Many people consider folktales and fables as part of the same body of tales which forms the oral and written heritage of a culture. They often tend to deal with similar fantastical subjects, and often both have moral lessons. However, despite these similarities, there are some differences between the two types of story.
Fables are a particular type of narrative, in which animals, plants or similar characters are anthropomorphized, or made to seem as if they were human. Stories of this type often deliver a moral lesson, which may or may not be explicitly stated at the end. Some fables are the work of known authors, while others are of unknown origin. The best known collection of fables is "Aesop's Fables," although it is uncertain whether a historical Aesop ever existed.
The term "folktales" encompasses a wide variety of different types of story, including ghost stories, fairy tales and semi-historical stories relating to the deeds of famous people. In order to truly be a folktale, a story should be the product of a traditional, often oral, narrative, rather than the creative work of a particular author. Folktales can include material from other sources, such as the Christian folktales of medieval Europe, which attributed fantastic adventures to saints and characters from the Bible.
Differences in Content
The key difference in content between folktales and fables is that although some folktales are fables, fables are far from the only type of folktale. Folktales may include stories of anthropomorphized animals with moral themes, but they may also include adventure stories or ghost stories. In terms of content, then, the difference between folktales and fables is that the body of folk stories is larger and more diverse, containing some fables but not limited to them.
Differences in Authorship
The other key difference between folktales and fables is authorship. A story is only really a folktale if it belongs to a traditional body of stories, told and retold in a variety of ways among a society. However, not all fables are like this. Some fables are works of literature created by known authors such as French author Jean de la Fontaine or English satirist John Gay. Although some fables have the same traditional background as folktales, it is not necessarily always the case.