Folk tales are all about conveying a deeper meaning—no banjos required. Arabian Nights is one of the most famous collections, so get ready to learn some lessons.
Fate and Free Will
"The Fisherman and the Jinni."
Right off the bat, the title clues us in to one common aspect of a folk tale... stock
These fictional characters exhibit common characteristics or mannerisms. They are drawn
from cultural stereotypes, and they keep popping up in multiple stories.
So... it's almost as if they are "in stock."
In this particular story, we've got a poor fisherman who is struggling to feed his family...
...and the Jinni... which is just an old-timey way of spelling "genie"...
... grants him a wish.
In other words...
They're stock... predictable... expected. They don't offer any unexpected surprises;
instead they look and sound exactly the same every time they appear in a text.
However, these predictable characters meant to be simple and easy to understand because...
they're meant to represent something else.
Maybe a human trait, like kindness, treachery or forgiveness.
So if you're reading about cookie cutter characters who seem to be popped out of a mold...
...and the story uses those characters to send a message or teach a lesson...
...your folk tale antennae should be up and wiggling.
Okay, what else?
Folk tales are about the folks of a particular culture.
So in a folk tale about the American South, you might come across such vocab as grits,
country music, and cowboys.
In this story, we've got fishing, references to Allah and Solomon, coppersmith, vizier
<<vi-zeer>>, and Last Judgment... all cultural references that fit "Western and Southern
So... we can check another box in the "folk tale" column.
We should also be on the lookout for very simple language.
Folk tales don't generally get too flowery or abstract... instead, the language is concrete,
basic and straightforward.
You would see something like this:
"On a day he went forth about noontide to the seashore, where he laid down his basket
and, tucking up his shirt and plunging into the water, made a cast with his net and waited
till it settled to the bottom."
Makes it easy to understand and follow... as long as it isn't written in Arabic.
Folk tales also don't tend to stick to reality.
The world of the unlikely or implausible is totally fair game.
Humans being visited by otherworldly or divine beings? Sure, why not?
Somebody just catch a shooting star in their hand? We don't see why that couldn't happen.
Need a genie to come out of a bottle? Might be lookin' at a folk tale, ladies and gents...
Even the smallest details will often be exaggerated or unrealistic in a folk tale.
Like the smoke in this story that... "almost touches heaven."
Really? Might explain why all those angels are running for the emergency exits.
Finally, folk tales will usually deal with universal themes...
...like the power of love, the battle between good and evil, or... the deliciousness of
You know... stuff you just can't argue. So here's a quick recap for all you soon-to-be
folk-a-philes. Look for:
...the teaching of a lesson or moral...
...language and terminology specific to a particular culture...
...simple, concrete language...
...supernatural or unrealistic events...
...and universal themes.
If you're reading something that checks most of those boxes, chances are good you're reading
a folk tale.
Take us out, magic carpet.