Throwbacklist Thursday: The Stories We Tell

Humanity has undoubtedly told stories since forever. Possibly our ancestors acted or danced them before speech found its way into our brains. Writing brought religious texts and Gilgamesh but even then, tale-telling remained a largely oral art until literacy became widespread, whatever that date may have been for a given culture.

Even here at UIP we have an evolving body of folklore. It includes shared jokes, inside references, and whole stories like “The Security Officer’s Lecture on Hobos.” Animal stories have also sprung up, for instance the many tales grouped under the scholarly heading “That Gigantic &*%*#@* Millipede in the Men’s Bathroom.” No doubt we staffers absorb the impulse to create folklore from our surroundings, for University of Illinois Press publishes a range of book series, stand alone tomes, and scholarly journals on folklore and its related practices.

niditchA Prelude to Biblical Folklore: Underdogs and Tricksters, by Susan Niditch
Treating Old Testament stories as the product of an oral traditional world, A Prelude to Biblical Folklore sets biblical narrative in a broad cross-cultural context and reveals much about the richness and complexity of the ancient Israelite civilization that produced it.

Using a unique combination of biblical scholarship and folklore methodology, Susan Niditch tracks stories of biblical characters who become heroes against the odds, either through trickery or through native wisdom, physical prowess, and the help of human or divine agents. In this volume, originally published as Underdogs and Tricksters, Niditch examines three cross-sections of the Old Testament in detail: stories in Genesis in which patriarchs pretend that their wives are really their sisters; the contrasting stories of two younger sons, the trickster Jacob and the earnest underdog Joseph; and the story of Esther as a paradigm of feminine wisdom pitted against unjust authority.

sivermanPolish-American Folklore, by Deborah Anders Silverman
Integrating vivid photographs, firsthand observations, and interviews against a rich backdrop of ethnic practices and traditions, Deborah Anders Silverman explores how Polish Americans are creatively adapting the rural peasant folklore of the old country to life in multicultural, urban America. Silverman surveys rituals of courtship, marriage, coming of age, and funerals, also noting those customs that have been rediscovered after falling into disuse. She follows the trail of folk stories and delves into folk music and dance, particularly the polka, providing a detailed discussion of texts, contexts, and performance practices. She also describes birthing practices, home remedies, superstitions, folk blessings, and miracle cures. In addition, she offers a wealth of information on foodways and on the origins and celebration of holy days, from Christmas Eve vigils to the Dyngus Day festivals of the Easter season.

JAFJournal of American Folklore
UIP goes beyond the book-length in search of folklore research, too. The Journal of American Folklore, the quarterly journal of the American Folklore Society since the Society’s founding in 1888, publishes scholarly articles, notes, and commentaries directed to a wide professional audience.

Other sections include those devoted to poetry, short fiction, and creative non-fiction on matters fundamental to the field; and reviews of books, exhibitions and events, films, sound recordings, and digital/online resources. Recent additions to the journal’s illustrious history include Timothy R. Tangherlini’s article on computational folkloristics; a computer analysis of Croatian tongue-twisters; a sound review of the much-praised multimedia project Gullah: The Voice of an Island; and the usual collection of book reviews on the latest research in the field.

IvesGeorge Magoon and the Down East Game War: History, Folklore, and the Law, by Edward D. Ives
George Magoon (1851-1929) was a Maine folk hero. Notorious for outwitting game wardens in the pursuit of moose and deer, Magoon represented an older time, when the Maine woods provided sustenance to area farmers. Magoon’s most active period coincided with increased state control over hunting, as legislators sought to turn the state into a paradise for tourist sportsmen. The humorous Magoon stories were one way locals coped with their loss of power.

Edward D. Ives spent thirty years tracking down oral histories in order to document Magoon’s life. He explores Magoon’s significance as a folk hero within the context of the conservation movement, the cult of the sportsman, and Maine’s increasingly restrictive game laws. But Ives also examines Magoon and his stories alongside tales of other rural folk characters and with facts on all of them drawn from census and court records, newspapers, and other archives.