Fairy tales are often filled with magic. They have beings such as witches, goblins, fairies and dragons. Magic elements are also a common component. While many fairy tales are rooted in the oral tradition, many have been written by one person. For example, "Snow White" is a traditional story passed down orally while "The Little Mermaid" is a story by Hans Christian Andersen. Stories such as Andersen's are referred to as "literary fairy tales." Many traditional fairy tales have dark aspects such as cannibalism and grisly deaths while others have "happy ever after" endings.
Folk tales are instructive stories that were passed orally from generation to generation. Although they were eventually written down, their origins date back many centuries. Characters in folk tales are usually simple stereotypes such as the liar, the good son or the evil stepmother. There is no magic, good behavior is rewarded and bad behavior does not go unpunished. Examples of folk tales are "The Three Billy Goats Gruff" and "The Three Little Pigs."
A legend is a tale that concerns a person or a place. Legends were often orally transmitted and are often based on real events. However, through the centuries these events were usually altered and embellished. The stories of Robin Hood and of King Arthur are examples of legends.
Fables are cautionary and instructive stories that are concerned with plants, animals and forces of nature such as lightning and the wind. All of these elements have human characteristics. It is common in fables for trees to walk, animals to join forces to overcome obstacles and for the elements to knowingly force events to occur. Fables are generally short and they can be filled with humor even as they teach. The best-known fables come to us from Aesop, an ancient Greek who wrote down over 600 of these orally transmitted tales. Aesop most likely lived between 620 and 560 B.C., and by that time the fables were already very old.