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Journal of American Folklore 116.460 (2003) 236-237



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Motif, Type and Genre: A Manual for the Compilation of Indices and a Bibliography of Indices and Indexing. By Heda Jason. FF Communications 273. (Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 2000. Pp. 279.)

The role of tale indexes in folklore is vastly different than it was even twenty-five years ago. The ability to use them was a sine qua non for folklorists; in fact, Richard Dorson was able to suggest (and reasonably so) that using the motif-index was, in a practical sense, the definition of what it meant to be a folklorist. Today, the theoretical concerns of folklore have shifted from the philological and historic-geographical, and so the rationale for producing indexes is less clear.

No one is better qualified than Heda Jason to work out a contemporary rationale and suggest standards for compiling folktale indexes. She has compiled nine indexes herself and has been a commentator on indexing practice and genre systems for over thirty years. While she recognizes that their primary purpose is to locate materials, she also describes other scholarly uses for tale indexes. In addition to the usual role they play in tracing diffusion of tales, she suggests ways in which they could prove useful for ethnologists (for example, answering such questions as how closely does a particular corpus of tales correspond to the group being studied?). She also suggests that psychiatrists can use the indexes to determine whether or not a patient's story is an expression of mental illness or so widespread as to be part of the cultural landscape.

The bulk of Jason's book is devoted to setting standards for compiling indexes and providing examples of how to analyze materials. Most of these are common-sense rules, but it is good for folklorists to have these details spelled out since so much has been taken for granted as "tradition" when compiling indexes. The master, Stith Thompson, himself was notoriously slack in committing his principles to paper and often made bibliographic errors. (See Lowell Edmunds' blow-by-blow account of using the type index, in The Sphinx in the Oedipus Legend, Beiträge zur klassischen Philologie 127, Hain, 1981:58-71.) Many may quibble with some of Jason's suggestions or lacunae (for example, which standards for transliteration should be used?), but most people will find her standards appropriate. The book will serve as a good place for discussions on standards, and it will certainly be a boon to students annotating tales in classes.

The bibliographic portion of the book is devoted to the indexes themselves and commentary upon them. The entries are indexed by author, language, age of material, and so on. It would have been helpful for many users if Jason had included translations of entries (including her own of Andreev) when these had been published.

Other theoretical concerns are laid out by Lee Haring in his review of this book (FF Network for the Folklore Fellows, no. 21 [March 2001]:20-22). He rightly points out Jason's confusion about genres as analytical constructs, and more troubling, her naiveté about the political [End Page 236] ramifications of any contemporary work in folklore.

Jason "cordially" asks readers to send her additional information on indexes they come across. In an effort to be a good citizen of the scholarly community, here are some additions I would make of titles available before Jason's 1992 cutoff date. I am baffled by the absence of a few of them since they are widely available and fit Jason's criteria for inclusion. I have many more additions but space here does not allow for them. I offer these to point out that of bibliography making there is no end, no matter how specific the topic. See Margaret Read MacDonald, The Storyteller's Sourcebook: An Index to Folklore Collections for Children, Neal Schuman Publishers, in association with Gale Research, 1982, and Edward J. Neugaard, "The Rondayes de Mallorca of the Archduke Salvatore: An Index of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1535-1882
Print ISSN
0021-8715
Pages
pp. 236-237
Launched on MUSE
2003-05-22
Open Access
No
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