TRADITION AND INNOVATION IN FOLK NARRATIVE
Sudi Hope Stodola
BA, University of Colorado at Denver, 1997
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
This thesis for the Master of Arts degree by
Sudi Hope Stodola
has been approved
Richard Van De Weghe
Stodola, Sudi Hope (MA, English)
Tradition and Innovation in Folk Narrative
Thesis directed by Professor Nancy Ciccone
Folklore is a genre which holds an innate flexibility for the composition
instructor in that it encourages critical thinking skills, reaches the multiple
intelligences and holds a transdisciplinary appeal. Folklore has been
incorporated into freshman composition classes with success, and an
advanced composition course with a specific focus on the exploration,
discussion, and recreation of folk narrative would help to further develop
critical thinking skills by encouraging creativity, risk-taking, and
independence on the part of both the students and the instructor.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis.
I recommend its publication.
I dedicate this thesis to my husband Jeremy and my two wonderful
daughters who made themselves an active part of the creation of this
work. Though school may sometimes seem to consume my life, you are
my soul and my reason for living.
My thanks to Nancy for accepting my chaos into her life and helping me
untangle the knot. Without her kind words and gentle guidance this paper
may never have emerged from the labyrinth to stand, blinking, in the
blinding brightness of the sun, but rather become yet another pile of
scattered debris in the dusty archives of my life.
1. FROM HOME TO SCHOOL..........................................1
From Parlor to Nursery.....................................6
Lessons in the Livingroom..................................8
The First Day of School...................................12
2. DEFINING THE UNDEFINABLE....................................16
Genre Distinction, Purpose, and Culture...................25
3. FOLKLORE IN THE CLASSROOM...................................32
Familiarity and Commonplace...............................39
From Spectator to Participant.............................41
Addressing the Multiple Intelligences......................43
Contextuality and Critical thinking........................46
4. FOLKLORE AND 4190............................................49
5. 4190 AND THE FUTURE..........................................60
A. SAMPLE PAPER TOPICS...................................64
B. A SAMPLE READING LIST.................................65
Focus: Retelling the tale............................65
Focus: Critique from Fields of Study and Perspective.66
FROM HOME TO SCHOOL
As a writer, I have found that I am most successful when I am
working in a genre that I am familiar with, not only from having read a
number of examples from the genre, but also from reading critique and
discussion of the purpose and function of that style of writing. When I
understand the heuristics of the structure as well as my own purpose, my
creations are effective and enjoyable to read. As a composition
instructor, I have found the same to be true for my students. Their writing
is smoother, their critical analysis is stronger, and their investment is
more apparent when they have an in-depth understanding of the style of
writing we are attempting. Its not enough to simply hand them examples
to read; they must understand why the format and structure must be
followed. Only then do they understand how to fit their own purpose and
function within the heuristics of the assignment.
In my explanations, I have found that by drawing an analogy between
the new format and a style they are already familiar with, we are able to move
forward more smoothly. Because folk and fairy tales permeate our everyday
lives at all levels, I have used them as a foundation in my classroom with great
success. Because of their familiarity with the genre, students feel that they
have something valuable to add to discussion and I have found that when
students feel they have something important to say based on their own
experience they feel more invested in their work. By using folk tales in
classroom discussions as well as creating writing assignments which
incorporate a folkloric element, I have watched with awe as my students have
become invested and interested in their topics, and have even claimed to have
fun writing research papers.
The motto in my classroom is Question Everything. In academic
terms, this might translate to the phrase defamiliarize the familiar.
Folklore offers a myriad of opportunities to do so as we often discover
with amazement that though we take it for granted, we know nothing
about this genre which touches our lives in many ways every day. In
order to be able to discuss the use of folk tales in the classroom, It is
important to understand why they have become an intrinsic part of my
freshman composition class and how I feel it would benefit students to
have a class which focuses primarily on folk tales in an advanced
composition setting as well.
I picked up a copy of Grimms Fairy Tales at the bookstore the other day and started
reading through them again. I dont think I want to read those things to my baby at night.
Theyre pretty scary!
--Stephanie M, mother of 18-month-old Hunter
One does not expect academic discussions in preschool parenting
meetings. Generally the topics at hand are handling diaper rash and
proper techniques for burping. However, Stephanies comment touched a
nerve with me. While I initially agreed with Stephanie that the Grimm fairy
tales might not be appropriate for young ears, I wavered between
condemnation of the Grimms for their tales or praise for their
preservation of tradition. While not the first and certainly not the only
collection of tales to be compiled, the anthology of the Grimm brothers is
the version which seems to garner the most attention.
Though many modern authors skim over the violence in the more
popular tales, or avoid the more gory ones altogether, nearly every re-
telling of a popular folk or fairy tale refers back in some way to the Grimm
brothers, listing them as the original authors of the tale. Their anthology
is considered by many to be the original and correct version of the
popular folk tales many of us have grown up with. Why? With their
frightening, violent, misogynist overtones, why do we still bow
deferentially to the Grimm brothers over a hundred years after the
conception of their VolksmSrchen?
In Jack Zipes translation of the Grimms anthology, he discusses
their approach to collecting and recording folk and fairy tales, asserting
that the purpose the brothers had in mind was to remain true to the oral
tradition while "incorporating stylistic, formal, and substantial thematic
changes to appeal to the growing middle class audience (Complete
Fairy Tales, p. xxvi). By recording in print the gossip and stories of the
commonfolk, the tales were transformed from their original telling through
the filters of memory, background, and purpose. The Grimm brothers
had a middle-class, college-educated, Calvinist background. They didn't
go out into the fields and villages to hear the tales being told during the
harvest, they invited storytellers to their homes to entertain them with
their variations of the tale which they then recorded themselves, writing
from memory (Complete Tales iv). However, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
recognized these factors and attempted to stay as close to the original
tale as possible even as they drastically changed the medium of the
tales transmission. This ideal type has become the template for written
retellings of folk tales for over a hundred years.
The original folk narratives were orally transmitted; they were told
in the fields, around the hearth, and in the kitchens. They belonged to the
illiterate commonfolk, and embodied strict lessons about cultural norms
and social customs. They focused on plausible heroes, personal
empowerment and adult themes, and their purpose was to entertain, to
educate, and to pass time (Tatar, Jordan, Zipes, Dundes, Brunvand).
However, when the medium of transmission shifted, so did the audience.
When folk tales moved from oral to literary transmission, they were taken
from the rough hands of the peasants, cleaned up, softened, and made
proper so as to be presentable to their new middle class audience.
Scatological references were removed, sexual overtones were softened,
and violence was made more dreamlike and less gory (Tatar, Zipes).
With these overt changes taking place, the attempt of the Grimm brothers
to stay true to the original version was an important consideration, for
once folk narratives were recorded, fixed within their pages, and made
appropriate for the tender ears of the elite, their purpose was drastically
removed from that of the original tales.
In their original form folk narratives contained adult themes and
had a serious purpose. In Off With Their Heads, Maria Tatar asserts that
Red Riding Hood...started out as a ribald story" (3). Indeed, the Perrault
version of this tale, in which our heroine performs a strip tease, burns her
clothing, and climbs into bed with the wolf offers itself for extension and
addition of seductive detail. Tatar claims that an extended version of this
tale could be used to pass away long tedious hour of work in the fields
and kitchen. In contrast, the version in Grimms focuses on death and
dismemberment, with the wolf eating Red and her granny and being
sliced open, filled with rocks, and drowned at the end. Its easy to see
how mothers like Stephanie would hesitate to read such a story to her
child just before leaving him alone in his room in the dark! The obvious
answer, of course, that these tales were never originally intended for
young ears. However, they still hold value for adultsthey represent a
culture long past, and lessons which are still important today.
From Parlor to Nursery
Though the original folk tales were primarily adult entertainment,
with their appropriation by the middle class, they did not remain in the
parlor, but were soon recorded in chapbooks, illustrated, and brought into
the nurseries where the magical qualities of these tales captured the
imaginations of the children (Anne Jordan, Maria Tatar). With the new
change in audience, many authors felt the need to exaggerate the
lessons for children to make sure they understood the moral inherent
within the tale; many authors chose to use scare tactics, intensifying the
violence to drive home important moral lessons (Off with their heads). A
number of the tales from this time were written with the intent to
intimidate children into obeisance with parents demands by making
examples of the child protagonist, usually by killing them or ending with
them on the deathbed, regretful of their improper actions (Off with Their
Heads). However, even then there were parents such as Stephanie who
were concerned by the violent overtones and chose to revise the popular
folk tales for children. In her article, Once upon a Time, Anne Jordan
asserts that many parents concerns over folk tales in the 18th century
was that they were thought frivolous and reflective of primitive
superstitions and heathen ideas. (18) Ludwig Bechstein was an author
who sought to spiritualize the folk tales replacing violence with
moralistic endings. In his version of Snow White, the evil queens death is
due to the worm of envy which eats away at her heart rather than the
red-hot iron shoes (Cerf 2).
