(C’mon, you know you love the title. Stop groaning.)
Show of hands if you’ve ever heard the declaration, “This is the stuff of myth and legend!”
*glances around room* Thought so. Now, how many of you have actually used the phrase?
So, who knows the difference between myth and legend? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller . . .
Sorry. I digress.
Myth, legend, fables and folk tales — in the fantasy genre (and some others) we’re immersed in them. As readers we enter worlds with their own rich tales. As writers, we create them. And though some use the words interchangeably, they’re really not. It doesn’t help that the list of synonyms for “myth” include legend, fable and fairy tale.
In my novel First of Her Kind Ciara refers to the Sciathian Tales as something of “myth and legend.” Donovan corrects her by saying, “Legend perhaps, but not myth.”
Why does he make the distinction? Let’s look closer at the definitions:
MYTH: a traditional story about heroes or supernatural beings, often attempting to explain the origins of natural phenomena or aspects of human behavior
LEGEND: a story that has been passed down for generations, especially one that is presented as history but is unlikely to be true
FABLE: a short story with a moral, especially one in which the characters are animals
FAIRY TALE: a story for children about fairies or other imaginary beings and events, often containing a moral message
When we include myths, legends, and fairy tales as part of our world building, we add a depth and richness to the culture we’ve created. These stories, whether to teach children, explain phenomena, or share our history, exist in every civilization. Along with their traditions, speech patterns, jewelry choices, and even what foods they eat, they define a people — real or imagined.
If you’re looking for ways to make your world more real for your readers, sprinkle in bits of these fabulous four and let the magic begin.