Literary terms: myth, legend, and fable



three terms that I think are very easy to get confused our myth legend and fable so let's talk about those quickly a myth a lot of people use the word to mean something that's not true I mean there's even a very popular TV show called myth busters where they examine a lively held belief and they you know look to see if it's actually true or not and if it's not true of course then they call it a myth but we have to be careful with the word myth because in the traditional literary sense myth has a very different meaning than simply a story that's not true a myth is a cultural folktale a story that's been passed down by word-of-mouth sometimes for centuries it has no known author there isn't really auto-ship that we can talk about in the modern sense and this cultural folktale tells about the creation of the world or explains some remarkable supernatural or supernatural event or some kind of natural disaster so probably the most well-known example certainly in Western literature would be the story of Genesis the book of Genesis where we have the creation story in the Garden of Eden and then we have the story of the Great Flood this would be an example of a creation myth and a flood myth in the the very very well known really the oldest example of literature in existence the very well-known Sumerian epic the epic of gilgamesh we have the story of creation and also a story of a flood so a myth in the proper sense and literature has nothing to do with a story being true or not true it has to do with the subject matter and so a creation myth is a cultural story that tells about where the world came from and many many cultures in the ancient world had flood myths stories about an enormous natural disaster most of these stories not all of them but most of them about worldwide flooding so in in the case of the Sumerian flood myth we have the story of Napa's team in the story of the Genesis flood myth we have of course the account of Noah so that's a myth has nothing to do with the story being true are not true there's no Mythbusters in this sense a myth simply means an ancient cultural folktale passed down by word of mouth and this cultural story this cultural folktale tells about the creation of the world and and or some enormous event or natural disaster the word legend we use the word legend today to describe usually a person who's really really good at somebody or really good at something so you know we talk about athletes as being legends right like Gordie Howe or Wayne Gretzky are legends in the world of professional hockey Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer are legends in the world of professional golf and so on the word legend in literature means a folktale again like myth a story that's passed down by word of mouth has no author and it's based on the exploits of what was probably a real historical person but those historical details are lost today a really good example in English literature of legend would be the stories about King Arthur and the knights of the round table or the stories about Robin Hood it's possible in fact historians you know historians debate this but generally the consensus is that it's quite possible that King Arthur and Robin Hood were both based on real people but who those real people are the actual history of those real people has been lost to us today and so these legends are stories that have been told about King Arthur and and hood and there's a whole body of folk tale and folk literature that's been built up around these two figures but the real people are largely lost to history those are what we call legends and finally fables the word fable today is often used in a fairly generic sense to mean a fantasy story but in the traditional sense and literature fable means a short fantasy story about animal characters and usually although not essentially but usually it teaches some kind of a lesson so the classic example in Greek literature or sorry the classic example I should say in Western literature would be the Greek fables of Aesop my personal favorite is the story of the frog and the scorpion I'll just tell it to you because I really like this story there was a certain time when a scorpion wanted to cross a river so he went up to a frog and said frog I would like to cross the river but I can't swim please carry me across the river on your back and the Frog said oh I won't do that I'm not stupid I know that if I carry you across the river on my back you'll sting me and I'll die the scorpion said frog I surely won't sting you if I sting you while you're swimming across the river I'll drown we would both die so the Frog thought about it and said well okay I guess that's true so the Scorpion got on the frogs back and they swam halfway across the river then the scorpion stung the Frog and as the Frog slipped below the the waters of the river he said with his dying breath why did you do it now we'll both die and as the scorpion slipped below the water he said to the Frog I did it because I'm a scorpion that's a fable it's a short fantasy story about animal characters most fables though not all teach a moral lesson of some sort they have sort of the some of the aspects of parable the moral lesson in that fable is the idea that some people are inherently evil they cannot be trusted it is simply in their nature to harm others now whether that idea is true or not that's the idea being expressed by the fable so myth legend and fable 3 types of fantasy story that are very easy to sort of get confused but if you sort of examine what they are they all mean something quite specific quite different all three types of stories tend to be very very important to individual cultures and to really understand a culture one of the things that you have to do is understand its myth its legends and its fables

3 thoughts on “Literary terms: myth, legend, and fable

  1. Can you make a video about the word "heuristics"? I always get confused after hearing it even after looking at its definition. Your way of explaining is great so I though if you could explain it with different examples and different contexts. Love your videos. Keep the vocabulary lessons coming!

  2. How precisely and beautifully Myth, Legend and fable have been distinguished and explained in the real literary terms in this video! excellent effort.

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