Folktales deal with adventures both plausible and implausible wrapped in the forms of human or animal abilities. Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, and the Story of the Three Little Pigs, are all examples of the childhood tales that we have all grown up with. They are the simple tales that have truly evil people or animals, and truly good people or animals, and the good always wins out in the end in these stories, giving way to the child's version of fairness. These stories usually start out like: "Once upon a time in a far away land there lived a....," or "Once upon a time there was...." All cultures have folktales and while the characters have changed slightly in some of the stories, or the plot might have changed in some fashion, the main idea is still there. An excellent example of the same story in different versions can be seen in the story of Lon Po Po from China, the story of Little Red Riding Hood from France, and the story of Little Red Cap from Germany, all of which share the same themes. A little girl who wears red goes through the forest on the way to her grandmother's house and is met by a wolf. The wolf gets into the house and somehow the people trick the wolf so that he does not get to eat or finish digesting the people he wants for a meal. Folktales proved to be excellent vehicles for teaching children the values and lessons in behavior which the storyteller thought appropriate.
Myths deal with ancient stories, such as the escapades of the Greek gods and their great feats of bravery. Roman mythology adopted the Greek gods, changing the name of Zeus to Jupiter, Hera to Juno, Poseidon to Neptune, and so on. The myths gave human emotions and qualities to the super- natural beings who were the heroes and heroines of their stories. Hera was known for her jealousy. Zeus was always trying to get things past his wife. Poseidon ruled the weather by his whims. These gods and goddesses helped or harmed mankind as they pleased. One charming story that is my favorite is that of Galatea, the statue a man carved to fit his description of womanly beauty that the gods bring to life. Loves, lost loves and love restrained are all entwined in the ancient Greek stories.
Norse mythology is marked by a sense of doom, and its heroes are those brave souls who show their courage: "a heroic death, like a martyr's death, is not a defeat, but a triumph" (Hamilton, p301). Every culture has its own mythical literature, but it is interesting to see that all these stories have certain repetitive patterns in which truth is expressed in the form of symbols and allegories to explain the human condition and the reason for human suffering. It is also interesting to note that new myths continue to be created.
Legends may deal with real people like Henry VIII, or Robin Hood. The stories written about them could have been real because the tale deals with real historical figures. So whether there ever was a real prince and pauper does not matter, because the story made up around that time period is essential to help people believe that they won't always have to live in the same social system that they were born in. Other stories were used around the campfire like the tall tales of Mike Fink, or Pecos Bill who might have been real people but time has erased the line where the true history and legend separate. These stories leave questions and wonder in the listeners' minds as they ponder, "Did Mike Fink really wrestle a grizzly bear?" or "Had he beat up all the other river boat men on the Mississippi?" The historical facts have been creatively altered to intermingle many valuable precepts that encourage moral conduct and right living. Such narratives have an intermixture of fact that sets them apart from pure myth or popular tales.