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Introduction to Folktales

Folktales do not need any introduction to anybody. They have been told and heard since the origin of the man in one form or the other. In past their form might have been the personal experiences around themselves and their aim to tell them others just as entertainment. Later these experiences turned into short stories About themselves and their environment – animals, dreams (of anything), imagination (fairies in special to fulfill their wishes etc), horror if they felt it at times, travelogue etc.

After hundreds of years when they started living in societies, became civilized some educational element also entered them. Thus when one person told it to other, the other person told it to his child and the child told that to his child; it was handed over from generation to generation, telling, listening, retelling and listening; we don’t know how many times. Some materials got lost while some were added during this process.

Because folktales are related to a particular place, time and society, that is why they represent its form – style of living, living standard, food and drinking, animals and birds found in there, sayings etc.

Normally any folktale can fulfill three types of objectives – to impart moral education, to influence the listener psychologically and to entertain him or her. And these objectives are fulfilled by characterization of the characters in that tale.

Although printing in one way or the other is said to be started as early as 3,500 BC, but its commercial use came into existence when Gutenberg printed his first book, The Bible which is known as Gutenberg Bible, containing 40 pages, first printed in 1455. Although it was the first year to use the press commercially but it was not available for public use for a long time.

Gradually first turn of printing was for the most essential and important books, later other less important material was considered for printing.

 

Types of Folktales

Folktales, or folklores,  or folk stories are a very good source to know about a culture or civilization. Every place, every religion, every country, every society has its own folktales. What is a folktale and how does it differ from Myth, Fairy tales or Legend.

Fairy Tale
A fairy tale may involve fairies, giants, dragons, elves, goblins, dwarves, and other fanciful and fantastic forces. While traditionally intended for children, fairy tales have also been drawn into the field of literary theory and, many books are based on the story of "Cinderella", "Beauty and the Beast" and other fairy tales.

Folktales
Whereas myth has at its core the origins of a people, and is often sacred, folklore is a collection of fictional tales about people and/or animals, a folktale describes how the main character copes with the events of everyday life, and the tale may involve crisis or conflict. Superstitions and unfounded beliefs are important elements in the folklore tradition. The study of folklore is called folkloristic and the person who does it he is called Folklorist.

This particular class of folklore, folktales, can have three objectives - (1) entertainment (2) education through stories, and (3) passing and preserving our heritage through spoken word passing to as many people as possible in the absence of any written medium.

Legend
A legend is a story purported to be historical in nature, but without substantiation. Prominent examples include: King Arthur, Black Beard and Robin Hood. Where evidence of the existence of actual historical figures exists, figures like King Richardare legends due in large part to the many stories that have been created about them. Legend also refers to anything that inspires a body of stories, or anything of lasting importance or fame. The story is handed down from earlier times, but will continue to evolve with time.

Myth
A myth is a traditional story which may describe the origins of the world and or of a people.  A myth is an attempt to explain mysteries, supernatural events, and cultural traditions. Sometimes sacred in nature, a myth can involve gods or other creatures. And, a myth represents reality in dramatic ways. Many cultures have their own versions of common myths, which contain archetypal images and themes.

 

History of Folktales

This is a very brief chronological history of some of the folktales collections available in the world.

Aesop’s Tales (Greece, 2,500 BC)
World’s first well-known folktale collection is supposed to be the Aesop’s stories. Aesop was the greatest well-known storyteller from Greece. His tales are of about 2,500 BC. These 584 tales are available in English on Internet - http://mythfolklore.net/aesopica/perry/index.htm

Jatak Stories (India, 3rd century BC)
Second well-known collection of folktales is from India. These tales have been told and heard since 3rd century BC. These tales are about the birth of Mahatma Buddha, whether they are related to his birth as a human being or an animal. From among these tales some tales are found in Greek, Latin, Arabic, Persian and some other languages of Europe. The Jataka-Mala of Arya Shura gives 34 Jataka stories in Sanskrit. They have already been translated into Chinese in 434 BC.

Panchtantra Tales (India)
The Third large collection of folktales also comes from India, that is Panchtantra Tales. These tales were written in Sanskrit language by Vishnu Sharma. All these tales are of animals and birds and are based on ancient folktales. And because this collection has been translated in many languages that is why its many folktales can be found in foreign folktales also.

These tales have been written for a King Amarshakti’s three foolish sons in a mode that a Guru teaches through these tales. People believe that these tales are found in 50 languages all over the world. Its 25 translations are available in India. Every child of India reads, or listens its one tale at least. Hitopadesh’s tales have got the inspiration only from this collection.

By 11th century, the tales of this collection had been mixed up with the folktales of several European traveling countries through Persia, Arab, and Greece folktales. And then by 16th century these folktales were found in many languages of European countries. Before the advent of Islam, in 6th century these folktales were traced in Iran in Pahalvi language.

These folktales encircle many subjects. But their greatest specialty is that another story comes out from the original tale, such as in Arabian Nights of Persia – although a few folktales do stand alone. Somewhere its level goes down up to three levels.

Katha Saritsagar (India, 1070 AD)
This is a very large collection of Indian fairy tales, legends and folktales. There are two versions available of this book.

One is believed to derive from Gunaadhyaaya’s Brihat Katha which was written in a poorly understood Paishaachi language in South India. Another one is the Kashmirian Brihat Katha from which Somadev Bhatta took inspiration from. But this Katha Saritsagar may be quite different from the Paishachi one, as there are two versions of the Brihatkatha extant in Kashmir, as well as Brihat Katha Shlok Sangrah Buddhaswami from Nepal. The Somadev one is written by Somadev Bhatt in Sanskrit language.

This work was written for the entertainment of Queen Sooryamati, wife of the King Anantdev of Kashmir (1063-1081). It consists of 18 Books of 124 Chapters, and more than 21,000 verses in addition to prose texts. Its principal tale is of Naravahandatta, son of the legendary King Udayan. It also contains Betal Pachchisi in its 12th Book. The original version in Sanskrit is available at Internet.

Only one translation is found of this whole book in English language translated by CH Tawney. This translation is available at several Web Sites. And that was published during 1880-1884. Later one more translation was published by Norman Mesley Penzer as an extended version – Translator in English. Katha Saritsagar. 10 vols. 1924-1928.

It is available in Bangla language also at several Sites.

Arabian Nights (Persia, 12th century)
Arabian Nights is another collection of tales told by the Queen of a Persian King Shaharyar Shaharzad to her husband – a new story every night. She did this for three whole years, thus told him 1,001 stories during that period. This is the collection the same 1,001 stories and is known as Arabian Nights.

Its incomplete title has been found in a manuscript of 9th century, but its complete mention is found in Cairo (Egypt) in 12th century only. It has first been mentioned in “Hazar Afsane” written in Pahalvi language. It is believed that these stories were heard and told freely during the reign of Khalifa of Bagdad, Haroon al-Rashid, during 786-808 AD. Its all stories are in Arabic language.

Its first translation in English was published in 1706. Its first known English edition was titled as “Arabian Nights Entertainment”. Read some of its stories in English here. Although there are many websites for Arabian Nights stories, but the best site I found is http://wollamshram.ca/1001/  - This site gives many stories in original. Its many translations in English are available but well-known collections are by Andrew Lang (1898) and Sir Richard Burton (1955),

It was not the work of one translator but it was translated by several translators in several years. Its 1st edition was published by East India Company in Calcutta (Bengal, India) in 1814. It is still available in Calcutta. It also covers varied subjects.

 

 

 

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Created by Sushma Gupta on November 27, 2018
Contact:  sushmajee@yahoo.com
Modified on 03/21/19