There is no easy definition of the term folktale.
For this class, it is sufficient to say that a folktale
is part of the folklore tradition,
that is to say a tale that is told by a storyteller orally.
The folktale is part of a performance which involves
both the teller and his or her audience. It is important
to make the distinction that, though folktales may be
written down by a collector, such as Mathias
Winther or the Grimm Brothers,
they are not written works. Further, Andersen does
NOT write folktales, though he does IMITATE them. As
scholars, like Stith Thompson, have studied the folktale,
they discovered that there were many instances of the
same tales being told all over the world. In order for
the tale to be considered a variant of a tale,
the core of the story is the same. A variant has
the same core tale, but the details change. The details
can change in two ways: firstly, depending on the local
culture and, in the case of a collected tale, when the
tale was told; and, secondly, each telling of a tale
is different depending on the teller and the audience
(see figure 1). Sometimes a tale collected in the last
century can seem awkward or even boring to a modern listener
because the details are no longer relevant. Details concerning
19th century Europe will seem obscure and incomprehensible
to us. Also, in a modern performance of a tale, a teller
may have a lively audience and, therefore, decide to
lengthen a tale the audience seems to be enjoying. Equally,
a performer can choose to make a tale very short if it
seems the audience is not enjoying the story or has heard
it before. Remember, an audience can be a single person,
or, in our modern world, hundreds of thousands of people
at the other end of a television set.
For all intense and purposes, there are three different
types of tale: the magic tale,
the fabliau, and the schwankmärchen.
The magic tale is a tale
that begins with a hero who often has nothing and by
the end he or she has gained a kingdom. A fabliau is
often called a trickster tale. The is no happy ending
and often there is a trick played on someone in the tale.
A schwankmärchen is
a hybrid form that mixes the magic
tale and the fabliau (see
figure 2). It has the same structure as the magic
tale, but it has the language of the fabliau.