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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The AT Numbers Unattached - Part 3 of 3

This final of 3 segments looks at how to search effectively, especially for half-remembered stories and more recent stories published after Stith Thompson's Motif Index.  (Remember blogs are published with the most recent articles first, so be sure to read Part 1 and 2 before this.)  

3) Jane remembers a story from childhood about four sisters becoming spring, summer, fall and winter.  She turns to the creation section of the motif index.  

Seasons are not mentioned at all.  This could be good or bad news.  It probably means Thompson did not research this area of story collections, which probably means that no such stories had been collected in the 1930s, when the index was compiled.  This could either mean the story is not from folklore, or that it is folkloric but rare.  With the explosion of storytelling interest in the 1980s and 1990s, if it is a folktale, it is likely to have been collected somewhere.

But how does Jane find it?

She uses a little ingenuity.  The creation motif is useless, but the sisters became seasons through making quilts with magic needles.  Section D of the motif index deals with magic.  D900-1299 deals with magic objects.  It is the matter of a moment to discover that magic needles (D1181) are most prominent in Germanic and Slavic stories; more than half the listings following D1181 are German or based on a Germanic language.  While the tales indexed here are not what Jane is looking for, she can now turn to geographic collections of German and Eastern European tales for a more productive search.  And, by remembering that Grimms' fairy tales were collected and well-known in the 1930s, she can exempt them from her search.

This does not guarantee that Jane will find exactly what she wants.  Too often storytellers miss versions or variants because they are focused on a particular element.  One motif alike does not make the entire tale type alike.

But finding the magic needle in other folktale motifs will help Jane feel more confident about whether she remembers the tale from a literary source or in the oral tradition.

These three scenarios certainly do not cover the plethora of experiences possible to the story researcher.  Frustration, euphoria, confusion, despair, and the flush of success through persistence are well-known to the sincere source seeker.  Nothing comes from nothing; good things come to those who show a little integrity, employ a little ingenuity, and log a lot of library time.

Think Loosely.  Don't get bogged down in tiny elements, and remember, the way you think is not necessarily the way Thompson thought when he put that story into a category.

Stay focused.  Don't think so widely that any story, through mental gymnastics, can become the one you are looking for.  A giraffe that heals animals through magic leaves is not a physician who gets his power from a magic dragon elixir.

Employ common sense.  Knowledge you already have can help narrow your search categories.  Knowing that "gypsy" is a common (if misguided) term for Hungarian peoples, or that African stories often focus on gourds and yams, can save you a lot of time.  They can also help you pick out the elements of the story most important for indexing.

Use your friends wisely.  Other people reading other books will cut your search time exponentially.  Let it be known what you are looking for.

On that final note of seeking help from others, I want yet again to thank Wendy for her permission to reprint this article AND to note that it came from her posting it on the international email list, Storytell.  I printed it out back in 1999.  Unfortunately the list went through various changes -- originally it was hosted by Texas Woman's University, with various software changes; when they stopped hosting it the National Storytelling Network added it to their site.  Archiving for old resources was lost unless saved by list members.  We are a community and often help in such searches.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The AT Numbers Unattached - Part 2 of 3

Looking at the AT numbers in Part 1 of these 3 posts, Wendy Welch proved that " The common misconception that 'research takes too long' is just that." 

Because there is sometimes a bit more I want to add, all my own comments are in blue to clarify when it is me talking or Wendy.  Because Wendy's article went into needed detailed, the first section, which sets out the basic principles, was the longest of three posts.  This next post looks at what to do if the story is not very common and is under copyright.

This is the shortest of the three segments, so let's start with a look at Wendy.

Wendy Welch PhD is a folklorist and storyteller. She has been on the faculty of the Healthy Appalachia Institute and the University of Virginia’s College at Wise as well as serving on both the Board of Directors for the US National Storytelling Network and the National Storytelling Board in the UK.
Beyond these many professional achievements, Wendy co-owns a used bookstore, has written The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book -- with its own Facebook page, tours as a storytelling performer and instructor, is an accomplished  craftswoman, and also blogs at Wendy Welch, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap. (All that was fairly official information, so it's in black, but for a bit of personal opinion -- Wendy's an incredible blogger and, if you, too, are a bibliophile, you owe it yourself to prowl her blog.)

