- Bloodstoppers & Bearwalkers: Folk Traditions of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula by Richard M. Dorson
It is unquestionably a felicitous occasion when a new edition of a folklore classic appears in print, and this one is more felicitous than most. The product of a five-month research trip into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in 1946, Bloodstoppers & Bearwalkers is perhaps the most significant book in a career characterized by significant books. As Jan Brunvand writes in his 1982 obituary for Richard M. Dorson, it was a “watershed work” in the young scholar’s career. It completed his transformation from a historian interested in folklore to a “full-time professional folklorist” (Journal of American Folklore 95:347–53). But more broadly speaking, it is no less a watershed work for the field of folkloristics as a whole. Along with a scant handful of other books—along, perhaps, with Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men and John Millington Synge’s The Aran Islands—it sketches a set of contours for folkloristic ethnography that have been reflected, directly or indirectly, in subsequent classics of that genre.
James P. Leary’s new edition is valuable, in no small part, for the degree to which it illuminates the logic of the book’s creation. Unlike Dorson’s 1972 second edition of Bloodstoppers & Bearwalkers, which added only a brief, three-page preface to the then twenty-year-old text, this third edition adds a wealth of new information about Dorson’s activities in the field. Leary has written an extended introduction to the volume that includes a detailed history of the book’s genesis, and a discussion of its inconsistencies. He writes about the history of folklore-collecting in the region, discrepancies between Dorson’s notes and the final text, and the role of Ariane de Félice, whom Dorson describes as an assistant, but who was in fact “in the midst of her own fieldwork, conducted under the auspices of Le Musée National des Arts et Traditions Populaires” (p. xv). And perhaps more notably, Leary has appended more than sixty pages of additional materials collected by Dorson in Upper Michigan and either never previously published, or published in other sources, many of which are now obscure. These include personal histories, stories in dialect, and “sometimes scatological, anticlerical, peasant-cum-working-class tales” that would have been considered too explicit for the monograph form at the time (pp. 300–1). Their inclusion here enhances the impression of the richness of Upper Peninsula traditions, which Dorson himself worked to convey. They serve to further contextualize the book as a document relevant to the history of Folklore.
Leary’s expanded release, however, may be most noteworthy for its timeliness—for the degree to which it is relevant to current debates over the role of theory in the discipline. Blood-stoppers & Bearwalkers is not generally known for its nuanced theoretical underpinnings. The book’s most striking feature, as Richard Bauman so aptly points out in his review of the second edition, is its sense of “high excitement”—the adventurer’s spirit with which Dorson recounts marching out into the wilds, and the candid wonderment that he expresses at the folklore, and the folk, that he finds there (Journal of American Folklore 86:194–5, 1973). Dorson is quick to gush that the Native Americans that he encounters “are the very Ojibwa from whom the great Schoolcraft had first gathered American Indian tales.” And he is quick to laud the “dozen [European] nationalities” that “jostle each other in every town and provide a dazzling conglomeration of imported folkstuff ” [End Page 92] (p. 2). That “Columbus-like” sense of discovery, writes James Leary, is not quite justified given that Dorson was not in fact “the first folklorist to discover the cultural richness of Michigan’s northern realm” (pp. xii, xiv). But given the exhilaration with which he narrates how he “chased after storytellers and ran into strange experiences and...