I am looking for any type of oral literature (folktale, poem whatever), that would include an inserted story, however minor, that is in its content foreign to the primary poem, folktale...

Let me give you an example of what I am looking for: a Russian fable in which a fox would tell to a chicken the story of Noah's ark or something like that. Something in this made up way...

Does anyone know a story like that?

  • Must this be folktales or just stories? Cos a lot of books do stories within stories – iGbanam Sep 24 '16 at 20:57
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    Folktales don't usually have frame stories. Literary retellings such as the Arabian Nights or the Pentamerone often add a frame narrative to the folktale. Use your browser's search function to search for "frame" in this book: dl.finebook.ir/book/58/16205.pdf – user5645 Sep 24 '16 at 21:14
  • @MacCooper The Kingkiller Chronicles is a first person narrative of the protagonist's personal experiences. There are many stories and anecdotes told and re-told and quoted along the way, but not a folktale within a folktale. I never encountered a nested folktale. They usually adhere to a very basic straight-forward form. – Lew Sep 27 '16 at 13:30

One example could be the Growltiger song from Cats. In the original staging, the song told the story of Growltiger's Last Stand - when his boat is swarmed by enemies and Growltiger killed.

Immediately prior to the attack, Growltiger and is girlfriend are sitting on the boat, and they sing The Ballad of Billy MaCaw. The ballad could be dropped without affecting the Growltiger story in any way (and has been in some stagings).

The whole piece is about 15 minutes long, and is drawn from T. S. Elliot's poem book, Old Possums' Book of Cats.


Yes for example There is a boy who has to find 7 gems to avoid a disaster in his town. And then we can include a folk story of how these gems were made or found. For example we can say a curse of some lady created those gems.

  • This is an example, but the OP is looking for an existing published story. – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Sep 26 '16 at 16:48
  • Oops did not saw that – user645052 Sep 27 '16 at 11:29

Oddly enough, this is the structure of my own children's book, How the Fisherman Tricked the Genie. It's based fairly closely on a lesser known story from the Arabian Nights.

The outer story is about a fisherman who has the misfortune to release an evil genie from a container. The fisherman tells the genie a fairy tale about a wicked king and a magician, who in turn tells a fable about a prince and a dog. In my version there's a more pronounced difference of styles between the stories, but the nested structure is present in the original. Arguably, the entire Arabian Nights is itself an example of this structure. Although it's not exactly a "folktale" it almost certainly compiles stories from the oral tradition.

I feel certain there must be others, but I'm having trouble thinking of one. The widespread folktale "The Hidden Treasure" (which inspired Paulo Coelho's bestseller The Alchemist) has characters that retell their dreams. Possibly also of interest is the well-known spiritual "Mary, Don't You Weep," which centers around figures from the New Testament, but interpolates Old Testament Bible stories. If you don't require English, there are West African poems that are essentially compilations of allusions to well-known proverbs, fables and older poems. This Wikipedia article, although not focused on the oral tradition, does give some other good examples, including the Odyssey.


The classic example would be The Arabian Nighs (AKA One Thousand and One Nights) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_Thousand_and_One_Nights) in which Scheherazade tells her husband an new story each night to keep him from cutting her head off.

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