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  • An Anthology of American Folktales and Legends
  • Heather Diamond (bio)
An Anthology of American Folktales and Legends. Edited by Frank de Caro. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2009. 358 pp.

As Frank de Caro, professor emeritus in English at Louisiana State University, states in his preface, he set out "to present authentic, authoritative texts that have been recorded by collectors concerned with ethnographic accuracy" (xv). This comprehensive collection expands the diversity of the American storytelling canon while combining two important narrative genres in a single volume.

This Anthology of American Folktales and Legends differs from recent comprehensive collections in notable ways. While most folklore collections concentrate on either folktales or legends, here they are combined under the same cover. Unlike Tom Green's impressive Greenwood Library of American Folktales (2006), which is organized by American regions, this collection is, for the most part, organized thematically. Finally, and most importantly, unlike Carl Lindahl's American Folktales from the Library of Congress (2004), which focuses on taletellers and orality, this collection is compiled exclusively from pre-published narratives drawn from folklore journals and book-length collections. Written sources date from 1898 to 2004, and while some of the selections originated from field work, others were reprinted from sources such as newspapers and the Federal Writers Project. Consequently, stories vary from careful transcriptions of stories told by master narrators, to literary embellishments, to fragmentary references.

Both geographically and temporally, the scope of the collection redefines its principal frame of American-ness. The story texts in this volume are sequentially numbered and organized into three broad categories-Native American and Hawaiian Narratives, Folktales from a Number of Traditions, and Legends from a Number of Traditions. The book begins with a Native American creation story and ends with a contemporary legend about the non-death of JFK, implying a rough chronology from pre-European contact to the contemporary era. There are 296 tales: 17 Native American and Hawaiian [End Page 399] narratives, 98 folktales, and 181 legends. Folktales are presented under fifteen thematic headings that adhere to familiar themes such as Animal Tales, Jack and His Fellows, Classic Hero Tales, Tricks and Tricksters, Fools and Mishaps, Riddles and Clever Words, Lies and Other Tall Tales. Subcategories in the legends section are more capricious, moving from themes such as Ghosts and Wraiths, the Devil, Omens and Other Strange Events, Native Americans (legends referred to as "Indian tragedy" stories), Hidden Treasure and Lost Mines, and Horrors to legend subgenres such as Slavery and the Civil War (historical legends), Occupational Legends, Place Names and Other Origins, and "Urban" [sic] Legends. Each subsection throughout the book is introduced with thoughtful commentary discussing the typicality and characteristics of the texts that follow. A source index and tale-type and motif index appear in the supplementary materials.

The preface and introduction to this volume underline many of the challenges inherent in such an ambitious undertaking and anticipate possible critiques. In using sources representing more than a century of narrative collection and collecting texts that in many cases have been filtered and reframed, de Caro notes that "accuracy is a relative thing" given the various intentions and methods of folklore collectors (xv). (Interestingly, he does not say the same about the twin goal of authenticity.) He anticipates charges of inconsistency by explaining that some texts that are fragmentary are still historically significant to an overview of American storytelling and that literary embellishment reveals earlier conventions and aesthetics. Over time, certain collections and collectors have fallen into disrepute, so he is careful to qualify the choice to include texts from Richard Chase alongside those from collectors like Marie Campbell and Vance Randolph whose reputations have remained relatively untarnished. De Caro asserts that none of the stories in this volume are his retellings and that he made changes only where he deemed necessary for readability, such as in standardizing archaic dialectical language. Readers would have to locate original publications to ascertain how and where these changes were made. The explanations of debates, such as the representation of dialect in transcription, and detailed definitions of genres, tale types, and motifs suggest that this collection was intended to be accessible to a general audience...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1536-1802
Print ISSN
1521-4281
Pages
pp. 399-402
Launched on MUSE
2010-01-06
Open Access
No
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