As we moved into the 20th century, parents concerns focused
primarily on the elimination of violence and most modern versions have
gentler endings. Cinderellas sisters escape having their eyes pecked
out, Red Riding Hood escapes being eaten by the wolf, and in most
cases, everybody lives happily ever after. These are the versions that
help parents like Stephanie to breathe more easily as they open the
books at bedtime. While this smoothing over of violent themes seems to
appeal to 20th century parents, we must keep in mind the value of the
original tales as well.
Lessons in the Living Room
Though criticized for their violence, vulgarity, and misogynist
overtones, the folk tales originally collected, compiled, and recorded over
a century ago by the Grimm Brothers still exist because they have an
important function for us today. They are a representation of the culture
and perspectives from that time. Even more, they are a representation of
the value system held by the person who thought it important enough to
record them. Many have improvised on the themes; though they are
written down, there exist hundreds of versions of each tale and each
interpretation represents the perspective of each author.
When discussing Grimms tales, Stephanie and I had made the
mistake of thinking that because it was written down, there could be a
correct version of a folk tale. Even though it may be in print, any version
of a tale is just that: a version. Written word is not an edict, it is a
recorded perspective and there is no single, official, correct version of
any tale. And so, while I agree that Grimms fairy tales are too violent to
read to my four-year-old daughter, they arent the only ones out there.
We have choices, and while simply reading a different version is a step in
the right direction, even more important is the recognition of the value of
the original transmission format.
As readers, writers, and storytellers we have numerous choices.
The most important choice we can make is to return to the original
transmission format: familiarizing ourselves with a number of versions so
that we may create a version which is true to the genre, one which is
spontaneous and reflects our own cultural bias. In his book, The Uses of
Enchantment, Bruno Bettelheim asserts that to attain to the full its
consoling properties, its symbolic meanings, and, most of all, its
interpersonal meanings, a fairy tale should be told rather than read,
(emphasis mine). Many is the time that I prefer to turn the lights out and
half-whisper the stories of my childhood to my daughter from memory,
rather than holding up a picture book for her to see and fit her imaginings
to. These spontaneous creations are often her favorites. She becomes a
participant in the story, and develops a sense of investment in the
process of creation.
In an attempt to celebrate the mutability of the folktale, I tried
making flashcards for the children to draw from to choose their own
characters to fit into the story. They liked it; Kaitlyn and I created a story
where Cinderella flew to the circus on the back of a flying elephant
wearing her favorite pair of overalls and met her best friend at the
rollercoaster. But my soaring dreams were dashed the next night when
she pushed the cards back at me saying, No, Momma. I want the real
Cinderella story tonight. So now the original Grimms Fairy Tales sits on
my bookshelf alongside Barbara Walkers Feminist Fairy Tales, Jack
Zipes Dont bet on the Prince, and James Garners Politically Correct
I read with shivering delight the versions told by Tanith Lee, Neil
Gaiman, and Gahan Wilson and I sit in my childs bedroom at night,
reading alternative tales such as The Paper Bag Princess by Robert
Munsch, Princess Smartypants by Babbette Cole, and The Stinky
Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka. In the car
during our daily commute, I tell her my own versions of the same tales.
Though I still hear Mom, thats not how it goes! when I change
important details, we understand that there are different voices, different
lessons, and different choices we can make every time we tell each tale.
In my own quest to revise the folk tales of my childhood I came
full circle. One cannot write a new folktale intending to replace what has
come before; the very act of attempting to replace rather than to coexist
with previous folk tales is oppositional to the genre itself. Folklore is
defined by culture, and culture changes, thus folklore must change as
well. One cannot participate in the creation of folk tales or in any genre
without understanding the transformations which take place, why they
occur, and what purpose they serve. To be a successful writer in any
genre, one must understand how it is shaped by factors such as purpose,
audience, and the author. This was an important lesson for me at home-
one which I carried with me into my classroom.
The First Day of School
As a young Graduate student entering the field of composition, I
thought back to my own Freshman composition courses and realized that
I remembered nothing about them. As I moved closer to my first day in
front of the class rather than behind the desk, I grew more apprehensive.
I wanted to be remembered by my students. I wanted to make an impact.
My goal was to create a group of strong writers with strong critical
thinking skills. I wanted my students to understand that even academic
writing can be an enjoyable venture when youre invested in the
outcome. I wanted to shift their perceptions of themselves from readers
to writers, from students to scholars, from spectators to participants in the
academic discussions surrounding them in their new world.
As I approached my first day in front of the chalkboard rather than
behind the desk, I wanted to create a community within my classroom
strong enough to encourage risk-taking and active discussion. I wanted
to inspire a confident and introspective attitude in each student about his
or her writing ability. I felt that by immersing the students in a genre they
were already familiar with, such as folklore, I could lay a foundation for
crossover discussion, moving from plot-character-action components to
focus-subject- verb as Joseph Williams does in his book Style. By
starting out with folklore, I felt we would be able to establish a familiarity
with one another which stemmed from the universality of our childhood.
Armed with the knowledge that over 700 versions of Cinderella exist
worldwide, I marched into the classroom, ready to build bridges.
Using Folk tales to bolster my teaching turned out to be a more
effective approach than I had anticipated. Not only did they create a
strong foundation for discussion of commonality, but they proved an
effective segue into a discussion of academic writing as a genre with
specific components necessary for successful re-creation. We returned
to our discussion of folk tales many times throughout the semester to
discuss voice, audience, perspective, purpose, and cultural warrants.
By using folk tales in freshman composition courses, I have found
an effective way to provide a strong foundation and reference point from
the very first day. I establish a strong genre crossover in my discussion of
key elements needed for recreation of the genre. I use folkloric writing
assignments in my Research writing class such as the ethnographic
research paper, which involves recognition and speculation about cultural
and societal norms based on the students own observations in the field.
Ethnographic research is folklore study. I also use assignments which
come from the folklore section of Behrens and Rosens Writing Across
the Curriculum. I enjoy being a part of the process my students go
through as they begin to discover behaviors that they have long taken for
granted. I read along excitedly as they start to understand that these
actions and behavioral norms might be constructed rather than natural,
externally enforced rather than innate, and open to manipulation rather
than fixed. I encourage them to manipulate some factor of the
environment and to report on the reactions of the other participants. My
students find this an exhilarating experience. They often express a sense
of power as they move from recognition to understanding and
manipulation of a newly discovered cultural phenomenon. I feel that this
type of hands-on research has not only increased the interest and
investment of my students in their own writing, but it has also helped
them to examine the world around them more critically.
Based on the value that folkloric research has held for me within
the freshman composition class, it is my belief that an advanced writing
class with a focus on folk narrative would prove highly successful in
fostering skills that are necessary to become an effective writer. The
narrower focus would enable more in-depth analysis of the swinging door
of influence that exists between literature and culture. Examination of the
transformation of folk tales through their usurpation by the literate middle
class and how they have been transformed as cultural norms have
evolved would encourage interest on the part of the students. Folk
narrative is a genre with which we are already familiar, and the
defamiliarization of the stories we take for granted would not only
encourage interest and foster critical thinking skills, but it also serves as
a powerful instructional tool for the instructor.
Because the genre of folk narrative reaches each of the multiple
intelligences and can be used to foster critical thinking skills, an
advanced composition class which focuses on the study, re-creation, and
presentation of folk tales would foster community, participation, risk-
taking and creativity through contextual discussions and immersion within
the genre. An advanced composition course which immerses students in
the genre of folk narrative would improve their writing and critical
thinking skills while opening their eyes to the role folklore plays in our
lives every day.
DEFINING THE UNDEFINABLE
Folklore is a difficult term to define. William Clements comments
that, like history the term folklore...refers both to an academic
discipline and to the cultural materials examined by that discipline (3).
Indeed, to lessen confusion, some have adopted the term folkloristics to
denote the field of study itself, to the chagrin of traditionalist scholars
such as Alan Dundes (Bottigheimer 264). Despite the argument for such
minute distinctions, folklorists recognize and accept that there is no
specific, concrete definition of folklore. Entire articles have been devoted
strictly to definition of the term itself; in nearly every introduction to
folklore text there is at least one chapter devoted to what folklore is and
is not. Indeed, the Funk & Wagnall Standard Dictionary of Folklore,
Mythology, and Legend lists more than a dozen brief descriptions by
scholars in the field, the shortest of which is two paragraphs (Leach 255-
It is important to be able to distinguish folk narrative if one is going
to use it as a basis for a sixteen week class. Some believe that folk tales
and fairy tales are the same thing, others believe that the definition of folk
narrative is far more specific than the list of criteria I offer here. I choose
to offer a list of possible guidelines and to show how a specific example
fits those criteria rather than to attempt to create a firm definition. I
believe that the flexibility is the most important characteristic of folklore
and so I choose to discuss the guidelines for recognition in order to
demonstrate that flexibility.
