Cataloguing the folktales

What is a folktale type?

All folktales which share a basic plot together form a folktale type. Each type has its own number, sometimes followed by letters and asterisks, and preceded by the initials ATU, which refer to the Aarne-Thompson-Uther international index (2004). Before the latest revision of this index, the initials used were AaTh, referring to the Aarne-Thompson index (1961).

The international index

Scientific curiosity regarding folktales began around 1822, with the publication of the third volume of Children’s and Household Tales by the Brothers Grimm, which presented and annotated the tales printed in the first two volumes (1812-15). Immediately after the volumes of tales had been published, stories from other languages which had analogous plots started to be found and this led to comparative research, in accordance with the model of historical linguistics which was prevalent at the time and which Jakob Grimm had also helped define.

From that moment, folklorists included in their collections comparative notes which, in general, only dealt with the stories of which the author happened to be aware. The situation began to change radically when in 1910 the Finnish folklorist Antti Aarne published his Verzeichnis der Märchentypen (Index of Types of Folktale). Aarne thought that by comparing all the known versions of a folktale plot, folklorists could isolate the original form of the story -the archetype- and establish a “family tree” of the different variants. To unify, purify and systemize the research, Aarne established an initial index of folktale plots based on the collection of the Brothers Grimm and gave each one of the plots a number and a title which later became “official” (first in the German and then in the successive English editions): “En Joan de l’Ós” by Francesc Maspons i Labrós, for example, is type ATU 301 The Three Stolen Princesses, and “Na Magraneta” by Antoni M. Alcover corresponds to type ATU 709 Snow White. This is the origin of the international index which is currently in its fourth edition and is called: The types of international folktales. It is edited by Hans-Jörg Uther (the second and the third editions were revised in 1928 and 1961 by the North American folklorist Stith Thompson).

We folklorists have long since abandoned the illusion of finding the “original form” of folktales, nevertheless, the international index has become an indispensable tool for our work

What types of story does the international index bring together?

The sections in the international index are as follows:

Animal tales
Magic tales
Religious tales
Realistic tales
Tales of the stupid ogre
Jokes and anecdotes
Formula tales
Surprise tales
Unclassified tales

The index cannot hope to be exhaustive and, therefore, the fact that some plot may not be included with others of the same style does not mean that there are no analogous versions in other languages or regions. This is especially true in the case of folktales and humorous stories, which are especially abundant everywhere.

A story may contain more than one type of plot (in fact, certain associations are habitual and quite stable) or it may include episodes which have not been collected in the international index along with other episodes which have been.

How do we catalogue the tales which have no entry in the international index?

For those tales which have no entry in the international index, but which have been published with more than one variant, we have used our own strictly correlative numbering system, always preceded by a 'C-', which indicates that at present this type has only been documented in the Catalan speaking territories, and that it is yet to be established whether it is an international type, known in other linguistic areas.

List of catalogues used