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  • The Types of International Folktales: A Classification and Bibliography
  • Lee Haring (bio)
The Types of International Folktales: A Classification and Bibliography. Based on the system of Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson . By Hans-Jörg Uther . FF Communications no. 284. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 2004. Three volumes: 619 pp., 536 pp., 285 pp.

The concept of a "tale type" arises in human experience. When people apply their innate capacity for abstracting to their experience of hearing a story in different words or with different features, they invent a concept of sameness. In folkloristic scholarship, the concept enabled anti-romantic Finnish scholars, beginning in the 1880s, to apply scientific methods, treat every recurrent plot as an entity, and establish to their satisfaction that each tale originated with a single author (monogenesis) and spread from a single point of origin (diffusion). When the American Stith Thompson took up the Finn Antti Aarne's Verzeichnis der Märchentypen (1910) and translated and enlarged it into The Types of the Folktale (1928, 1961), the catalog became indispensable to scholars tracking versions and variants of "The Animal Languages," "The Bremen Town Musicians," "Cinderella," and all the other hundreds of recurrent plots, now labeled and classified. The type concept was a territorial claim for scientific folkloristics: it asserted that the folktale, or märchen, was something existing in the world, and to study it would connect the natural and the human sciences. While the historic-geographic method underwent criticisms, the type concept it engendered survived. Its catalog too was criticized on major grounds which Hans-Jörg Uther succinctly summarizes (1:7–8) as a prelude to his masterly improvement on Aarne and Thompson (AT). Now Uther has brought the catalog up to date. His admirable work, already nicknamed ATU, transforms the folktale catalog into "an effective tool that permits international tale types to be located quickly" (1:8). So it brings in a new era. [End Page 103]

Those who used the predecessor will have no difficulty finding their way around the revision. They will note the contributions made by co-workers Sabine Dinslage, Sigrid Fährmann, and Gudrun Schwibbe and will be grateful for Christine Goldberg's vetting of the translations. They will marvel at the speed with which the team, aided by the resources of the Enzyklopädie des Märchens, have brought forward the project. They will cheer its improvements, beginning with its logical four-part division—animal tales, tales of magic, religious tales, realistic tales—to replace the illogical divisions of AT. Type numbers have been regularized, hence are easier to use. "Irregular" types have been eliminated. Tale descriptions, titles, and interconnections have been rationalized, to the relief of readers who found AT insufficiently informative and too narrow in focus. A typical entry summarizes the tale's general shape, gives facts "about the tale's age, place of origin, the extent of its tradition, or other distinctive features" (13), and lists the most important bibliographical sources; these appear in the excellent appendix. Then, upholding the original historic-geographic hypothesis that each tale must have its own life history, the author shows "the geographic spread of the tale type" by listing the many published catalogs of types and motifs, and also numerous versions supplied from the files of the Enzyklopädie des Märchens. The appendix volume offers, in addition to a bibliography, no fewer than eight lists, among which the "Geographical and Ethnic Terms" and the "Register of Motifs" are especially useful. An impressive supplement to the latter is the Subject Index, which reclassifies all the contents of the first two volumes, somewhat in the manner of the final volume of Thompson's Motif-Index.

The most innovative and auspicious element in ATU is the listing of the interconnections, or "combinations," which are present in very large numbers. Combinations are "links" in the internet sense: they point to other tales from other voices, listed in the catalog's other "rooms." Thus they define performance, or authorship, as the combining of motifs. The consequence of inventorying more data and multiplying the links is that ATU tends to break down the ontological status of "tale type." The larger the number of versions...


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