The area of folklore which I will be concentrating on within this
paper is that of narrative as opposed to other genre forms such as
artifact-making, epics, and manifestations of folk culture such as
costume, dance, and ritual. For the purposes of this paper, the focus will
be on children's tales, or marchen. Though strict definition of folk
narrative is difficult, there are identifiable criteria for the evaluation of
whether or not a narrative may qualify as folklore. The most universally
agreed upon criteria for the recognition and categorization of folk
narrative are its oral nature, pervasiveness and non-institutionalized
transmission. These criteria are essential; they also overlap heavily.
Folk Narrative can also be identified by components within the
tales themselves; Most easily recognized is its formulaic quality as
exemplified by Vladimir Propps examination of the functions within
Russian epic folk tales. Alan Dundes believes that the original oral
nature of folklore survives through identifiable differences between
versions and Axel Olrik presents the Epic Laws of Folk Narrative which
includes the rule of Three while Jack Zipes insists that in order to
qualify as folk narrative, a tale must reflect the norms and customs of the
culture in which it was created and passed along.
In his 1965 book, The Concept of Folklore, Latin American
Folklorist Paulo de Carvalho-Neto stresses that folklore must meet the
criteria of being "anonymous and noninstitutionalized" (36). Todays
written folk tales can be considered to meet the criterion of anonymity in
that there are many different versions of the tales. Though there exist
different authors to whom we can attribute specific editions, there is no
single authoritative version to which we may refer, no person to whom we
can attribute the tale itself. Alan Dundes offers a concrete example of
how written folk narratives prove to be anonymous in origin despite their
fixed nature; his assertion is that variation within different versions of the
same tale constitutes proof of orality. In his book Holy Writ as Oral Lit,
Dundes presents an extensive study of the bible wherein he compares
differences between versions of specific tales, such as the creation myth
and the flood myth. He presents variations in number, name, and
sequence from different books of the bible, using these variances to
support his argument that the literary version is a compilation of prevalent
folk tales from pre-literate times.
While Dundes book focuses on the bible, these variances apply to
marchen as well. For example, Red Riding Hoods basket holds different
contents in different versions and some authors dont pay attention to the
contents of the basket at all. Susan Ohanian uses these differences to
enforce critical thinking skills in her classroom. In her three-part series,
The Choices Authors Make, Ohanions students examine the
differences between different versions of Red Riding Hood as a means to
better understand how the assumptions and background of the author
can affect how a tale is (re)told. Examination and discussion of these
variances enables recognition of the original anonymity and orality of the
The oral nature of the genre is the basis for its universality as well
as offering an understanding of how non-institutionalized transmission
comes into play. In Folkloristics: an Introduction, Georges & Owen
discuss the idea of pervasiveness:
We learn most of the stories we tell and the games we play not in
the classroom or through print or other media, but rather informally
and directly from each other. With time and repetition, some
examples of human expression have become pervasive and
commonplace. When they do, we conceive them to be traditions
or traditional, and we can identify them individually or collectively
as folklore (38).
Through recognition of the myriad of ways in which folklore seeps into
our everyday experiences, we not only understand the prevalence of folk
narrative, but we understand what non-institutionalized transmission
means. We experience folklore in songs, games, riddles, limericks and
jokes. Allusions to popular folk tales can be found in cartoons,
commercials, music, and movies and we find references to it on
billboards, TV, and computer screens.
This familiarity lays the foundation for class discussions meant to
promote a sense of community as well as enforcing the mutability of the
genre. Folkloric transmission takes the form of ballads, short stories,
novels, poetry, and visual transmissions such as paintings, photographs,
and movies. We allude to the motifs found in folk narratives every day,
which makes this genre an excellent one for an advanced composition
class. Because of its omnipresence in our daily lives, familiarity with the
genre does not need to be created so much as uncovered.
De Carvalho-Neto claims that "the objective of Folklore is to
discover the rules governing the formation, organization, and
metamorphosis of cultural acts for the benefit of mankind(57).
Uncovering these rules" is the basis of folklore scholarship as well as
thinking critically about the world we live in. Through examination of our
archetypal characters in the folk narrative, we learn about the dynamics
of the time in which the tale was recorded. By comparing those past
versions to more modern ones, we are able to see the cultural evolution
that has taken place. When we are able to understand and accept the
dynamics of how we shape (and are shaped by) our literature, we can
begin to learn from it, a sentiment echoed by Zipes in his discussion of
contextuality, Dundes in his study of the transformation of oral literature
into religious edict, and Maria Tatar in her examination of portrayal of
women within written folk narrative.
The formulaic qualities of folk narrative are easily identified as one
reads different tales. For example, The Grimms version of Cinderella
begins with the wealthy merchant father heading out and asking his three
daughters what gifts they would like. The first two respond with requests
for fine silks and jewels, while Cinderella asks him for a twig, which she
plants on her mothers grave. Perraults Beauty and the Beast begins
with the same function, though it is a rose that Belle requests rather than
a twig. Angela Carter has recorded a version of The Seven Swans in
whose beginning the queen gets a nosebleed and, seeing the red blood
on the white snow, wishes for a daughter as white as snow and as red
as blood (Strange Things 3), the same beginning used in the Grimm
version of Snow White (Complete Tales 196). Little Rosa is an old
Swedish tale which incorporates aspects of Mother Holle, and The
Swan Princess from Germany and France.
These interchangeable components are referred to by Propp as
Functions. They serve as a breakdown of the general actions which
take place in folk narrative, offering a blueprint of sorts as to the actions
which generally take place within the subgenres of folk narrative. Propp
focuses on the Russian Epic tale, but many others have used his
approach to identify functions within other tale-types such as liana Dans
examination of The Innocent Persecuted Heroine" (Patterns in oral
Narrative 13-30), and Claude Bremonds Morphology of the French Fairy
Tale (Patterns 49-76). Heda Jason and Dmitri Segals compilation of
such studies provides a wide variety of further reading on identification of
patterns in folk narrative, discussing surface structure, mathematical
breakdown, as well as critique of other proposed morphological studies.
Other common features help to identify folk narrative such as the
rule of three. In many tales the number three plays a significant role:
there are three sisters, three fairies in disguise, three impossible tasks
to complete, or three attempts to complete the hero(ine)s task. While
other numbers such as thirteen and seven come into play in many tales,
Axel Olrik asserts that three is the most common. He also presents the
Law of Two to a Scene which allows only two characters to interact at
a time. This rule is strict, requiring the third character to be absent or
sleeping before interaction may take place (Epic Laws 135). The Law of
Two is correlated to the Law of Contrast and to the Law of Twins
(Epic Laws 135).
Contrast is a polarization of the characters, while Twinning depicts
them both as the same character type. For example, in Mother Holle, the
main characters are two sisters; one is industrious and kind while the
other is lazy and rude. In Cinderella, there are two stepsisters who
represent the same archetype. Though there are two of them, they are
fairly indistinguishable from one another; in many cases, they are not
even named. There are other instances of twinning which serve merely
to illustrate the magical properties of the children, as with Rapunzels
twins mentioned in passing when they are rediscovered by the prince, or
Sleeping Beautys twins, named Sun and Moon, who are protected from
harm in order to reveal the monstrous qualities of the princes mother.
There are other markers which make folklore easy to identify such
as Harold Brunvands friend of a Friend (FOAF) law when discussing
contemporary folklore such as the urban legend. The actions in the tale
happened to someone the person never spoke to personally, but is
someone at least twice removed, such as her hairstylists cousins baby
sitter. Because there is no specific person to whom the teller can
attribute the actions, it can be assumed that the tale is a folk narrative. In
addition, urban legends are passed along in a noninstitutionalized
manner: orally and via email, though they still sometimes make the news
(Theres this Guy).
Its important to understand the functions and identifying markers
of folk narrative in order to be able to recognize and understand the
genre. By learning to recognize the prevalence and the effects folk
narratives have had on us throughout our lives, we learn to question
stories which we have accepted as truths. Just as in academic writing
when we attempt to identify the warrant being addressed in
argumentation, students learn to be skeptical, to question before
accepting wholeheartedly many stories which are presented as truthful.
