Monday, February 22

F is for February...Fables, Fantasy, Folk Tales, and Fiction

During the month of February, the Forest Public Library offers a literary lesson that focuses on the letter F. With all the current talk of fake news, what is the true definition of Fiction? Is it just another word for a fib or falsehood? What is the difference between a Fish Tale and a Folk Tale? Are Fairy Tales the same as Fantasy? And what about Fables...especially Aesop's and his talking animals?

All of the above are great reference questions, and librarians love finding answers! The first F-word that encompasses them all is Fiction. Or maybe not...after all, Fables, Folk Tales, and Fairy Tales are found in nonfiction - a conundrum that we will address later in the lesson.

According to the dictionary, Fiction has three definitions: 1) It is literary in the form of prose, especially short stories and novels, that describes imaginary events and people. 2) It is invention or fabrication as opposed to fact. 3) It is a belief or statement that is false, but that is often held to be true because it is expedient to do so. The Latin word fictus means "to form," thus Fiction is formed in the imagination. There is also a distinction between Fiction and its literary friends, Folk Tales and Fairy Tales, as they add a little fun and frolic to their fascinating stories. Fiction can sometimes be foreboding and frightful, but it is always deliberately formed or fabricated.

If one searches Fiction as a subject in the CMRLS card catalog, there are tens of thousands of records. That is not a whopping Fish Tale, which is defined as an over-exaggeration. There are Fiction books about feast and famine, fashion and food, feminists and fascists, fortune tellers and fortune hunters, fathers and fosters, friendships and foes, and foxes and ferrets -- and that is only the F's! Somebody has been busy fabricating, for sure!

With that much Fiction in one library system, how do Fables, Folk Tales, and Fairy Tales (which are clearly Fiction) find their way to nonfiction? When most people hear the word nonfiction, they think of facts and figures; however, that is false. (I know, it's all a bit flummoxing.) Not every book in the nonfiction section of the library is factual. Fables, Folk Tales, and Fairy Tales have their own address - 398 Dewey Lane - and everyone who lives there is a fraud.

A Fable is defined as a short story that is usually about animals and is intended to teach a lesson, which is a bit faulty because a Fable is also defined as not true. Aesop's Fables are still popular today because children (and adults) love animals who are clever enough to outfox a fox or outrun a rabbit or outsmart a trickster, especially when they use human characteristics to do so. A Folk Tale is a story or legend that is passed down as a tradition among certain "folk." Most Folk Tales belong to a particular demographic, and the stories are often embellished, superstitious, and false. Because Folk Tales began as an oral tradition, they have much in common with Fish Tales - the tendency of a fisherman to exaggerate the one that got away or the one that can't be caught. The tales get more far-fetched as the story goes and grows.

A Fairy Tale is another fake in nonfiction - probably the biggest fake of all. Fairy Tales have a common pick-up line that identifies them immediately, "Once upon a time." Then they always leave the faithful reader believing the same falsehood, "and they lived happily ever after." These tales are formed in magical lands with imaginary beings or imaginary lands with magical beings. Unfortunately for everyone who resides on 398 Dewey Lane, nothing is ever as it seems. 

Fantasy, on the other hand, just flaunts in front of everyone and tells it like it isn't. This story is not happening in the real world. Period. Fantasy lives in an imaginary universe with its fantastical characters and far-reaching stories, and readers of all ages find themselves lost in these worlds forever. Fantasy welcomes the fanatics who fixate on big, fat epics and opens its doors to the past and future. Fantasy knows that once a reader enters the fictitious portal, the fateful destination is the only exit.

This brings the February library lesson to a close with one final question. Why is Fiction so popular and important in the literary world? Is it because wishes are only granted in Fairy Tales, or because good and evil are so easily recognized, or is it because one's own reality is sometimes a bit too true? Author Ernest Hemingway said, "All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened, and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you, and afterwards it all belongs to you."

Fiction is best compared to the good fortune of having a famous friend that one might occasionally be required to forgive but never forgets - no matter what he tells you, where he takes you, or where he leaves you in the end. 

This month's blog post has been brought to you by the Letter F. 

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