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Aarne-Thompson classification system

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Aarne-Thompson classification system

The Aarne–Thompson tale type index is a multivolume listing designed to help folklorists identify recurring plot patterns in the narrative structures of traditional folktales, so that folklorists can organize, classify, and analyze the folktales they research. First developed by Antti Aarne (1867–1925) and published as Verzeichnis der Märchentypen in 1910, the tale type index was later translated, revised, and enlarged by Stith Thompson (1885–1976) in 1928 and again in 1961.[1]

The Aarne–Thompson tale type index is an essential tool for folklorists because, as Dundes explains, “the identification of folk narratives through motif and/or tale type numbers has become an international sine qua non among bona fide folklorists”.[1] Since the tale type index concerns the motif structures of folktales, it focuses more on the morphology of folktales than on the details of their characters' actions.

The Aarne–Thompson tale type index organizes folktales into broad categories like Animal Tales, Fairy Tales, Religious Tales, etc. Within each category, folktale types are further subdivided by motif patterns until individual types are listed.


Use in folkloristics

In the essay, “The Motif-Index and the Tale Type Index; A Critique,” Alan Dundes explains that the Aarne–Thompson tale type index is one of the “most valuable tools in the professional folklorist's arsenal of aids for analysis”.[1] Antti Aarne was a student of Julius Krohn and his son Kaarle Krohn. Aarne further developed their historic-geographic method of comparative folkloristics, and developed the initial version of what became the Aarne–Thompson tale type index for classifying folktales, first published in 1910.

The American folklorist Stith Thompson translated Aarne's motif-based classification system in 1928, enlarging its scope. With Thompson's second revisions to Aarne's catalogue in 1961, he created the AT-number system (also referred to as AaTh system), which is often used today.

According to D. L. Ashliman, "The Aarne-Thompson system catalogues some 2500 basic plots from which, for countless generations, European and Near Eastern storytellers have built their tales".[2]

Organizing folktale types

The Aarne–Thompson tale type index divides tales into sections with an "AT" number for each entry. The names given are typical, but usage varies; the same tale type number may be referred to by its central motif or by one of the variant folktales of that type, which can also vary, especially when used in different countries and cultures. The tale type does not have to be accurate for every folktale. For example, The Cat as Helper (545B) also includes tales where a fox helps the hero.

Closely related folktales are often grouped within a type. For example, Persecuted Heroine (501) has 510A, Cinderella, and 510B, Catskin, and The Quest for a Lost Bride (400) has the subtype 401*, the Swan Maiden (see other examples of tale types in the online resource links at the end of this article).

Hans-Jörg Uther

The AT-number system was updated and expanded in 2004 with the publication of The Types of International Folktales: A Classification and Bibliography by Hans-Jörg Uther. Uther noted that many of the earlier descriptions were cursory and that the existing system did not allow for expansion.[3] To remedy these shortcomings Uther developed the Aarne–Thompson–Uther classification (ATU number)[4] system and included international folktales in this expanded listing.


The tale type index was criticized by Vladimir Propp of the Formalist school of the 1920s for ignoring the functions of the motifs by which they are classified. Furthermore, Propp contended that using a "macro-level" analysis means that the stories that share motifs might not be classified together, while stories with wide divergences may be grouped under one tale type because the index must select some features as salient.[5] He also observed that while the distinction between animal tales and tales of the fantastic was basically correct - no one would classify Tsarevitch Ivan, the Fire Bird and the Gray Wolf an animal tale because of the wolf — it did raise questions because animal tales often contained fantastic elements, and tales of the fantastic often contained animals; indeed a tale could shift categories if a peasant deceived a bear rather than a devil.[6]

In describing the motivation for his work,[3] Uther presents several criticisms of the original index. He points out that Thompson's focus on oral tradition sometimes neglects older versions of stories, even when written records exist, that the distribution of stories is uneven (with Eastern and Southern European as well as many other regions' folktale types being under-represented), and that some included folktale types have dubious importance.

