Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

In The Folktale (1946), Stith Thompson (1885-1976), defined the motif as "the smallest element in a tale having a power to persist in tradition". He then divided motifs into three categories: (a) "actors" in a tale, who may be described as characters defined by what they do or who are dictated by the Story they are in; (b) Icons and customs that are material to the continuing action; and (c) single actions which "have an independent existence", and which can therefore be repeated, these being the most important of the three. Gary K Wolfe, in Critical Terms for Science Fiction and Fantasy: A Glossary and Guide to Scholarship (1986), defined motifs as "recurrent or signal narrative events or figures, especially in folklore". [JC]

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.