Myth and Legend - Defined and described with quality examples by its story elements

The page includes definitions of myths and legends. Different kinds of myths, their analysis, their story elements, and what makes myths and legends quality or less than quality.

Story elements - the characters, plot, setting, theme, and events are all framed as real life, although sometimes unlikely to be achieved by normal humans. Setting time is for all ages or every time, and plot problems are based on real life events.


Myth is a story with a traditional oral beginning that was used as an explanation in the early history of a culture.

Mythical explanations range in complexity from simple - why stories (pourquoi tales) to complex involved mythologies or legends that encompass the history and workings of an entire culture: The White Stallion - Magyar, Illiad - Greek Trojan war, ...

1. Direct cause and effect interaction that could be observed. Such as the reason bears have short stubby tails is

there long fluffy one got caught in the door of great great grandmother’s Camero as she sped off after dropping great grandma bear at school when she was a little girl.

2. Personification is a form of explanation where an animal or a force of nature acts as a human. An example is the myth that explains why spiders spin webs.

Arachne was a beautiful human spinner who mouthed off to Athena. As a result Athena turned Arachne into a spider for being too proud and lippy.

Another example is a myth about a human hunter who wandered off the face of the earth and can be seen still wandering through the heavens in the constellation Orion.

3. Gods do it. Whe a god or supernatural beings, which control of certain forces, have powers to take on a life of their own, interact with other gods or supernatural beings as well as humans in ways that extend beyond their domain.

  • Zeus (protector and ruler of humankind)
  • Demeter (goddess of cereal grain) daughter Persephone (daughter of Zeus and Persephone) story about her abduction by Hades as an explanation for seasons, growth, fertility…

4. Extend explanatory powers from concrete explanations to abstract virtues. The power of the sun god (Apollo) expands from driving the sun across the sky in a 67 Camero to being in control of giving life, health, happiness, purity, and wealth. This can extend into allegories. Midas can be an allegory for greed. How the force of greed can be represented as a human and the actions of Midas represent the actions of greed.


Legends are similar to myths. Often began as traditional narratives within a particular culture. They tend to have more historical information and less reliance on supernatural. King Arthur, Robin Hood, & The White Stag by Kate Seredy. The main characters are larger than life, superhuman in some

ways, with exceedingly superior physical and moral qualities. They engage in quests and adventures that require great courage and virtue. Periodic supernatural intervention is likely. Point of view is third person with descriptions of actions with no internal narrative coming from the main characters.

Epics are also similar to legends only are long narrative poems.

Hero myths - don’t explain anything, they are just an epic wonder story with the hero having a quest, task, or riddle to complete.

Epics and Legendary heroes - A cycle or cluster of stories clustering around the actions of a single hero. They grew out of myths. Iliad, Odyssey, Gilgamesh, (668-626) Odysseus and Penelope represented the Greek ideal of intelligence, persistence, and resourcefulness. Beowulf, King Arthur, Robin Hood, Ramayana,


Quality characteristics of myths & legends by story elements


  • Characters are very few Animated, inanimate, or personified gods or humans with super or god like traits.
  • The gods or superheroes can take the form of human, but are immortal with super natural powers.


  • Place is cultural relevant.
  • Time is past realistic time.


  • The plot will most likely include plenty of action, suspense, and basic conflict.
  • May offer explanations about the beginnings of the world or natural phenomenon.
  • May also focus on difficult tasks or obstacles to be overcome.
  • Plot deals with relationships between humans and gods/ superheroes, or gods/ superheroes and gods/ superheroes, the way people accept or fulfill their destiny, and human's struggle with god and evil forces both within themselves and outside themselves.
  • Others plots tell how the world began, how people were made, how seasons change, animals have certain characteristics, how the moon, sun, and earth interact…


  • A collection or set of myths becomes a Mythology.
  • A mythology can have a connected plot about an institution, situation, behavior, or happening that provides an explanation of power through force or energy in human form. With the force or energy used to control nature, people, or a complex situation. This control is traditionally exercised by gods with godly attributes.
  • Attributes can be for good or bad: wise, foolish, love, hate, virtuous, evil, …
  • In a more modern sense the beings may be superheroes.


  • Explains natural phenomena, origins of life, human behavior, social phenomena, religious customs, human strengths, weaknesses or lessons for life.


  • Reflects culture's customs, values, and beliefs.
  • Reflection of human strengths, frailities, weaknesses, or imperfections.
  • Usually includes supernatural beings or events.
  • Believe main character can survive all obstacles to achieve goal.


  • Reader is lead to new insights and/or understandings.

Point of View

  • Often third person narrative.

HomeLiteracy, media, literature, children's literature, & language arts

Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes &