What is Folklore?

   Folklore, the things that make up the traditional culture of a people throughout its history. Folklore is usually handed down from one generation to another by word of mouth or by performance, rather than by writing. The forms of folklore that are mainly perpetuated through language include legends, myths, fairy tales, and poems, as well as proverbs, riddles, and figures of speech. Among the types that are passed down through action are music, dance, art, drama, rituals, crafts, cookery, and children's games. There is also a body of traditional practices and beliefs concerned with scientific or supernatural phenomena, which includes medicine, witchcraft, and prediction.
   Folklore is as old as human culture. It is created informally by a group of people for themselves, and it reflects their patterns of thought and behavior. Although a certain tale or custom may be created by an individual, its original author is not known and it is regarded as anonymous. As it passes from one generation to another, it is usually so modified that it can be considered the product of the community.
   Because folklore is preserved in memory, actual performance, and oral tradition, it rarely has a fixed form. Instead, it usually has an approximate pattern. The telling of a folktale or the performance of a folk activity may vary from group to group or even from one individual to another within the same group. Thus, there are often several versions of a folktale, folk dance, or folk song. Modifications are made not only to suit the tastes of a particular audience, but also to express the creative impulses of the tellers or performers. This flexibility distinguishes folklore from more cultivated literary or artistic creations.
   Folk materials are often used by writers, musicians, and artists in their works. For example, the ancient folk legend of a man who sold his soul to the Devil has been used and elaborated by many writers, including the English dramatist Christopher Marlowe in his play Doctor Faustus (about 1589), the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in his dramatic poem Faust (1808-1832), and the German novelist Thomas Mann in his book Doctor Faustus (1947). The story was also the basis of the famous opera Faust by the 19th-century French composer Charles Gounod.