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Finding Folktales to Tell

*What is 398.2?

First...What is a Folktale?

Folktales are oral narratives that do not have a singular, identifiable author. Expanded and shaped by the tongues of tellers over time, and passed down from one generation to the next, folktales often reflect the values and customs of the culture from which they come. Because folktale plots are generally concerned with life's universal themes, they also transcend their culture of origin to reveal the commonality of human experience. This ancient form of narrative communication for both education and entertainment, not only offers a window into other cultures, but also can be a revealing mirror of the comedy and pathos of our lives.

Written Versions of Folktales

Before mass media became a dominant storyteller for the modern world, local indigenous storytellers in cultures everywhere preserved the oral tales. Now, unless one can travel to situations where there are traditional tellers who carry on the oral tradition of their people, the best place to research multicultural folktales is to peruse the print versions available in the 398.2 section of the public library.

What is 398.2?

The 398.2 section of the library is numbered according to the Dewey Decimal System which organizes the book collections of public libraries and school libraries into subject categories to make it easier to locate literary materials. The folktales, fairytales and fables of the world are shelved in this nonfiction area. Both the children's section and the adult section of the library have a 398.2 folktale area. These simplified versions of multicultural oral tales are an excellent source of folktale plots with which to explore the storytelling process. By retelling folktales one can gain insights into the similarities and differences of peoples around the world.

Ode to 398.2
by Heather Forest

I've traveled around the world
without leaving home.
I go anywhere
my imagination wants to roam.
I take a look,
in a folktale book,
and travel on the wings of words.

Soaring to far away places,
ancient times,
or magical spaces,
I find a fantasy view...
reading a book
from the library shelf

(From Wonder Tales, a book by Heather Forest, Reprinted with permission by August House Publishers)

Are Folktales True?

Although folktales are imaginative narratives, they are shelved in the nonfiction area of social sciences. Ironically, these tales are "true" not because they actually happened but because there is often a bit of "truth" or wisdom embedded in them. Folktales offer profound insights into the cultures from which they come.

Exploring Cultural Roots through Folktales
By asking family members about the ancestry of relatives, people often discover that their family tree has roots in many places around the world. It is interesting to explore a folktale from one's own heritage in the 398.2 section of the library.

Oral Tradition and Writing

Since the invention of writing, oral tales may have always been written by community scribes. However, since literacy has not been commonplace in the world until modern times, old folktales were preserved from one generation to the next primarily through the spoken word.

Guttenburg's invention of the moveable type printing press in 1450 allowed for the development of the book printing industry. Early folktale books helped to preserve oral tales. For example, in Europe during the 1800's a nationalistic fervor swept the European continent, and folklorists of many nations collected their regional folktales. This movement to collect tales to preserve traditional oral culture began at a time when industrialization was quickly changing the fabric of society. The rich tapestry of tales told around the hearth was being forgotten as people moved to the cities and gave up traditional ways. Folklorists, both professional and amateur, began documenting oral tales in literary form.

Important early collectors of European regional folktales were: Joseph Jacobs in England, Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm in Germany and Peter Absjornsen and Moe Jorgen in Norway. The tales they collected can still be found along with countless more contemporary multicultural anthologies and single story picture books in the 398.2 section of the library.

*Stories in a Nutshell: Concise Folktale Plots for Student Retelling

*Aesop'S ABC: Twenty-Six Fables

*Links: WWW Sites with Folktale or Mythology Text

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