The Aarne–Thompson–Uther Index (ATU Index) is a catalogue of folktale types used in folklore studies. The ATU Index is the product of a series of revisions and expansions by an international group of scholars: Originally composed in German by Finnish folklorist Antti Aarne (1910); the index was translated into English, revised, and expanded by American folklorist Stith Thompson (1928, 1961); and later further revised and expanded by German folklorist Hans-Jörg Uther (2004). The ATU Index, along with Thompson's Motif-Index of Folk-Literature (1932) (with which it is used in tandem) is an essential tool for folklorists.
The Motif-Index of Folk-Literature is a six volume catalogue of motifs, granular elements of folklore, composed by American folklorist Stith Thompson (1932-1936, revised and expanded 1955-1958). Often referred to as Thompson's motif-index, the catalogue has historically received extensive use in folklore studies, where folklorists commonly use it in tandem with the Aarne–Thompson–Uther Index, an index used for folktale type analysis.
By Hannah Mummert
One of the most important tools for anyone studying fairy tales or just looking to research them for creative purposes has to be the ATU system.
Okay. Maybe it isn’t the most important. But it’s incredibly helpful. But what is it? Most people haven’t heard of it, and truthfully it sounds a bit confusing and daunting to use. Don’t worry. We’ll get through this together. Because I’m going to be referencing the ATU types a lot as we start to look at other fairy tales versions and variations, because there are just so many tales out there. So once we have an understanding of all the numbers and crazy things going on here, it’ll be nothing but smooth sailing after that. It is confusing at first, which is why I’ve decided to to give you…A Casual Girl’s Guide to Using the ATU Index.
Officially it’s a categorization system, cataloguing fairy tales, folk tales, and fables around the world and filing them neatly away in smaller categories according to their plot. So a story of a girl with a red garment who gets into mischief, usually involving a wolf, will be filed under ATU type 333 (Red Riding Hood type tales), and stories about little helpers who keep their names secret so they can get away with stealing babies or wives would be ATU 500 (Rumplestiltskin type tales).
In reality it’s a little more complicated than that. Because of course it is. So here’s a quick breakdown of what you need to know about the ATU Tale Type Index, which is what I like to call it most often, and how I’m going to use it in the future.
|Grimm No.||Grimm Tale||ATU TYPE|
|1||The Frog King, or Iron Heinrich||440 The Frog King|
|2||Cat and Mouse in Partnership||15 Stealing the Partner's Butter|
|3||Mary's Child||710 Our Lady's Child|
|4||The Story of a Boy Who Went Forth to Learn Fear||326 The Youth Who Wanted to Learn What Fear Is|
|5||The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids||123 The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids|
|6||Faithful Johannes||516 Faithful John|
|7||The Good Bargain||1642 The Good Bargain|
|8||The Strange Musician||151 Music lessons for wild animals|
|9||The Twelve Brothers||451 The Maiden Who Seeks her Brother|
|10||The Pack of Scoundrels||210 The Traveling Animals and the Wicked Man|
|11||Little Brother and Little Sister||450 Little Brother and Little Sister|
|13||The Three Little Men in the Woods||403 The White and the Black Bride|
|14||The Three Spinning Women||501 The Three Spinners|
