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Reviewed by:
  • Homo narrans: Studien zur populären Erzählkultur
  • Jack Zipes (bio)
Homo narrans: Studien zur populären Erzählkultur. Edited by Christoph Schmitt. Waxmann: Münster, 1999. 431 pp.

Though I am always suspicious of the quality of a Festschrift because the contributions tend to be very uneven and sometimes flimsy, this volume dedicated to Siegfried Neumann, one of the leading folklorists of the former German Democratic Republic, is truly outstanding and makes an important contribution to the study of the interaction between oral and literary traditions and their relationship to contemporary popular culture. Christoph Schmitt has gathered together twenty-three of the best scholars in the field from Germany and the US and has divided their essays into four parts: (1) Tellers, Collectors, Interpreters: Ways of Folklore Narrative Research; (2) Old Materials—Modern Themes: Folk Prose in Historical Context; (3) Media Transformations of Popular Narrative Materials—Storytelling in the Mass Media; (4) Transmission in the Region: The Culture of Narrative, Speech, and Song in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Since many of the contributions have a limited focus, connected to Neumann's research in the region of Mecklenburg and Pomerania, and may not be directly [End Page 123] pertinent to the work of readers of this journal, I shall primarily discuss the more general and accessible essays that offer new perspectives in the field of folklore and fairy-tale research.

By far the most relevant essay in the first part is Ines Köhler-Zülch's "Der Diskurs über den Ton. Zur Präsentation von Märchen und Sagen in Sammlun-gen des 19. Jahrhunderts," which may serve to correct John Ellis's misleading speculations in his book, One Story Too Many, about the Brothers Grimm and folklore scholarship in Germany. Köhler-Zülch's thorough and careful research demonstrates that the Brothers Grimm, along with their compatriots, were fully aware of the difficulties in writing down and recording folktales and legends in keeping with the oral tradition. Their concept of a "faithful" and "true" rendition of a narrative had little to do with correct and literal representation but more to do with recapturing the "tone" of the story while remaining faithful to the contents. In the initial phase of establishing the field of folklore in Germany, scholars and collectors developed a discourse about "authentic" and "true" tales through correspondence and publications concerning standards of recording and editing tales that lasted throughout the nineteenth century. Köhler-Zülch analyzes the works of Johann Carl Christoph Nachtigal, Johann Gustav Büsching, Albert Ludwig Grimm, Heinrich Pröhle, and Ignaz and Joseph Zingerle among others to show how they all sought to cultivate a folk tone while editing the tales they recorded. In this regard, they became artists themselves, storytellers, who did not hide the fact that they were not concerned so much with publishing authentic texts but with re-creating texts that had an "authentic ring" to them. Of course, there was a danger in idealizing the German folk and creating a false if not mythic image of the way the folk told tales. One of the dangers of focusing too much attention on "pure" folk tones and tales is discussed in Kai Detlev Sievers's "Völkische Märcheninterpretationen. Zu Joachim Kurd Niedlichs Mythen- und Märchendeutungen," in which he examines the rise of Aryan ideology within folk collections, paying specific attention to the work of Johann Kurd Niedlich (1884-1928). More general and less ideological is Leander Petzoldt's "Zur Geschichte der Erzählforschung in Österreich," which provides a succinct and informative history of the oral tradition in Austria and reveals to what extent this tradition is still alive.

In the second part of the book, which focuses on how traditional topics and themes are adapted and preserved in contemporary culture, Ingo Schneider uses a contemporary index of important legend types in his stimulating essay "Traditionelle Erzählstoffe und Erzählmotive" to show how pervasive traditional motifs and characters are in new legends even when they assume different functions in contemporary societies. Another example of how widespread traditional legends are in contemporary society is discussed by Wilhelm Nicolaisen in his fascinating article "Einbruch und Einbrecher in...


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pp. 123-126
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