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Types of stories

The ladder to the moon

Stories come in so many shapes and sizes that it’s tempting to try to sort them into groups. For publishers and producers this might involve genres or audiences or geographical markets or even price points. Journalists distinguish news, features, opinion, entertainment, advertisements and so on. Writers debate the number of basic plots: is it 7, or 19, or perhaps 11? Students of literature might think in terms of period or place or genre. Similarly, oral stories can be gathered according to where or when they come from, who told them or perhaps why.

Ben Haggarty and his colleagues in The Company of Storytellers use the idea of a ladder of stories, “a ladder to the moon”, for describing a traditional way of performing stories, starting with down-to-earth stories of everyday life and taking the listener up, step by step, to the magical and mystic realms of creation.

Anecdotes and personal tales
First come the tales closest to us – our Personal Tales and those of our families, communities and ancestors.

Folk tales
Then Folk Tales, of ordinary folk, which range from tales of tricksters or fools to urban legends and extravagant lies.

Fables and teaching tales
Then there is a group of tales that teach: Fables, in which animals talk and show us moral lessons; Nursery Tales which use rhymes and repetitions to teach simple language and ideas to the very young; and Teaching Tales from the different religious traditions that use stories to convey a particular world view.

Wonder or fairy tales
On the next rung sit Wonder or Fairy tales, full of marvels and magic, wishes and witches, with their dreamlike quests and ‘once upon a time’ beginnings.

Legends, epics and sagas
This group contains the tales of the ancestors, attributable to time or place and often mixing human characters like Robin Hood or King Arthur with supernatural creatures such as fairies, ghosts and dragons.

Deities play a key role in this realm, where tales of the Gods take centre stage.

Creation myths
Finally, Creation Myths tell of the beginning and ending of the world or universe and the creatures that inhabit it.

With thanks to Ben Haggarty and the Crick Crack Club.