|15||Hansel and Gretel||327A Hansel and Gretel|
|16||The Three Snake-Leaves||612 The Three Snake-Leaves|
|17||The White Snake||554 The Grateful Animals|
|17||The White Snake||673 The White Snake|
|18||Straw, Coal, and Bean||295 The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean|
|19||The Fisherman and His Wife||555 The Fisherman and his Wife|
|20||The Brave Little Tailor||1640 The Valiant Little Tailor|
|22||The Riddle||851 The Riddle of the Suitor|
|23||The Mouse, the Bird, and the Sausage||85 The Mouse, the Bird, and the Sausage (Trading places)|
|24||Frau Holle||480 The Kind and the Unkind Girls|
|25||Seven Ravens||451 The Maiden Who Seeks her Brother|
|26||Little Red Cap||333 Little Red Riding Hood|
|27||The Bremen Town Musicians||130 Outcast Animals Find a New Home|
|28||The Singing Bone||780 The Singing Bone|
|29||The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs||461 Three Hairs of the Devil (Giant)|
|30||Little Louse and Little Flea||2022 Death of the little hen|
|31||The Girl without Hands||706 Maiden without Hands|
|32||Clever Hans||1696 What Should I Have Said?|
|33||Three Languages||671 The Three Languages|
|34||Clever elsie||1450 Clever Elsie|
|35||Tailor in Heaven||800 The Tailor in Heaven|
|36||Table-Be-Set, Gold Donkey,Cudgel-out-of-the-sack||563 The Table, the Donkey, and the Stick|
|37||Thumbthick||700Thumbling (Tom Thumb)|
|38||Mrs. Fox's Wedding||65 Mrs. Fox's Suitors|
|39||The Elves||503 Gifts of the Little People|
|40||The Robber Bridegroom||955 The Robber Bridegroom|
|41||Herr Korbes||210 The Traveling Animals and the Wicked Man|
|42||The Godfather||332 Godfather Death|
|43||Frau Trude||334 At the Witch's House|
|44||Godfather Death||332 Godfather Death|
|45||Thumbling's Travels||700 Thumbling|
|46||Fitcher's Bird||311 Rescue by the Sister|
|47||Juniper Tree||720 The Juniper Tree -my mother killed me my father ate me|
|48||Old Sultan||101 The old dog rescues the child|
|49||Six Swans||451 The Maiden Who Seeks her Brother|
|50||Little Brier-Rose||410 The Sleeping Beauty - Little Briar Rose|
|51||Foundling-Bird||313 The Magic Flight|
|52||King Thrushbeard||900 King Thrushbeard|
|53||Little Snow-White||709 Snow White|
|54||The Knapsack, the Hat, and the Horn||569 The Knapsack, the Hat, and the Horn|
|54A||Hans Dumb||675 The Lazy Boy -- fools wishes come true|
|55||Rumpelstiltskin||500 Name of the Supernatureal helper Rumpelstiltskin|
|56||Sweetheart Roland||1119 Ogres Kill Their Own Children|
|57||The Golden Bird||
550 Bird, Horse, and Princess (previously Search for Golden Bird)
|58||Dog and the Sparrow||248 The Dog and the Sparrow|
|59||Freddy and Katy Lizzy||1291 One cheese sent to bring back another|
|59||Freddy and Katy Lizzy||1291B Filing cracks with butter|
|59||Freddy and Katy Lizzy||1385* Learning about Money|
|59||Freddy and Katy Lizzy||1387 A Woman Draws Beer in the Cellar|
|60||Two Brothers||567A The Magic Bird Heart and the Separated Brothers|
|61||The Little Peasant||1535 The Rich Peasant and the Poor Peasant|
|62||The Queen Bee||554 The Grateful Animals|
|63||The Three Feathers||402 The Animal Bride|
|64||Golden Goose||571 All stick together|
510B Peau d'Asne Cap o' Rushes Father wants to marry daughter
|66||The Hare's Bride||311 Rescue by the Sister|
|67||Twelve Huntsmen||884 The forsaken fiancee|
|68||The Thief and His Master||325 The Magician and his Apprentice|
|69||Jorinde and Joringel||405 Jorinde and Joringel|
|70||The Three Children of Fortune||1650 The Three Lucky Brothers|