Genre Distinction. Purpose, and Culture
There are three cultural levels at which folk narrative is created:
the elite, popular, and common (Henderson 4). The three are interrelated
and many tales exist at each level in different manifestations. It is
important that students understand the differences between these levels
and the pervasiveness of folk narrative within each of them. An example
is the difference between folk tales which occur commonly and fairy
tales which are the elite versions. Though the two genres are often
considered interchangeable, there is an important distinction to be made
between them in order for students to fully understand what folk narrative
is and why it is important to be able to make the distinction between the
The most easily discernible difference lies in the purpose and
focus of the tale. Folk tales deal with the issues that concern the culture
which governs their transmission. They reflect the hopes of the tale
tellers, and they feature believable protagonists who must face many
trials in order to achieve the goal at hand. Perseverance, cleverness, and
kindness play a part in whether things go favorably for the characters or
Fairy tales, on the other hand, serve as diversionary, often utopian
tales with protagonists who are given magical help from an outsider with
a cameo role in the tale. Rather than cleverness and self-empowerment,
domesticity and piousness become favorable traits for the protagonists.
These tales reflect the interests of their middle-class readers rather than
the illiterate storytellers. They may still hold moral lessons intrinsic to the
plot, but the lesson is no longer on ones ability to move beyond current
status. Instead, they serve as an escape from reality. Folk tales focus on
personal struggle and empowerment. They address cultural taboos, and
they hold intrinsic moral truths. Fairy tales entertain.
In Breaking the Magic Spell, Jack Zipes asserts that the fairy tale
represents the beginning of the belittlement of the folk tale as vulgar,
improper, and demonstrative of a lack of morals. Folk tales belonged to
the illiterate general population, and were therefore inferior to the fairy
tales which had been adapted and made proper for the gentler folk (29).
Alan Dundes, Maria Tatar, Max Luthi, Linda Degh, and many others also
address this "bourgeosification.
As an example, let us compare the versions of Cinderella
recorded by Perrault and the Grimm brothers: In the Grimms version,
Ella to plants a twig brought home by her father on her mother's grave.
Three times a day she weeps at her mothers grave, watering the twig
until it grows into a hazel tree which houses a white bird who grants her
wishes. There are three balls on consecutive nights and each night she is
given an impossible task to accomplish before she may leave, all of
which are accomplished through help from animals. She must bathe,
dress herself, and travel to the castle on foot, then she has to race home
to arrive before her sisters and stepmother and hide the dresses which
will also serve as her dowry; this she must do three times rather than
winning the prince over in a single night.
In contrast, Perrault tells of a girl who is little more than a slave
but, on the night of the ball, as she sits weeping in the garden wearing
the tatters of her dress, pieced together from discarded bits of clothing
and accessories from her sisters, a "fairy godmother" intercedes on her
behalf, dressing her in a glittering gown with just a wave of her wand.
She turns six mice, a pumpkin, a dog, and a horse into a beautiful horse-
drawn carriage with footman and driver, and the Prince falls madly in love
with her after just one night. Though she returns home on foot, it is
because she waited too long to leave and the glamour faded, leaving her
once again dressed in rags, sitting by the roadside.
The versions also offer alternate endings which illustrate the
"prettying up" of the tale for bourgeois ears. In the Grimms' version the
sisters mutilate themselves to gain a husband and get their eyes pecked
out for their effort (Complete Tales 92) while Perrault depicts the sisters
throwing themselves at Cinderella's feet begging forgiveness for their ill
treatment of her and receive it because she is so kind and fair (Opie
As we can see, the Grimm version utilizes Dundes rule of three
throughout the plot as well as exhibiting the formulaic nature with the twig
from her father echoing back to Beauty and the Beast (another tale with
French origins) and the motif of the impossible tasks woven into the
story as well. Though there is magical intercedence, it is the protagonists
actions which bring about the circumstances in which the magical help
may thrive, and the magical helper is natural in form i.e. a bird.
Perraults version of the tale is more fantastic in nature, with the
focus being on Ellas drudgery as opposed to her faithfulness to her dead
mother. Her actions are not the focus of the tale, instead it is a magical
uplifting of the protagonist, right to the moment when she places the
glass slipper on her foot and is restored to her ballroom glamour. This is
the tale many of our children are familiar with thanks to Disney. No longer
is Cinderella a young woman with the ability to take her destiny into her
own hands; now our protagonist is helped out by a kindly old fairy singing
The Innocent Persecuted Heroine is certainly a motif to be leery
of, and the popularization of Perraults Cinderella is certainly an example
thereof. However, these are not the only two versions that exist. While
scholars such as Maria Tatar make a very important point about the
inappropriateness of bringing violence into the nursery, and surely stories
about self-mutilation and getting ones eyes pecked out are truly the stuff
of nightmares for small children, one can see why scholars like Zipes feel
that such softening of the tales is a great injustice.
The tale has also been incorporated into popular culture. There
are film variations such as Disneys version, Ever After, and Rogers and
Hammersteins Cinderella, and many argue for the movie Pretty Woman
to be included in this list (Schechter 38). She continues to pique the
imaginations of our children through prevalent use of her image on
clothing, shoes and bedroom decorations. We see miniature versions of
her parading down the street in their Hallowe'en costumes. She smiles to
us from the TV screen, offered for money as a collector's plate, a
figurine, or a collectible doll. There's even a Barbie doll. Cinderella is a
story which bridges all levels of cultural expression.
By bringing these distinctions to the surface for students, the
importance of cultural influence on narrative makes itself apparent.
Through an examination of narrative at all cultural levels, a greater
understanding is achieved as to how the same tale serves many
functions, appeals to many different perspectives, and holds many
different intrinsic truths for its readers. By learning to recognize
particular tale-types and their transformations across cultural levels,
students learn to recognize, understand, and question their personal
FOLKLORE IN THE CLASSROOM
Folk narrative is a useful tool in the classroom, enabling
instructors to reach their students through its flexibility and
transdisciplinary appeal. Folk narrative is a genre which encourages
creativity and innovation on the part of the teachers as well as the
students; it provides an excellent medium for reaching each of the
multiple intelligences and is inherently multicultural. Because the
students are already familiar with the genre, they provide a strong
springboard for lessons in critical thinking.
Many of us dont recognize our favorite stories as folk narrative,
but most of them fit into the genre. Not only do we all have a tale to tell,
but many of us are telling the same one. Over 700 versions of Cinderella
exist worldwide, spanning the globe with versions from Zuni such as The
Poor Turkey Girl (Philip 1989), the Middle-East with The Golden Sandal,
and The Cherokee Nations The Rough-faced Girl (Martin 1996).
Because of the universality of the archetypes that folk narratives address,
the use of folk narrative creates a foundation for a sense of community.
By examining embellishment and omission in the depiction of
archetypal characters in folk narrative, we attain an understanding of how
literacy has shaped our culture. Through contextual examination and
discussion of these factors we learn about the dynamics of the time in
which the tale was recorded. In our comparison of past versions to more
modern ones, we are able to see how the cultural evolution that has
taken place shapes the way we (re)tell our stories. When we are able to
understand and accept the dynamics of how we shape (and are shaped
by) our literature, we can begin to learn from it, and this is the goal of the
critical thinker of today.
By learning to examine the components of folk narrative, students
learn to manipulate them to create new meanings which represent their
own cultural perspective and they learn to examine their own bias within
the context of the tale-a bias they may celebrate or alter. By teaching
folk narrative in a writing-based classroom, we not only encourage our
students to think critically about others, but they are given the opportunity
for self-examination and discovery.
Though folklore most strongly parallels the focus of Literature and
Anthropology, respected scholars such as Bruno Bettleheim and Marie
Von-Franz argue convincingly from the psychological point of view. Folk
narratives form a web connecting psychology, sociology, philosophy,
history, and writing. They appeal to all students regardless of their
learning style or academic major.
Richard Bauman asserts that folklore provides a broad base for
the transdisciplinary nature of academic study. He states that folklore
blurs the boundaries between linguistics, communication studies,
anthropology, speech, and sociology, arguing that "any scholar who is
interested in any of the dimensions of interrelationship that link language,
literature, culture, society, poetics, and history together is potentially [a
folklorist] (Folklore as Transdisciplinary dialogue 17).
Jay Mechler echoes these sentiments, asserting that the field of
folklore strongly parallels literary criticism, gender studies, cultural
studies, film theory and performance study, making the study of folk
narrative a more dynamic and more flexible curriculum which counts on
students learning critical practices ...in special topics courses (69) and
Martin Pedersen asserts that they provide an intersection of culture,
language, and arts (17) which creates a foundation for establishment of
commonality and community.
