Fairy Tales, Folktales, and Folklore

When we get asked to spell out the differences between these three terms: fairy tales, folktales, and folklore we immediately rush for our copy of: Quinn, E. (2006). A dictionary of literary and thematic terms. New York, NY: Checkmark Books (and you can too by finding it in the stacks  – call# 803 Q73d2). So, what does Quinn have to say about these three terms:

Fairy Tales

A form of children’s literature consisting of a short, fanciful story that may feature witches, dragons, wicked stepmothers, and fairy godmothers. Quinn also adds observations by J. R. R. Tolkien that fairy tales include the following four basic elements:

  • fantasy
  • freedom from observed fact (e.g., objects can change shape)
  • escape into another reality
  • return to the normal world.


A story handed down orally from generation to generation that becomes part of the tradition of a group of people. They can change over time but of course become more fixed when written down.


Not necessarily stories, they can be beliefs, practices, crafts, speech, and legends that are handed down orally from generation to generation.

In the Stacks and on the Web

If you want to browse the library’s collection of fairy tales and folktales J 398.2 is a good place to start. The 394.26 – 398.8 and 016.398 – 016.3982012 sections of the reference area are a treasure trove of folktale resources. Another area to explore is the FEAST website.

Reference librarian at Bank Street College Library.

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One comment on “Fairy Tales, Folktales, and Folklore
  1. Faniran Dolapo says:

    I love this…thanks

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