(10/25/00 4:45:19 pm)
|Fairy Tales versus Myths|
I am looking for information about comparing fairy tales to myths. So far I have found work on the subject by Bettelheim and have had a hard time figuring it out. Any interprtetations or suggestons?
(10/27/00 12:15:29 am)
|Re: Fairy Tales versus Myths|
I need a little more information before I can effectively answer your question. I think that is one reason why no one has tackled your question yet. Are you comparing myths and fairy tales in general? Or do you have to choose some to compare and contrast for an assignment? Myth usually has quite a different definition from fairy tales, although both are related as folklore. A book you might want to look at is Jack Zipes' "Fairy Tale as Myth, Myth as Fairy Tale." One of the easiest myths and fairy tales to compare and contrast is Cupid and Psyche (myth) with Beauty and the Beast or East of the Sun and West of the Moon (fairy tales).
(10/27/00 3:58:50 am)
I agree with Heidi, I haven't tackled this question because I realized I wasn't sure what exactly you needed...do you want more on fairy tale or more on myth? And what academic level do you need? There are some fairly interesting theoretical stuff on myth but I don't want to suggest it if it is ahighschool paper because it will be more than you need perhaps...how detailed a paper is it? Can you look at myth in one cultural context or are you supposed to come up with a sweeping universal definition?
(10/31/00 6:18:59 am)
|Fairy Tale vs. Myth|
For what it's worth, I view Bettelheim with a somewhat jaundiced eye. While I find some of what he has to say about fairy tales interesting (ex: "never explain the meaning of a fairy tale to a child after you read it to them"), I don't consider him much of an expert in separating fairy tale from myth, nor was that a real focus of his. Zipes' book as mentioned above is a great one on many fronts, plus I think Zipes has done a good job of exploding a lot of the collective Freudian drivel that has been used to "explain" fairy tales to adults (maybe Bettelheim should have recommended we don't explain them to ourselves either). I know that Joseph Campbell and others have touched on this subject, too. There should in fact be a wealth of material out there for you to mine.
(11/4/00 11:16:43 am)
I've been thinking about this question a bit more the past few days, and now I have a question to throw out for general discussion. Spins off something in an essay by Jack Zipes.
Can the difference between myth and fairy tale be defined by saying that myth is essentially frozen, and fairy tale is not? That is, the form of the myth is locked. If you play with it, alter it in any significant way, it is simply no longer the myth. Alternatively then, fairy tales are flexible, maleable, and invite alternate shapings, so that Angela Carter can turn "Beauty and the Beast" inside out in "The Tiger's Bride"
Does that seem a legitimate distinction?
(11/4/00 2:12:14 pm)
|Re: Frozen Myths?|
I believe that the major difference between the two is connected to the belief of the teller. If the teller believes in the truth of the myth -- it can be considered myth but when someone else tells the same story -- as a fiction -- then it can be considered a fairy tale. This is why, I think, it is so difficult to try and assign concrete definitions to the terms. It is also why countless books of Native myths call them legends -- the publishers or retellers did not consider them sacred tales since they themselves did not believe in them regardless of the belifes of their sources. Course, I could be totally out to lunch here.
(11/4/00 4:20:55 pm)
I don't think myths need be frozen at all- I guess it really depends on how broad your definition of myth is! IF you conceive of myth in the Barthes or even the Levi-Strauss sense of the word I don't think you could perceive it as frozen- the ground is perpetually shifting. I don't really maintain a strict devision between fairy tales and myth myself... Consider the contemporary understanding of the word myth which is tinged with connotations of lying and deceit. "Fairy tale" is used colloquially to designate some kind of impossible dream or a lie. The gaps between "legend" and "myth" and "fairy tale" and "myth" are narrowing every day...
The notion of a "frozen myth" really runs contrary to the impetus and development of myths themselves- which form in collaboration with the landscape from which they arise. A frozen myth may lose that connection, that power of explanation, that relevance. Isn't "frozen" just another word for "dead" ?
