I admit I can be a bit of a pedant. It’s not entirely my fault; I come by it naturally, with an English teacher for a mother and the lineage of librarians of which I’m a part. Arguments in my household require citations from reputable sources. I do try to use my tendency for good, more educational uses than the standard “well, actually” killjoy uses. I understand that there is a time and a place, even if I’m really excited to share this bit of fact I have.
But fewer things make my pedantic eye twitch come on stronger than when people get certain folklore terms mixed up. I don’t mean misunderstanding what the Aarne-Thompson index is or getting one specific creature wrong. I mean the basic stuff, like the difference between story types. It’s a small thing, but it’s greatly irritating when I come across a list of “great fairytale retellings you must read!” and it’s full of Greek myths. Which there’s nothing wrong with, but when it’s the fifth list in a row you’ve clicked on that is full of stories that aren’t what you’re looking for, it does spike the blood pressure a wee bit.
So I’ve written this guide for those of you who are actually interested in the differences, and maybe some fledgling folklorists who need some definitions as a starting point. Because that’s what this is, the starting points, definitions that you would likely get in the first week of Folklore 101 before your professor expanded on them in the following weeks. Myths, legends, and fairytales are all folkloric stories, but they aren’t interchangeable. The components of these stories are what makes them different. So let’s start with myths, shall we?