(1+2) > 3: The Presence of the Number Three in Folktales
By: K. Sean Buvala
As storytelling has moved from its perceived position of folk art to more mainstream recognition, the inevitable attempts to classify, catalog, and define it have become more ambitious. Storytelling is now a subject one can “take” for college credit. Although I believe that learning storytelling in a focused environment is overall a positive area of growth for storytelling, along with these classroom opportunities comes the need to create and memorize definitions of the characteristics of different types of stories.
For many storytellers, educators, and folklorists, the classification of a “folktale” requires that it include some reference to the number or sets of three. Such stories as “Three Blind Mice,” “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” and “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” are common examples of the titles and subjects of basic folktales reflecting this concept. Although I do not believe that the classification of a story as a folktale should be limited by the “number three” requirement, such a requirement for classifications does elicit several questions. Why the focus on the use of the number three? What does the number three represent?