(11/4/00 4:25:27 pm)
|Questions, really, more than answers|
Not to confound the discussion completely, but what of recent movements in literary criticism to have a category inclusive of myth, fairy tales, folk tales, fables, legends, etc. (all of which have been defined and typed in so many various compelling ways, from Propp to Calvino) that is called 'enchantment literature,' which, while not ignoring differences among so many types of tales and the perceptions of them in culture, at least sidesteps the problem of categorizing and naming, delimiting and defining--which makes sense when an oscillation between ways of being is, after all, so essential to these literatures. I am curious what others think of that proposal, which seems to be finding support.
I find Calvino's introduction to "Fantastic Tales: Visionary and Everyday" very useful in my thinking about the difference between fairy tale and myth though he does not directly address the question at all. This question students constantly ask, and I answer so strangely and variously every time. In any case, Calvino does a beautiful job differentiating fantastic tales (18th and 19th century tales in which everyday life transforms into something more macabre and ominous) from marvelous tales (such as fables or The Thousand and One Nights--he does not mention fairy tales, though we all know he studied them), proposing that the fantastic tales contain rational, if distressing, explanations of supernatural elements to their anxious characters, while marvelous tales 'presuppose' an acceptance of the implausible. I do him no justice here--please read it if you haven't!
One note: Many Greek myths are closely linked to identifiable and unique historical moments and personages, though they continue(d) to function beyond those moments and singular identities. Would that have something to do with your proposition, Gregor, that myths are 'fixed' in time more so than fairy tales? In a more literal historical way--as in Historical Event (a particular war or ruler)? Sorry if this is too imprecisely stated. I'm just thinking...
(11/5/00 10:45:22 am)
Hello all. I see myth as religion. The people that live/lived in these cultures believed these stories. For instance I have a book on Hebrew myth. When I mentioned it to my mother she found that offensive. And then you have Christian "myth" -- stories of good and evil to teach morals and the ways of the people it serves. Fairy tales on the other hand don't have the wrath of "god" behind them -- they aren't explaining why the sun shines, why the sky is blue and where people came from. Myth is much more spiritual than fairy tales and serves a much different purpose I believe. That's not to say that some fairy tales have roots in religion and myth -- kind of like the connections between visual art, words, music, etc. -- common ties to the culture that bind the messages found within the stories.
(11/5/00 7:54:13 pm)
If anyone is still thinking about
this subject, here's something. In some unrelated research tonight
I happened upon found a transcript of a presentation Maria Tatar
gave at a conference at MIT that addresses this question a tiny
bit (excerpt pasted below).
Robert Darnton: My question concerns folklore studies. I gather that what you are trying to do, among other things, is to associate folk tales with myths and to find a mythical dimension in them, which I think could be a very fruitful approach. The objection from folklorists might be that their science is built on distinctions between three genres: myth, tale, and legend. They keep coming back to this fundamental distinction, and I gather you want to erase it. So what is your strategy for erasing it and how would you justify flying in the face of that wisdom among the folklorists?
Tatar: That is a tough question. It has only been recently that I've come to the view that there must be a relationship between myths and fairy tales. I don't think I want to erase the line, but I do want to make it a little more fluid because there is clearly traffic across that line, just as there is also a great deal of traffic between oral tales and literary tales. If one thinks about the origins of fairy tales, one could go back to literary versions of the tales that existed in the Middle Ages.
I think it is important to imagine the system being a little less stable than it was constructed a few decades ago. What intrigues me is the notion that we have Sleeping Beauty, and we have Brun Hilde and those stories are so close to each other. The fundamental issues are the same. We have David and Goliath, Tom Thumb, as well as Ulysses and the Cyclops. Why do these specific plots emerge in myth, folklore and legends as well? I see this as a challenge. I don't have any strategies because this is something new that has emerged in my thinking. Maybe some of you have ideas about those connections.
(11/6/00 5:20:52 am)
I wonder if myth frozen becomes dogma? That irreducible part of faith that must in all its contrariness be accepted as an expression of the inexpressible? But even dogma goes through reinterpretations and nuancing. So maybe it all retains a measure of fluidity.
