Brownielocks and The 3 Bears
present

Note: This page is pretty intellectual and probably suitable for high school or adults, rather than children.

Once upon a time...

Ever since we were children, we have been told stories, either by listening to someone verbally tell them or by reading them in books.  Whether we believed them to be true or not, all depended on us.

Let us begin with fairytales.  Just the phrase "Once upon a time" implies that the story is presented above or outside of time as we see it or know it currently. The word, fairytale, alone gives us a clue that the story is not true because the word fairy implies that it's make believe, pretend or fantasy. (I know some people believe in fairies, but I'm not going to go into that, OK?)  Fairytales are usually written down on paper, for children. They are usually told for the purpose of entertaining, while giving a moral message. Not all fairytales can have a happy ending. And in some cultures, their fairy tales do not have a happy ending ...providing moral teachings rather than entertainment?

In the bible Jesus tells parables to get His message across. Jesus does not use any specific names but simply says, "One day a fisherman ..."  The same thing goes for fairytales.  They often begin, "Once upon a time..." but never really tell the exact time.  And the characters are often "A Princess" or an "Evil Witch" living in "A Land." In more sophisticated fairytales, they are given specific names, such as "A Witch named Esmerelda". Fairytales do not always have to be long ago.  A good example of a modern fairytale is "Star Wars."  It is set in the future, with Good vs. Evil characters; and, with a moral message that good always wins over evil. It is also set in a time and place (planet?)  none of us have yet to experience, if ever.

Fairytales, often have characters who have supernatural or magical powers. Whereas legends seem to have characters with simply extra human capabilities, but nothing really magical.

Legends, some believe, are stories that have to be at least 20 years old or more (recent past) and are based on a real individual that can be proven to have once lived. Although the legend may not be truly accurate, the fact that the person existed is true.  A good example of a famous legend is Davey Crockett.  Although he has a reputation for being "King of the Wild Frontier" due to television, movies and cartoons, well... historical documents state differently.  Legends are always believed to be true, not only by the teller but, also by the hearer (or reader), even if they aren't 100% accurate. Sing along with our Davey Crockett page here as an example of how songs embellish reality. (BTW, others spell it Davy Crockett or Crocket. See even time, Hollywood etc. change spellings!)

Legends  usually never change (unlike folktales which keep getting embellished through the years) as each generation passes it on.  A legend usually remains the same throughout it's history.  A good example is the legend of George Washington chopping down the cherry tree. That story has remained the same for years, and it's always been a cherry tree. It's never been an nut tree or a pear tree etc.  And the consequences have never changed = George didn't get punished by his father because he told the truth about what he did.  Legends are usually based on people who may have started out regionally known, but have become more nationally known - rather than just from a specific area, like folklore. Some also feel that legends contain plots, whereas folklore does not.  

Legends are usually defined as an event that is done and over with. But that doesn't account for the phrase "A legend in his own time" now does it? So, a legend in our modern times can define themselves and can keep growing.  In brief, a legend is taking a normal person and giving him exceptional talents. This also means the topic of the legend can either be a hero or anti-hero, depending on how you view it.

But why?  Why do we need legends in our lives? "New problems in our society create new legends, and it will probably always be so," according to one lecturer.

This is the reason that some believe that UFO's are man's modern invention of legends. Although flying objects have been depicted since the 12th century, the more recent popularity of all these different UFO sightings across the US and worldwide are felt to depict "an emotional tension having it's cause in a situation of collective distress and danger, or in a vital psychic need. This condition undoubtedly exists today."

Those professors who study legends are getting a first hand experience of seeing how legends develop through the UFO tales.  And for some reason, UFO tales are more an American phenomena than anywhere else. What does that say about us? For many, it's not done out of fear; but, done out of joy. Creating a new fantasy world is the reason that UFO stories have become so popular. Also, out of these new technological legends come new ideas and often inventions.