Folklorists have long argued for the benefits of folklore to
American Studies, Cultural studies, Anthropology, Literary Criticism, and
Linguistics. The case for folklore has been proven time and time again,
as discussed by John Roberts in his 1998 address to the American
Folklore Society. The strength of folklore lies in its flexibility and its
transdisciplinary appeal, for though there exist only eight institutes with
autonomous folklore departments in the US, folklore scholars can be
found ensconced in Anthropology, English, and other departments
William Wilson asserts that though most folklorists must enter the
field as composition, anthropology, and literature instructors, higher
education is customer-oriented and that folklore piques the interest of
potential customers (8), a sentiment echoed by Jan Harold Brunvand,
a composition instructor who has developed his own folklore department
at Utah State university. Indeed, in my own classroom, my students have
voiced excitement about the ethnographic research paper, and have
shown interest and fascination during folklore-based discussions. Sarah
Henderson has developed an approach in her freshman composition
course in which she spends three weeks with her students conducting
field research on an observed example of folklore. She asserts that her
students enjoy this project while they sharpen their observation and
Terri Brewer, an Anthropology instructor at the University of
Wales, claims that she was impressed with the level of interest and
enthusiasm demonstrated by students in her special topics class which
centered on folklore. Her introduction to folklore class is always filled to
capacity with a full waiting list, and though the approach is anthropologic
rather than compositional and the information is not as focused as in an
intensive special topics class, her students develop stronger critical
thinking and writing skills as well as an interest in further study in the field
beyond the limits of an introductory course. As an anthropology
instructor, she recognizes the difficulty posed by folklore being hidden
under the guise of other disciplines, but states, who better to play the
guiser than folklorists? Indeed, who better to illuminate students on the
many ways that folklore permeates our lives everyday, and every one of
us has something important to say about it than folklorists, and what
better way to serve their sparked interest than by providing an upper-
division course which presents a more focused and in-depth approach to
The drawback to these glowing reports on the importance of
folklore in the college composition classroom is that they all deal with
freshman composition courses and Introduction to Folklore classes.
Classes devoted to folklore are generally taught by folklorists, with a
focus on defining folklore, providing a broad foundation for study, and
writing is secondary. A Special Topics course would have a stronger,
more focused approach, intended to garner interest in further study of
folklore and to improve writing skills through focused instruction and
immersion in a specific genre. The Advanced composition course would
encourage students to recognize their role in the study and creation of
folklore, placing them squarely in the role of participant, rather than
spectator; a role which is intrinsic to the perception of folklore as a
cultural communicative act. It is possible that such an approach has
already been taken, but no research on the use of folk narrative in an
advanced-level writing class exists at this time.
An approach such as this is admittedly anathema to traditionalists
such as Alan Dundes, but with Wilsons caution that without fostering
interest in the field, it may fade away as an area of study, I assert that an
advanced course in reading and writing folk narrative would be an
important curriculum to add to the English department. Because many
freshman composition courses provide a starting point with folklore
based assignments, students have the foundation for more detailed
exploration. Because cultural studies are introduced in other introductory
liberal arts courses such as psychology, sociology, and anthropology, a
4000 level class would attract students whose appetites have been
whetted and who have some background in the ideas being presented.
By offering a folklore based class, students would have a high-level of
interest from across the disciplines and the writing prerequisite would
ensure that they have already been instructed in critical thinking skills.
Folklore provides options for the teacher; in the advanced
composition class, study of folk narrative can be grouped by any focus,
providing the instructor with the opportunity to shape the class to reflect
his/her area of interest as well as giving students the opportunity to write
papers which relate to their own fields. In discussing Contextuality,
historical, sociological, cultural and political factors can be brought into
play. The Structural approach allows for literary critique, and scientific
classification skills to be utilized. Examination of the transformation of folk
culture opens the door to film criticism and cultural study. The teaching of
a Special Topics course which focuses on folklore is not limited to the
folklorist in the English department, the flexibility of the genre presents
itself as an option, open to elaboration from any approach.
Familiarity and Commonplace
When students recognize the prevalence of folk narrative, they
understand that this is a genre that we are all familiar with. They do not
have to be introduced to the material so much as reacquainted, allowing
them to build on what they already know. We all have at least a
rudimentary understanding of the structure and format of the folk tale and
if asked, students are likely to be able to relate a folk tale on the first day
of class that will, for the most part, be true to the structure of the genre. In
her article, Once Upon a Time, Anne Jordan asserts, Ask any
adolescent (or adult) to relate the story of The Hook, for example and,
ninety-nine percent of the time, he or she can. (12).
The Hook is a ghost story told around the campfire and at slumber
parties. It is orally transmitted, holds the identifying marker of Brunvands
FOAF rule, and has been absorbed into the popular culture in movies
such as Porkys, Candyman, and Scream. It serves an important
purposekeeping teenagers from parking in remote areasand details
of the tale change as the culture changes. The version told in the fifties is
not exactly the same as the version told today, though its still
recognizably the same story.
We have been hearing and telling folk tales all our lives whether
we realize it or not. They take the form of bedtime stories, ghost stories,
urban legends, and epics. They are told and retold in new, contemporary
settings. Martin Pedersen and Karen Compton both argue for the
importance of the use of folklore in the classroom, discussing how folk
narrative helped to bridge differences between their ESL students.
Compton asserts that using folk narrative in her classroom helped her to
smooth over historical hatreds which existed between her students
because of their ethnic backgrounds (57).
Indeed, students in my own classroom have had lively discussions
about folk tales from their childhood. Because she knew it was one of my
favorite stories, one of my ESL students unearthed and translated a
Portuguese version of Hansel and Gretel titled Joao and Maria. This was
done on her own time, without incentive such as extra credit; a
connection beyond the subject matter was established through my own
use of folk narrative.
From Spectator to Participant
As we learn to communicate within a particular genre, we develop
our skills slowly. It is important that we first act as spectators. It gives us
the leisure to familiarize ourselves with the rules and guidelines of the
discourse we are planning to enter. James Britton discusses the idea of
spectatorship and participation in his book, Language and Learning. The
spectator has the leisure to observe, contemplate, and savor the
information gleaned in his/her role as spectator. This is a leisure not
afforded to the participant, who must be able to act quickly and
impulsively, drawing on background information and familiarity with the
topic at hand. Yet, the purpose of the spectator role is to eventually move
into the stream of communication. Thus, once familiarity with the rules of
discourse have been established, it is time to enter the discourse at
hand, becoming a part of the communication process.
Participating in academic discourse is an essential part of the
process of becoming a successful writer. In the writing classroom, the
students are initially spectators; they are given models and examples to
read, examine, and manipulate. Then we discuss others perspectives,
attempting to familiarize the students with the heuristics of the genre at
Whether oral or written, transmission of folk narrative is an act of
communication, involving the story teller, the story itself, and the
audience. This important concept is discussed by Anis Bewarshi in The
Genre Function, in which he claims that a piece of writing cannot be
considered separate from the author of the work, an argument echoed by
feminist folklorists such as Susan Hollis and Ruth Bottigheimer who
consider the creation of folklore to be a process which involves the
creator, the cultural act and the culture in which the folkloric act itself is
M. Jane Young and Kay Turner claim that as Feminist theory has
pervaded the field, folklorists have begun to recognize that the very act of
studying and collecting folklore constitutes the performance of a folkloric
act. The scholar must play the dual role of spectator and participant, for
the transmission of the narrative is reliant on the reactions and
background of the folklorist him/herself (Hollis 13). Thus, by examining
and discussing folklore, students become participants in the scholarly
Once familiarity with guidelines and options has been established,
the students participate through re-creation of a representative sample of
the genre. Because the discourse surrounding folk narrative is diverse
and plentiful it represents a genre which can be easily replicated, but
replication is not the goal; there is much more to folk narrative than
simply beginning with Once upon a time, and ending with happily ever
after. The purpose of this class is to make this inordinately clear to the
student writers. The goal is to create a representation of the genreone
which incorporates accurate functions, acknowledges identifying
markers, and embodies cultural norms. These skills require a familiarity
with the heuristics of writing prior to entering the class.
Addressing the Multiple Intelligences
Folk tales offer a flexibility which enables the writing instructor to
address any learning style. In 1983 Howard Gardner published Frames
of Mind which discussed the existence of seven intelligences, each of
which illustrated the need for a different approach to learning. The seven
he listed were: Logical, Linguistic, Spatial, Musical, Bodily, Personal, and
Intrapersonal (Gardner & Hatch). An eighth has since been added: the
naturalist intelligence (Checkley).
Folklore has the ability to reach a number of different intelligences
at once. This characteristic is not restricted to the classroom setting, it
carries over into the home, making it even more important for our
students to understand the value and purpose of the original tales.