Similarly, Thompson noted that it might well be called The Types of the Folk-Tales of Europe, West Asia, and the Lands Settled by these Peoples.[3] However, Alan Dundes notes that in spite of the flaws of tale type indexes (e.g., typos, redundancies, censorship, etc.),[1](p. 198) "they represent the keystones for the comparative method in folkloristics, a method which despite postmodern naysayers and other prophets of gloom continues to be the hallmark of international folkloristics".[1](p. 200)

The taxonomy

Animal tales

Wild Animals 1–99

The Clever Fox or other animal 1–69
Other Wild Animals 70–99

Wild Animals and Domestic Animals 100–149

Wild Animals and Humans 150–199

Domestic Animals 200–219

  • Sheep, duck and cock in peril at sea 204
  • The Traveling Animals and the Wicked Man 210 (German, German)
  • The hog who was so tired of his daily food 211*

Other Animals and Objects 220–299

Fairy Tales

Supernatural Opponents 300–399

or, The Girl as a Helper in the Hero's Flight 313[7])

Supernatural or Enchanted Relatives 400–459

Wife 400–424
Husband 425–449
Brother or Sister 450–459

Supernatural Tasks 460–499

Supernatural Helpers 500–559

Magic Items 560–649

Supernatural Power or Knowledge 650–699

  • The Sharp Hans 650A
  • The Boy Whose Wishes Always Come True 652 (German)
  • The Skillful Brothers 653 (German)
  • The Man in Three Animal Forms 665
  • The Boy in Animal Form 667
  • The Language of Animals 670
  • The Three Languages 671
  • The Schlangenkrönlein 672B
  • The White Snake 673
  • The Wish-Fish 675 (Italian, French, French)
  • Open Sesame! 676

Other stories of the supernatural 700–749

Religious Tales

God Rewards and Punishes 750–779

  • Foolish Wishes 750A (French)
  • The Revived Mortem 750B
  • The peasant woman is changed into a woodpecker 751A
  • Christ and the smith 753
  • Sin and grace 755 (Scandinavian)
  • Deal with the Devil 756B
  • The various children of Eve 758
  • Woman with three hundred and sixty-five children 762
  • The seven sleepers 766
  • St Christopher and the Christ child 768
  • A Child Returns from the Dead 769 (German)
  • The legend of the horseshoe 774C
  • The wandering Jew 777
  • Divine rewards and punishments 779 (German, German)

The Truth Comes to Light 780–791

Heaven 800–809

The Devil 810–826

  • The devil loses a soul that was promised him 810 (German)
  • The man promised to the devil becomes a priest 811
  • The Mystery of the Devil 812 (German)
  • The thief rescued by the devil 821A
  • The lazy boy and the industrious girl 822
  • Devil writes down names of men on hide in church 826

Other Religious Tales 827–849

  • Men, Animals, and the Span of Life 828 (German)

Realistic Tales, or Novelles

The Man Marries the Princess 850–869

  • The Moles of the Princess 850 (German)
  • The Riddle of the Suitor 851 (German)
  • That is a lie! 852 (Norwegian)
  • Contest in Repartee 853
  • The golden ram 854
    • The Golden Goat 854A

The Woman Marries the Prince 870–879

Proofs of Fidelity and Innocence 880–899

The Obstinate Wife Learns to Obey 900–909

Good Precepts 910–919

  • Wise through experience 910A
  • The servant's good counsels 910B

Clever Acts and Words 920–929

Tales of Fate 930–949

Robbers and Murderers 950–969

Other Realistic Tales 970–999

  • The Wooden Bowl 980B (German)
  • The Killing of Old Men 981 (Serbian)
  • Ungrateful Heirs 982 (Sri Lankan)
  • False Magician Exposed by Clever Girl 987 (German)
  • Revived from Apparent Death by a Grave-Robber 990

Tales of the Stupid Ogre, Giant, or Devil

Labor Contract 1000–1029

  • Bargain not to become angry 1000
  • Dissipation of the ogre's property 1002
  • Plowing 1003
  • Hogs in the mud; sheep in the air 1004
  • Building a bridge . . . 1005
  • Casting eyes 1006
  • Cleaning the child 1012
  • The woman as cuckoo in the tree 1029

