Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.02.06

Alan Dundes (ed.), Folklore: Critical Concepts in Literary and Cultural Studies. Four volumes.   London and New York:  Routledge, 2005.  Pp. xxvi, 352; ix, 279; viii, 350; xi, 506.  ISBN 0-415-31662-6.  $865.00.  

Reviewed by William Hansen, Indiana University, Bloomington (
Word count: 2791 words

[Authors and titles included in the four volumes are listed within the review.]

Folklore is an extensive compilation of essays devoted to disciplinary history, scholarly pioneers, basic genres, and important theories and concepts in folklore studies, or folkloristics, the latter term distinguishing the study of folklore from the stuff of folklore. The collection appears in Routledge's series Critical Concepts in Literary and Cultural Studies. All titles in the series -- Deconstruction, Modernism, Feminism, Postcolonialism, etc. -- bear the same series subtitle.

Distributed over four cloth-bound volumes, the anthology consists of eighty-six essays by scholars from a great variety of lands and scholarly traditions. The papers range in date from 1861 to 2001, coinciding pretty much with the florescence of folkloristics as a modern field of study. Since the organization of the papers is thematic, the editor provides a useful chart in the first volume (xvi-xxiv) that chronicles the essays in the order of their actual publication. All the papers are written in, or have been translated into, English.

Because there are so many papers and because they are all previously published, I will describe the overall nature and content of the compilation, but not evaluate the individual essays.

Each volume is devoted to one of four broad topics. Volume 1 features articles on the concept of folklore and on the development and configuration of the discipline of folkloristics at different times and in different countries. Volume 2 deals with pioneers of the field. Volume 3 treats representative folkloric genres, and Volume 4 focuses upon important theories and methods.

The editor begins Volume 1 with a brief general introduction to the compilation as a whole (xxv-xxvi) and an equally concise introduction to the present volume (1-2), after which he allows each of the twenty-four essays in the volume to speak for itself. For all their brevity Alan Dundes's introductions here and at the head of the three subsequent volumes do manage to summarize nicely the key concerns of the papers. An index to all eighty-six papers appears in the fourth volume (477-506).

The essays in the initial volume, which is subtitled From Definition to Discipline, wrestle with the difficulty of characterizing the materials and study of folklore. Defining folklore, which still plagues (or energizes) folklorists, is the primary topic of the initial selections, definitions tending to favor either the "folk" or the "lore" in folklore and therefore to emphasize either the nature of the transmitters or the nature of the materials. Subsequent papers are concerned mostly with the institutionalization of folkloristics in different lands, although many papers have something to say on both topics. Thus Boggs (1) presents a standard, mid-twentieth-century view of what folklore is. Folklore is a particular kind of traditional, orally-transmitted culture. It is patterned but not fixed in form, variation being normal and expected. Folk culture is to be opposed to learned culture. In contrast Jacobs (6) and Dick (7) focus less upon the lore than upon the folk. Several papers trace the history of terms such as popular antiquities, folklore, regional (or European) ethnology, folk life, and folkloristics. Still others discuss the development or present state of folkloristics in different places: Germany (16, 17, 18), Scandinavia (13, 14), Ireland (12), Greece (11), Palestine and Israel (19), the Soviet Union (15), North America, Latin America (8, 9), and India and Pakistan (10). After the problem of the authentic and the inauthentic is examined (20, 21, 22), the volume concludes with attention to the question of who owns folklore (23, 24).

The authors and titles of the papers in this volume are (1) Ralph Steele Boggs, "Folklore: Materials, Science, Art"; (2) Dan Ben-Amos, "The Idea of Folklore: An Essay"; (3) Alexander Fenton, "The Scope of Regional Ethnology"; (4) Jorge Dias, "The Quintessence of the Problem: Nomenclature and Subject Matter of Folklore"; (5) Brynjulf Alver, "Folkloristics: The Science about Tradition and Society"; (6) Joseph Jacobs, "The Folk"; (7) Ernest S. Dick, "The Folk and their Culture: The Formative Concepts and the Beginnings of Folklore"; (8) Américo Paredes, "Concepts about Folklore in Latin America and the United States"' (9) Lajos Vincze, "Theoretic Trends in the Argentine Folklore"; (10) Trilochan Pande, "The Concept of Folklore in India and Pakistan"; (11) Alke Kyriakidou-Nestoros, "The Theory of Folklore in Greece: Laographia in its Contemporary Perspective"; (12) Bo Almqvist, "The Irish Folklore Commission: Achievement and Legacy"; (13) Lauri Honko, "A Hundred Years of Finnish Folklore Research: A Reappraisal"; (14) Johana Micaela Jacobsen, "Creating Disciplinary Identities: The Professionalization of Swedish Folklife Studies"; (15) Felix J. Oinas, "The Problem of the Notion of Soviet Folklore"; (16) Christa Kamenetsky, "Folklore as a Political Tool in Nazi Germany"; (17) Mary Beth Stein, "Coming to Terms with the Past: The Depiction of Volkskunde in the Third Reich since 1945"; (18) Gottfried Korff, "Change of Name as a Change of Paradigm: The Renaming of Folklore Studies Departments in German Universities as an Attempt at 'Denationalization'"; (19) Mun'im Haddad, "The Relationship of Orientalism to Palestinian Folklore"; (20) Richard M. Dorson, "Fakelore"' (21) Regina Bendix, "Diverging Paths in the Scientific Search for Authenticity"; (22) Guntis Smidchens, "Folklorism Revisited"; (23) E.P. Gavrilov, "The Legal Protection of Works of Folklore"; and (24) Lauri Honko, "Copyright and Folklore."