|71||How Six Men Got On in the World||513A Six go through the world|
|72||Wolf and the Man||157 Learning to Fear Men|
|73||The Wolf and the Fox||41 The Wolf Overeats in the Cellar|
|74||The Fox and His Cousin||152A wife scalds the wolf|
|75||The Fox and the Cat||105 Cat's only trick|
|76||The Carnation (Pink)||652 The Boy Whose Wishes Always Come True|
|77||Clever Gretel||1741 Priest's Guests and eaten chickens|
|78||Old Grandfather and his Grandson||980 Ungrateful Son|
|79||Water Nixie||313 The Magic Flight|
|80||The Death of the Little Hen||2021 The rooster and the hen|
|81||Brother Merry||785 Who Ate the Lambs Heart ?|
|82||Gambling Hansel||330 The Smith and the Devil|
|83||Hans in Luck||1415 Trading Away One's Fortune|
|84||Hans gets married||859 The Penniless Bridegroom Pretends to Wealth|
|85||Gold-Children||555 The Fisherman and his Wife|
|86||Fox and the Geese||227 The geese's eternal prayer|
|87||The Poor Man and the Rich Man||750 A Three wishes|
|88||The Singing Springing Lark||425C Beauty and the Beast|
|89||Goose-girl||533 Speaking Horsehead|
|90||The Young Giant||650A Strong John|
|91||Gnome||301 The Three Kidnapped Princesses|
|92||King of the Golden Mountain||401A The Soldiers in the Enchanted Castle|
|93||The Raven||400 The Quest for a Lost Bride - formerly 401|
|94||The Peasant's Clever Daughter||875 The Clever Peasant girl|
|95||Old Hildebrand||1360C Old Hildebrand|
|96||The Three Little Birds||707 The Bird of Truth|
|97||The Water of Life||551 The Water of Life|
|98||Dr. Know-All||1641 Doctor Know-all|
|99||The Spirit in the Glass Bottle||331 The Spirit in the Bottle|
|100||The Devil's Sooty Brother||475 Heating Hell's Kitchen|
|102||The Wren and the Bear||222 The Willow-Wren and the Bear|
|103||Sweet Porridge||565 The Magic Mill (why the sea is salty)|
|104||Clever People||1384 The husband hunts for three persons as stupid as his wife|
|105||Tales of the Toad||285 The child and the snake|
|105||Tales of the Toad||672 The Serpent's Crown|
|106||Poor Miller's Boy and the Cat||402 The Animal Bride|
|107||The Two Travelers||613 The Two Travelers: Truth and Falsehood|
|108||Hans My Hedgehog||441 Hans My Hedgehog|
|109||Burial Shirt||769 The Child's Grave|
|110||Jew in the Thorns||592 The Dance Among Thorns|
|111||The Trained Huntsman||304 The Trained Hunter|
|112||Threshing Flail from Heaven||1960A The Great Ox|
|113||The Two Kings' Children||313 The Magic Flight|
|114||The Clever Little Tailor||850 The birthmarks of the Princess|
|114||The Clever Little Tailor||1061 Biting a stone to pieces|
|114||The Clever Little Tailor||1159 Ogre caught in a cleft|
|115||The Bright Sun will bring it to light||960 The Sun Brings All to Light|
|116||The Blue Light||562 The Spirit in the Blue Light|
|117||The Willful Child||779 Divine rewards and punishments|
|118||The Three Army Surgeons||660 The Three Doctors|
|119||Seven Swabians||1321 Fools frightened|
|120||The Three Journeymen||360 The Three Apprentices and the Devil|
|121||The King's Son Who Is Afraid of Nothing||590 The Faithless Mother|
|122||The Cabbage-Donkey||567 Magic Bird-Heart|
|123||Old Woman in the Woods||442 The Old Woman in the Wood|
|124||The Three Brothers||654 The Three Brothers|
|125||The Devil and His Grandmother||812 The Mystery of the Devil|
|126||Ferdinand the Faithful and Ferdinand the Unfaithful||531 Clever horse (previously Ferdinand the true)|
|127||The Iron Stove||425A Animal as Bridegroom|
|128||Lazy Spinning Woman||1405 The Lazy Spinner|
|129||The Four Skillful Brothers||653 The Skillful Brothers|
