Difference between folktales & fairy tales

Updated April 17, 2017

Folktales are typically passed down from generation to generation, and vary from culture to culture. Fairy tales often involve mythical creatures such as goblins and elves, and usually contain a supernatural element. Both folk tales and fairy tales can serve as parables to explain concepts or convey information.


The history of folktales dates back to ancient times, when storytellers would entertain listeners with stories in the oral tradition. For storytellers, it made sense to tell tales to which the audience could relate. As a result, folktales typically involved everyday life, and would often feature clever peasants outwitting someone of a higher station. Folktales are common to most cultures, and sometimes included stories about animals that have human characteristics. These stories almost always had some sort of wisdom to impart.

Fairy Tales

Fairy tales are an offshoot of folktales that usually involve some sort of magical or supernatural element. Common elements in fairy tales include princesses, witches, elves, goblins, trolls and, of course, fairies. In a fairy tale, good will always triumph over evil. Fairy tales are typically geared toward children and tend to have somewhat simplistic plots. Numerous fairy tales have been adapted into animated movies, primarily by Disney, furthering the evolution of these tales.


Folktales are common to just about every culture on Earth, and have ancient origins. The Biblical tale of Noah and the ark, for example, is likely derived from the ancient Sumerian tale of Gilgamesh. Native American culture is rife with folktales that typically imparted wisdom and advice to the listener. Examples of folktales include the American "tall tales" involving figures such as John Henry and Paul Bunyan. Aesop's fables are also considered folktales. Examples of fairy tales include "Snow White," "Cinderella," "Sleeping Beauty" and numerous others.


Although both folktales and fairy tales share similarities in terms of intent and execution, there are substantial differences between them. Fairy tales contain imaginary creatures, typically feature magic and enchantment and are intended for children. Folktales are meant for adults, and often contain content that could be considered violent and bawdy. Parables, fables and legends all fall under the banner of folktales. Unlike fairy tales, the characters in folktales would typically face the consequences of their actions and rarely wound up living "happily ever after."

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