Guide to Literary Terms

Start Free Trial

What is a folk tale?

A folktale is a story or legend that originates and circulates within a particular group of people, passed from generation to generation, for entertainment or education.

Guide to Literary Terms Study Tools

Take a quiz Ask a question Start an essay

Folk Tale

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated May 26, 2023.

A folktale is a story or legend that originates and circulates within a particular group of people, passed from generation to generation for entertainment or education. Traditionally, folktales were exclusively shared orally, but many have been recorded by folklorists and anthropologists in recent centuries. 

Folk comes from the Old English word folc, meaning “people, laity, nation,” and tale comes from the Old English word talu, meaning “story, accusation, act of telling.”

North American folklore encompasses both Native American folktales and those created by European settlers. For example, many indigenous communities in the Pacific Northwest have folktales about The Raven, a trickster figure who, in one legend, brought light to the world by stealing the sun. The folklore of European settlers in North America includes many stories about Paul Bunyan, a lumberjack and giant often accompanied by a large blue ox named Babe.

see: fablefolklorelegendmyth

Explore all literary terms.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Previous

Folklore

Next

Formula