The second volume, The Founders of Folklore, is a selection of essays upon persons who figure notably in the historical development of folkloristics. It begins with the late eighteenth-century romantic nationalist Johann Gottfried Herder (25), continues with the Brothers Grimm (26), and proceeds to others. Among the scholars treated here are the Britons Lawrence Gomme (30) and James George Frazer (33), the Germans Max Müller (31) and Wilhelm Mannhardt (32), the Italian Giuseppe Pitrè (34), the Hungarian Béla Bartók (40), the Frenchman Arnold van Gennep (41), the Dutchman Jan de Vries (42), and the Russian Vladimir Propp (44). Notice is also taken of the prodigious Danish collector Evald Tang Kristensen (38) and the gifted Irish informant Peig Sayers (39).

The essays in Volume 2 are (25) William A. Wilson, "Herder, Folklore and Romantic Nationalism"; (26) Jack Zipes, "Once There were Two Brothers Grimm: A Reintroduction"; (27) Bengt Holbek, "Grimm and Grundtvig: A Footnote"; (28) R. Troy Boyer, "The Forsaken Founder, William John Thoms: From Antiquities to Folklore"; (29) Harry Senn, "Folklore Beginnings in France: The Academie Celtique 1804-1813"; (30) Anon., "The Practical Use of Folk Lore: An Interview with Mr. G. Lawrence Gomme"; (31) Robert Jerome Smith, "The Creditable Max Müller"; (32) Tove Tybjerg, "Wilhelm Mannhardt -- A Pioneer in the Study of Rituals"; (33) P.W. Filby, "Life Under The Golden Bough"; (34) T.F. Crane, "Giuseppe Pitrè and Sicilian Folk-Lore"; (35) Vilmos Voigt, "Primus inter Pares: Why was Vuk Karadzic the Most Influential Folklore Scholar in Southeastern Europe in the Nineteenth Century?"; (36) Jan Steszewski, "The Credibility of Oskar Kolberg's Ethnomusicological Collection: A Contribution to the Problem of Historical Criticism"; (37) Ojars Kratins, "An Unsung Hero: Krisjanis Barons and his Lifework in Latvian Folk Songs"; (38) W.A. Craigie, "Evald Tang Kristensen, a Danish Folklorist"; (39) Seán Ó Súilleabháin, "Peig Sayers"; (40) Linda Dégh, "Bartók as Folklorist: His Place in the History of Research"; (41) Harry Senn, "Arnold van Gennep: Structuralist and Apologist for the Study of Folklore in France"; (42) James Danandjaja, "Jan de Vries: Netherland's Foremost Folklorist (1890-1964)"; (43) Mikako Iwatake, "A 'Postcolonial' Look at Kunio Yanagita, the Founding Father of Japanese Folklore Studies"; and (44) Isidor Levin, "Vladimir Propp: An Evaluation on his Seventieth Birthday."

