What Is Folklore? (55+)

A body of traditional wisdom that exists below the radar, folklore is unofficial and informal, usually communicated between individuals and among small groups rather than at the level of a society as a whole. Because of this, “folklore” is often a synonym for “untrue” and is dismissed as unimportant, when it is in fact both valuable and powerful. Folklore can be a subversive tool among oppressed subcultures, or a tool of oppression that exists alongside an ostensibly tolerant official policy.

We’ll cover art, beliefs, behaviours, customs, festivals, jokes, language, music, narrative and poetry from a folkloristic perspective, and investigate the theories and methodologies scholars use to analyze folk traditions.

Note: Back by popular demand, from fall 2013.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course, you should be able to do the following:

  • Identify what is and is not folklore
  • Identify and categorize folklore from your own life experience
  • Compare and interpret items of folklore to assess their meaning
  • Discuss the diversity and complexity of local and world folklore

Learning methods

You will learn through lecture with time for questions and answers (may vary from class to class). For Liberal Arts Certificate for 55+ students: you will write a reflective essay.


Week 1: Folk Speech

We will consider the relationship between the words we use and those we feel we should use, from so-called “bad” words (why they are “bad” but used anyway) to so-called “bad” grammar. We will also discuss regionalisms, proverbs, secret languages, folk rhymes and other examples of traditional speech.

Week 2: Legend and Belief

Most of the memorable “facts” you know about the past might, in fact, be legends. We will discuss the stories that grow up around our ideas of the past and our notions about the present (“urban legends”), and why stories that are not true may nonetheless be useful.

Week 3: The Brothers Grimm and Friends

Thanks to the Brothers Grimm, when most people hear the word “folklore,” they think of “fairy tales” and “children.” Examining the first century of folktale collecting shows how this came about and how material deemed unsuitable for children has been pushed into other genres instead.

Week 4: Traditional Wisdom (Lore)

Before the Internet Age and compulsory free public education, knowledge of the natural world was communicated informally. Sometimes factually correct and sometimes not, the body of lore surrounding animals, plants and the weather forms a complex web of meaning that reveals much about the way we think.

Week 5: Food and Other Art

“Folk art” usually refers to products marketed as such. In fact, endowed with a strong æsthetic sense, humans create art wherever they go. We will discuss the art of food as well as less desirable parts of the folk art world, such as graffiti.

Week 6: The Folklore of the Lower Mainland

The most difficult part of the study of folklore is recognizing it as a cultural behaviour rather than what is “normal.” We close by considering our region’s distinctive folklore, both local subcultures and what exactly sets us apart from other parts of Canada and the world.

Books, materials and resources

Reading material (if applicable) will be available in class. Some course materials may be available online.

Academic integrity and student conduct

You are expected to comply with Simon Fraser University’s Academic Integrity and Student Conduct Policies. Please click here for more details. Simon Fraser University is committed to creating a scholarly community characterized by honesty, civility, diversity, free inquiry, mutual respect, individual safety, and freedom from harassment and discrimination.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

Look at other courses in