Dianne Koehnecke discusses precisely how folk narrative reaches the
When I listened to others tell me folk tales, I was using my
linguistic intelligence. When my mother asked me questions about
the story and asked me to compare The Three Little Pigs with The
Three Billy Goats Gruff, she was asking me to use my
mathematical intelligence. When I drew pictures about the stories,
my spatial intelligence was working, and when I reflected about
the tales before I fell asleep for nap, I used my intrapersonal
intelligence. When my friends came over and we moved around,
dancing, skipping, or running...we were using our bodily-
kinesthetic intelligence. As we put our versions to song and
rhyme...we used our musical intelligence. The interpersonal
intelligence was incorporated as I communicated with my family
and friends in listening, reading and discussing the stories. (243).
As you can see, experiencing folk narrative addresses and utilizes a
number of different approaches. Not only do folk tales have power in the
classroom because they appeal to any learning style, but they also have
power in the home. Ideally, the students would bring these tales home to
their children, continuing the tradition even as they learn to incorporate
new factors and innovative changes within the tales themselves.
Gardner describes the naturalist intelligence as an ability to
classify natural things, and concedes that it may also extend to the
ability to classify cultural artifacts like cars and sneakers (Checkley 11).
Attempts at classification of folk narrative have been made from many
angles. Propp classifies the Russian Hero tale in his book The
Morphology of the Folktale, and the Aarne-Thompson Index is
considered the bible of motif study in folklore. Others have attempted
classification by genre (Ben-Amos), purpose (Drory), and character
By examining and discussing the difference between tale-types
and motifs, and by learning to recognize and understand the crossover
between different classification systems, students with strong naturalist
ability might be directed along such lines, being given the opportunity to
examine the functions of a specific tale-type or motif or to examine an
already existent classification system, such as the Aarne-Thompson
index and to offer a critique, perhaps even being given the challenge of
creating an alternate cataloguing system.
Contextualitv and Critical thinking
Students perceived familiarity must be questioned in order to
introduce the questioning attitude integral to learning to think critically.
When discussing Red Riding Hood in the classroom, Jack Zipes asks the
students to relate the tale to him. Once the students have agreed on a
possible true version, he reads the Perrault version to them ~ the one
which entails Red crawling into bed with the wolf. Though he stresses
that this is merely one of the first recorded versions of the tale, the initial
response is most often a thoughtful silence (Creative Storytelling 23-35).
From the first day, it is important to demonstrate how folk tales have
changed as cultures have changed. By understanding how external
influences affect folk narrative, the students begin to grasp the
significance of their own impact as well.
By reading, discussing, presenting, writing, watching, and creating
folk narrative, the students will gain a familiarity and insight to the genre
which will foster confidence in their own credibility. They will be given an
opportunity to celebrate their own voices and perspectives, to stretch
their creative wings, and to become participants in the storytelling
tradition. By learning to question the underlying warrants of the tales
already written, they learn to examine their own motives as they create
their own re-telling. However, a folk narrative writing class needs to be an
advanced level in order for this discovery process to be successful.
Unless students have already had time to assimilate critical
thinking skills taught in freshman composition and other 1000 and 2000
level classes, they will have difficulty with the amount of work required in
the 4190 class. There is a heavy reading requirement as well as
numerous writing practices. Without basic study skills, the students will
have difficulty keeping up. It is important that students not only be familiar
with the genre, but also with the rules that surround academic writing.
There is a heavy reading requirement as well as numerous writing
practices required. Students will have difficulty without basic study skills
and experience in academic writing upon entry into the class.
IN THE CLASSROOM
One of the most effective approaches to learning is immersion in
the subject matter. Through reading models, discussing the various
components fundamental to the genre, and attempting re-creation, a
student learns through demonstration. Writing assignments must be
chosen carefully to move the students from the position of spectator to
participant in order to foster the comfort necessary to achieve success
in academic writing. Once a student recognizes him/herself as a
participant, it is merely a half-step to recognition of oneself also as an
Here at UCD we have an advanced composition class whose
purpose is just such immersion: ENGL 4190: Reading and Writing
Special Topics. In this class students devote sixteen weeks to exploration
of a specific topic to foster a greater understanding of the genre at hand.
The general approach to teaching the 4190 class is to familiarize the
students with a number of representative samples and models of the
genre, culminated in a final paper which demonstrates understanding of
the rules and guidelines involved in writing within the genre.
This familiarization enables students to sharpen their critical
thinking skills as with Reading and Writing Feminist Fantasy and
Science Fiction, and "Popular Culture or to successfully re-create their
own examples as with Reading and Writing Sports and "The Writers
Voice. While there are numerous possibilities for structure and focus
within the classroom, an effective approach would be one that enforces
flexibility by encouraging students to be creative in their own approach to
writing within the genre.
To foster a more complete understanding of the genre it is not
enough to simply know the stories. One must also know the academic
discourse which surrounds them. Intrinsic to becoming a strong critical
thinker is the ability to recognize multiple points of view. Discussion
abounds in the field of folk narrative, examining it from the feminist angle,
the structuralist perspective, the psychoanalytical approach, and social,
historical, and political views. Critique ranges from tale-types, motifs, and
functions to the tales themselves; dozens of articles, books, and web
sites focus on specific folk tales such as Cinderella, Red Riding Hood,
and Jack the Giant Killer (See Appendix A for a sample reading list).
William Clements asserts that there are five general approaches
which can be used to teach folklore in a writing based classroom:
nostalgic, subliterary, descriptive, functional, and behavioral. While each
approach has benefits and drawbacks for an introduction to folklore
class, an advanced writing class would best be served by a combination
of approaches. The nostalgic approach would be served through the
comparison of early texts such as Grimm with modern retellings such as
those by Jane Yolen as illustrative of how the straightforward simple
narratives of early versions represent the simpler days long past. By
examining and describing the literary components in folk narratives such
as the Rule of Three, or the FOAF, the subliterary approach would be
served, and in the explanation of what folk narrative is and how marchen
differs from jokes, riddles and games the descriptive approach would be
brought into play.
The functional approach is an important one, for in the contextual
examination of a tale, it is important to understand why a tale remains
important to us, how a warning to not stray from the path may still remain
the same, though the metaphor may shift. The behavioral approach is
utilized in the recognition of folklore as a communicative event. It is
employed in the push toward the students recognition of themselves as
participants. Clements cautions that the implementation of more than
one of these approaches is difficult at the introductory level, though if the
students have sufficient background in literary, composition, and critical
thinking skills, any or all of these approaches would serve them well.
The syllabus would break the class down into two-week modules
during which we would explore different archetypes. Each module would
be presented by showing the students the vast numbers of variations of
the archetype in question. Maria Tatar and Christine Bacchilega both
offer books which group variants of the stories with brief critical
discussion. By supplementing such texts with a course packet containing
articles which critique the tale-types at hand, the students would be
exposed both to the tales and to the academic discourse that surrounds
them. Each module would progress through reading of the tales and
variants, followed by reading and discussion of academic critique. Writing
would be a constant, with journal entries and writing practices. There
would be a short, 2-4 page paper due at the end of each module as
preparation for the final project.
Because the intent of synthesizing folklore and writing is to
encourage flexibility, the paper options are meant to offer the students a
number of choices for each module. However, though there are five
options offered, students would not be allowed to write the same paper
over and over again. There would be a stipulation that they must
accomplish each option, but they have the choice of which module they
choose. For example, if a student chooses to examine visual depictions
of Snow White, s/he must choose another option for the module on Jack
The Giant-Killer. This approach is meant to push the students into a more
holistic approach to the class. They must use the assignment sheet in
conjunction with the syllabus, deciding which topic/module combinations
would work with their strengths as writers. (See Appendix B for an
example of paper topics).
These writing practices are meant to stimulate the students critical
thinking process, enabling them to go beyond surface matters in the
exploration of the genre of folk narrative. By thinking between the lines
and delving below the surface, they prepare themselves for the final
paper; to create an original folk tale true to the structure and purpose of
traditional folk narrative which presents a representation of cultural
paradigms that exist today. That is, the final project must demonstrate an
understanding and ability to appropriate the genre. The course would
progress with a focus on this end result throughout the sixteen week
A special Topics class would provide models which demonstrate
different approaches to folklore. Examination of folk narrative presents a
myriad of possibilities for the composition instructor. By providing
different versions of the tales as well as discussing the context of the
particular versions inception, the students learn to identify cultural
influences which affect the narrative. For this reason, it may behoove the
instructor initially to begin with the more popular tales such as Red Riding
Hood, Cinderella, Belle and the Beast, Snow White, Bluebeard and Jack
the Giant-Killer. These are the tales most often revised, anthologized,
and critiqued. There are hundreds of variants in childrens literature as
well as adult versions and these are the most commonly discussed tales
in critiques such as Bettleheims Uses of Enchantment, Tatars Off With
Their Heads and Classic Fairy Tales, and Bacchilegas Postmodern Fairy
Cultural comparison of the variations is another option. Cinderella
is an obvious example and Angela Carter reprints a Scandinavian tale,
Snow-Drop, which is a combination of the German tales, Snow White
and the Seven Swans. Similarly, Little Rosa is an old Swedish tale which
incorporates aspects of Mother Holle and The Swan Princess from
Germany and France. This approach would address functions of folklore,
patterning, and laws which govern folklore as well as facilitating a logical
focus, dealing with tale-types and motifs.