|130||One-Eye, Two-Eyes, and Three-Eyes||511 One-Eye, Two-Eyes, and Three-Eyes|
|131||Fair Katrinelje and PifPaf Poltrie||2019 Fair Katrinelje and Pif-Paf-Poltrie|
|132||The Fox and the Horse||47A Fox hangs on horse's tail|
|133||The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces||306 The Twelve Dancing Princesses --Dance out shoes|
|134||The Six Servants||513A Six go through the world|
|135||White Bride and the Black Bride||403 The White and the Black Bride|
|136||Iron Hans||502 The Wild Man|
|137||Three Black Princesses||400 The Quest for a Lost Bride - formerly 401A|
|138||Knoist and His Three Sons||1965 Disabled Comrade|
|139||The Girl from Brakel||1476A Prayer to Christ's Mother|
|140||Household Servants||1940 The Extraordinary Names|
|141||The Little Lamb and the Little Fish||450 Little Brother and Little Sister|
|142||Simeli Mountain||954 The Forty Thieves formerly 676|
|143||Going Traveling||1696 What Should I Have Said?|
|144||The Little Donkey||430 The Donkey|
|145||The Ungrateful Son||980 D Old Parents and Ungrateful Son|
|146||The Turnip||1960D The Great Vegetable|
|147||The Little Old Man Made Young by Fire||753 Christ and the smith|
|148||The Lord's Animals and the Devil's||Unclassified|
|149||Rooster Beam||987 False Magician Exposed by Clever Girl|
|150||Old Beggar Woman||Unclassified|
|151||Three lazy ones||1950 The three lazy ones|
|151*||Twelve Lazy Servants||1950 The three lazy ones|
|152||Little Shepherd Boy||922 The king and the abbot|
|153||The Star Talers||779 Divine rewards and punishments|
|154||The Stolen Farthing||769 The Child's Grave|
|155||Choosing a Bride||1452 Choosing a Bride by How She Cuts Cheese|
|156||The Hurds||1451 A suitor chooses the thrifty girl|
|157||The Sparrow and His Four Children||157 Learning to Fear Men|
|158||The Tale of Cockaigne (Schlaraffenland)||1930 Schlaraffenland|
|159||The Tall Tale from Ditmar (Lying Tale)||1930 Schlaraffenland|
|160||A Riddling Tale||407 The Flower Girl|
|161||Snow-White and Rose-Red||426 Snow White and Rose Red|
|162||The Clever Servant||1681B Fool as Custodian of Home and Animals|
|163||The Glass Coffin||410 The Sleeping Beauty|
|164||Lazy Heinz||1430 Air Castles|
|165||The Griffin||610 The Healing Fruit|
|166||Strong Hans||650A Strong John|
|167||The Peasant in Heaven||802 The Peasant in Heaven|
|168||Lean Lisa||1430 Air Castles|
|169||Hut in the Woods||431 The Waldhaus|
|170||Sharing Joy and Sorrow||921D* Witty Answers|
|171||The Wren||221 The Election of Bird-King|
|172||The Flounder (sole)||250A The Flounder's Crooked Mouth|
|173||The Bittern and Hoopoe||236* Imitating bird sounds,|
|174||The Owl||1281 Burning the Barn to Destroy an Unknown Animal|
|176||Duration of Life||173 Man and animals readjust span of life|
|177||Death's Messengers||335 Death' Messengers|
|178||Master Pfriem (Cobblersawl)||801 Master Pfriem|
|179||The Goose-Girl at the Well||923 Loving the Salt|
|180||Eve's Unequal Children||758 The various children of Eve|
|181||The Nixie in the Pond||316 The Mermaid in the Pond|
|182||Gifts of the Little People||503 Gifts of the Little People|
|183||Giant and the Tailor||1049 The heavy axe|
|184||The Nail||2039 The Horseshoe Nail|
|185||The Poor Boy in the Grave||1408C String of Chickens (includes AT 1876)|
|186||True Bride||510 Cinderella and Cap o' Rushes|
|187||Hare and the Hedgehog||275C Hare and Hedgehob race (formerly 275A*)|
|188||Spindle, Shuttle, and Needle||585 Spindle, Shuttle, and Needle|
