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Libraries & Subjects
last updated: 10/9/2012

Guide to Finding Folktales in the Library

Devin Becker

Moira Smith, Librarian for Folklore


Step by Step

Finding Variants of a Famous Tale

Finding Tales in a Type Index

References - Indexes

References - Select Collections



Folklorists have developed indexes in order to compile and maintain references to a vast, worldwide collection of folk tales. Below are some explanations and step by step instructions for finding tale type variants.


A tale type is a representative and plot outline that applies to similar folk tales from around the world. Tale types are categorized according to a type-numbering system developed by the Finnish scholar Antti Aarne and the Indiana University folklorist Stith Thompson (link to site); the numbers given to the tales are commonly referred to as AT numbers. Hans-Jorg Uther published an update of the system in 2004; these numbers are referred to as ATU numbers. The below examples use Uther’s text as their guide, but the older Aarne-Thompson index will work well if ATU is not available.


Step by Step 

To locate variants of the same tale, follow these steps. Note: these steps refer to the reference section below, and as such require you to look at several other familiar folklore reference sources:


1. Find the Aarne-Thompson type number for your tale:

    a. Google tale name and "ATU" - note, your results will often be less than totally reliable, and you may need to sift through the results to find the accurate number

    b. Type Indexes: AT, ATU

    c. Ashliman (especially if there is a variant in Grimm) - see References Part 1 below or visit Ashliman’s website:

    d. MacDonald - see References Part 1 below

    e. Look in the head-notes or index of tale types in a collection of tales - see References Part 2, below


2. Use this number to lookup variants in other sources (listed in order of ease of use):

    a. Enter the number into the MLA Bibliography

    b. Google - Name of tale + AT/ATU Tale Type Number

    c. Ashliman (especially if there is a variant in Grimm)

    d. MacDonald 1982 and 2001

    e. Look for a collection with an index of tale types (see References Part 2)

    f. Aarne-Thompson Type Index / or ATU (ATU is better, but AT will work)

    g. Baughman Index (especially for texts in English) top


Finding Variants of a Famous Tale 

( Rumpelstiltskin, the classic fairy tale, is known as tale type #500 (AT 500 or ATU 500), “The Name of the Supernatural Helper.” So, if one were wanting to find different variants for this tale type, he/she would determine the tale type via an internet search—Rumpelstiltskin AND “Tale Type”—or by using the Subject Index provided by Uther in Volume 3 of his Tale Type index (the index to the Index, if you will). The Subject Index, unfortunately, is not that easy to use: To find the number for Rumpelstiltskin, one can look up “Rumpelstiltskin,” as it is a relatively famous tale, but if that listing were not provided, one would have to find the Tale Type by looking up the Subject “Name” and searching the types listed there by number.


Finding Tales in a Type Index 

Some Examples:

So you hear this story about a head of cabbage jumping out of a pot and making a run for it. This is the most resourceful cabbage you’ve ever come across: after escaping the pot, it gets away from the hungry cook, and then escapes a series of other animals—a hen, a duck, and a goose—before finally gaining some breathing room and confidence. Feeling pretty good about itself, the cabbage begins bragging of its exploits, saying that it can escape anyone and any animal. A fox walks by while the cabbage is bragging, but instead of challenging the cabbage, the fox simply pretends to be deaf. As the cabbage comes near to brag more loudly to the fox, the fox grabs the cabbage and eats it.


The story, you decide, is weird. But you like it and you wonder how you might find other variants of it. So, you turn to Uther’s updated Tale Type index and follow these steps:


1) You determine what Subjects might be listed in the index

    a. Cabbage would be an obvious one, as would fox, maybe something having to do with eating, and perhaps bragging, or cook.


2) Look up the story according to those subjects:

    a. Cabbage: has one entry: “Meat as food for c. 1386” - not helpful.

    b. Bragging: “Braggart” says to See “Boasting.” “Boasting” and then “Boastful” have many listings but nothing of interest.

    c. Cook: No hits, though there are 3 related words, “cook,” “cooked,” and “cooking,” listed as subjects. Nothing striking, however.

    d. Fox: A very large entry; you skim but can’t find anything and don’t think it’s worth reading the whole thing before looking at the others.

    e. Eating: A HIT!!! There are several terms “Eat,” “Eaten” “Eater” “Eating” “Eats.” Under Eaten, you find “food runs away from cook to avoid being e. 2025.” That sounds right, so you turn to 2025 and find your tale: ATU 2025: “The Fleeing Pancake,” as well as over 20 variants by country and around 10 references to “Literature” or criticism on the tale specifically.


