the story of folk tales

Classification of Folk Tales

          Folk tales can be categorized into different types and names. In this article, folk tales are classified into 14 categories according to their pattern as follows.

1. Fairy Tales. Prominent characteristics of fairy tales include length of the story in which there are several conflicting situations or sub-sections. Main content of the story usually involves supernatural power or miracles, which are uncommon to human way of life. Normally, it does not clearly indicate the location in the story. Besides, the main character possesses extraordinary attributes such as charisma or magic that would finally overcome the obstacles and conquer all of the enemies, with happy ending. Examples of Thai fairy tales are Sanonoy Ruan Ngam, Pla Boo Thong, Nag Sib Song, and Sung Thong, etc. (Kularb Mallikamas,1975, p. 106). This type of folk tale has exciting story proceeding within an imaginary world that contains wonders from supernatural power and miracles of non-human charaters such as giants, angels, or the King of Nagas. As such, this kind of tale is sometimes know as “Tales of Wonders”. With their entertaining stories, the content of many fairy tales have been modified into various performances such as movies, dramas, Li Kay (Thai traditional dramatic performance), and also other performances.

Pla-boo-thong (Picture from

2. Legend. In this type of folk tale, the story tellers strongly believes that the incidents or the phenomena in such story do actually occur since there are factual evidences, persons, and locations indicated in the legend clearer than those mentioned in the myth. For example, Thai legends include Phra Ruang, Chao Mae Soi Dok Mak, Tao Saen Pom, Muang Lab Lae, Phra Ya Kong, and Phra Ya Phan, etc.

3. Explanatory Tale.
This is the kind of story that answers the question of “why” explaining the history and origin of human beings, animals, and natural phenomena. Explanatory tale explains names of locations, rationale of some beliefs, and stories involved with the hidden treasure. Examples of Thai explanatory tales are “why the crows are black”, “why the wasps have necked waist”, “why the vinegar is forbidden in the town of Lop Buri”, and “Pu Som Fao Sap”. Many tales are involved with locations such as “Koh Nu Koh Maew” in Song Kla province, “Tham Pa Nag Koy” in Prae province, and “Khao Ta Mong Lai” in Prachuab Kirikhan province

Koh Noo, Koh Maew
(Picture from

4. Novella or romantic tales. This type of tale has a long story comprising many sub-episodes (Kingkaew Attakorn, 1976, p.15). Its content is more realistic. Characters in the story are rather common people, because of their ordinary lifestyles, than those in regality. Core content of the story is related to affection, exasperation, infatuation, fear, and adventures. Romantic tales are more sentimental than myths. Main characters have to show their wisdom and skills in solving problems and get through troubles with bravery and patience for successfully conquering their obstacles and enemies. Scenes and surrounding environments are also more realistic. Well know Thai romantic tales are Khun Chang Khun Paen, Phra Lor, and Krai Thong. Meanwhile, example of western romantic tales is the Decameron Series while example oriental romantic tale is the Arabian Night.

Khun Chang Khun Paen (Picture from

5. Ghost tales. Characters in ghost tales are inevitably ghosts and spiritual divines. There are situations of ghost haunting and possessing. The story is thrilling and frightening. Both story tellers and audiences quite believe that ghost tales are true stories. Ghost tales clearly reflects Thai people’s beliefs in ghosts and spiritual divines. Appearances of ghosts or spiritual divines in the story are normally to help human, to revenge, or to show their supernatural power.

6. Hero Tales. This type or tale usually tells about moral, ability, acuity, and bravery of persons who are the country’s heroes. Hero tales are similar to myths, whose main characters are also heroes in the story. However, there are some differences. That are, hero tales clearer indicate locations and times in the story. Core content of hero tales mainly tell bravery and heroism of heroes who fight for majority of people. Heroes are more adventurous and braver than ordinary people. Example of western hero tales is Robinhood while Thai hero tales are, for instance, Krai Thong, Chao Sai Nam Pueng, Pra Ruang Wajasit. These hero tales include in the story the names of persons, countries, situations, or story plots that are based on true story and then modified for tale-telling purposes.

Hercules (Picture from

7. Fables. These are short and unrealistic stories. However, fables contain moral lessons that teach appropriate ways of living. Some fables give direct lessons but others indirectly provide thoughts in a comparative model. As such, fables are sometimes called the “object lessons” or the “parables”. Characters running the story may be human, animals, or angels. The stories are assumed to be happened in the past such as the “Nu Kad Lek (a mouse bites steel)”, the Isop’s tales, and the tales from Panja Tantra, etc.
Isop's tales (Picture from

8. Religious Tales. These tales are related to religions, gods, priests, and also historic miracles or supernatural power. There are many of these tales in the west such as the stories of Jesus Christ and Saints. There are also some Thai religious tales that involve supernatural power of priests who possess high level of absorption and special supernatural power. Examples of Thai religious tales are the story of “Luang Phor Tuad” and “Somdej Chao Taeng Mo, etc.

