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  • Story: A Handbook
  • Curtis Ashton
Story: A Handbook. By Jacqueline S. Thursby. Greenwood Folklore Handbooks. (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006. Pp. xi + 184, preface, glossary, bibliography, index.)

As with other titles in the Greenwood Folklore Handbooks series, this ambitious volume is intended as a reference work for “high school students, undergraduates, and general readers” explaining the “story of stories, their elements, and the tellers who share them” (p. ix). Through five chapters, a glossary, and a bibliography (including a list of Web resources), the book connects literary traditions of narrative writing to oral storytelling and performance, by showing commonalities that cut across genres and world culture areas. In the process, we are reminded of “the deep responsibilities we all have within the human family” (p. 156). The strength of the book lies in its ability to help the intended audience consider how the enduring religious myth, the passion play, the casual anecdote, the literary masterpiece, and the Internet fan fiction novel are all structurally similar and all fulfill basic human needs for meaning making. Thursby’s experience as a folklorist, teacher educator, and literature professor give her a strong position from which to make these connections. The book’s weakness lies in its repetitive and somewhat forced organization, in part brought on by the need to fit into the “handbook” mold of other titles in the Greenwood series.

In her preface, Thursby addresses the challenge of condensing both literary conventions and oral traditions into one generally accessible volume by taking the story back to its earliest written records—the point from which literature begins to diverge from oral tradition and a “story of story” (p. 115) can finally begin. From there, her discussion enumerates several functions of the story, from entertainment to sharing information to explaining human origins and destiny. The functional alternates with the historical as Thursby brings the story into the twentieth century by introducing professional storytelling performance as a revival of an ancient form of entertainment.

In chapter 1, Thursby introduces the concept of the story as something fundamental to human civilization, existing even before the invention of writing. She asserts that stories arise from the human capacity to question and seek answers to questions. She then spends some time defining folklore and folkloristics, narrative conventions, storytelling events, and literary composition before coming back to the idea of the story as a vehicle for understanding basic truths that cannot otherwise be explained. She cites early myths from various world religious traditions as examples and includes short profiles of religious belief.

Focusing on definitions and classification schemes, chapter 2 is divided into two parts—on the one hand, stories as entertaining, didactic, or journalistic, and, on the other hand, a long list of oral genres. These oral genres are further enumerated in a second list of “variations,” including some non-narrative verbal genres like proverbs and riddles. The chapter concludes with the Aarne-Thompson tale typology and Propp’s functions as two more examples of classificatory systems for stories. Of particular value are the extended examples of Propp’s functions applied to well-known stories such as “Cinderella” and “Aladdin.” Chapter 3 follows the structure of the previous chapter, but with greater emphasis on texts than on definitions. The second and third chapters are meant to complement one another, with one providing definitions of terms and the other providing examples. Such a division might make more sense in a handbook with a narrower focus—for example, Elizabeth Tucker’s Campus Legends: A Handbook (Greenwood Press, 2005). In many cases in chapter 2, Thursby is reluctant to give a definition without an example, and in chapter 3, she repeats definitions found in the previous chapter and introduces examples of stories that have not been earlier defined.

Chapter 4 showcases Thursby’s knowledge of approaches to narrative scholarship, from literary criticism to social science. She divides the chapter into two parts so that she can focus on two different academic traditions. In the first part, she discusses folklore collection, preservation, analysis, and interpretation. She includes [End Page 246] folklorists whose work in various genres is well known. In the second part, Thursby discusses the revival of storytelling as...


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