AT and ATU Folktale Types

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The ATU Catalogue of Tales

In the outstanding The Types of International Folktales, the "ATU Catalogue" edited by Hans-Jörg Uther (2004), ATU numbers replace AT numbers. And ATU (from the surname initials of Aarne, Thompson, and Uther) allows "the type numbers that have been in use for nearly one hundred years [to] remain unchanged," says Uther. The overall, most recent and detailed survey of types looks like this (and you also get the AT Catalogue to compare with):

  • Animal Tales
    • Wild Animals 1-99
      • The Clever Fox (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
    • Other Animals and Objects 220-299
  • Tales of Magic
    • Supernatural Adversaries 300-399
    • Supernatural or Enchanted Wife (Husband) or Other Relative 400-459
      • Wife 400-424
      • Husband 425-449
      • Brother or Sister 450-459
    • Supernatural Tasks 460-499
    • Supernatural Helpers 500-559
    • Magic Objects 560-649
    • Supernatural Power or Knowledge 650-699
    • Other Tales of the Supernatural 700-749
  • Religious Tales
    • God Rewards and Punishes 750-779
    • The Truth Comes to Light 780-791)
    • Heaven 800-809
    • The Devil 810-826
    • Other Religious Tales 827-849
  • Realistic Tales (Novelle)
    • The Man Marries the Princess 850-869
    • 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
    • Clever Acts and Words 920-929
    • Tales of Fate 930-949 .7;68
    • Robbers and Murderers 950-969
    • Other Realistic Tales 970-999
  • Tales of the Stupid Ogre (Giant, Devil)
    • Labor Contract 1000-1029
    • Partnership between Man and Ogre 1030-1059
    • Contest between Man and Ogre 1060-1114
    • Man Kills (Injures) Ogre 1115-1144
    • Ogre Frightened by Man 1145-1154
    • Man Outwits the Devil 1155-1169
    • Souls Saved from the Devil 1170-1199
  • Anecdotes and Jokes
    • Stories about a Fool 1200-1349
    • Stories about Married Couples 1350-1439
    • The Foolish Wife and Her Husband 1380-1404
    • The Foolish Husband and His Wife 1405-1429
    • The Foolish Couple 1430-1439
    • Stories about a Woman 1440-1524
      • Looking for a Wife 1450-1474
      • Jokes about Old Maids 1475-1499
      • Other Stories about Women 1500-1524
    • Stories about a Man 1525-1724
      • The Clever Man 1525-1639
      • Lucky Accidents 1640-1674
      • The Stupid Man 1675-1724
    • Jokes about Clergymen and Religious Figures 1725-1849
      • The Clergyman is Tricked 1725-1774
      • Clergyman and Sexton 1775-1799
      • Other Jokes about Religious Figures 1800-1849
    • Anecdotes about Other Groups of People 1850-1874
    • Tall Tales 1875-1999
  • Formula Tales
    • Cumulative Tales 2000-2100
      • Chains Based on Numbers, Objects, Animals, or Names 2000-2020
      • Chains Involving Death 2021-2024
      • Chains Involving Eating 2025-2028
      • Chains Involving Other Events 2029-2075
    • Catch Tales 2200-2299
    • Other Formula Tales 2300-2399

You can use this scheme to survey folk tales.

Source: Ti, Vol 1: 5-6; Ti, Vol 2: 5-6)

On Norwegian Folktales

There are about 4200 Norwegian folktale types today [Tyno 10]. Folktales may serve inspiration. And folktales are arranged in international folktale cataloges by (1) numbers, (2) titles and (3) summaries of the content (descriptions).

Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson worked out the numbers that refer to folktale types. An AT-number may cover a whole folktale, or a sequence (an episode) of a folktale. There is more on the subject further down the page.

Describing Folktales Folktales are arranged in international catalogues according to their tale types. A tale type is given a number, a title, and a description where main traits or features of the tale are shown by way of a capsule. Example:

AT 211*. The hog who was so tired of his daily food (Grisen og levemåten hans)

The pig went to court to get a better way of life, but the fox fooled him on the way home so that the pig was brainwashed and apparently forgot what the judge had said in the pig's favour. Hence the pig's life stayed as before.

