Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

The tried and trusted accumulated wisdom of generations. Its teachings may not always be right, but they are believed. They consist of anecdotes, Legends, sayings, proverbs and much of what is often referred to as Old Wives' Tales. The way the lore was remembered was often in the form of simple sayings or rhymes, many relating to the weather, health or moral sense. Little of folklore is itself either fantasy or supernatural, although much may relate to Superstition, but as it formed the basis for Folktales and Legends, so these became more fantastic. Those most steeped in folklore were often regarded as "wise", a word that has the same source as the word Wizard (the old English wis) and a similar association with Witch, so that folklore was linked with a belief in Magic and Enchantment.

Folklore's links with superstition and witchcraft meant that in the UK knowledge of folklore was anathema during the Puritan domination of the 17th century. A few serious antiquarians did assemble collections of folk traditions, especially William Camden (1551-1623) and John Aubrey (1626-1697), but this did not become a serious scientific pursuit until the 19th century. The word "folklore" itself was coined in 1846 by W J Thomas (1803-1885), the founder of Notes and Queries. The Folk-Lore Society was founded in 1878, its leading lights including Joseph Jacobs (1854-1916) and Andrew Lang.

The serious study of folklore began to emerge in Germany with the work of Clemens Brentano and Achim von Arnim, particularly with their Des Knaben Wunderhorn ["The Boy's Wonderhorn"] (coll 1805; exp 1808), which collected over 700 German folksongs and rhymes; it was they who encouraged the Grimm Brothers in their scholarly pursuit of folktales and tradition. The interest aroused by the publication of the Grimms' Kinder- und Hausmärchen (coll 1812) lit a flame that soon spread across Europe (see Folktale).

Folklore is always being added to, as we learn from each generation. Much modern folklore is known as Urban Legend, but we each learn through experience and may convey this learning to others by way of advice. Sometimes this may be misinformed, and such advice will enter into folklore; a current example is the folklore developing about AIDS. Frequently the power of what we want to believe usurps the scientific fact. [MA]

further reading: The British Folklorists: A History (1968) by Richard M Dorson; Larousse Dictionary of Folklore (1995) by Alison Jones.

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.