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Myths, Legends, Fantasy...


Views from Teachers

We asked a number of Polish British Studies Lecturers what they understood by myths, legends, folk and fairy tales. This is what they said:


Myths explain natural facts; when something is created by particular circumstances or there is a repeated phenomena, people look for explanations

They are a  type of narrative which is usually part of popular consciousness, a way of explaining the world which forms part of religious beliefs

Discussion Point

  • Modern science has tried to give us rational explanations of the world we live in. What kind of everyday phenomena might primitive man have found difficult to understand?

Myths provide a unifying element for a given society

Something popularly thought to be true but which isn’t, although it might have an element of truth in it

Myths strengthen national identity

Myths provide a certain link to the past, a common-sense knowledge of our society; they are stories with a message, part of our cultural heritage

Discussion Point

  • Can you think of any Polish myths which combine this function of passing down stories from the past with uniting the members of a social group?

A myth is a story from Ancient Greece or Rome connected with the Gods

They are based on religious rites and passages and explain spiritual beliefs

Discussion Point

  • Many societies have long and complex narratives which formed part of their religious beliefs, such as Greek, Norse, Hindu, and Aboriginal myths. What is the relationship between religious belief and myth?

A myth is an idea people keep in their minds upon which they build their beliefs, such as the idyll of the peaceful British countryside with white churches and so on

They are something belonging to the past but have nothing to do with our present life

Myths aren’t really known in today’s society

In Poland there are modern myths, such as the idea of America as a place where you can find dollars on the street, or the myth of Britannia

Discussion Points

Can you think of modern myths either about Poland or Britain?

Are there people from these countries who have been ‘mythologised’?

Are the purposes of modern myths the same as those of ancient ones?


A legend is a kind of story which is fictional with elements of truth. Its purpose is to explain the origin of something old, like the ‘Devil’s Claw’ legend from Lublin

A fictional story about fictional characters, like Smok Wawelski

A common belief related to a certain person or event, like Wanda, Robin Hood, or Boudicca

They explain the origins of towns or places…handed down orally at first, but going through reinterpretation due to the variety of written versions

A story circulating amongst people which has roots in truth, but then has its own life which develops over time

A type of icon, a type of narrative, a figure of renown or fame who becomes popular in the public imagination, like Marilyn Monroe or the Battle of Grunwald

Legends transmit values and cultural heritage

Discussion Points

  • What do traditional legendary heroes and heroines, both Polish and British, all have in common?
  • Look at the grid below and discuss to what extent the categories at the top of the grid can be applied to so-called ‘legends’ from the twentieth century:

    died young or tragically
    high moral standards
    helped a lot of people
    attractive and photogenic
    in the public eye
    Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński            


A story for children which is never true

A fictional story for children with a message

It is always about something that never happened and has a happy ending

Stories full of magic, princesses, and strange things

A blood-curdling story for young children which involves violence, cruelty, horror, and a happy ending for the goodies

Discussion Points

  • Do you agree with all the statements above?
  • What kind of messages do folk and fairy tales give?
  • Do children need folk and fairy tales?

Exploring the structure of fairy tales can be a fascinating activity. In ‘Classroom Ideas’ there is a suggestion of how you could do this in a lesson.

Sources of quotations: Anna Gonerko-Frej (Szczecin); Grzegorz Wlazlak (Zabrze); Agnieszka Chabros (Toruń); Anna Kosiarz-Stolarska (Kraków); Ewa Rogowska-Tylman (Łowicz); Zbigniew Mazur (Lublin); Krzysztof Brzozowski (Opole); Zdzisław Dudek (Legnica); Ewa Newerle-Wolska (Krosno), Mariusz Brymora (Radom); Andrzej Diniejko (Kielce); Małgorzata Zdybiewska-Garbacik (Radom); Peter Whiley (Ciechanów); Melanie Ellis (Katowice)

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