|189||The Peasant and the Devil||1030 Man and ogre share the harvest|
|190||Crumbs on the Table||236* Imitating bird sounds,|
|191||Rabbit (sea-Hare)||554 Grateful Animals|
|192||Master Thief||1525 The master thief|
|193||The Drummer||400 The Quest for a Lost Bride|
|194||The Ear of Grain||779 Divine rewards and punishments|
|195||The Grave Mound||815 The Devil who skins a corpse|
|196||Old Rinkrank||311 Rescue by the Sister|
|197||The Crystal Ball||552 Girls who marry animals|
|198||Maid Maleen||870 The Princess Confined in the Mound|
|199||The Boot of Buffalo Leather||952 The King and the Soldier|
|200||Golden Key||2260 The Golden Key|
|201||St. Joseph in the Woods||480 The Kind and the Unkind Girls|
|202||Twelve Apostles||766 The seven sleepers|
|204||Poverty and Humility Lead to Heaven||Unclassified|
|205||God's Food||751G* Bread turned to stone|
|206||The Three Green Branches||756A The Self-Righteous Hermit|
|207||Our Lady's Little Glass||Unclassified|
|207||The Aged Mother||Unclassified|
|209||The Heavenly Wedding||767 Food for the Crucifix|
|210||The Hazel Switch||Unclassified|
The letters used to designate the individual motif tell us something about a motif's character. Thompson used the letters of the alphabet to organize his motifs as follows:
A. Mythological motifs
Motifs designated with the letter A cover such things as the nature of gods and the universe, the origin of people, and the primordial organization of human life and society. A few examples of A motifs are:
A131.6. Horned god.
A901.1. Topographical changes or landmarks due to battle between gods.
A1212. Man created in Creator's image.
A1460.1. Arts taught to man by angel.
A2480. Periodic habits of animals.
A2481.1. Why bears hibernate.
This covers everything about animals except their primordial origins, which are covered under the A motifs. Here we find out about animals that speak, giant snakes, magic animals, and animals that help out humans in their adventures. A few examples of B motifs are:
B11.11. Fight with dragon.
B161. Wisdom from serpent.
B455.3. Helpful eagle.
B733. Animals are spirit sighted.
These motifs cover forbidden things, both things that are forbidden within a given tale and things that are forbidden in a given society. This includes such things as Pandora's box, which she is forbidden to open, the temptation of a forbidden room, the incest prohibition, and the consequences when a tabu is broken. A few examples of C motifs are:
C31. Tabu: offending supernatural wide.
C221.2.1. Tabu: eating animal helper.
C401.6. Tabu: speaking while taking a bath.
C942. Loss of strength from broken tabu.
There are many D motifs because magic is prominent in both Märchen [fairy tales] and myths. These motifs may refer to the types of magical transformation, to magical objects, or to magic powers. A few examples of D motifs are:
D174. Transformation: man to cuttlefish.
D711. Disenchantment by decapitation.
D1069.1. Magic handkerchief.
D1573.1. Much butter made from little milk by power of saint.
D1964.1 Savage elephant lulled to sleep by virgin.
D2143.1. Rain produced by magic.
D2197. Magic dominance over animals.
E. The Dead
Ghosts and revenants are frequent characters in folk literature, and under the E motifs we find descriptions of their appearance and motivations. Here we also find information about how the dead are resuscitated in traditional literature, beliefs about the nature of the soul, and beliefs about reincarnation. A few examples of E motifs are:
E64.16.1. Resuscitation by yak's tail.
