Traditional Literature

Stories passed own through oral storytelling, and from generation to generation, fall under the broad term traditional literature. Traditional literature gradually altered and matured through various tellings before it was recorded in written form. The Brothers Grimm were the first to systematically collect and record folklore. Within traditional literature there are several categories: fables, folktales, myths, and legends; within the categories are types. Traditional literature is one of the most popular genres in picture books. In the last few decade parodies, or fractured tales, have become very popular.


Beast tales feature animal characters with human characteristics. They walk like humans, they talk like humans, and they exhibit all of the other follies that befall humans. The tone of a beast tale can either be serious or funny. Morals in beast tales are more subtle, as opposed to fables, which baldly states the moral at the end of the story. While the animals in a beast tale interact with humans, it is the animals who are the principle characters, with the humans taking a back seat. Examples of beast tales are "The Three Bears," "Henny Penny," and "The Three Little Pigs."


Creation stories (or myths) are narrative projections of a culture's origins, an attempt for a collective group to define its past and probe the deeper meaning of their existence. Creation myths describe how the universe, the earth, life, and humanity came into being. With complex symbolism, a myth is to a culture is what a dream is to an individual. A culture's creation myth, or cosmogony, describes the how order came from chaos. The creation myth descends from a culture's desire to define the creation and bring order to the universe.


Cumulative tales are simple stories with repetitive phrases. There is not much plot involved, but the rhythm structure of these tales is very appealing to children. Events follow each other logically in a pattern of cadence and repetition, sequentially repeating actions, characters, or speeches until a climax is reached. Examples of cumulative tales are "The House That Jack Built" and "There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly."


Fables are short stories, in verse or prose, with an explicit moral ending. Didactic in tone, the objective of a fable is to teach a lesson, or at the very least guide the reader's behavior. The characters are animals and other inanimate objects. The form is ascribed to Aesop, who developed it in the 6th century BC. Other famous fables include the Panchatantra, a collection of fables in Sanskrit.


Fairy tales, sometimes called "magic stories," are filled with dreamlike possibility. Fairy tales feature transformations, magical interventions, enchanted forces, and, of course, magic. Fairy tales always have a "happily ever after" ending, where good is rewarded and evil is punished. The scholarly term for fairy tales is marchen.


Folktales feature common people, such as peasants, and commonplace events. Characters are usually flat, representing human frailty. Folktales have tight plot structures, filled with conflict. There is often a cycle of three in folktales. Elements of magic or magical characters may be incorporated, but logic rules so the supernatural must be plausible and within context.


Sometimes referred to as birth stories, Jataka tales are accounts of the previous lives of the Buddha in various animal and human forms. They have been absorbed into the folklore of many countries. Jataka takes have many similarities with the Panchatantra and Aesop's Fables.


Legends are based in history and embellish the acts of a real person. The facts and adventures of the person are exaggerated, making the individual notorious or his or her deeds legendary. Finn MacCoul and Robin Hood are legendary figures. Legends are associated with a particular place or person and are told as if they were historical fact. Legends, like myths, are stories told as though they were true.


Mother Goose Rhymes are from many sources, passed down in folklore fashion, some were penned by famous authors, and disseminated by publishers, generally without author attribution. Among the favorite rhymes are "Jack Be Nimble" and "Little Jack Horner."


Myths are a related body of stories considered to be truthful accounts of what happened in the remote past. Myths attempt to explain the beginning of the world, natural phenomena, the relationships between the gods and humans, and the origins of civilization. Myths, like legends, are stories told as though they were true.


The main character in a noodlehead tale makes the same mistake over and over until the resolution of the story. While foolish and bumbling, the noodlehead is often wiser than the other characters, suggesting that the rest of the world is foolish and unable to recognize wisdom. Humor is an aspect of this type of tale, resulting from the absurdity of the situation and the stupidity and foolishness of the characters.


Fractured tales are humorous and exaggerated imitations of an author or literary style. Fractured tales are popular among fairy tales, especially Cinderella tales.


Like creation myths, pourquoi tales use symbolism in the absence of scientific fact. Pourquoi tales explain observable facts and phenomenon for which early peple lacked scientific knowledge to explain, such as why the sun falls from the sky, why beavers have flat tails, and how tigers got their stripes. The explanation is not scientifically true and while this type of folktale is often serious, it has hilarious aspects integrated into the telling. The Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling are pourquoi tales. Pourquoi (por-kwa) means "why" in French.


Tall tales are stories intended to dupe the listener, and are particularly associated with the United States frontier, although other cultures have stories that fit the format. Tall tales rely on a delicate balance between sober narration and comic exaggerations. American tall tales possess the very essence of the American spirit, complete with outrageous feats and daring heroes. Stories of famous tall tale heroes, such as Paul Bunyan and Mike Fink, were originally passed along through the oral tradition of storytelling.


Trickster tales are humorous stories in which the hero, either in human or animal form, outwits and foils a more powerful opponent through the use of trickery. Anansi the spider is a trickster figure in African folklore; Iktomi, which means spider, comes from the United States Plains Indians and is generally in human form; Coyote is a trickster figure from southwestern Native American folklore; and Raven is a trickster figure from the Pacific Northwest in the United States.