Difference Between Fairy Tales and Folk Tales

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: April 07, 2022


Difference Between Fairy Tales and Folk Tales Difference Between Fairy Tales and Folk Tales

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Fairy tales and folk tales are stories that are shared among communities. Simply put, they are different genres of written literature with their roots in oral literature. Fairy tales are fantasies with magic and myth, with extremely imaginative characters like mermaids or fairies. Folk tales are relatable fictions that can be didactic, moral and representative of cultural customs of a community.   

Human civilization began when we began telling stories. Oral traditions have carried the essence of culture and societies through generations through Folktales and fairy tales. They are representative of the culture, morals, and customs of a community. Many associate cultural identities with fairy tales and folk tales. And attempts are made to revive and document the stories that have been part of a particular region. With similar interests in mind, European scholars began compiling and documenting oral fairy tales and folktales during the mid-nineteenth century. Written accounts of traditional folk tales first began to appear around the same time. Children’s and Household Tales by the Grimm Brothers (1819) is a generally accepted pioneer of such a written compilation. The popularity of these collections inspired many authors to create fairy tales and folk tales out of their imagination. Hans Christian Anderson is the most popular example of such a writer.

Further studies categorize fairy tales as a subgenre of folk tales. Although they seem to have similar audiences, ladened with basic morals and cultural values. There are some common elements that can be found in both fairytales and folktales. They are short, engaging and at times poetic in nature. It is not uncommon to come across poetic elements like rhyme, meter, alliteration, and more, in fairy tales or folk tales. These stories see the use of many literary devices to allude to ideas, lay-man philosophies and local customs. The most obvious of these are metaphors, allegories and symbolism.

Fairy tales are inclined to be fantastical. Comparatively, folk tales are tales grounded in more symbolic and relatable characters. Fairy tales made up for children but folktales have a more general audience. These stories bring a community together because stories were the only form of entertainment available to people before the advent of printing and audio- visual media. The distinctions appearing in the following article center on recurring motifs found in fairy tales and folk tales. We will see how they distinguish based on plot, narration, characters, symbols, settings and endings. 

Fairy Tales vs. Folk Tales

Simply put, Fairly Tales are stories that are dependent on magic and fantasy. In a fairy tale, all elements are exaggerated including characters, plot and action. Whereas, folk-tales revolve around morality and reality. It has relatable characters and generally contains moral lessons.

Difference between Fairy Tales and Folk tales in Tabular form

Table: Fairy Tales vs. Folk Tales
Parameters of Comparison
Fairy Tales
Folk Tales
Magical or Fantasy
Moral or real
Royalty or Fairies
Common and flawed people
Flying horses, unicorns, dragons
Symbolic everyday animals that can speak
Happy endings
Sad/ happy endings
Entertainment, engagement
Moral themes
People in general
Imaginary Palaces, castles, cloud castles, underwater settings.
Real and Normal day-day village or town settings.

What are Fairy Tales?

Fairy tales are a type of Folk tales. They are traditional unwritten tales of fantastic creatures that were meant for children's engagement and entertainment. The tales simply facilitated the imagination of children and did not have moral lessons. Fairy tales awed children, and with that in mind, the stories quickly progress from one magical element to another with a lot of repetition. It is only since the late nineteenth century that fairy tales began appearing in the written form. This has enabled us to study the various elements of a fairy tale.

The narration of a typical fairy tale follows exaggerated characters in extraordinary situations. It may contain divine elements that affect the narrative as well. The conflicts within the story arise from magical elements and can be solved only through supernatural elements.

Effectively, the characters are generally royalty or divine. These characteristics of these figures are usually unchanging. The Princess is in distress, The King is benevolent, The Prince is valiant. Similarly, villains have conventions like the evil witch or stepmother. Sometimes there can be supernatural charters like giants or fairies and goblins in the tales. We can expect to find creatures like dragons, unicorns, giants, fairies, goblins and more in fairy tales. Animals like dragons symbolize regale; unicorns represent rarity or uniqueness. Similarly, creatures like Giants equate with the use of muscles, and in a story a boy like Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk usually represents wit.

It is common to associate happy endings with fairy tales. For example, there is a Hungarian fairy tale about a Goat with a Golden Fleece. In the tale people get stuck to the golden fleece of the goat and form a comical chain-like procession. When the procession approaches outside the window of the Sad Dying Princess, she finally laughs at the sight. The Princess and The Shepherd of the Goat with the golden fleece end up marrying, and living happily ever after.

The original version of some fairy tales like Cinderella had dark conclusions. Do you know the evil step-sisters cut off their feet so that they could fit in the glass shoe? The Prince in Rapunzel was pushed off the tower and he lost his eyesight. He then wanders around the forest for the rest of his life. However, recent retellings of these popular fairy tales have happy endings sans blood and gore. 

The setting of these stories is usually castles and palaces. For example, Ariel from The Little Mermaid lived in an underwater palace. Such imaginary places have no connection with the real world. Such settings are a typical of a fairy tale. From cloud castles to underwater societies, nothing is impossible in a Fairy-tale. 

What are Folk Tales?