As a discipline folkloristics is organized partly by folkloric genre, individual scholars typically specializing in one or two geographical regions and one or more genres, much as most classical scholars are either Hellenists or Latinists and have particular subspecialties within their region of preference. The third volume, The Genres of Folklore, consists of papers on a selection of folkloric genres. The editor's discretion is really two-fold here, for he had to choose first the genres to be represented and then a single essay (in most cases) to represent each one, rather like a classicist's deciding to include, say, tragedy in a collection of essays on classical literature and being obliged to select a single published essay to speak for it. The first essay deals with folkloric theories of genre generally (45), and the remaining thirteen treat one or another aspect of particular genres, most of them quite familiar: ballads (46), folk dances (47), proverbs (48), riddles (49), superstitions (or folk-beliefs, as folklorists usually prefer to say) and popular religion (51), rituals (52), myths (53), folktales, including fairytales (54), legends, including urban legends (55), epics (57), and games (58). But Dundes also includes a couple of papers on little-known genres such as one on traditional bird-scaring rhymes (50), as a nod to the many minor genres that could not be treated. Volume 3 contains (45) Lauri Honko, "Folkloristic Theories of Genres"; (46) Natascha Würzbach, "An Approach to a Context-Oriented Genre Theory in Application to the History of the Ballad: Traditional Ballad -- Street Ballad -- Literary Ballad"; (47) Theresa Buckland, "Definitions of Folk Dance: Some Explorations"; (48) Wolfgang Mieder, "'Proverbs Bring it to Light': Modern Paremiology in Retrospect and Prospect"; (49) Annikki Kaivola-Bregenhøj, "Riddles and Their Use"; (50) J.B. Smith, "Chew-Hallaw and Buckalee: A Comparative Study of Some Bird-Scaring and Herding Rhymes"; (51) Nicole Belmont, "Superstition and Popular Religion in Western Societies"; (52) Pertti J. Anttonen, "The Rites of Passage Revisited: A New Look at van Gennep's Theory of the Ritual Process and its Application in the Study of Finnish-Karelian Wedding Rituals"; (53) Robert A. Segal, "In Defense of Mythology: The History of Modern Theories of Myth"; (54) Dan Ben-Amos, "Folktale"; (55) Bengt af Klintberg, "Do the Legends of Today and Yesterday Belong to the Same Genre?"' (56) Joe Graham, "The Caso: An Emic Genre of Folk Narrative"; (57) Isidore Okpewho, "Does the Epic Exist in Africa? Some Formal Considerations"; and (58) Alan Dundes, "Traditional Male Combat: From Game to War."

The longest of the four volumes is the last, Folkloristics: Theories and Methods, which attempts to give a sense diachronically of important folkloric theories and concepts. The selection begins with an anonymous paper, thought to be by Max Müller, that illustrates a comparative Indo-European philologist's approach to folkloric materials (59). Early comparative approaches to folk customs are exemplified in papers on or by Wilhelm Mannhardt (60), Lawrence Gomme (62), and James George Frazer (63). The unilineal evolutionary theory of the early anthropologists, with its doctrine of survivals, underlies the essay by Andrew Lang (61), as it also does the work of many other nineteenth-century scholars. Considerations on the collecting of folklore are addressed in essays by Bartók (64), Nutt (65), and Fhloinn (66), and cartographic mapping of the distribution of folklore is the subject of two essays (67, 68). Next follows a classic paper by Bogatyrëv and Jacobson, "Folklore as a Special Form of Creativity" (69). It is followed by a paper on the notion of the text (70) and two papers on the equally important concept of the motif, one by Ben-Amos (71), the other by Bremond (72). This leads easily into Uther's survey of recent type- and motif-indices (73), a paper on the concept of the type as applied to proverbs (74), and another on the typology of traditional plowing implements (75). Next come Goldberg's reflections on the historic-geographic method in folklore (76), serving in effect as an introduction to Roberts's summary of his historic-geographic investigation of the international folktale known as The Kind and the Unkind Girls (77). Shifting attention from text to context, Ramanujan's paper on storytelling in India focuses upon live performance (78). Two papers treat important reference works, the monumental Enzyklopädie des Märchens, extending now to eleven volumes (79), and the International Folklore Bibliography (80). The remaining essays touch upon a miscellany of topics, including the influence of the notion of cultural evolution on folkloristics (81), the devolutionary model in folklore theory, according to which folklore is presumed always to be dying out or degenerating (82), biological metaphors in folklore theory (83), the contributions of Antonio Gramsci to folklore theory (84), and the use of folkloric materials in sex education (85), an instance of what folklorists call applied folklore.