Partnership between Man and Ogre 1030–1059

  • Man and ogre share the harvest 1030 (German)
  • Granary roof used as threshing flail 1031
  • The ogre steals the Thunder's instruments (pipe, sack, etc.) 1148B
  • The heavy axe 1049
  • Felling trees 1050
  • Springing with a Bent Tree 1051 (German)
  • A Contest in Carrying a Tree 1052 (German)

Contest between Man and Ogre 1060–1114

  • Squeezing Water from a Stone 1060 (German)
  • A Contest in Throwing Stones 1062 (German)
  • Throwing contest with the golden club 1063
  • Contest in shrieking or whistling 1084
  • Pushing a hole into a tree 1085
  • Rowing contest 1087
  • Eating contest 1088
  • Contest in words 1093
  • The tailor and the ogre in a sewing contest 1096 (Mexican)

Man Kills (Injures) Ogre 1115–1144

  • Attempting to Kill the Hero in His Bed 1115 (German)
  • Attempt at burning 1116
  • The ogre's pitfall 1117
  • Ogres Kill Their Own Children 1119 (German)
  • Ogre's wife killed through other tricks 1122
  • The hot porridge in the ogre's throat 1131
  • Making the ogre strong (by castration) 1133
  • Eye-remedy 1135
  • Self Did It 1137 (English)

Ogre Frightened by Man 1145–1154

  • Wages: as much as he can carry 1153

Man Outwits the Devil 1155–1169

  • The gun as tobacco pipe 1157
  • The ogre wants to look through the gun barrel in the smithy 1158
  • The ogre in the haunted castle. Beard caught fast 1160
  • The Bear Trainer and His Cat 1161 (Norwegian)
  • The evil woman thrown into the pit 1164
  • The troll and the christening 1165

Souls Saved from the Devil 1170–1199

  • The ogre on the ship 1179
  • With his whole heart 1186
  • Devil's Bridge 1191

Anecdotes and Jokes

Stories about a Fool 1200–1349

  • The plowing 1201
  • The man without a head in the bear's den 1225
  • One woman to catch the squirrel; the other to get the cooking pot 1227
  • Man sitting on branch of tree cuts it off 1240
  • The tree is to be pulled down 1241
  • Loading the wood 1242
  • Carrying part of the load 1242A
  • The wood is carried down the hill 1243
  • Sunlight carried in a bag into the windowless house 1245
  • A hole to throw the earth in 1255
  • The porridge in the ice hole 1260
  • Jumping into the sea for fish 1260**
  • Numskull strikes all the matches in order to try them 1260B*
  • Rowing without going forward 1276
  • Marking the place on the boat 1278
  • Burning the Barn to Destroy an Unknown Animal 1281 (German)
  • Pulling on the shirt 1285
  • Numskull unable to count their own number 1287
  • 'These are not my feet' 1288*
  • Sending One Cheese After Another 1291 (German)
  • A Fool Greases the Cracked Earth with Butter 1291B (German)
  • Drowning the crayfish as punishment 1310
  • The man takes seriously the prediction of death 1313A
  • Other mistaken identities 1319*
  • Fools frightened 1321
  • Moving the church 1326

Stories about Married Couples 1350–1439

  • The loving wife 1350
  • The silence wager 1351
  • The old woman as troublemaker 1353
  • Flight of the woman and her lover from the stable 1360B
  • Old Hildebrand 1360C
  • The Snow-child 1362
  • The obstinate wife 1365
  • The wife insults the husband as a lousy-head 1365C
The Foolish Wife and Her Husband 1380–1404
  • The faithless wife 1380
  • The talkative wife and the discovered treasure 1381
  • A Woman Does Not Know Herself 1383 (German)
  • The husband hunts for three persons as stupid as his wife 1384
  • A Woman Loses Her Husband's Money 1385* (German)
  • Meat as food for cabbage 1386
  • A Woman Draws Beer in the Cellar 1387 (German)
  • Every hole to tell the truth 1391
The Foolish Husband and His Wife 1405–1429
  • The Lazy Spinner 1405
  • The merry wives wager . . . 1406
  • The man who does his wife's work 1408 (Norwegian)
  • Trading Away One's Fortune 1415 (German, Norwegian)
  • The mouse in the silver jug. The new Eve 1416
The Foolish Couple 1430–1439
  • Air Castles 1430 (German, Aesop)
  • The contagious yawns 1431