E221.3. Dead husband returns to reprove wife's second husband (lover).
E251.3.2. Vampire milks cows dry.
E431.13. Corpse burned to prevent return.
E481.2. Land of dead across water.
E646. Reincarnation as meteor.
E755.2.5. Icy hell.
It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between D. Magic and F. Marvels. [We] can offer two guidelines: first, magic is not natural. Therefore, something amazing but natural such as a marvelously strong hero, would be found under F. Marvels and not under D. Magic. If, however, a puny hero put on a belt of tremendous strength, that would fall under D. Magic. The second guideline is that magic requires a deliberate action. Therefore, although we may not think of fairies as natural, they are categorized under F. Marvels rather than D. Magic because they merely existed, in spite of any action taken by the hero or villain. Under marvels we also find beliefs about the otherworld (Tir Na Nog, Avalon, Hell, or FairyLand) and how to get there. A few examples of F motifs are:
F162.8. Magic fountain in otherworld.
F343.13. Fairy gives mortals a child.
F511.0.4. Man carries his head under his arm.
F522.214.171.124. Giants can make selves invisible.
F569.1. Woman lays eggs and hatches them.
F771.1.10. Gingerbread house.
F932.1. River pursues fugitive.
F1083.0.1.3. Jerusalem suspended in air.
Thompson uses the term "ogre" as a generic form of monster, not as a specific sort of monster. Therefore, under ogres we find information about cannibals and cannibalism, and witches, giants and trolls. We also have those motifs that refer to how the character fell into the ogre's power. Finally we learn how to defeat the ogre, because in traditional literature, particularly Märchen, the ogre is usually defeated. Any motifs referring to the devil, his appearance, motivations, or actions, are also found under G. Ogres. A few examples of G motifs are:
G36. Taste of human flesh leads to habitual cannibalism.
G241.1. Witch rides on wolf.
G303.4.4.1. Devil has five claws.
G512.3.2. Ogre burned in his own oven.
G610.3. Stealing from ogre as task.
This is another very long category of motifs because tests abound in folk literature. These include tests to prove one's identity, tests of cleverness, strength or skill, riddles, and quests that heroes are sent on. A few examples of H motifs are:
H35.3. Recognition by unique needle-work.
H316. Suitor test: apple thrown indicates princess's choice.
H411.8. Magic bridge as chastity test. Cannot be crossed by unchaste.
H631.4. Riddle: what is strongest? Woman.
H1023.12. Task: catching a noise.
H1321.2. Quest for Water of Life.
Thompson doesn't use an I motif category because it would be too easily confused with the number 1.
J. The wise and the foolish
Many folktales follow the adventures of a fool, who goes through the world thinking that he is doing well, when actually he is making a fool of himself. These adventures are followed here, as are the deeds of the especially clever. A few examples of J motifs are:
J141. Youth educated by seven sages.
J157.2. Fate of parents revealed in dream.
J267. Choice between flattering lies and unflattering truths.
J1250. Clever verbal retorts — general.
J1932.3. Sowing salt to produce salt.
J2527. Thief out of habit robs from his own purse.
This includes not only the obvious types of deception such as adultery but also more subtle things such as lying, theft, bluffing, and hypocrites. A few examples of K motifs are:
K81.1. Deceptive eating contest: hole in bag.
K111.1. Alleged gold-dropping animal sold.
K311.4. Thief becomes monk in order to rob monastery.
K5126.96.36.199. Girl escapes in male disguise.
K783.1. Enemy blinded with chili powder and overpowered.
K1392. Trickster and girls play obscene tricks on one another.
K1521. Paramour successfully hidden from husband.
K1955. Sham physician.