In case there is a chain of AT-numbers in an entry — for example AT 302+400+461+613 = AT 302 nr. 28 — it means the tale is classified as a variant of one or more tales. In this case the tale is classified as a variant of AT 613, which is called The two travellers, and tells how one traveller blinds the other, who in turn learns valuable secrets, and next becomes a mighty, rich man after his sight is restored again.

Many AT-numbers connected with a tale shows that the classification system is much cumbersome at times, and hardly neat enough today. Futher, both folktales and folktale variants may be classified in this way, by more than one AT-number. It shows that the tale/variant is made up of several motifs, one after another, in a "string of events" — the folktale plot or "chain of action".

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The AT Catalogue of Tales

In the AT catalogue the tales (AT-number entries) are divided into these categories:

  1. Animal Tales (Types 1-299)
  2. Ordinary Folktales (Types 300-1199)
    1. Tales of magic
    2. Religious tales
    3. Aitiological tales
    4. Novelle (romantic tales)
    5. Tales of the stupid ogre
  3. Jokes and Anecdotes (Types 1200-1999)
    1. Numskull stories
    2. Stories about married couples
    3. Stories about a woman (girl)
    4. Stories about a clever/stupid lucky/unlucky man (boy)
    5. Jokes about parsons and religious orders
    6. Tales of lying
  4. Formula Tales (Types 2000-2399)
    1. Cumulative tales
    2. Catch tales
  5. Unclassified Tales (Narrationes Lubricae) (Types 2400-2499)

Most folk tales or fairy tales are classified under "ordinary tales". They comprise about half of the catalogue. The next section goes deeper into those catalogue numbers.

AT-Numbers Explained

The A in 'AT' stands for Aarne, and the T for Thompson. More specifically: "The Finnish folklorist Antti Aarne and the American folklorist Stith Thompson." AT-numbers are practical tools of folklore: If you collect folktales they are of benefit. If you would like to have summaries of folktales, the catalogue numbers can give great help too. They help greatly those who intend to compare tales for different countries and cultures — mainly European ones, that is.

Aarne and Thompson devised a catalogue (classification system) of the types of international folktales. The initial catalogue was developed and published in 1910 by Aarne under the title "Index of Types of Folktale" in German. Aarne's system was devised to organize and index Scandinavian collections. Aarne's system was translated and enlarged by the American folklorist Stith Thompson in 1928, and revised in 1961.

In 2004 Hans-Jörg Uther published a novel edition in three volumes, called The Types of International Folktales: A Classification and Bibliography Based on the System of Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson. The types of folktales are given ATU-NUMBERS in it, after the surname initials of Aarne, Thompson, and Uther. The AT classification system is expanded to the Aarne-Thompson-Uther or ATU system which is far better than the older AT system and covers more ground. [Ti] [LINK]

The indexed AT motifs are limited mainly to European and European-derived tales that are known to have been told by mouth at the time they were published. The AT index yields a single classification system, and with its help different variants may be grouped or banded together under the headings of AT-number, which serve as their common reference. AT-numbers may be used to (1) identify tale types, (2) isolate motifs, (3) locate cultural variants. If there are variants that include other motifs, (more AT-numbers), the motif numbers are given too.

In the hog tale example given, there are two Norwegian variants of the folktale, and a comprehensive catalogue will give the information needed to find them if necessary, and there will be bibliographic information (not shown above).

Though this you can infer how a catalogue entry is generally designed.

Various Catalogues Are at Hand

The Types of the Folktale constitutes the most important reference work and research tool for comparative folktale analysis. The basic idea is still that in the AT catalogue tales are organized according to type and assigned a title and number and/or letter. In the highlighted example above, the tale "The hog who was so tired of his daily food" is given the index number AT 211*. But if we look for that particular tale in in D. L. Ashliman's Guide to Folktales in the English Language: Based on the Aarne-Thompson Classification System (1987), we will not find it [Agha]. This is because that Guide is a much abbreviated catalogue. For all that, Ashliman has followed the Aarne-Thompson classification system where he is not omitting entries or elements. Ashliman's Guide is fairly useful, and easier to use than the larger set devised by Stith-Thompson.

