In the early days there were no magazines or newspapers, and for many people there were no books. Only a very few men and women could read or write. At this time, all kinds of beliefs about animals, birds, witches, fairies, giants, and the magical qualities of herbs and stones flourished like weeds in a neglected garden.
Over time, there came into existence an immense mass of information (and misinformation) about all manner of things; much of it very poetic and interesting. Below the region of exact knowledge lay a region of popular fancies, ideas, proverbs, and superstitions in which the great mass of men and women thrived, and which was a kind of invisible playground for children. Much of the popular belief about animals and the world was touched with imagination and was full of suggestions, illustrations, and pictorial figures which the poets were quick to use.
This immense mass of belief, superstition, faith and fancy, is called folklore and is to be found in all parts of the world.
Cultural beliefs, fancies, faiths, traditions or superstitions that are conveyed through the means of story are called folktales. The folktales were not written out. Many of them grew out of single incidents or little inventions of fancy, and became longer and larger as they passed from one storyteller to another and were retold generation after generation.
People love stories, and for very good reasons. From the earliest times, long before books were made, the people of many countries were eagerly listening to the men and women who could tell thrilling or humorous tales, as in these later days they read the novels of the writers who know how to tell a story so as to stir the imagination or hold the attention and make readers forget themselves and their worries and troubles.
Throughout the world, folktales are still told, not only to children, but to crowds of people by those who have the art of making tales entertaining. There are so many of these stories floating from one person to another that if they were written down they would fill a great library.
The stories made by the people, and told before evening fires or in public places, belong to the ages when books were few and knowledge limited, or to people whose fancy was not hampered by familiarity with or care for facts. They are the creations, as they were the amusement, of men and women who were thinking deeply and often wisely of what life meant to them, and were eager to know and hear more about themselves, their fellows, and the world.
*This edited excerpt is from Folk Tales Every Child Should Know by Hamilton Mabie, 1912.
Citation: Mabie, Hamilton Wright, ed. Folk Tales Every Child Should Know. NY: Doubleday, Doran & Co., Inc., for The Parents’ Institute, Inc., 1912. This story is in the public domain and is part of the cited work.