Myths, Legends, Fables and Folktales

Four Different Traditional Tales
 Myths are stories that try to explain how our
world works and how we should treat each
other. They are usually set in times long ago,
before history as we know it was written.
 People have always asked questions like “How
did our world come to be?” or “Why is the ocean
blue?” Some myths answered these
 In other myths, gods or “super-beings” used
their powers to make events happen. These
myths described people and the choices they
made. They might be about victory (achieving
something), tragedy (losing something), honor
(doing the right thing), being brave even when
you are frightened, or being foolish and making
mistakes. Heroes, gods and goddesses could
help them or make things more difficult for them.
 Around the world, myths were shared by
different groups of people and became part of
their culture. Storytellers passed the stories on
from generation to generation. Some similar
myths were told in many cultures, but with
variations in the events or characters. For
example, most cultures, tribes or other groups of
people had their own version of how our world
 For early people, myths were like science
because they explained how natural events
work. However, these stories were made up and
are not really true.
 “Myth” comes from the Greek word “mythos”
which means “word of mouth”.
 Examples of mythical characters include the
Greek god Zeus and the Viking god Thor.
 Legends are also fictional stories, but they are
different from myths. Myths are about how the
natural world works, and are set in an ancient
 Legends are based on real people who lived in
more recent times and are mentioned in history.
Legends are told for a purpose and are based
on facts, but they are not completely true.
 Either the person never really did what the story
says, or the historical events were changed. The
purpose was to make the story more interesting
or convincing, or to teach a lesson, like knowing
right from wrong. Like myths, legends are
passed down from generation to generation.
 Examples of people in English legends are King
Arthur and Robin Hood.
 A man who could have been King Arthur is
known to have lived in the 5th or 6th century, but
the stories of the Knights of the Round Table and
Merlin the Magician are probably not true. The
point was that knights and their king defended
and helped their people.
 The character and deeds of Robin Hood may
have been based on someone else. Robin of
Loxley lived in Nottinghamshire around the time
of the story, and he did help the poor. However,
did he live in Nottingham forest with a band of
robbers? Probably not, but helping other people
is important and the legend hasn’t been
 Today people use the word ‘legend’ in a different
way when they talk about people and their
deeds. They may describe an athlete as a
“sporting legend”, or an actor as a “film legend”.
What they mean is the person is famous
because of their skills or things they have done.
 Urban legends are intriguing stories that aren’t
true but could be possible
 A fable is another type of story, also passed
down from generation to generation and told to
teach a lesson about something. A fable usually
ends with a moral, or a short sentence with a
lesson about life.
 Fables are often about animals, plants, and
natural forces like thunder or wind, that can talk
and act like people.
 The most famous fables were written by a man
from ancient Greece called Aesop. We know
them as Aesop’s Fables, and he wrote more
than 600 of them. The story of The Tortoise and
the Hare was written by him.
 Folk and fairy tales are stories written specially
for children, often about magical characters such
as elves, fairies, goblins and giants. Sometimes
the characters are animals.
 Some folk tales were passed down orally before
being written.
 Hans Christian Andersen is famous for writing
fairy tales. He was born in Denmark in 1805.
Examples of his stories are “The Little Mermaid”,
“Thumbelina,” “The Ugly Duckling,” and “The
Red Shoes.”
 In Copenhagen there is a statue of the little
mermaid, sitting on a rock on the beach at the
harbor, in memory of the writer.
 Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were brothers, born
in Germany in 1785 and 1786. They are famous
because they collected together many old fairy
tales from different parts of Germany and wrote
them down for people to read. We know them as
the Brothers Grimm and their collection includes
“Cinderella,” “Snow White,” and “The Frog
 Myths and legends are old stories told for adults
and children. Many were not written down until
recently. Both are fictional, but legends are
based on some fact.
 Fables were written for adults and children.
Many were written by the Greek writer Aesop.
 Folk or fairy tales were written specially for
children. Some were told orally before they were
The End