The concluding papers are (59) anonymous, "Folk Lore: How it Arose, and What it Means"; (60) W.R.S. Ralston, "Forest and Field Myths"; (61) Andrew Lang, "The Method of Folklore"; (62) G. Lawrence Gomme, "On the Method of Determining the Value of Folklore as Ethnological Data"; (63) Robert Ackerman, "Frazer on Myth and Ritual"; (64) Béla Bartók, "Why and How Do We Collect Folk Music?"; (65) Alfred Nutt, "Monsieur Sébillot's Scheme for the Collection and Classification of Folk-Lore"; (66) Bairbre Ní Fhloinn, "In Correspondence with Tradition: The Role of the Postal Questionnaire in the Collection of Irish Folklore"; (67) Richard Weiss, "Cultural Boundaries and the Ethnographic Map"; (68) Robert Wildhaber, "Folk Atlas Mapping"; (69) Peter Bogatyrëv and Roman Jacobson, "Folklore as a Special Form of Creativity"; (70) Paul Bouissac, "Poetics in the Lions' Den: The Circus Act as Text"; (71) Dan Ben-Amos, "The Concept of Motif in Folklore"; (72) Claude Bremond, "A Critique of the Motif"; (73) Hans-Jörg Uther, "Type- and Motif-Indices 1980-1995: An Inventory"; (74) Kazys Grigas, "Problems of the Type in the Comparative Study of Proverbs"; (75) Branimir Bratanic, "A Note on the Typology of Ploughing Implements"; (76) Christine Goldberg, "The Historic-Geographic Method: Past and Future"; (77) Warren E. Roberts, "The Special Forms of Aarne-Thompson Type 480 and Their Distribution"; (78) A. K. Ramanujan, "Tell it to the Walls: Tales about Tales"; (79) Christine Shojaei Kawan, "The Enzyklopädie des Märchens"; (80) Rolf Wilhelm Brednich, "The International Folklore Bibliography"; (81) Gillian Bennett, "Geologists and Folklorists: Cultural Evolution and 'the Science of Folklore'"; (82) Alan Dundes, "The Devolutionary Premise in Folklore Theory"; (83) Valdimar T.R. Hafstein, "Biological Metaphors in Folklore Theory: An Essay in the History of Ideas"; (84) Michael R. Marrus, "Folklore as an Ethnographic Source: A 'Mise au Point'"; (85) Moyra Byrne, "Antonio Gramsci's Contribution to Italian Folklore Studies"; and (86) Elissa R. Henken and Mariamne H. Whatley, "Folklore, Legends, and Sexuality Education."

The late Alan Dundes (1934-2005) was a masterful and exhaustive bibliographer who compiled numerous scholarly anthologies in the course of his career.1 What does he wish to achieve in the present compilation? He manifestly does not seek to make a gathering of current, cutting-edge work in folkloristics; indeed, many of today's most influential folklore scholars are not directly represented here at all. Nor does he bring together a collection of classic essays, a showcase of the best that the discipline has produced over time, for only a few of the essays might so qualify (for example, 20, 69, 82). Rather he attempts a characterization of the discipline of folklore diachronically (its founders and pioneers, its institutionalization internationally, the important theories that have given impetus and meaning to its research) and synchronically (the major genres of folklore, the influential concepts, its dominant methods), and does so by letting folklorists and related scholars present and past, on this continent and abroad, speak for themselves. In my view he succeeds, for the work gives a realistic portrait of a relatively small but worldwide scholarly field that provides an engaging and honest sense of its range and variety, its struggles, its personalities, its issues and methods.

Some unevenness of presentation is inevitable in the compilation because the pieces are all found essays, as it were, and not commissioned for the present work, but what is lacking in consistency of format and style is perhaps balanced by the enjoyable variety and lack of predictability in the papers. The same cannot be said about unevenness of coverage. At most a passing mention is made of so important a genre as folk drama, and the vast subfield of material culture receives very little attention.

Every generation of classicists includes scholars who take a serious interest in aspects of Greek and Roman folklore (traditional narratives, oral poetry, proverbs, festivals, folk beliefs, etc.). Few of them have had an opportunity to take courses in folkloristics. Nor is it as easy nowadays as it once was for classical scholars to dip casually into the scholarly literature of folklorists. Earlier folkloristically-oriented classicists such as Ludwig Radermacher, Wolf Aly, W. R. Halliday, and H. J. Rose worked at a time when classical scholars and folklorists spoke the same language, all of them sharing a background in philology; that is no longer the case. But now the present generation of folklorist-classicists can turn to Dundes's four-volume compilation for a basic introduction to the discipline, employing it as a sort of distance-learning text addressed to folklorists and non-folklorists alike.

A number of mostly minor typos, especially in foreign words, are found throughout the volumes. Some of them of course may reproduce errors in the original publications, but others (such as misspelled scholarly names) presumably do not.


1.   Of particular interest to classical scholars is Oedipus: A Folklore Casebook (New York and London: Garland, 1983), co-edited by classicist Lowell Edmunds and folklorist Alan Dundes.

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