With the ability to communicate through speech, telling stories is part of our nature as humans. Stories people tell could be based on real life events or be fictional but can also hold moral messages. Whichever the case, stories are either told orally or read: “In any culture, one discerns two areas of communication: (a) there is the casual and ephemeral converse of daily transaction and (b) there is the area of preserved communication”(Preface to Plato, p134/134) We are social animals and telling stories verbally such as legends or songs can be passed on and a “Chinese whispers” effect can occur where the original can be lost through several alterations. As stories are told to an audience, different people may tell the story in a slightly different way to keep the audience entertained. Folklore are usually told to children as they are imaginative and sometimes humorous but also hold subliminal messages which can be helpful for easing children into the adult world.
Thanks to written language, stories can be safe from being changed around and be kept in their original state in scrolls or books. However, since stories (folktales, legends etc.) have been told verbally long before they were written, they were changed over time through translation or even altered depending on the time and location the storytellers lived, as all stories are pulled together by people with different knowledge from other stories and events: “…each element may also be encountered in another application and may have its own history”(Morphology of the folktale, p115). Characters in a fairy-tale, for example, could take the form of an animal in one country or they could be human in another.
Even though stories can change, the structure they are told in are typically the same. German Playwright Freytag created a pyramid, where according to Freytag, most stories are constructed in a similar pattern.
As most lay people in the past were illiterate, artwork was created that could tell stories that could be “read”, without any need for another person to tell it. These could be basic images, or more detailed, which can hold symbolism that were created for a particular audience, for example members of a religious community.
Havelock, Eric A. (1963) Preface to Plato. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.(p134 and p135)
Propp V.(1968) Morphology of the Folktale. University of Texas Press(p115)