(Note: If the story you heard had been about a pancake specifically, you would have found the entry right away, as ATU 2025 is referred to under the subject “pancake.” As the elements in Folk tales often change—ATU 2025 mentions that the tale could be told about “pudding, cake, cabbage, strudel, [or] round bread”—be careful about relying too much on the central characters of your story.) top


References: Indexes

(AT) Aarne, Antti. The Types of the Folktale: A Classification and Bibliography: Antti Aarne's Verzeichnis Der Marchentypen (FF Communications No. 3) Translated and Enl. By Stith Thompson. Helsinki, Sweden: Academia Scientarum Fennica, 1961.

    FOLK REF GR1 .F605 no. 184


Ashliman, D. L. A Guide to Folktales in the English Language, Based on the Aarne-Thompson Classification System. New York: Greenwood, 1987.

    FOLK REF Z5983 .F17 A83 1987


Baughman, Ernest Warren, Type and motif-index of the folktales of England and North America. [By] Ernest W. Baughman Mouton & Co., The Hague, 1966

    FOLK REF GR1 .I3, no. 20


MacDonald, Margaret Read. The Storyteller's Sourcebook: A Subject, Title, and Motif Index to Folklore Collections for Children. Detroit: Neal-Schuman Publishers in association with Gale Research, 1982.

    FOLK REF GR74.6 .M3 1982


MacDonald, Margaret Read, and Brian W. Sturm. The Storyteller's Sourcebook: A Subject, Title, and Motif Index to Folklore Collections for Children, 1983-1999. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001.

    FOLK REF GR74.6 .M3 2001


Thompson, Stith. Motif-Index of Folk-Literature; a Classification of Narrative Elements in Folktales, Ballads, Myths, Fables, Mediaeval Romances, Exempla, Fabliaux, Jest-Books, and Local Legends. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1955.

    FOLK REF GR37 .T41 v. 1-6


(ATU) Uther, Hans-Jorg. The Types of International Folktales: A Classification and Bibliography, Based on the System of Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson. Helsinki: Suomalanen Tiedeakatemia, Academia Scientiarum Fennica, 2004.

    FOLK REF GR1 .F605 no 284-286 top


References: Recommended Folk Tale Collections with Type Indexes

Briggs, Katharine Mary, and F. J. Norton. A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales in the English Language: Incorporating the F. J. Norton Collection. London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1970.

    GR141 .B68 pt.A, v.1-2

    GR141 .B68 pt.B, v.1-2


Briggs, Katharine Mary, and Ruth L. Tongue. Folktales of England. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965.

    GR141 .B7 1965


Christiansen, Reidar Thoralf. Folktales of Norway. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964.

    GR220 .C5321 DAY14


Dorson, Richard Mercer. Folktales Told around the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975.

    GR15 .F669


Eberhard, Wolfram. Folktales of China. [Rev. ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965.

    GR335 .E161


El-Shamy, Hasan M. Folktales of Egypt. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979.

    GR355 .S48


Halpert, Herbert, J. D. A. Widdowson, and Martin J. Lovelace. Folktales of Newfoundland: The Resilience of the Oral Tradition. 2 vols. New York: Garland, 1996.

    GR113.5.N54 H35 1996 v.1-2


Lindahl, Carl. American Folktales: From the Collections of the Library of Congress. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 2004.

    GR105.5 .A44 2004 v.1-2


Massignon, Geneviève. Folktales of France. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968.

    GR161 .M362


McCarthy, William Bernard. Cinderella in America: A Book of Folk and Fairy Tales. 1st ed. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007.

    GR105 .C45 2007


Megas, Ge orgios A. Folktales of Greece. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970.

    GR170 .M492


Noy, Dov. Folktales of Israel. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963.

    GR98 .N93


Ó Súilleabháin, Seán. Folktales of Ireland. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966.

    GR147 .O815


Paredes, Américo. Folktales of Mexico. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970.

    GR115 .P228


Pino Saavedra, Yolando. Folktales of Chile. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967.

    GR133.C5 P62


Ranke, Kurt. Folktales of Germany. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966.

    GR166 .R25


Seki, Keigo. Folktales of Japan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963.

    GR340 .S28

last updated: 10/9/2012