An historical approach can be taken, examining the transformation
of the tale as cultural perceptions shift, incorporating versions such as
Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman, or Tanith Lees Tales from the
sisters Grimmer, which provide darker examples of popular tales
sometimes featuring the original protagonist as the actual villain. There
are also humorous examples such as The Stinky Cheese Man, and
Politically Correct Bedtime tales. These are all excellent examples of the
effects of shift in perspective and purpose. Providing examples of such
shifts offers examples for creative risk-taking among the students as they
create their own versions.
In an effective folklore-based 4190 class it is recommended that,
whatever the focus, the reading list should include a number of different
versions of the tales in question in conjunction with critique of the tale
from a number of different perspectives. Models would be introduced with
an invitation to share the stories that the students know or remember
differently and students would be exposed to structural theory for each
archetype being explored.
These lectures and discussions would establish the variations that
exist for the archetypes being explored with the intent of destabilizing
textual authority and welcoming a myriad of options/ perspectives. By
learning to view the written stories as flexible and open to variability,
students are given the opportunity to sidestep the rules they have
grown up with. In examining the transformation of folk narrative,
students would be encouraged to learn the rules and then to bend them,
to shape them to their own perspectives, to play with them and have fun
coloring outside the lines.
We live in a technological world. The myriad of options which
presents itself to us for the continued celebration of our folklore is as vast
as the options which are embodied within the field of folklore itself. By
integrating a technological component within a folklore-based 4190 class,
we open up endless possibilities for the exploration, familiarization, and
overall enjoyment of a class which focuses on reading and writing folk
narrative to foster critical thinking skills for the new millennium. The
technological component aids the visual learner as well as the
technologically adept. It presents options for interaction beyond those in
While some scholars in folklore see the media as oppositional to
the intent of folklore, the melding of folk narrative and technology can
prove advantageous to both students and teacher by enforcing the ideas
of contextuality through usage of the Internet, the "Smart classroom and
cultural focus. As early as 1961, Hermann Bausinger argued for the need
for folklorists to embrace technology as a part of cultural advancement
(Folk Culture in a World of Technology). He asserted that technological
advancement is a part of our cultural process and folklorist need to
recognize and embrace the effect that technology has on folk traditions.
In Impossibility of Canon, John Miles Foley writes in favor of creating an
internet library of folklore, for such an endeavor would celebrate the
variability and complexity of folklore through the flexibility of the World
Folklore relies on its flexibility to survive. Despite the argument
against written folk tales as examples of oral culture, they persist. Non-
institutionalized transmission is integral to the definition of folklore, and
where better to experience the myriad of possibilities of folkloric
transmission than on the Internet? Folk narrative and the Internet offer
an intrinsic proteanism which suggests that they are meant for each other
(Foley 17). There are hundreds of sites on the Web dedicated to folk
narrative; all it takes is the click of a button to explore any manifestation
of folk narrative the user wishes. There are web rings to facilitate the
browser, as well as individual sites set up with links to take you anywhere
you want to go.
An effective 4190 class would be obligated to incorporate this
aspect into the classroom as the Internet is a representation of our
culture. To enforce the variability and pervasiveness of folk narrative,
incorporation of Internet resources is a necessity. Though hundreds of
articles, books, and journals focus on folk narrative, hundreds of web
sites exist as well, with e-text versions of popular tales, literary critique,
and visual depictions. An evaluation of web sites would also create a
crossover into other skills necessary for effective writing, as more and
more composition teachers are recognizing the importance of such a
lesson in their classes. By recognizing the importance of the Internet as
an aid in exploring folk narrative, we encourage a new medium for the
recording of an ancient tradition.
FOLKLORE AND THE FUTURE
The ideas within this paper are by no means new. For years
folklorists have argued for the benefits of folklore, and for years teachers
have used folk narrative in the classroom. Folk narrative is a genre which
entertains and educates. It is familiar, comfortable, and yet complex. Its
flexibility makes it an excellent tool for the composition classroom; it
reaches different intelligences and fosters critical thinking skills. It holds
an intrinsic commonplace, builds bridges between cultural and
philosophical perspectives, and makes the strengthening of writing skills
fun. Examination of folk narrative as a genre crosses over to academic
writing. Once we are able to recognize, understand, and manipulate the
components of that genre in effective and aesthetic ways, application to
other genres easily follows.
Folk narrative is a traditional genre, passed down from generation
to generation and it must continue to be such. We must recognize that in
order to create new versions of the old tales, we must first establish an
understanding of the originals. By recognizing the changes in our options
for transmission, we carry on the old tradition. The study of folklore
comes full circle. In order to move into the future, we must study and
understand the past, and in order to preserve the past, we must use the
tools of the future. A 4190 class gives us the options we need to
accomplish those goals.
The question arises occasionally whether we are influenced by the
media, or the media is influenced by the culture in which it exists. I prefer
to think of it as a swinging doorway, wherein the choices of each
participant influence the reaction of the other. Folklore surrounds us
every day, facilitated by the media-driven age we live in. As trained
consumers, its easy to forget that we affect the media. We have
To give students the ability to change the stories, to shift their
focus as they tell these stories to their children, rather than reading them
word for word from a century-old book is to give the students the ability to
make important changes within their own lives. Literacy is power, but
tale-telling is a skill which predates literacy. To act radically is to move
cyclically. Generally, radical notions hearken back to the status quo
which existed prior to the current paradigm.
Folk narrative has persisted through radical changes of thought,
allowing itself to be manipulated by the status quo while maintaining its
original essence. Despite the modernization of their transmission, the
tales are still the same archetypes from centuries before. In the film Ever
After, the plot of Cinderella the heroine is a proactive tomboy. This
revision of an old tale is a radical approach in every sense of the word.
The fairy tale has been replaced with a folk-oriented version reflecting
todays concerns about feminism and self-sufficiency.
By enabling students to manipulate the formulas that circumscribe
each of the spheres of existence which they occupy is to encourage them
to make a difference, no matter how seemingly small. Folk narrative
consists of the tales of the people; it reflects our state of being. By
closely examining folk tales and questioning the warrants they embody
we initiate a shift in perspective, which changes our outlook. By
changing our outlook, we manipulate meaning, and make conscious
decisions about the norms we wish to perpetuate. By recording our
choices in writing they become concrete and easily transmissible and by
making our ideas concrete, we affect others who may not even be born
yet. What a magical thing writing can be.
SAMPLE PAPER TOPICS
These papers would be two to four pages long. Depending on the
perspective of the teacher, the writing assignments would vary
considerably from class to class, but some options could be as follows:
1. Examine at least four different visual depictions of a key scene
in this story and use those examples to deduce the intrinsic
values of the culture that they represent.
2. Create a new version of this story from a different characters
perspective or turn some aspect of the archetype on its head to
create a different set of values for the context of the tale.
3. Write an analytic discourse about the importance of this story
which reflects your field of interest.
4. Choose an artifact which represents an aspect of this tale and
explain how it does so.
5. Choose your own approachdiscuss it with me for approval
**These assignment descriptions may seem vague to some, but the
details of the assignment would be covered in class during an explicatory
lecture outlining the options and guidelines for each paper option,
clarifying the purpose and mechanical requirements. However, this is an
upper-division level class which assumes an advanced level of writing
ability, lessening the likelihood of misunderstanding of the assignment on
the part of the student. These are alternatives for the students in a class
which enforces the idea of options.
A SAMPLE READING LIST
Focus: Retelling the tale
Transformation of the Tale:
Brunvand, Jan Harold, The Vanishing Hitchhiker, The Choking
Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber and other Tales.
Neil Gaiman, Smoke and Mirrors.
Wolfgang Mieder, Tradition and Innovation in Folk Literature.
Harold Schechter, The Bosom Serpent: Folklore and Popular Art.
Tanith Lee, Red as Blood: Tales from The Sisters grimmer.
Jack Zipes, Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion, When Dreams Came
Christina Bacchilega, Postmodern Fairy Tales: Gender and Narrative
Angela Carter, Strange Things Still Happen.
Marie Von-Franz, Problems Of The Feminine In Fairy Tales.
