- Storytelling: An Encyclopedia of Mythology and Folklore by Josepha Sherman
Writers are commonly asked “Where do you get your ideas?” The honest answer—“I think of them”—is neither complete nor satisfying. One can never answer thoroughly because no two stories arise from the same source. Though storytellers, here considered primarily those who tell their tales orally, less frequently field this question, the study of creativity has a place in folkloristics. Storytelling: An Encyclopedia of Mythology and Folklore is, more or less, a book of ideas. It has three substantial parts: an introduction, an alphabetical listing of entries, and a selection of retellings of some stories mentioned throughout. Following the retellings are a list of storytelling festivals and courses at colleges and universities, a bibliography, and an index.
The introduction sets out a series of items to consider when becoming a storyteller. It addresses various kinds of stories, how to select which ones to tell, and methods of performance, among other topics. From this portion of the text, it is tempting to characterize the encyclopedia’s intended audience as aspiring storytellers, but that is never quite clear. The format, a three-volume hardcover encyclopedia, might require a prohibitive cost. The preface declares, “Taken as a whole, you will find this three-volume reference set to be a most definitive and fascinating study of the wide world of storytelling” (p. xv). Libraries, certainly, will be where this book finds its home, and as a reference title, it probably will not circulate to be read comprehensively or repeatedly. Which is, of course, not what an encyclopedia is designed for in the first place, but it might be what an aspiring storyteller needs.
Neither is the book for a scholar, who would find its lack of rigor troublesome. For instance, the categorization proves inconsistent: “All stories can be organized roughly into four genres: true stories, folklore, fiction and literature, and fairy tales” (p. xix)—genres that are disquieting to the folklorist, to say the least. Is no folklore true, then? And how are the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen not literature?
The second section, which is the traditional alphabetic listing of topics, does contain a large amount of useful information. There are cross-references, including references to relevant retellings in section 3, and short source listings. Section 3 is composed of stories, mostly retold. Each tale includes a brief paragraph that gives some context and occasionally a specific source, but more often only includes a reference to the part of the world where the story can be found. Some tales, such as Frank R. Stockton’s “The Lady or the Tiger,” are reprinted in full, but most are tersely summarized. For example, the massive Kalevala receives approximately two pages under the title “Väinämöinen: A Finnish Hero Tale.”
Space in Storytelling is not necessarily used to its optimum. The same index of all three volumes is repeated at the end of each. And the distribution of entries is curiously lopsided. Eight entries cover specific writers, and a few others deal with collectors and scholars. These writers are important (Homer, Chaucer, etc.), but we must wonder why these in particular were chosen. To include the Brothers Grimm seems logical, but why J. R. R. Tolkien and not J. K. Rowling? Why Straparola but not Hans Christian Andersen?
Furthermore, does the student need separate entries on King Priam, Hector, Achilles, Homer, Iliad, Trojan War, and the Little Iliad? The excessive attention given to the Fall of Troy (and to epics in general) is perplexing when considering that such prominent stories as “Cinderella” and “Little Red Riding Hood” receive mention only by title in relation to the Brothers Grimm or Charles Perrault, and The Thousand and One Nights receives no entry of its own (though Scheherazade does). The Fall of Troy is certainly an important story, for many more reasons than [End Page 100] those presented, but when entire modes of storytelling receive little space, it seems excessive to devote so many entries to the...