Down Home Tales and Inspirations - Irishteller

Cathy Jo Smith
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Down Home Tales and Inspirations

In addition to Irish tales, I also do tales from the hills and "down-home" .       
       Having grown up south of  Circleville, Ohio, in the foothill area of the Appalachian Mountains, near the Hocking Hills state parks, I heard tales of Johnny Appleseed and the early settlement days from childhood. (If Grandma was to be  believed--and she was--some of the apple pies I ate as a child came from  apples grown in orchards planted by Mr Chapman himself.)       
         I am constantly adding to my store of stories. I have been working on some of the "Jack" tales. You know Jack--the boy with the beanstalk, Jack the Giant-killer, "Big Man Jack--Seven with One Whack", Jack who is lazy and foolish, but still manages to come out on top more often than not.

       The Jack tales came over from Europe and sometimes include non-American animals (lions and unicorns). Jack also tends to deal with a King, another critter seldom seen on these shores. One of my favorites tells about the time a witch put a curse on a town because the  people had forgotten how to treat the stranger at their door. It took an understanding heart to break the curse, and that's where our boy Jack comes in....
        I'm also working on some  family, "down-home" tales of Uncle Leo and the rest of the clan. Uncle Leo was a serial confabulator-- that is, he was a constant liar--but he  was amusing and got into some curious situations.
Warning: however short or long these tales may be,  they are almost always TALL!
Storytelling Hall of Inspiration
    This is dedicated to those who have been  instrumental in the creation and promotion of the art of storytelling  throughout the ages. it will remain a work-in-progress, for that art is  also a work-in-progress.
    Broadly,"storytelling"  is the art of crafting and relating narrative. While that can be done  as literature, or as auditory or visual media, the concentration here is  on the oral tradition; the teller speaking directly to the listener,  relating tales that may change over time or as circumstances change as  opposed to those stories frozen forever in one form.
    However,  because we no longer are an oral society, we need some more permanent record or the stories will die with their tellers. And so we honor those  who have preserved the riches of the past as well as those who will  carry them into the future.
         Storytelling in the Ancient and Pre-Modern Worlds       
    We cannot speak of telling without  acknowledging the greats of the past. Few names have come down to  us--most tellers were locally known and the tales were more important than the tellers.  
    We must at least note Homer, the blind bard of the 7th or 8th century BCE, whose Illiad and Odessey are still told. (Yes, there is argument as to the actual existance of the man, but let him stand for all who contributed to the work.)
    Also, Aesop and his fables (same caveat about his existance, same honoring of all who contributed). These tales date from around the 6th century BCE. Variants can be found for many of the tales throughout the world.
    The Jewish and Christian texts of the Bible contain some of the best-loved history, proverbs and legends. Aside from the clergy, there are many tellers who dedicate their professional lives to sharing these tales.
    The creators of One Thousand and One Nights also deserve recognition. The collection probably was first written in  Arabic in the 8th century and entered the English speaking world in 1706 as Arabian Nights. The Nights contain a wide variety of genres and its influence has spread far beyond the Arabic world.
    Religious and/or secular texts from around the world give us some of the best and  most heart-felt tales of the ancient world. Here we would include the  Sanskrit Puranas, the Norse Eddas, the epic of Gilgamesh, and the Classical Novels of China among others. There are also groups whose stories remained in the oral tradition for the most part--the myths and legends of Africa and of the American continents, for example.
    We also have collections of tales like the Decameron by Boccaccio(@1350) and the Golden Legend (1260), Beowulf (8th-11th century) and the Nibelungenlied (@1200)...and many others.
    To all who have attempted to preserve the tales of former times and peoples, we offer our thanks and appreciation.
                                            Literary Tellers and Collectors, pre-20th century      
    Modern storytellers are often first and  foremost researchers. We look to the tales of the past and rely on those  who have collected and passed them down in written form. We also  celebrate the creators of tales, for 'writer' and 'teller' roles tend to  blend...
Charles Perrault--17th century French author and one of the first to present literary forms of the folktales now called "fairy tales." His Tales of Mother Goose included Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood and Puss in Boots.
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm--the  Brothers Grimm collected, we-worked and published folktales in 19th  century Germany. Many of the fairy tale versions we are most familiar  with are in their collections--Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, The Frog Prince and Rapunzel, to name just a few.   
Hans Christian Andersen--(1805-1875) author of some of the most-beloved fairy tales--Little Mermaid, Ugly Duckling and The Emperor's New Clothes, for example. In his own life, he was recognized formally as a Danish "National Treasure" and considered as a world treasure.
Charles Dickens--(1812-1870)  Not only a great novelist, Dickens helped shape view on poverty and  social issues. His serialized stories allowed him to use readers'  feedback to alter the tales, and his recitations of his own works on  stage are sometimes credited with contributing to his death.
Mark Twain--(1835-1910)In his life, Samuel Clemens was known as a great speaker as well as a  writer. One of his favorite 'jump' tales is still heard today--"The Golden Arm"
Andrew Lang-- (1844-1912)collector of folklore and myth, he is best know for his many 'colors' of fairytale books--The Blue Fairy Book (1889) was followed by Red, Green, Yellow, Pink, Grey, Crimson, Violet, Brown, Orange, Olive and Lilac.
Joel Chandler Harris--(1848-1908)This  journalist attempted to record African-American tales in the dialect of the tellers, preserving the stories as they were in the oral tradition. While aspects of the Uncle Remus tales are problematic, Harris influenced Twain, Kipling, Beatrix Potter and A A Milne, among others and introduced generations fo readers to Brer Rabbit and his companions.
Sholem Aleichem--(1859-1916) often called the "Jewish Mark Twain" (Twain called himself the "American  Sholem Aleichem"), Solomon Rabinovich wrote for both children and  adults, mostly in Yiddish. His Tevye stories are the basis of the play Fiddler on the Roof.

