Folklore refers to the traditional beliefs, customs, and stories of a community, passed through the generations by word of mouth. No one knows the origins of folklore.
A fable is a parable starring animals instead of humans. This distinction has been lost in popular usage of the term, in which ‘fable’ is sometimes used instead of ‘parable’. Commentators know the lines have blurred and will sometimes use the word apologue to describe a moral fable with animals as characters.
(A parable is a succinct, didactic story, in prose or verse, which illustrates one or more instructive lessons or principles.)
In a fable, there is not necessarily any obvious moral but there is usually some kind of rough justice.
When it comes to the depiction of animals, and their closeness to humanity, folklore and fable are opposites.
Animals in Folklore
- talking animals
- clever animals who have an ambiguous or helpful role (the helper is one of Vladimir Propp’s seven character types)
- they may even have private lives and families based on the human model
- they may co-exist with human masters/owners/acquaintances
For a related word, which may not immediately strike you as related to ‘fable’, see Fabulism In Children’s Literature.