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STOR 3510: Oral Tradition (Fall 2020)

What is a variant?

Variants are alternate versions of stories (tales, legends, or ballads) which have evolved from the original telling. Variants are often reflective of the location or time in which they are performed.


Folk tales like Cinderella or Blue Beard.

Ballads such as The Twa Sisters or Lord Randall.

How are they organized? Variants are often organized by tale type. Tale types are categorized based on common motifs or themes. They are sometimes organized under the term migratory legends (i.e. Christiansen Migratory Legend Type or  Aarne–Thompson–Uther Index).


Supernatural legend tale types like (ML 6000) Tricking the Fairy Suitor, (W40A / MLSIT 3036) Witches Sink a Ship, or (ATU 505) The Grateful Dead.


Image: A scan of a manuscript for the 1807 printed edition of Jack and the Beanstalk. Printed for E. Tabart at the Juvenile and School Library, London. Image copied from Wikimedia commons.


Tips for Analyzing Variants

Analyzing a story as a variant is similar to evaluating other sources. 

What time period is it from?
Where is the story located? What do you know about this area and its culture?

Can you think of other stories with similar themes or motifs? How do they differ? Is there a specific tale type this story reminds you of?

Who is telling the story? How have they made this story more personal?

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