A search in Ørnulf Hodne's catalogue of Norwegian fairytale types [Tyno] for AT 211* would yield the result that is highlighted above. His catalogue follows the model of Norsk Eventyrbibliotek (below), and its folktales have been registered according to the international type system of Aarne and Thompson.


In the catalogue there is room for well known folktales, such as the ones collected, edited and published by Asbjørnsen and Moe, and the Household Märchen of the Grimm brothers. Most of these well-known folktales have been given one AT-number each, as a general rule. There are other tales that incorporate some of the elements (parts, episodes, motifs) of such tales, and still other tales that contain other elements. A comprehensive catalogue has to deal with these things. Hodne deals very much according to this:

More to know:

Despite the rich material that has been preserved in Scandinavia, much traditional material was never recorded.

Main sources: Tyno 5-15; Agha.

There are significant updates and much more to learn in Uther's recent The Types of International Folktales (2004).

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The excellent, annotated series Norsk eventyrbibliotek (Norwegian Folk Tale Collection) edited by B. Alver (et. al) was published by Det norske Samlaget in Oslo 1967-1981, and contains 12 volumes. They are:

  1. Bø, Olav og Hodne, Bjarne eds: Dei tri blå tårni. Eventyr frå Telemark 1. Oslo: Det norske Samlaget, 1974. — 251 p.
  2. Bø, Olav, red: Dyret i hagjen: Eventyr frå Agder. Oslo: Det norske Samlaget, 1978. — 203 p.
  3. Alver, Brynjulf, red: Guten i gadden: Eventyr frå Sogn og Fjordane, Møre og Romsdal. Oslo: Det norske Samlaget, 1980. — 250 p.
  4. Bø, Olav, red: Guten som snudde på halvskillingen: Eventyr frå Hedmark og Oppland. Oslo: Det norske Samlaget, 1981.
  5. Kvideland, Reimund, red: Glunten og riddar rev: Eventyr frå Nord-Norge. Oslo: Det norske Samlaget, 1977. — 234 p.
  6. Bø, Olav ed: Guten som tente i tri år for tri skilling. Eventyr frå Telemark 2. Oslo: Det norske Samlaget, 1975. — 216 p.
  7. Alver, Brynjulf, ed: Jomfru Marias gudmorsgåve: Eventyr frå Hordaland. Oslo: Det norske Samlaget 1972. — 215 p.
  8. Alver, Brynjulf, red: Kongsdottera i koppartårnet: Eventyr frå Trøndelag. Oslo: Det norske Samlaget, 1970. — 287 p.
  9. Kvideland, Reimund, red: Lita-Frid-Kirsti: Eventyr frå Valdres, Numedal, Hallingdal og nedre Buskerud. Oslo: Det norske Samlaget, 1979.
  10. Alver, Brynjulf, red: Prinsessene som dansa i åkeren: Eventyr frå Rogaland. Oslo: Det norske Samlaget, 1967. — 206 p.
  11. Alver, Brynjulf ed: Ridder Skau og jomfru Dame: Eventyr frå Ringerike. Oslo: Det norske Samlaget, 1969. — 242 p.
  12. Alver, Brynjulv, ed: Sunnafor sør og nordafor nord: Eventyr frå Akershus, Vestfold og Østfold. Oslo: Det norske Samlaget, 1976.

Agha: Ashliman, D.: A Guide to Folktales in the English Language. Greenwood. New York, 1987.

Ti: Uther, Hans-Jörg. The Types of International Folktales: A Classification and Bibliography Based on the System of Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson. Vols 1-3. FF Communications No. 284-86, Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica, 2004.

Ttf: Aarne, Antti. The Types of the Folktale: A Classification and Bibliography. Translated and Enlarged by Stith Thompson. 2nd rev. ed. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia / FF Communications, 1961.

Tyno: Hodne, Ørnulf: The Types of the Norwegian Folktale. Universitetsforlaget. Bergen, 1984.