What Makes Folk Tales Special

Vala Hafstað


“To me, folk tales are a source for so many things: entertainment, education, research, artistic inspiration, and for the collection of information about local sites, to name a few,” ethnologist Bryndís Björgvinsdóttir tells Morgunblaðið in an interview with Kristín Helga Kristinsdóttir.

Bryndís points out that we keep telling such tales, although we don’t call them folktales.

“Urban legends and rumors, for example, are indeed the folk tales of our time, and they reflect our communication with our neighbors and ideas we have about our surroundings. In them, our wishes, dreams and fears are expressed, as well as what we find desirable and beautiful.”

She states that what usually triggers a story is something out of the ordinary and juicy. That was true in the olden days, and it still holds today. “We don’t necessarily need to ask whether [a story] is true.”

“We are free to take our folk tales at face value. Do they suggest that people in the olden days were so lonely that they made up stories about imaginary neighbors – hidden people or elves – or are those beings symbolic of mother Nature, who gives and takes, and whom we must show respect to ensure her continued gifts? We can read so much into these stories.”

There is a difference between folk tales and fairy tales, Bryndís notes . “Folk tales occur in our world, often including the names of places and people… They shed a historical light on living conditions, history, society and families.” What characterizes folk tales, she adds, is the large role that supernatural  beings play in them.

Folk tales describe the relationship between people and those supernatural beings. People exchanged gifts with them and received their help when times were tough.

The tales emphasize the importance of treating these neighbors with respect and being at peace with them.




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