9. Jataka Tales. According to the Royal Institute Dictionary B.E.2546 (2003, p.359), “Jataka” means the stories of Lord Buddha’s incarnations. In each of those incarnations, the stories tell the Lord Buddha’s hagiography and holy activities when the Lord Buddha reincarnated as either human or a variety of animals. Despite the different forms of lives in reincarnations, two distinct and prominent characteristics of the Lord Buddha are always observed. These characteristics are the Lord Buddha’s virtue and his physical perfection. The Lord Buddha always incarnated in masculinity with perfect body and voice. Such physical appearance completely attracts the others seeing him. Regarding the virtue characteristic, the Lord Buddha always reincarnated with high moral principle and merits especially the “ten virtues” (Pisit Charoensuk, 1996, pp.3-4), which include giving, scruple, leaving from homes, intellectuality, diligence, patience, faithfulness, blessing, mercy, and detachment. In Jataka tales, morale and teachings of the Lord Buddha are blended into the stories. At the end of the story, Jataka tales always tell readers about reincarnations of main characters in that story. One of the well known Jataka tales is “Tossa (ten) Jataka”, particular the last episode Jataka called “Pra Wes San Don”.

Pra Wes San Don (Picture from

10. Myths. These are tales of which main characters are fairies or angels. Otherwise, the characters in the story must be related to religion beliefs and observances that are commonly practiced. Examples of myths are ‘Tao Maha Song Kran” and those related to the God Indra.

11. Animal tale. In this kind of tales, the main characters are animal, presumed to have human thoughts and behaviors. These characters can be either wild animals or home pets. In some stories, the characters may be human who can interact with animals as if they are also human. Some stories shows cleverness or foolishness of the animals. Sometimes, it can be a story of a cheating animal that usually bully other animals and finally get into the troubles. The animal tales are clearly told with the purpose to teach about morale. Hence, the animal tale can also be classified as fables.

12. Jests. Most of jests are short tales. In this kind of story, its climax is the behavior or situation that seems impossible. Jest tale may be a story of foolishness, cleverness, or sharp thinking needed for retaliation, gambling or adventures in a comic manner. Main character of the story may be the most foolish person who has the strangest behavior. Examples are the stories of “Sri Thanonchai” and “Hua Laan Nok Krue”, etc.
Besides, there are jests that involve sexuality in an immodest way so that they are told only in specific groups or on some occasions. However, it can be noticed that this kind of Thai tale strategically use linguistic techniques. That is, words are played around by the spoonerism manner in order to make the story amusing. If any listener cannot understand spoonerism, he/she will be like a droll in their group at that moment. Thai jests normally set the main characters as monks or nuns, whom usually have to behavior well in brahmacharya (celibate and chaste) but had behaved against the rules or committed improper sexual behaviors such as, for example, the affairs between brother-in-law and sister-in-law or the affairs between the son-in-law and mother-in-law.
Sri Thanonchai (Picture from

13. Formula tale. This type of tale has its special way to tell stories in the different format from other kind of tales. For example, it is told repeatedly and continuously or there are many characters whose behaviors are sequentially related. There are four categories of formula tale:
          13.1 The endless tale. This tale has no limit length. It is continuously told until the listeners become bored. This kind of tale usually involves counting or repeated actions. It is suitable to children’s interests.
          13.2 The unfinished tale. The tellers use this kind of tale to tease listeners in order to make them fun. The story starts from local interesting story then immediately end without any sign or good reason.
          13.3 Cheating tale. The story tellers intend to disguise listeners by attracting them to be part of the story such as asking and answering questions. When the listeners expect that their answer is right, the tellers give another answer which is totally funny and nonsense.
          13.4 Chain Tale. This kind of tale is a non-stop story. There can be many characters with sequential behaviors that may probably not be related to the behavior of previous characters. A well known Thai chain tale is “Yai Ka Ta Pluke Tua Pluke Nga Hai Larn Fao (the grand parent growing bean and sesame plants then ask their grandchild to take care of those plants).

14. Riddle tale. This type of tale is told in the way that phrases are tied up to leave some challenging clues within middle, the end or important part of the story in order to allow participation from listeners or readers to express their opinions or knowledge about that story. Riddle tales that are most found in Thailand are Dharma Riddle tale, Vetala tale, and the well-known story of “Song Kran”.


Vetala (Picture from

          The aforementioned category of tales is only a general way of classification, not the inflexible one. Some types of tales may have overlapped content. Readers should carefully consider the purposes and attitudes of the tellers together with characteristics and contents of tales before classifying them into appropriate category according to their most prominent characteristics.

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