L. Reversal of fortune
Märchen often tell the story of a young person, down on his or her luck, who goes out into the world and has a series of successful adventures that lead to his or her being married to a prince or princess and becoming wealthy and powerful. We see a lot of reversals of fortune in Märchen, including the poor becoming wealthy, the youngest son inheriting the kingdom, and the person marrying far above his or her apparent social station. All of these are covered here.Of course, not all reversals of fortune are positive; the villain often loses his or her money, the evil judge his or her position, and that is covered here, too. A few examples of L motifs are:
L10.2. Abused son of younger co-wife becomes hero.
L114.1. Lazy hero.
L212. Choice among several gifts. The worst horse, armor, or the like proves best.
L315.12. Rabbit slays rhinoceros.
L419.2. King becomes beggar.
M. Ordaining the future
This category covers not only prophecy but also vows, oaths, bargains, promises, curses and judgments. A few examples of M motifs are:
M113.1. Oath taken on sword.
M161.2. Vow to revenge (king, friends, father) or die.
M211. Man sells soul to devil.
M301.0.1. Prophet destined never to be believed.
M411.8.3. Curses on places because of offensive answer to saint.
N. Chance and fate
This category includes gambling, the nature of luck and fate, lucky and unlucky accidents, treasure, and helpers. A few examples of N motifs are:
N2.3. Bodily members wagered.
N111. Fortuna. Luck (fate) thought of as a goddess.
N421.1. Progressive lucky bargains.
N452. Secret remedy overheard in conversation of animals (witches).
N511.1.10. Treasure buried under tree.
N731. Unexpected meeting of father and son.
N825.3.1. Help from old beggar woman.
Thompson also does not use the letter O to designate motifs, probably because it is too easily confused with the number 0.
This category covers social customs, the government, trades and professions, family and friendships, and the nature of leaders or the royalty. A few examples of the P motifs are:
P14.19. King goes in disguise at night to observe his subjects.
P234. Father and daughter.
P251.6.7. Twelve brothers.
P310.5. Defeated enemy turns true friend.
P324.3. Guests' life inviolable.
P424.5. Female physician.
P632.4. Color worn signifies rank.
Q. Rewards and Punishments
Folktales often end with the hero or heroine receiving a great reward and the villain receiving a terrible punishment. Such things are covered in this category, which looks at the deeds that are either rewarded or punished, and the nature of the rewards or punishments received. A few examples of the Q motifs are:
Q94. Reward for cure.
Q115. Reward: any boon that may be asked.
Q211. Murder punished.
Q415.5. Punishment: being devoured by tiger.
Q581. Villain nemesis. Person condemned to punishment he has suggested for others.
R. Captives and Fugitives
People are often taken or held prisoner in folktales, and this category covers how they are captured, their rescue or escape, and their pursuit and potential recapture. A few examples of the R motifs are:
R11.1. Princess (maiden) abducted by monster (ogre).
R112.3. Rescue of prisoners from fairy stronghold.
R164. Rescue by giant.
R211.15. Captive hews through iron prison with sword.
R261.1. Pursuit by rolling head.
R355. Eloping girl recaptured by parents.
S. Unnatural Cruelty
Essentially, this category is about those villains who do cruel things either without reason or out of proportion to the reason. Here we have cruel relatives such as the wicked stepmother, horrible murders, abandoned children, and cruel persecutions. A few examples of the S motifs are:
S31. Cruel stepmother.
S139.2. Slain person dismembered.
S161. Mutilation: cutting off hands (arms).
S264. Sacrifice to rivers and seas.
S302.1. All new-born male children slaughtered.
S352. Animal aids abandoned child(ren).
S411.1. Misunderstood wife banished by husband.
This category covers love, marriage, chastity, celibacy, childbirth and rearing, and illicit sexual relations. A few examples of the T motifs are:
T11.2. Love through sight of picture.
T92.1. The triangle plot and its solutions.
T97. Father opposed to daughter's marriage.
T136.1. Wedding feast.
T203. Peace in marriage more important than truth.
T232. Woman deserts husband for unworthy lover.
T252. The overbearing wife.
T317.2. Repression of lust through prayer.
