Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Aarne Thompson Uther....The Types of International Folktales

Since I play on the fringe of academia, I have to fight hard to keep up with the current trends and publications in fairy tale studies. Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes I don't.

In recent years, the Aarne Thompson Classification System has been updated to the Aarne Thompson Uther System, abbreviated to ATU. That's not big news these days, but understanding the changes as the textbooks and other informational sites catch-up can be a challenge. It also doesn't help that the classification system books are usually single copies in the reference section of a decently sized university library, limiting access for many others.

There is a somewhat helpful article on Wikipedia, of course. It has a long list, but it is lightweight in giving background.

If you are hunting the web for information, the best site I've discovered so far is The Gold Scales. Now, that said, it is a site full of useful stuff, but it is hard to navigate at times. So I am going to provide some direct links to some of the most helpful stuff for today's topic:

From the Introduction to the Latest Folktale Catalogue This explains the new system, giving an overview of what has changed and what hasn't.

The ATU System: This page breaks down the basic areas of the system and then offers a further listing of Norwegian tales classified in the system. (Or something like that. I'm not very good at summarizing today.)

Then if that whets your appetite and you want to see the new classification system, well, then you will have to find a library. Or order the books for yourself. (They are surprisingly not horribly priced considering they are academic.) And, no, you can't just find them on Amazon.

First of all, the best listing and description is on this page where you learn that the system is available in three volumes with this description for the entire set:
The Types of International Folktales (ATU) based on the system of Aarne/Thompson constitutes a fundamentally new edition with extensive additions and innovations. The descriptions of the tale types have been completely rewritten and made more precise. The essential research cited for each type includes extensive documentation of its international distribution as well as monographic works or articles on that type. More than two hundred and fifty new types have been added. Types with very limited distribution have been omitted. A detailed subject index includes the most important subjects, actions, and other motifs, including actors and settings.

The Types of International Folktales is a bibliographic tool that guides its users through the corpus of published traditional narratives of different ethnic groups and time periods, with a description of each type followed by references to catalogs, texts, and published research. Each “tale type” in all the traditional genres (fables, animal tales, religious legends, ordinary folktales, jests, and cumulative tales) must be understood to be flexible. It is not a constant unit of measure or a way to refer to lifeless material from the past. Instead it is adaptable, and can be integrated into new thematic compositions and media. The background for this model of narrative alteration and innovation is evident in a change of paradigm that took place in recent decades in historical-comparative folktale research, a change that has necessarily affected the nature of this new catalog. The catalog permits international tale types to be located quickly, thus providing a historical-comparative orientation toward folktale research for scholars in all disciplines that touch on popular narrative traditions.
But this is not an order page. You have to go somewhere else for that--a place that doesn't give as much information about the volumes and what you would be ordering.  Here is the bookstore's link.  It is the publisher's site and it is the most economical way to acquire the books--it cost more to buy them from the usual suspects (ebay, half.com, etc. if you can even find them there). But if you use the simple search engine box to look for "Uther" you'll most likely get no returns like I did. So go to the advanced search page and search for Uther as an author there.

And I'm sharing this because I was curious and wanted to see what I would need to do to add these to my library.  And it was complicated enough that I don't want to have to figure out it again, so documenting it here and sharing seemed like an excellent idea.  Now you are informed, too.

I didn't find an electronic resource (i.e. software or ebook) which would be lovely. Now that's some programming I could enjoy on many levels! And if you know of one, please share the information!


  1. Thanks for posting--very useful!!

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  3. Hi Heidi! There is an electronic version of the motif index available here - http://www.library.nlx.com.mutex.gmu.edu/xtf/search?browse-collections=true (click the "Motif-Index of Folk Literature" link) - but you might only be able to access it through a University (and only then if they've bought the right to access it.) It's not at all perfect (very hard, at least to me, to search specifically) but it's a start!

  4. Thank you SO MUCH for posting this information!! I was searching for a good 45 minutes trying to figure out how to get my hands on a copy of this before I finally found this blog!

    Unfortunately, after trying to order these books, the store E-mailed me to inform me that they are currently out of print, but that the publishers have promised a reprint in Spring 2011, and further inquiries should be made a couple of months from now.

    However, I do agree that their price is pretty good given they are academic books, and rare ones at that. The store doesn't automatically calculate shipping costs, but the books alone came to just under $175 in US dollars.

  5. Thansk so much for posting, the first useful link I found listing the categories in English! Thanks again!

  6. I wonder if this publication is available for purchase and where. Would anybody know
    Maria C Thomson

  7. Thank you, your post still remains useful.

  8. There is an electronic version here:


    It is not complete by any means, but readily accessible counts for something. Thank you for sharing the research you did on digging up the hard copies!

  9. @Rasely84 The link you posted is for the Thompson Motif Index. That index is used to identify common motifs in a tale. It is not the same tool as the Tale Type index. A tale will usually have only one (sometimes two) ATU numbers and quite a few motifs. The idea was that the tale types did not fit well for tales from outside the european cultural zone.

  10. could you please help me in tracing the AT of Snow queen by HC Anderson