"Year of the Adopted Family" book release

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

When is a Folktale a Folktale? Today’s Changes to Yesterday’s Story of the People

A folktale tends to conjure images of shrouded forests with country peasants, majestic mountains inhabited by isolated hermits, or dusty deserts pitched about by canvas tents of nomadic tribes.

A folktale is usually not thought of in a setting like New York City with its skyscrapers and bustling people.

Yet, a folktale, in all its simplicity, is a story of the people.

Time does not really factor into the folktale equation. We like to add the “long ago and far, far away” as probably a part of nostalgic and romantic notions.

New York City could be admitted to be as grand as any kingdom spoken of in classic folktales.

Universal themes are still the same from the past to the present. These themes provide the foundation for folktales.

There are three main areas that have changed:
  • Common Characters and Jobs
  • Self-Made Monsters and Disasters
  • Rural to Urban to Viral
Common Characters and Jobs
In the folktales of the “long ago and far, far away”, the main character or hero tended to start as a farmer. Oftentimes, some royalty made an appearance.

Today we continue to have our workers and our leaders, though we name them differently.

Jack’s mother may not be asking for her son to take a cow to town for some money (and have Jack bring back magic beans instead). Now Jack’s mother is asking for her son to take his college education and find a job in this high unemployment world. Jack is lucky to bring home some beans.

People like Jack and searching for the gold that would support their homes. Climbing the beanstalk is often the only way to do it. That could mean gaining further education or climbing the corporate ladder.

Folktales could center on the adventures of being a student. Passing final exams circulate as stories with the rituals and traditions involved.

Besides the perpetual student, we have occupations that did not exist to such a degree a hundred or more years ago.

Horse-drawn carriages have made way for automobiles. Sending letters by carrier have many times been sent through email. Books and programs could be placed on microchips and in software packages. Vaccines and cures have burst forth from healthcare research. And the list could go on.

Self-Made Monsters and Disasters
We still have killer crocs and devil pigs. We even have giants, though ours today go on to swallow fire and swords and become a finalist for “America’s Got Talent”.

One of the largest self-made monsters of the day: identity thieves.

So the idea of becoming someone stealing or becoming someone else is not new.

Consider the infamous folktale character “Master of Thieves”. If you delved into folktales from Iraq, it seems every other piece involves a man dressing as a woman or a woman dressing as a man so as to gain glory and gold or to avoid death and detection.

Now people are becoming other people without the clothes . . .only dressed in a social security number.

As for disasters, we live in a time when millions of gallons of oil could spill out from reckless offshore drilling and destroy coastline communities faster than any hurricane or flood. Though, not to be forgotten, these natural disasters still pound from the skies and the earth and compound the self-made disasters.

Stories of the past always involve battles, but now the bow and arrow and guns have made way for bombs. Earthquakes are not the only things that tremble the earth.

Rural to Urban to Viral
As we share the news of events with others, we can credit many words used to explain storytelling from country influences such as “spinning a tale” or “old wives’ tales”.

Whenever there was a barn raising or a celebration of some kind, the farmers and their wives would gather. The women had their area of their quilting bees and spinning wheels and would share stories and gossip while doing these repetitious tasks.

Then the printing press became more common and newspaper were born. Cities housed these machines and the stories disseminated mainly from these heavily populated places rather than the countryside.

Now we have the Internet. A person could zip a message to a friend on the other side of the world in seconds.

Our folktales and folklore are being chronicled mainly through Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Stories are continuously before our faces. The question becomes, “Do we value them?”

You are part of the people. The answer lies with you.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
Professional Storyteller
Tel: (801) 870-5799
Email: info@rachelhedman.com
Family Famine Series Site: http://www.familyfamine.com/