be put into other elements of the story like character and setting. So you
get more details about the characters, about where the action takes place,
what people’s houses were like, ur, whether they’re small cabins or grand
palaces. And it’s worth investing that energy because the story, now in book
form, isn’t in danger of being lost. Those details won’t be forgotten. If a folk tale
isn’t repeated by each generation, it may be lost for all time. But with a fairy
tale, it’s always there in a book, waiting to be discovered, again and again.
Another interesting difference involves the change in audience. Who the
stories are meant for? Contrary to what many people believe today, folk tales
were originally intended for adults, not for children. So why is it that fairy tales
seem targeted toward children nowadays?

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