- The Greenwood Library of American Folktales
The four volumes of The Greenwood Library of American Folktales, edited by Thomas A. Green, represent an impressive collection of primary texts that would be a strong addition to introductory folklore classes. The tales in these volumes represent a wide range of narrative genres, including jokes, anecdotes, myths, legends, personal experience narratives, family sagas, animal tales, and tall tales. Green provides succinct definitions of these genre terms in the glossary appended to each volume, which will be valuable for general readers and students unfamiliar with folklore’s generic classifications. Although some folklorists might mistrust one or two sentence definitions of nuanced genres such as myth and legend, such short definitions are easily understood and provide basic background information for people new to folk narrative study.
Green collected the folk narratives in his Library from both journals and books. He consulted standard folklore periodicals such as the Journal of American Folklore, Western Folklore, Folklore Record, and Southern Folklore Quarterly, as well as ones from outside of the field, both well known (American Anthropologist) and obscure (Miner’s Journal). Green does not focus exclusively on early sources: tales from more recent journals such as American Speech (which provides a tale first published in 2003) and Language in Society (which provides a tale first published in 2000) have also been included. Green has done the time-consuming work of studying these volumes and choosing the tales that seem to have been printed more or less verbatim, have been well collected (for their time periods), and often included contextual data.
The Library also includes texts chosen from book collections. Many of these collections were published by folklorists or anthropologists, such as classics like Aurelio Espinosa’s The Folklore of Spain in the American Southwest: Traditional Spanish Folk Literature in Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado (University of Oklahoma Press, 1985) and George A. Dorsey’s The Mythology of the Wichita (Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1904). Readers will also find tales from works by current scholars such as African American Folktales: Stories from Black Traditions in the New World by Roger D. Abrahams (Pantheon, 1999) and Hoosier Folk Legends by Ronald L. Baker (Indiana University Press, 1982). [End Page 250]
The work that went into this collection is impressive. Green not only chose important or representative texts, but also provided thoughtful scholarship on the intellectual foundation for these volumes. For example, his choice to arrange the collection by region (as opposed to, for example, the performer’s ethnicity) privileges folklorists’ current interest in place and reflexivity. Green clearly understood that some scholars were likely to disagree with this organizational choice, so it is carefully explained in the general introduction. He makes strong arguments, based both on disciplinary history and current scholarly thought, for a regional division. He explains in volume 1 that “[l]iving in close proximity in a common environment promotes . . . commonalities in the expression of sentiments regarding the shared way of life” (p. xiii). Clearly, a four volume collection of tales requires some organization and, just as clearly, no single organizational scheme could please all readers. Since the United States covers a large geographical area and is populated by highly mobile people from diverse backgrounds (including racial, ethnic, linguistic, and economic ones), no single form of classification was likely to be either obvious or easy to implement.
One challenge of sorting the tales by region is determining where to draw borders. Green divides the United States into nine regions: tales from the Northeast, the Midwest, and the Mid-Atlantic are covered in volume 1; volume 2 focuses on the South and the Caribbean; volume 3 includes narratives from the Southwest, the Plains and Plateau, and the West; and volume 4 covers tales from the Northwest and an appendix of tales from cyberspace. Green’s serious consideration of the question of borders is attested by some unusual choices about which states to include in which region. For example, he includes New York and Pennsylvania...