Interpreting Folktales


Every society has its stock of traditional stories, passed on orally from one generation to the next, sometimes committed to writing, painting, video, or other semi-permanent media.

These narratives may be roughly divided into "myths", sacred narratives purporting to express truths about the creation of the world, the origins of human mortality and so on, and "folktales", regarded even by members of the social group in which they are told as playful products of collective fantasy yet having "truth value".

Tales such as “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Sleeping Beauty,” best known as children's stories through the Grimm Brothers and Walt Disney, derive from folktales which have been recounted in various versions by oral tellers to audiences of all ages across Eurasia for hundreds (in some cases, thousands) of years.

These stories also use motifs and narrative devices (journey or quest, transformation of humans into animals and back again, magic, subversion of authority, injustice avenged) similar to those found in folktales from cultures elsewhere in the world -- China, Japan, the Caribbean, the Americas, South Asia, West Africa and Polynesia.

This course explores international and regional aspects of folktales and fairy tales.

Are these stories products of culturally specific ways of knowing and feeling, or do they express universal human preoccupations present in the collective unconscious? What are the relations between folktales and other popular narrative forms, e.g., fairy tales, tall tales, ballads and myths? Are folktales formal constructions which are given different meanings by the particular cultures that make, reuse, or preserve them? What are the relations between the rich oral traditions of tale telling and the literary or media narratives which sometimes rely on folktale motifs and forms, for example, superheroes? What do folktale narratives as cultural forms tell us about the making and uses of stories in general?

For full course information see the Digital Course Outline.

Digital Course Outlines are refreshed in November for the following year. Digital Course Outlines for courses to be offered for the first time may be published slightly later.

Availability 2024

Semester 2


Lecturer(s) Dr Nicole Perry


The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. NY/London: W. W. Norton, 1999. ISBN 0-393-97277-1 (pbk).

COMPLIT 202/303 Course Reader, Parts 1 & 2.

A few additional course readings -- folktales and critical materials -- will be posted to the CANVAS course website.

Course text and readers are required and can be purchased through the University Bookstore.

Classic Fairy Tales can be ordered from Book Depository.


Coursework only


COMPLIT 202: 15 points


60 points passed