I have always loved folktales. There were several folktales in my 3rd grade reader which I remember to this day.
Folktales are known as "Folk Literature" which is an aspect of Folklore. Folklore includes all that relates to the culture of a group of people: music (folk songs), stories ( folktales), dances ( folk dances), traditions, beliefs etc. It is interesting that folktales/literature is a form of fiction that has a call number in the Dewey Decimal classification system whereas most other forms of fiction are classified by a letter (the first letter or first three letters of the author's last name.) The number for folk literature is 398.2. I expect that the reasoning is that folk tales are related to the cultures of certain groups of people and in that sense might be considered an aspect of cultural anthropology.
Folktales are complicated. There are many different types of folktales, and many interpretations as to what those types may be. Basically, folktales include "Fairy Tales" also known as "Tales of Enchantment," "Tall Tales," "Animal Tales," "Fables,""Reality Tales,"Cumulative Tales,"Cautionary Tales," "Trickster Tales," "Heroic Tales," and others. Here is the problem: there is a lot of overlapping. For example,"The Tortoise and the Hare" is both a Fable and an Animal Tale. If you Google "types of folk tales"you will find a variety of interpretations.
There is controversy as to whether Legends should be considered folk tales. Legends are historically-based stories in which there might be correct factual information included as well as aspects of the story that are not verifiable or may be completely untrue. Another great difference between legends and other folk tales is that legends are set at a certain time or place whereas other folk tales might be vague... happening "a long time ago in a place far from here," or not include a time or place at all. I personally interpret legends to be part of folk literature because they have many characteristics of other types of folk tales. Other people disagree.
Myths are also not always considered to be part of the folk tale genre. The Roman and Greek Myths, for example, are often put in the category of religion. Myths tend to relate to topics considered to be religious: the origin of the earth, what causes lightening etc.
The common characteristics of folk tales are:
l) ORAL TRADITION: most folk tales were originally telling stories. There were people in various countries who "collected" these stories and wrote them down later on. Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, for example, collected tales in Germany.
2) PASSED DOWN THROUGH THE GENERATIONS: These stories were passed along through the years. Story telling was a major form of entertainment in prior centuries. Most of these stories have lasted the test of time.
3) CULTURAL LINK: Many cultural groups have their own specific tales. These cultural groups could be broken down into several categories--by country, religion, ethnic group,occupation, etc.
4) ORIGIN: We usually do not know how these stories originated and who wrote them. Since they were in the oral tradition, and since they date back many centuries, the origins have been lost. There are some familiar folk tales that can be traced to a specific person and are often categorized as a folk tale, but are technically not part of this category. Some of the Hans Christian Andersen stories are based on Scandinavian folk tales while others were original. They are all included in the group known as "Andersen's Fairy Tales."
5) VERSIONS: There are many versions of the same tale. Though the basic plot is the same, stories change over time. Some versions of a story can be found in numerous parts of the world. The "Cinderella" story is a very good example. Many authors, especially those writing picture book stories, choose to write versions of familiar folktales. They are free to do this because the stories are in the "public domain."
I have written versions of some popular folk tales.
My favorite folk tale comes from England...THE LITTLE RED HEN. Some of the main characters are not the same in other versions. I use the Hen, the cat,the dog, and the mouse. I have seen other versions of this story with a duck or a pig as the fourth character.
I wrote this story in rhyme.
Click to read this story.