Stories about a Woman 1440–1524

  • The tenant promises his daughter to his master against her will 1440
Looking for a Wife 1450–1474
  • Clever Elsie 1450
  • A suitor chooses the thrifty girl 1451 (German)
  • Choosing a Bride by How She Cuts Cheese 1452 (German)
  • Bride test: key in flax reveals laziness 1453
    • The fast weaver 1453A
  • The greedy fiancee 1454*
  • The blind fiancée 1456
  • The lisping maiden 1457
  • The girl who ate so little 1458
  • Keeping up appearances 1459**
  • The girl with the ugly name 1461
  • The unwilling suitor advised from the tree 1462
  • Clean and tidy 1462*
  • Good housekeeping 1464 C*
  • Nothing to cook 1464 D*
  • Marrying a stranger 1468*
Jokes about Old Maids 1475–1499
  • Praying to the Statue's Mother 1476A (German)
  • The wolf steals the old maid 1477
Other Stories about Women 1500–1524
  • The daughter-in-law and the real daughter 1503*

Stories about a Man 1525–1724

The Clever Man 1525–1639
  • The master thief 1525
    • Stealing the Count's Horse, Sheet, and Parson 1525A (Norwegian)
    • The robber brothers 1525 R
  • The wise carving of the fowl 1533
  • The Rich Peasant and the Poor Peasant 1535 (German)
  • The woman in the chest 1536A
  • The corpse killed five times 1537
  • The youth cheated in selling oxen 1538
  • Cleverness and gullibility 1539
  • The student from Paradise (Paris) 1540
  • For the long winter 1541
  • The clever boy 1542
  • The man without a member 1543*
  • The man who got a night's lodging 1544
  • The boy with many names 1545
  • Stone Soup 1548
  • The sailor's promise 1553A*
  • Make-believe eating; make-believe work 1560
  • The boy 'loses his sight' 1561*
  • Wife follows written instructions 1562B
  • 'Both' 1563
  • The master and the servant at the table 1568*
  • Inspecting the daughter 1573**
  • The flattering foreman 1574*
  • The Pot that Died 1592B (Uighur)
  • The fool as murderer 1600
  • The Emperor's New Clothes 1620
    • The conversation of the one-eyed man and the hunchback 1620*
  • The learned son and the forgotten language 1628
  • Eulenspiegel's tricks 1635*
Lucky Accidents 1640–1674
The Stupid Man 1675–1724
  • Two presents for the king 1689A (German)
  • The ox (ass) as mayor 1675
  • The boy who had never seen a woman 1678
  • Foolish man builds aircastles 1681*
  • The groom teaches his horse to live without food 1682
  • The forgotten word 1687
  • Two match-makers 1688B*
  • Thank God They Weren't Peaches 1689 (Mexican)
  • What Should I Have Said? 1696 (German)
  • Misunderstood words lead to comic results 1698G
  • 'Good day,' - 'a woodshopper' 1698J
  • The buyer and the deaf seller 1698K
  • Echo answers 1701
  • God can't take a joke 1718*

Jokes about Clergymen and Religious Figures 1725–1849

The Clergyman is Tricked 1725–1774
  • The foolish parson in the trunk 1725
  • The entrapped suitors 1730
  • 'Who gives his own goods shall receive it back tenfold' 1735 (Mexican)
  • The stingy parson 1736
  • Trading Places with the Trickster in a Sack 1737 (German, German)
  • What does God do? 1738A*
  • The parson and the calf 1739
  • Three words at the grave 1745
Clergyman and Sexton 1775–1799
  • The hungry parson 1775
  • The sexton falls into the brewing-vat 1776
  • The sexton carries the parson 1791 (German)
  • The stingy parson and the slaughtered pig 1792
Other Jokes about Religious Figures 1800–1849
  • Imagined penance for imagined sin 1804
    • The eel filled with sand 1804*
  • Jokes about catechism 1810
    • How many gods are there? 1810A*
  • The patience of Job 1811B
  • Parody sermon 1824
  • The parson drunk 1825A
  • The sawed pulpit 1825C
  • You shall see me a little while longer 1827
  • Cards (liquor bottle) fall from the sleeve of the preacher 1827A
  • In trial sermon the parson promises the laymen the kind of weather they want 1830
  • The sermon about the rich man 1832
    • Boy answers the priest 1832*
      • How many sacraments are there? 1832*D
  • Application of the sermon 1833
    • God died for you 1833E
    • Other anecdotes of sermons 1833**
  • The clergyman with the fine voice 1834
  • Not to turn round 1835*
  • The drunken parson: 'Do not live as I live, but as I preach' 1836A
  • The hog in church 1838
  • At the blessing of the grave the parson's ox breaks loose 1840
  • Grace before meat 1841
  • Parson visits the dying 1843
  • No time for sickness 1844A
  • The student as healer 1845