(11/6/00 5:59:55 am)
OR--just to beat the analogy to death--maybe it's a perpetual process of freezing and thawing? Myth, tale, frozen for a moment, assuming a specific form. That form may become dogma in the hands of someone with a specific agenda; but even so, as you say, they're going to shave off bits here and there, shape it to their particular view or message (much as many contemporary Christians will borrow just the parts they want from the bible, lifting them out of context and even denying parts they don't care to acknowledge); by then most likely the tale itself has already warmed and reflowed.
(11/6/00 6:05:32 am)
|Corrected Link to Tatar Transcript|
(11/7/00 9:57:23 am)
Hmmm. Ok, here's my little interpretation of the words.
I've often thought of myths as the oldest versions of stories, often involving deities, demigods, imaginary "beasts," etc. They were part of the ancient religions, which were usurped by our modern interpretations. Because I was brought up as a Catholic child, I never considered the creation stories as myths, but questionable truths (I was always asking questions). The myths also seemed to be so titanic in deeds, they seemed very far off. (I suppose something like the amazing strength of Hercules would be comparable to the forefathers in the Christian and Jewish tales who lived to be hundreds of years old)
I considered fairytales to be works of the imagination- highly detailed and dramatic, they were the stuff of dreams. Sometimes they taught lessons (be a good girl, don't talk to strangers, don't destroy property), but for the most part, they were closer to real life than myths. About people interacting (sometimes with magical beings) on a smaller scale than the gods.
Fables were somewhere between fairytales and folklore. Small scale, but with truths and lessons to learn, often through everyday life. The only sense of enchantment was the personification of the animals in the stories I read.
Folklore was comparable to legends, though the first was more of the people, and the latter was of the "Great Ones" of the group telling the stories. (Kind of like myths and fairytales, the scale of the characters and deeds were the deciding factors for me).
These days, I am still a bit befuddled about all of the differences that make a story any of the above or something entirely different.
Kerrie (aka KC among Froudians)
Edited by: Kerrie at: 11/8/00
(11/11/00 8:17:27 pm)
|Myth, legend, fairy tales|
Ye gods, these terms are so contentious! Everyone's definition is different, and even the most elaborate definition is bound to leave something out. For what it's worth, this is the schema I give to my students.
Myth: A tale that is "believed" by the people who produced it, but more importantly, one perceived to have some kind of cosmic importance. Divine beings shape the world as we know it, and , in effect, explain/justify why things are the way they are, especially in the realm of religious practice. BTW, myth and religion are not the same thing -- religion is the social structure set up to explain and interpret myth, which is simply the story. But the key, I think, is that there is some kind of vast spiritual importance attached to the tale. Also, they tend to take place in a "time-out-of-time."
Legend: This is sort of like folk history. Legends tend to be about very specific times, places, and people -- i.e., Charlemagne, King Arthur. Basically, a story is legendary is when you can point to something specific -- a person, a historical period, a feature of the landscape -- and say, "this is a story about such-and-such." Like all of these categories, legends are very fluid; for example, many Greek myths are tied to a specific location in Greece. But often, characters in legends tend to be superhuman, rather than divine.
Folk tale/Fairy tale: These stories are understood as fiction, and are told primarily for entertainment. That's not to say that they don't have any deep signifigance, or make specific historical/social points, but simply that the tale itself is regarded as "untrue." As for folk tales vs. fairy tales, I make the distinction according to the acceptance of supernatural elements -- if they're not only present, but taken for granted (i.e., nobody stops and says, "Wait a second, frogs don't TALK!"), it's probably a fairy tale. Interesting note: most of our info about fairies proper (the Little People) is properly a legend, rather than a fairy tale; these narratives tend to be, "There's piskies in them hills on Dartmoor, so don't be out there after dark!"
Of course, all these categories bleed into each other, and it's at the margins that you find the really interesting stuff.