Some educators feel that we need legends (and to keep creating them) because we as humans need to feel we can always attain a more higher goal than where we are. And if we are told that someone else has achieved something great, that means we can too!  "And the greater the popularity of a legend within a certain group, the more functional it becomes and the more and more conspicuous it's incompleteness becomes. As it spreads like a rumor from person to person, it cannot reach a consistent form but often remains incoherent. Those who pass it on do not need to keep telling it in detail, since the essentials are generally known."

Some debate that The Legend of Paul Bunyan is not a true legend, but more of a folklore. The reason is some doubt he really existed at all (unlike Davy Crocket). And the story of Paul Bunyan has kept growing through the years with various tales of him and his blue ox, Babe.

Legendary heroes are usually men (not women?) who were supposedly gooder, braver, stronger, kinder, more courageous and more God-fearing than normal; and, who stood for outstanding national and cultural values. But in real life were they really? Many feel that it is often our nature to view ourselves through others. And we have this need for role models, as soon as we are old enough to understand acceptance and rejection. We want to become like those who we assume are successful. This is the reason for rock star fans, movie fans. In some extreme cases, we literally want to possess the successful people and so stalkers, who often view the object of their desire unrealistically, want to actually be with a media-created legend.

Legend stories can be short or long. And they usually do not begin with some sort of passing of responsibility for the tale such as "Well, people often claim..." or "I have heard..." 

Instead, they often begin with a fact such as "There is a 100 year old rock that poisons all who touch it" or "Davy Crocket was the 6th child of 7 boys, born of Irish parents in 1786 in Tennessee."  And, in a confusing way, legends can sometimes blend with myths. A good example is this:  There are hundreds of swamps in the US.  Many have mythical qualities, often resulting in legends of ghosts, monsters or creatures living in them. So if someone says, "People say that at the bottom of this swamp lies the body of the headless man," that's a myth.  But if someone goes on and says, "The swamp's headless man was once Mr. Tom Smith, a lonely traveling mountain minister, who one day....(blah blah) and it is said that if anyone sees shining eyes sparkling from the waters at midnight on a full moon that they shall be given the gift of foresight."  So this swamp story goes from myth of just having an unnamed, impersonal missing  head in it, to folklore (that you can choose to believe or not) with details, names, morals and consequences tossed in too boot!

Folklore is a story that is based more regionally. However, with the invention of printing presses, and later on radio, TV, and now the internet, many local folklore are now shared worldwide and get turned into legends. (I know, it gets confusing!)  The purpose of folklore is often just to help us understand better the nature of mankind. Folktales are told outside what is known as our "true time" = the time you are in right now.

 Folklore is sometimes considered gossip that's gone on and on and on about someone.  In some cases, folktales can turn into sagas literally, as each generation feels a need to add their version or spin to it. This is why many folktales have wandered further from the original truth as the years have passed.

 And (I could be wrong about this) there is a German reference in my sources to the word "Märchen" which I think means a folktale that does not have a happy ending? They jokingly refer to it as being "grimmer than a Grimm."  A märchen has a moral, and is often felt to be true, but it might end with say someone dying for their true love.  In folklore, motives are always assumed but never truly a fact because no one can really know a person's feelings.  And often, the feelings of the teller are inserted into the tale, making it inaccurate each time it's told. 

One of the cliché's of folklore is that there is no one "right version".  All variations of a folktale (or even a folk song) have equal validity - as long as you trust the storyteller to be competent.  A folktale can exist in more than one form: As a story told by someone, as a poem, as a play or as a song.

A good example of folklore is:  How did something get started? Such as the origin of the name of a place. A realistic folklore is say how the Mississippi got it's name. A fantasy folklore is say how did the man in the moon get to be up there? And, is the moon really made of cheese and if so, which kind? ;)


In many folklore versions, the older ones are often replaced with more popular ones if the current presenter is popular.  This is particularly true of folk songs and if the folktale is a Disney cartoon or  movie.