Anecdotes about Other Groups of People 1850–1874

Tall Tales 1875–1999

  • Hunter turns animal inside out 1889B
  • Man swallowed by fish 1889G
  • The lucky shot 1890 (English)
  • Ramrod shot plus series of lucky accidents 1890D
  • The man shoots a ramrod full of ducks 1894
  • A man wading in water catching many fish in his boots 1895
  • Hunting the wolves with rod and line 1896*
  • Contest in lying 1920
  • Wishing contests 1925
  • The woman who asked for news from home 1931
  • Too much talk 1948
  • The three lazy ones 1950
  • The great ox 1960A
  • The great fish 1960B
  • The great catch of fish 1960C
  • The Giant Vegetable 1960D (German)
  • The great farmhouse 1960E
  • The great tree 1960G
  • The great ship 1960H
  • The great loaf of bread 1960K
  • The great insect 1960M
  • Other stories of great objects and the like 1960Z
  • The big wedding 1961
  • Lying tales 1965 (English)

Formula Tales

Cumulative Tales 2000–2100

Chains Based on Numbers, Objects, Animals, or Names 2000–2020
Chains Involving Death 2021–2024
  • The cock and the hen 2021
  • An Animal Mourns the Death of a Spouse 2022 (German)
Chains Involving Eating 2025–2028
Chains Involving Other Events 2029–2075

Catch Tales 2200–2299

  • Unfinished tales 2250 (German)

Other Formula Tales 2300–2399

See also




  • Antti Aarne. 1961. The Types of the Folktale: A Classification and Bibliography, The Finnish Academy of Science and Letters, Helsinki. ISBN 951-41-0132-4
  • Ashliman, D. L. 1987. A Guide to Folktales in the English Language: Based on the Aarne-Thompson Classification System. New York, Greenwood Press.
  • Dundes, Alan. 1997. “The Motif-Index and the Tale Type Index: A Critique.” Journal of Folklore Research 34(3): 195–202.
  • Thompson, Stith. 1977. The Folktale. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Uther, Hans-Jörg. 2004. The Types of International Folktales: A Classification and Bibliography. Based on the system of Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson. FF Communications no. 284–286. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia. Three volumes. ISBN 951-41-0955-4 (vol. 1), ISBN 951-41-0961-9 (vol. 2), ISBN 951-41-0963-5 (vol. 3.)
  • AT Types of Folktales. Tormod Kinnes. Copyright 2009. Accessed June 14, 2010.
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison - Scandinavian Studies. Accessed June 14, 2010.

Online resources and examples of tale types

  • D. L. Ashliman, "Folklore and Mythology Electronic Texts"
  • Structural Analysis of Variants of Tale Type 361: an example of the Aarne-Thompson analytic method
  • Reflections on International Narrative Research on the Example of the Tale of the three Oranges (AT 408)
  • Classifying folktales - The Third Revision of the Aarne-Thompson Tale Type Index
  • (German) Index - Schnellsuche Märchentyp AT
  • AT Types of Folktales
  • The Fairy Tale Resource Page
  • Folklore and Mythology Electronic Texts
  • Internet Sacred Text Archive
  • A search tool for ATU numbers geographic distribution

Additional text resources

  • Read MacDonald, Margaret. 1982. The Storyteller’s Sourcebook: A Subject, Title, and Motif Index for Folklore Collections for Children (First Edition). Detroit: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.
  • Sierra, Judy. 1996. Storytellers' Research Guide: Folktales, Myths and Legends. Eugene: Folkprint.
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