Thursday, January 8, 2015

It's all about stories...

I’ve always used the terms “saga”, “legend”, and “myth” interchangeably, until I hit a point where my BA studies made me go look a little deeper in the terms.

Picture: Wiki Commons
When we think “saga”, it’s often in terms of an epic telling or of group of stories, and what first springs to mind are the sagas of the Scandinavian and Germanic people. The word itself is drawn from the Old Norse, and refers to “something said”. Consider a storyteller in an old Viking hall, a horn in one hand as he recounts the stories of saints, kings and heroes of years gone by. Sagas have their origins in oral traditions, and were generally scribed in the 12th and 13th centuries AD.

Now we get on to legends. I only really had a very vague idea of a legend being a made-up story. That’s partially on the right track. If you look at the tales about the early Christian saints, these fall in the realm of legends, which are believable stories said to have a basis in history. The events described (which allow for the miraculous) are said to be possibly true. Think Helen of Troy, Robin Hood, Vlad the Impaler...

On the other hand, folk tales don’t necessarily have to have any basis in history. They are stories that are shared over the generations in a group of people or a community. Often there is a moral to the story, and the stories touch on certain archetypal customs or values pertinent to the people, either to provide entertainment or to teach something.

Myths may or may not have their origins in truth, and there certainly is no evidence to lay that basis of truth (think of the creation myth found in the bible). The stories have been retold so often, that they’ve been modified and/or highly embellished. Your stories about the doings of the Egyptian, Roman and Greek pantheons fall firmly in the realm of myth. I’d tie this in with the relatively modern concept of the urban myth, where it’s nearly always an event that happened to a friend of a friend, and they swear it’s true… That phantom hitchhiker is real, I promise! ;-)

Many of us grew up having heard of Aesop’s fables. My favourite was the story of the fox and the crow, but in Afrikaner culture, we have the fables of Jakkals en Wolf (jackal and wolf) which I adored while growing up. I’m also considering CJ Langenhoven’s stories about Brolloks en Bittergal. Fables are pure fiction, and have some basis in oral tradition, but they often involve anthropomorphised animals and objects, and regularly result in some sort of moral at the end.

So, if I think a little about what this all is telling me, is that storytelling is an integral part of human culture. It is how we make sense of the world around us, and our relationship with others, and that we’re not so much hung up on the historical facts rather than the message we’re trying to convey. We have a natural tendency to embellish, perhaps for dramatic effect, perhaps to make narratives neater or provide fresh relevance.

Some of these mentioned are quite similar, and I’d group folk tales and fables quite close together, and then sagas and legends together, with myths standing somewhat distant, and possibly with their roots in actual history and folks tales, that have combined into a melange over the years. I’d love to know, what are some of your favourite stories?

“Saga” Wikipedia n.p. 2014. January 8, 2015 <>

“Legend” Wikipedia n.p. 2014. January 8, 2015 <>

Story Arts “Storytelling in the Classroom n.p. 2000. January 8, 2015 <>

“Myth” Wikipedia. n.p. 2015. January 8, 2015 <>

“Fable” Wikipedia n.p. 2014. January 8, 2015 <>

No comments:

Post a Comment