Ethel Phelps. The Maid of the North and Tatterhood and Other tales.
A. Lurie, Clever Gretchen and other forgotten folktales.
Kathleen Ragan, Fearless Girls, Wise Women, & Beloved Sisters
Barbara Walker, Feminist Fairy Tales.
Jack Zipes, Dont Bet on the Prince, Happily Ever After.
I.G. Edmonds, Trickster Tales
Jack Zipes, trans. The Complete Tales Of The Brothers Grimm.
Kathleen Ragan, Fearless Girls, Wise Women, & Beloved Sisters
Angela Carter, Strange Things Still Happen.
Diane Wolkstein, The Magic Orange Tree and Other Haitian Folktales
Film & TV:
Beauty and the Beast--the Miniseries
The Company of Wolves
Snow White with Sigourney Weaver
Rogers and Hammersteins Cinderella
Focus: Critique from Fields of Study and Perspective
Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses Of Enchantment.
Maria Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With The Wolves.
Marie Von-Franz, The Interpretation of Fairy Tales.
Maria Tatar, Off With Their Heads.
Jack Zipes Breaking the Magic Spell.
Hollis, Pershing, & Young, Feminist Theory and the Study of Folklore.
Susan Barchers, Wise Women.
Dan Ben-Amos, Folklore Genres.
Margaret Read MacDonald, Storytellers Sourcebook.
Stith Thompson, Motif-Index of Folk Literature. 6 vols. (Can be found on
Introduction to the genre
Brunvand, Jan H. Folklore: A Study and Research Guide. St. Martins.
Dorson. Robert. Handbook of American Folklore. Indiana University
Dundes, Alan. The Study of Folklore. Prentice-Hall.
Toelkin, Barre. The Dynamics of Folklore. Houghton Mifflin.
Fairy Tales: Origins and Evolution
The Cinderella Project:
The Little Red Riding Hood Project
The Jack and the Beanstalk/Jack the Giant-Killer Project
Marvels & Tales: Journal of Fairy Tale Studies
Baumann, Richard. Folklore as Transdisciplinary Dialogue" Journal of
Folklore Research. 33.1 (1996): 15-20.
Bausinger, Hermann. Folk Culture In A World Of Technology. Trans.
Elke Dettmer, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1961.
Behrens, Laurence and Rosen, Leonard eds. Writing and Reading
Across the Curriculum 7th ed. New York: Addison Wesley
Ben-Amos, Dan. Folklore Genres. Austin:University of Texas Press,
Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses Of Enchantment. New York:Random
Bottigheimer, Ruth, ed. Fairy Tales And Society: Illusion And Paradigm.
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986.
Brewer, Teri. Folklore Teaching: A Guisers Tale. Lore And Learning:
Newsletter Of The Folklore Society Education Group 1 Nov. 1993
Britton, James. Language and learning. Middlesex:Penguin Books, 1970.
Brualdi, Amy. Multiple Intelligences: Gardners Theory." Teacher
Librarian. 26.2 (1998): 26-8.
Brunvand, Jan H. Folklore: A Study and Research Guide. New York: St.
Carter, Margie. Trying on the Glass Slipper: Training Teachers to Use
Folk Tales in the Classroom. Child Care Information Exchange 88
Cerf, Steven R. Too Grimm for Words. Opera News 61 (1996): 14-17.
Checkley, Kathy. The First Seven...And The Eighth: A Conversation
With Howard Gardner. Educational Leadership. 55 (1997): 8-
Clements, William M. Five Approaches to Teaching Folklore in a College
English Curriculum. Paper Presented at Annual Meeting of NCTE
Nov. 28-30, 1974.
Compton, Karen. Folklore in the ESL Classroom Southern Folklore 48.1
Culp, Mary Beth and Hoffman, Suzanne. Twice-told Tales. Journal of
Adolescent & Adult Literacy. 41.6 (1998)472-4.
Daae, Christina. Fairy Tales: Origins and Evolution. 1 Nov 1999.
Davidson, Hilda Ellis. Patterns Of Folklore. Great Britain:Rowman &
De-Carvalho-Neto, Paulo. The Concept Of Folklore. Coral Gables, FI:
University of Miami Press, 1971.
Dorson, Robert, ed. Folklore And Fakelore: Essays Toward A Discipline
Of Folk Studies. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1976.
Handbook of American Folklore. Bloomington:lndiana University
Dundes, Alan. Holy Writ As Oral Lit: The Bible As Folklore.
Lanhanrr.Rowman and Littlefield, 1999.
. The Motif-Index and the Tale Type index: A Critique. Journal of
Folklore Research 34.3 (1997): 195-202.
. The Study of Folklore. New Jersey:Prentice-Hall, 1965.
Edmonds, I.G. Trickster Tales. New York: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1966.
Farrer, Claire ed. Women and folklore. Austin:University of Texas Press,
FIST 255: French Fairy Tales: Of Pixies, Parodies & Politics. Home
Page. 26 Nov. 1999.
Foley, John Miles. Oral-Formulaic Theory: A Folklore Casebook. New
York: Garland Publishing, 1990.
. Teaching Oral Traditions. New York: Modern Language Association,
Foss, Sonja & Griffin, Cynthia. Beyond persuasion: A proposal for an
invitational rhetoric. Communication Monographs 62 (1995): 2-
Foucault, Michael. "What is an Author." Contemporary Literary Criticism.
3rd ed. Ed.Robert Con Davis and Ronald Schleifer. New York:
Longman, 1994. 342-53.
Funk & Waonalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore. Mythology and
Legend. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984.
Garner, James. Politically Correct Bedtime Stories. New York:Macmillan,
Georges, R. & Jones, M. Folkloristics. An Introduction. Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1995.
Griffin, Cyntia. Improving Students Writing Strategies; Knowing Versus
Doing. College Teaching. 46.2 (1998) 48-52.
Grimm, Johann & Grimm, Wilhelm. The Complete Tales Of The Brothers
Grimm Trans. Jack Zipes. New York: Bantam Books, 1992.
Henderson, Sarah. Folklore, Cultural Diversity, and Field Research in
First-Year Composition. Paper presented as the Annual meeting
of CCC. March 16-19,1994.
Hollis, Susan, Pershing, Linda, and Young, Jane eds. FeministTheorv
and the Study of Folklore. Urbana:University of Illinois Press,
Jason, Heda. & Segal, Dimitri. Patterns In Oral Literature. Paris:Mouton
Koehnecke, Dianne. Folklore and the Multiple Intelligences. Childrens
Literature in Education 26.4 (1995): 241 -7.
Mechling, Jay. It is with Great Pleasure That I Recommend... Journal of
Folklore Research. 33.1 (1996): 65-70.
Meerefield, Gayle. Three Billy Goats and Gardner. Educational
Leadership. 55 (Sept. 1997) 58-61.
Mieder, Wolfgang. Tradition and Innovation in Folk Literature.
Hanover:University Press of New England, 1987.
Opie, Iona & Opie, Peter. The Classic Fairy Tales. New York:Oxford
University Press, 1974.
Oring, E. Folk Groups And Folklore Genres: An Introduction. Logan:Utah
State University Press, 1986.
Paredes, Americo & Baumann, Richard. Toward New Perspectives in
Folklore. Austin:University of Texas Press, 1972.
Phelps,Ethel. The Maid of the North. New York: Henry Holt & Co, 1987.
Pimple, Kenneth. The Meme-ing of Folklore." Journal of Folklore
Research. 33.3 (1996): 236-240.
Propp, Vladimier. Morphology of the Folktale Trans. Laurence Scott. 2nd
ed. Baltimore, Md:Port City Press, 1968.
Ragan, Kathleen. Fearless Girls. Wise Women, & Beloved Sisters. New
York: W.W. Norton, 1998.
Rosenberg, Donna. Folklore. Myths, And Legends: A World Perspective.
lllinois:NTC Publishing, 1997.
Selberg, Torunn. Folklore and Mass Media. Nordic Frontiers 27 (1993):
Thompson, Stith. Motif-Index of Folk Literature. 6 vols. Rev. and Enl.
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1955.
Tatar, Maria. Off With Their Heads: Fairy Tales And The Culture Of
Childhood. New Jersey:Princeton University Press, 1989.
Wilson, Wilson. Building bridges: Folklore in the Academy. Journal of
Folklore Research. 33.1 (1996): 7-14.
Zipes, Jack. Breaking The Magic Spell: Radical Theories Of Folk And
Fairy Tales. Austin University of Texas Press, 1979.
. Creative Storytelling: Building Community. Changing Lives. New
Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales. Children. And The Culture Industry.
New York:Routledge, 1997.
. Recent Trends in the Contemporary American Fairy Tale