T417.1. Mother-in-law seduces son-in-law.
T516. Conception through dream.
T581.1. Birth of child in forest.
T615.1 Precocious speech (in child).
U. The Nature of Life
This [could be considered] the simple philosophy category. It includes observations about the need to obey one's parents and government, explanations about why life is unfair, and other such aphorisms. A few examples of the U motifs are:
U11. Small trespasses punished; large crimes condoned.
U30. Rights of the strong.
U110. Appearances deceive.
U131. Familiarity takes away fear.
U232. No place secret enough for sin.
It is sometimes difficult to differentiate between D. Magic and V. Religion. Essentially, V. Religion is about religious ritual such as prayer, religious beliefs about things like angels and saints, or religious buildings and objects. Therefore, a miracle would be covered under V. Religion, as would miraculous affects caused by prayer. A few examples of the V motifs are:
V41. Masses work miracles.
V221. Miraculous healing by saints.
V310. Particular dogmas.
V510. Religious visions.
W. Traits of Character
This category is subdivided into two kinds of traits: favorable and unfavorable. Some examples of favorable traits of character often found in folktales are bravery, kindness, generosity, and humility. Unfavorable traits include greed, arrogance, and cruelty. A few examples of the W motifs are:
W211. Active imagination.
This includes things like humor about sex, about social standing, about races or nations, about appearance or disability, and based on lies, exaggeration, or drunkenness. A few examples of the X motifs are:
X52.1. Woman exposed to ridicule when her wig is snatched off by a monkey.
X135. The humor of stuttering.
X410. Jokes on parsons.
X700. Humor concerning sex.
X811. Drunk man lying under his bed thinks he is lying in his shroud, is cured of drunkenness.
X905. Lying contests.
X1301. Lie: the great fish.
X1850. Other tall tales.
Thompson doesn't assign motifs under Y, perhaps because it looks something like a 7.
Z. Miscellaneous Groups of Motifs
There are always extraneous elements that don't fit into a specific organizational scheme. Under Z we find such things as frequent numbers of episodes in tales (three is the most frequent number in Indo-European Märchen); the symbolism of colors, objects, or words; the nature of heroes; and other things that don't fit into the A-X Motif categories. A few examples of the Z motifs are:
Z18. Formulistic conversations.
Z22.1. The Twelve Days (Gifts) of Christmas.
Z65.1. Red as blood, white as snow.
Z71.1. Formulistic number: three.
Z111. Death personified.
Z143.1. Black as symbol of grief.
Z255. Hero born out of wedlock.
Z311. Achilles heel. Invulnerability except in one spot.
So now that we understand what the letters in a motif number mean, what about the numbers? Let's look a little at the motifs dealing with the creation of animals in order to understand the numbers. A1700. Creation of animals. begins this list. Then we see how the animals were created starting with A1710. Creation of animals through transformation. A1800. starts the Creation of mammals. A1810. is the Creation of Felidae (felines). A1811. Creation of cat. refers to the domestic cat. But there are several ways that cats are created in traditional narratives, so these are designated as A1811.x. For example, A1811.1. Cat from transformed eagle, is followed by A1811.2. Creation of cat: sneezed from lion's nostrils, and finally A1811.3. Cat of divine origin. is really praying when he purrs. Then we're back to different types of cats with A1815. Creation of tiger. This could be diagrammed like an outline:
You can see how the motifs are nested into one another numerically. In fact, this nesting can move beyond single decimal points to two or even three decimal points. Here's an example:
Theoretically one could continue out to twelve decimal points, although more than three is unusual.
The motif designations, such as A2030, are used as a form of shorthand, just as the AT Tale Types are used to succinctly refer to a particular tale. The Tales Online team has chosen to include the written descriptors along with the letter and number code for two reasons. First, very few people, even among folklorists, know the Motif code by heart. Secondly, it serves as a check to ensure that a single typo doesn't irrevocably change the meaning of a given motif.