Myths  are a bit different because they not only can be about people but also non-living things. And, myths are set in the remote past (while legends are in the recent past remember?). You (the teller or the hearer) do not necessarily have to believe the myth to be truth at all to tell it. An example is, "The house is said to be haunted by the ghost of Admiral Jones."  Neither the person who says this, nor those that hear (or read it) might not believe it. But, that doesn't stop the myth from it's continuation.  Nor does it stop the myth from growing or being embellished through the years as it's passed down. While I said legends, fairytales and folklore remain the same story through the years, the myth often changes with the times and tellers.

Santa Claus is considered a myth by many.  And the interpretation of what he looks like and how he gets from house to house on Christmas Eve varies not only from home to home on the same street, but worldwide, country to country. This is why many myths are hard to verify if they are true or not, just like some folklore.

Myths belong to our evolution of social thoughts. Do you know, primitive people have no myths according to one anthropologist?  Since belief is essential to the acceptance of a myth, primitive people simply accept them and live by them. Thus they are not a myth but "characters of fact" for them. So when is a myth not a myth? Answer: When you believe it! ;)

Many Americans feel that myths evolve for the purpose of using them as some sort of rite of passage between young children, junior high school, college and into adulthood. The period of coming of age progresses with each myth and it's details. In our often over-crowded world, they claim we crave the need for a scary adventure.  And often this scary incident is a bond or secret kept within a small group and the uninitiated are pushed off.  An example is a myth that the school library is haunted. No specifics are given on who haunts it and why. It's just is, according to the group. And to be accepted one has to spend the night in the library alone. Thus not only is the myth the bond, but also experiencing the myth.

Sometimes legends, myths or folklore can be spoofs or puns. An example is a story about a haunted house in which the intruder gets chased by a "floating coffin."  At the end of the story, when the victim is just about to get run over by the coffin he produces a box of Smith Brothers cough drops and says, "These saved his life.  Why? Because these stopped "da coffin."  (coughing -get it?)  These types of tales are often told around campfires, at sleepovers and backyard camp-outs.

In conclusion (I know this is pretty heavy stuff)....

"What is a legend in one time and place may be a myth in another time and place and a Märchen in yet another time and place."  As science proves or disproves various theories, they also support or destroy many myths in society. And, the definition of fairytale, folklore, legend and myth is all the same = A story! Believe it or not!

 

 

 

We've all heard about that great lumberjack, Paul Bunyan.  How much do you remember about him?  Enjoy are Paul Bunyan Tall Tales Trivia, as well as a bit of history behind Paul Bunyan Day and its history.



How much do you remember about those fairy tales you read as a child? Take our Fairy Tale trivia quiz and find out!

Remember these from the "Rocky and Bullwinkle Show"? Fractured Fairy Tales was a special 4 min. animation punning traditional fairy tales. Most of the stories include a fairy. And, you'll magically smile!
We bring you 12 of them to enjoy.  

"All is fair in love and war." I'm sure you've heard that? There are many that have been repeated through the generations. I've listed some that I don't think you have heard.
Read. Enjoy. Grow Wiser than your parents!

Get our free bookmarks for your reading pleasure here!
Visit our Free Bookmarks page to get a bookmark for reading your tall tales.

There are websites on line with folklore tales (like Paul Bunyan) and other stories to read.  I considered posting some additional ones but then decided to keep with my original intentions of encouraging my viewers to get off my site and grab a book and read it. There's nothing like reading a real book!  

Source Information:
"American Folk Legend - A Symposium" by Wayland D. Hand
Published by University of California Press  - Berkeley © 1971 
Reprint Permission © 1979

Note: This book contains 14 presentations by  professors from
universities all over the US and England.  It took me a good month to read it..
This page is my own version of a brief synopsis of this book.  
I purposely left out the religious and Indian legends, because
I felt that was going into too deep of a social and psychological area that would be
too difficult for most to understand. Even me really. As it is, this book was pretty 
heavy reading. I just hope I simplified things for most of you to enjoy this?

All graphics on this site (still and animated) have our embedded watermark. They are not public domain!

All contents (Graphics and Text) are covered by U.S. Copyright Laws. No reproduction of any kind, downloading, copy, paste, save, etc. is allowed. All rights reserved!

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