National Collectors and Groups
    The nationalism movement of the 18th and 19th centuries as well as the realization that older tales were disappearing as literacy spread led to efforts to collect folklore for specific nations, as the Brothers Grimm did in Germany. This effort continued in the 20th century as radio and movies increased the rate of change in entertainments. Below are a few of the individuals and groups who worked to preserve the old.
    Note: Being a teller of Irish tales, that is what I know best. Other countries will be added as they are brought to my attention. (Or, you COULD start your own Hall of Inspiration that I can link to...just sayin')
     In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a literary movement known as the "Celtic Twilght" focused heavily on the folkways fo Ireland. Some of the more well-read collectors of the time include W. B. Yeats, Douglas Hyde, Lady Gregory, Jeremiah Curtin, Padraic Colum and Seumus MacManus.
     As Ireland was transitioning to a republic, the Irish Folklore Commission was established and collected the largest and most important body of folklore in western Europe. In 1937-38, they enlisted the help of some 100,000 school children to gather tales and tidbits of lore throughout the Free State, resulting in more than half a million manuscript pages. Some of the Commissions collectors included Sean O'Sullivan, Kevin Danaher and BrĂ­d Mahon. Currently, Eddie Lenihan (1950- ) continues to collect and share tales--he has the largest private collection of folklore in Ireland.       
    In Scotland, we are indebted to the work of many authors and folklorists-- three important ones were John Campbell (1821-1885), Alexander Carmichael (1832-1912) and Calum Maclean (1950-1960)  Carmichael's Carmina Gadelica is one of the major texts in Scottish folklore. Maclean helped form the School of Scottish Studies, an important archive of field recording. American librarian and collector LeClaire Alger (1898-1969) who wrote as Sorche Nic Leodhas, passing along treaditional tales that has previously gone unwritten.
    Any list of Scots tellers would be incomplete without mention of the great Scottish Traveller, Duncan Williamson (1929-2007). A great teller, a great collector--to use the Irish phrase, we shall not see his like again.  

Folklore in the United States
   The American Folklore Society, founded in 1888, is involved in the study and promotion of folklore and traditional culture.
    During the Depression of the 1930's, the Federal Writers' Project, part of the Works Progress Administration (later Works Project Administration or WPA), paid workers to collect local and oral histories, songs and folklore from across the United States.One of the FWP's major folklorists was B.A. Botkin, and his Treasury of American Folklore is a major resource for tellers of American tales, with an "ever evolving" understanding of what constitues folklore. This approach was opposed by Richard Dorson who coined the terms "urban legend" and "fakelore". Since I think there is a place for both points of view in storytelling, I propose to honor both for their own contributions.
    At around that same time, Alan Lomax was collecting folk music here and abroad. Lomax was a major force behind the folk revival of the 1940-60's in both the US and Great Britain.
    A major contributor to the classification of folklore was Stith Thompson  whose motif index (based on Antti Aarne's work) is an international standard.
    Among recent and current writers and collectors of tales, we have Richard Chase (1904-1988), collector of Appalachiana, especially Jack Tales;  Jane Yolen (1939- ), some of whose 360+ books will be found in almost every American storyteller's collection; and Jack Zipe (1937- ) who has written extensively on tales old and new.

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