Folk tales are stories that are a part of the oral tradition in all cultures found in the world today. These are also known as camp-fire stories. They represent the cultural values, moral lessons and traditions of the society that has been passed down through the telling and re-telling of stories. Ordinary people can relate to these stories and folktales. They can be narrated to any age group, who can draw lessons and values from these tales.

The narration of a typical folk tale will follow a character with ordinary origins who is stuck in an extraordinary situation. Conflicts may arise due to character flaws or through the evil intention of other characters. Like the selfishness of the “Selfish Giant” is a personal flaw due to which the Giant suffers and the stepmother abandons Hansel and Gretel, who then become the victim of the evil witch who wants to eat them. The protagonists tend to resolve similar conflicts through wits, wisdom or values. Thus, the narration contains moral lessons about acceptable behavior, appropriate gestures and expected social interactions

There could be magical elements in folk tales, but they are not the main component of the story. Like lady luck or magical pots. A protagonist’s reaction to magic or the moral lesson remains the main focus of the story. For example, in the story of Rumpelstiltskin, the conflict is created by the claims of a father that his daughter can spin gold out of hay. Needless to say, spinning gold out of hay is the magical element in this story. The goblin solves the problem, but asks for the first born of the girl who became the queen because of the goblin’s magic. When the queen begs for mercy, the goblin puts forth a condition—the queen has to guess his name. One of the Queen’s men find a goblin dancing and singing out his name, ‘Rumpelstiltskin”. The Queen through her resources (and not magic), finds out his name only because the Goblin was celebrating early. With a clear moral, and a logical story line, the story is more a folk tale than a fairy tale, with magical elements like the spinning gold, and the goblin.

The characters are also symbolic in nature. They are simple, displaying singular emotions and motivations. For example, witches are evil or magicians, kings are lazy or valiant, poor are kind or desperate.  Unlike fairy tales, where royalty is shown in the positive light, and there are recurring evil characters like the step mother or witches, folk tales remain true to both the positives and negatives of a character. We may not find both positive and negative aspects in the same story, but the features of a character in folk tales are more flexible. Talking animals are also symbolic; for example, lambs are innocent; rabbits are witty; owls are wise etc. But interestingly, the animals themselves are not fictitious although they are capable of human speech.

We find sad or happy endings in folk tales. The endings pertain to the moral, as good behavior is rewarded and bad behavior is punished. The story of Hansel and Gretel is a good example of a folk tale. It associates with the poverty and famines that Germany was facing during the time, it has some magical yet logical elements, and towards the end, the child-eating witch is appropriately punished. The setting is a matter of fact and inspired by real life.

Main Differences between Fairy Tales and Folk Tales in Points

  • Fairy tales are fantastical stories told to children whereas Folk tales are moral stories told to people in general. 
  • Fairy tales are based on imagination and exaggeration whereas Folk tales are based on morals and culture 
  • Characters in Fairy tales are magical, imaginary and extraordinary. On the other hand, characters in folk tales are relatable, real and grounded. 
  • Both fairy tales and folk tales use talking animals as symbols. Fairy tales use imaginary animals such as magic birds, dragons, unicorns, flying horses, mermaids, etc. In comparison, folk tales use animals that are local to the region. For example, a wise owl, a clever fox, or a fun squirrel. 
  • The plot of a typical fairy tale involves conflicts and resolutions that arise from the use of magic and the divine. On the other hand, the plot of a Folk tale involves conflicts that arise from situations like poverty, personal shortcomings or the evil intentions of other characters. 
  • The setting of the story in a typical fairy tale includes castles and palaces. The setting of a typical folk tale could be a village or forest. 
  • The endings of fairy tales are happy, comic endings. Whereas, folk tales usually have a moral lesson as their conclusion, where the bad is punished and the good is rewarded. 


The main differences between fairy tales and folk tales lie in their target audience, settings, plot, characters and narration styles. Typical fairy tales are full of myths and magic while folk tales, though fictional, imitate the culture and customs of a community. Folk tales are a larger category that include myths, legends and fairy tales. Magical tales told to children spark their thinking and imagination that have a lasting effect on the person’s nature and choices. So, fairytale becomes an important pillar of sensibility in an individual. Moral folk tales warn people of behavior that needs to be avoided and carry deep lessons of life that is the part of the culture’s customs and beliefs. But these differences are not bounded. Features of folk tales may appear in a typical fairy tale setting, and magic and fantastical situations may be visible in typical folktale settings. But this has not stopped the way fairy tales are adapted and suited to the cultural settings, situations and medium they are told through. Now, these fairy tales have become animations, and live action movies where the imaginative folk and fairy tales are politically charged but it serves the basic purpose of folk tales and fairy tales. That is being equally crucial markers of our global and regional cultures. Stories make us who we are and connects us as individuals to the larger community.


  • https://www.masterclass.com/articles/fairy-tales-vs-folktales-whats-the-difference-plus-fairy-tale-writing-prompts
  • http://www.longwood.edu/staff/mcgeecw/HistoryofFairyTales.htm
  • https://www.masterclass.com/articles/poetry-101-what-is-meter-learn-the-difference-between-qualitative-and-quantitative-meter-in-poetry-with-example


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"Difference Between Fairy Tales and Folk Tales." Diffzy.com, 2023. Thu. 23 Mar. 2023. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-fairy-tales-and-folk-tales-70>.

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