Types of Folk Literature Simplified Diagrams

By Tina L. Hanlon

Ferrum College

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Use the diagram below if you want to discuss types of folktales without dealing with their links with mythology or legend. You can remove some smaller circles if you aren't studying all these subtypes of folktales. The lighter orange circle could be used to show how Jack tales in European-American (especially Appalachian) traditions, or John de Conquer tales in African-American traditions overlap with specific kinds of folktales.

For example, Jack is a fool, numbskull, or noodlehead in Foolish Jack and Jack and the Three Sillies. Jack and the Hainted House is a ghost story. Jack Tales are sometimes called tall tales when they contain exaggerated and humorous images and actions such as giant beanstalks or bean trees (Jack and the Bean Tree) or helpers with superhuman abilities, as in Hardy Hardhead. Tales about Mutsmag or Nippy or Merrywise are closely related to Jack tales and the general tradition of märchen or wonder tales, in which royal or peasant heroes (usually ordinary people in Appalachia) overcome evil forces, make their fortune, and often find a wonderful spouse.

 Jack and the Robbers or Jack and the Animals has talking animals like the European "Bremen Town Musicians." See How Jack Got a New Shirt from SW Virginia, reprinted in this web site, for an unusual Jack tale in which talking animals help Jack.

The same orange circle could be used to discuss trickster tales, since Jack, like Mutsmag, John de Conquer, Brer Rabbit, Terrapin (the turtle), Anansi and other spider heroes, is often a trickster who uses his wits to overcome opponents that are bigger or stronger than he is.

This page created 9/9/02   |   Top of Page   |   Last update 6/14/10

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Timeline of Appalachian Folktales
Bibliography of Appalachian Folktales
Complete List of AppLit Pages on Folklore