Saturday, September 4, 2010

classifications of folk tales

The Seven Ravens

Jack and the Beanstalk

Tortoise with Wings

The Twelve Months

A classification of European folk tales exists and was first published in 1910, called the Aarne-Thompson classification system.  The tales are grouped by Animal Tales, Fairy Tales, Religious Tales, Realistic Tales, Tales of the Stupid Ogre, Jokes and Ancedotes, and Formula Tales.  A breakdown of the system can be seen here.  The Aarne-Thompson system catalogues some 2500 basic plots, for countless generations, which European and Near Eastern storytellers have built their tales. As Europeans and Near Easterners travelled to the New World, the Far East, Africa, and other distant places, their tales migrated as well.

The system was overhauled and extended by Hans-Jörg Uther in 2004.  He had a few criticisms for the system and listed these revisions:
1. Classifying narrative implies a scientific exactness that does not in fact exist, and that works as an “ideal type” only for certain texts in a limited region.
2. The descriptions of the tale types are in many cases too short and are often imprecise. Many are sexist, in that when the variants refer indiscriminately to a man or a woman, the summaries assign men to respectable roles and women to ignoble ones.
3. Incorporating the so called “irregular types”,those in small print, is a dubious practice. Often these types have a long and continuous distribution.
4. The emphasis on oral tradition often obscures the older, written versions of the tale types.
5. The inclusion of oicotypes with only a few variants expands the system unnecessarily and blurs the picture of the general tradition. Often new types are proposed from nationalistic sentiments, which should rightly be placed under existing types.
6. The Aarne-Thompson catalogue covers European folktale traditions unevenly: for example, it lacks references to eastern and southern European tales.
7. The catalogue is oriented towards traditional genres and does not take smaller narrative forms into consideration.
8. It often lacks references to relevant secondary literature.

Vladimir Propp, from Russia, analyzed many of his country's folk tales and identified common themes within them.  He broke down the stories into analyzable chunks that comprised the structure of many of the stories.  He identified that “Five categories of elements define not only the construction of a tale, but the tale as a whole.”:
1. Functions of dramatis personae
2. Conjuctive elements (ex machina, announcement of misfortune, chance disclosure – mother calls hero loudly, etc.)
3. Motivations (reasons and aims of personages)
4. Forms of appearance of dramatis personae (the flying arrival of dragon, chance meeting with donor)
5. Attributive elements or accessories (witch’s hut or her clay leg)  While not all stories will contain all of Propp's narratemes, it is surprising to find stories that contain none, and many modern books and movies fit nicely into his categories.  His breakdown of the categories can be seen here.

This summary does not even begin to touch on the vast amount of folk tales throughout all the world. It is a brief summary to European and Russian tales.