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Voices Fall-Winter 2007:
Click on the cover for the Table of Contents. Read “Books to Note” here.
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Volume 33

Books to Note

Story: A Handbook, by Jacqueline S. Thursby, Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2006. 184 pages, introduction, photographs, glossary, web resources, index, $55.00 cloth.

All of us who love folk narratives should welcome the publication of Jacqueline S. Thursby’s Story: A Handbook. This new Greenwood handbook presents an ambitious range of narrative material: oral, written, and printed stories from ancient times to the contemporary era, with special consideration of story forms in the digital age. Like other handbooks in Greenwood’s series, this one targets an audience of undergraduate and high school students, as well as general readers. Written in a lively and engaging style, Story offers readers a delightful sampling of narratives that have entertained and instructed readers since recorded history began.

Even before recorded history, storytelling left tangible evidence of its importance. More than two hundred caves filled with paintings from the Paleolithic era in Europe have motivated people to guess at the stories that inspired the images. Thursby explains, “Though we may never know the answers to questions concerning such ancient representations, there is much we do know about stories in general. With each telling, stories weave an individual pattern of meaning according to the intent of the teller and the understanding of the listener” (vii).

The book’s second chapter, “Definitions and Classifications,” helps the reader to understand how storytellers, scholars, journalists, and others have analyzed stories’ types, structures, functions, and variations. Thursby provides just the right amount of detail about seminal scholarly analyses, from Aristotle’s Poetics to Freytag’s pyramid. She distinguishes between literature for entertainment and literature for didactic purposes, offering piquant quotes from saints’ lives, Grimms’ fairy tales, and other sources. It is especially good to see that she devotes considerable attention to journalism, which does not always capture the interest of folklore and literature scholars. Other sections cover historical literature, digital storytelling, and fan fiction. With admirable specificity, she defines many different forms of prose narrative. An outline of Stith Thompson’s tale types and a list of Vladimir Propp’s functions appear at the end of the chapter.

In the third chapter, Thursby presents a rich array of fascinating stories, following the same sequence that she used in chapter two. This organizational plan makes the chapters easy to follow. Among the many sample texts that I enjoyed discovering is a digital narrative, Brenda Laurel’s “A Tale About Some Crows,” which describes “Celtic bards in their crow-feathered robes” exchanging stories while sitting on a wire (78). Down below, the crows see a machine that can carry their stories around the world; the stories fall like tiny gems from their beaks. Thursby analyzes the importance of digital storytelling insightfully, giving close attention to the relationship between the teller and the online viewer.

In the “Contexts” chapter, Thursby eloquently discusses the role of folklore and story in drama, literature, art, film, music, television, and storytelling festivals. The section on storytelling festivals works especially well, with careful consideration of children’s storytelling and of storytelling as therapy. As an English professor, I was a bit disappointed to find only a page and a half on folklore and story in literature. I would also have liked to find some consideration of StoryCorps, the oral history project that has maintained recording booths in train stations and in other handy places since 2003, but it is understandable that this relatively brief book cannot include everything.

Thursby should be commended for her excellent glossary, bibliography, and list of web resources, which add greatly to Story’s usefulness as a research tool for students and other interested readers. The lists of storytellers’ web sites, folklore and music web sites, and sites related to folklore, story, and education show that the author knows her subject extremely well and enjoys sharing her expertise with her readers. It is truly a pleasure to read this informative and beautifully organized book.

—Libby Tucker,
Binghamton University

Indian Folktales from Mauritius, translated and edited by Dawood Auleear and Lee Haring. Chenai, India: National Folklore Support Centre, 2006. 117 pages, $10.00 paper (purchase directly from www.indianfolklore.org).

Indian Folktales from Mauritius, translated and edited by Dawood Auleear and Lee Haring, contains eighteen oral stories told by Bhojpuri-speaking storytellers living in Mauritius, an island in the southwestern Indian Ocean. Transliterated Bhojpuri text is provided for nine of the stories. The principal researcher for the project was Auleear, who was born and grew up in Mauritius and has collaborated on a variety of oral narrative projects with foreign researchers.

This is a book that tries to provide something for everyone in just 117 pages, each richly decorated with drawings and ornamentation. The illustrations suggest that the book was designed for general readers or school children. The tale-type and motif indexing will appeal to comparative folktale scholars, while the unpolished, oral quality of the stories will interest scholars of performance.

Lee Haring, coeditor of the project, is one of Auleear’s regular collaborators. His own research is focused almost entirely on folk narrative of the Indian Ocean islands of Mauritius, Rodrigues, Réunion, and Seychelles. Haring’s introduction to the book is partially based on a previously published essay. His footnotes for each story provide tale-type and motif numbers. Four of the tales have been matched with widely distributed international tale types: “Precepts Bought or Given Correct” (AT 910), “Four Skillful Brothers” (AT 653), “The Clever Peasant Girl” (AT 875), and “Chain of Accidents” (AT 2042). Professional storytellers who know ”The Old Woman and Her Pig” will enjoy “The Old Woman’s Clothes” (AT 2042, “Chain of Accidents”). Indian Folktales from Mauritius is most interesting when read as an ethnographer’s notebook. Here are the raw materials, the transcripts and translations, from which Haring has created detailed and elegant studies in some of his other published essays. All of the stories have been edited to retain the storytellers’ oral styles, including repetitions, self-corrected mistakes, and occasional questions, corrections, and comments by Auleear, Haring, and other listeners.

Auleear’s neighbors are important narrators in the project. Four of the stories in the collection are told by Issa Tupsy, and two are told by a woman who is identified only as Leela. Tupsy participated in one of the recording sessions with Leela, making his own comments about the story from time to time. In “The King and the Minister,” the first story of the collection, the editors included conversation about storytelling “in the old days.” When the storyteller announced that the story was over, his colleague chided him: “There’s more. Tell it, you rascal.” The volume also preserves brilliant bursts of poetic language such as, “Night fell, dark night, a deep night, nothing but thick darkness, where the snake lived,” spoken by Leela in “Swallowing Monster.” These marks of the storytellers’ art are rarely found in folktale collections.

That rough, oral style for all of its charms, also makes for tough reading at times, especially when pronouns— undoubtedly made clear by tone of voice or gesture in performance— cause confusion in the text. The book is uneven in other ways, especially failing to provide enough information about the narrators. Why is the storyteller Leela not identified by her full name, when her name is given in Haring’s other published works? Could we not learn more about the storytellers and the circumstances of the recordings? In spite of these shortcomings, Indian Folktales from Mauritius points toward a possible future of folktale collections, assembled both for the local community and outsiders, providing stories of value for entertainment as much as for research, told in a language that is accessible and as close to the verbal performance as possible.

—Lee-Ellen Marvin,
Ithaca College


This feature appeared in Voices Vol. 33, Fall-Winter 2007. Voices is the membership magazine of the New York Folklore Society. To become a subscriber, join the New York Folklore Society today.

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