Now back to The AT Numbers Unattached, part 2 of 3
2) Jane falls in love with a story that is not very common (and is under copyright).  She picks up a picture book about a great flood, during which the animals save themselves inside a hollow reed stopped up with wax from Wasp.  The Turkeys are last to enter the hollow tree, because while the other animals have been saving themselves, Turkey and his wife have been gathering the seeds of the earth.

Jane learns from this picture book's author (a woman of integrity, obviously) that it is loosely based on a Navajo myth.  Jane is intrigued with the story; she wants to tell it, but she doesn't want infringe on the copyright of the author whose book she is enjoying.  (Jane has integrity, too).  Also, Jane knows she is not even 1/32nd Navajo; she comes from Irish stock.  But she loves the turkey story.  What does she do?

First, Jane faces facts.  She must also think about what she will do if this tale turns out to be found only in Native American culture.  It would be best for her to decide this before she begins.
Next she decides which motif she likes.  What has charmed her?  Is it the unlikely hero, the Flood, the animals working in cooperation to save their own lives?  These are questions only Jane can answer, and she will need to answer them before she can make her research count.  Jane decides the turkey hero intrigues her, as she is in the midst of putting together a Thanksgiving program.  She starts there in the motif index.
Turkey in the alphabetical index of volume six (omitted online) reveals several interesting possibilities: escape dressed as t. girl K1816.5; why t. has red eyes A2411.2; helpful t. B461.5.  But B461.5 turns out to be a completely different story; the others are obviously different.  Jane could track down one of these motifs in a folktale collection specific to a country.  She has a turkey story now.  But if it were the saving the earth theme with the seeds she wanted, Jane would turn to "seed" - to find only one reference even remotely like her story: magic bird collects seeds B172.3.  Again, it's not even close.  At this point, Jane should abandon the alphabetical index as unhelpful and try the more loosely categorized A-Z one in Thompson's preface to volume 1.  Remember "A" deals with creation stories. One subheading of creation stories is "great calamity" stories: earthquakes, floods. . .  Jane scours the entire section of creation and disaster stories.  She now has several interesting ideas to pursue using the tactics of scenario one (see The AT Numbers Unattached, part 1 of 3), but the turkey and seeds story is not there.  From here, Jane can turn to the Thompson Motif Index of Native American Literature, but she will have to deal with the fact that this story is not found in a culture she can claim as hers.  (The Native American index is equally simple to use.)   

The final of 3 segments will look at how to search effectively, especially for half-remembered stories and more recent stories published after Stith Thompson's Motif Index.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The AT Numbers Unattached - Part 1 of 3

Every once in a while I do a workshop helping people find storytelling resources.  (For puppeteers I offer resources for puppet programs.)  For those really seeking detailed information, folklorists have created a way to systematize the many elements of a story.  This can also help writers and storytellers create stories because there is no copyrighting an idea.  How your own originality takes an element like "a foolish bet" and spins it into a story is where the "magic" occurs.  

Anti Aarne
Stith Thompson

  Two folklorists, Anti Aarne in 1910 and Stith Thompson in 1928 (later revised and expanded in 1961), identified the elements of folktales.  Their system of classification is a goldmine, but it sometimes confuses new researchers.  

Back in 1999 storyteller, Wendy Welch, wrote an introduction to it that does a great job of walking you through the AT classification.  With her kind permission, it is reprinted here.  Because there is sometimes a bit more I want to add, all my own comments are in blue to clarify when it is me talking or Wendy.  Because it also can be long and detailed, this first section, which sets out the basic principles, is the longest of three posts.

The AT Numbers Unattached or Researching Your Story's Print Versions
by Wendy Welch
(originally appeared in the TAPPS Newsletter, Spring 1999)
 It's a common dilemma.  You have found The Story.  You love it; you feel it; you want to tell it.  But something is not right.  The story is copyrighted; it is from a culture outside your realm of experience; it was told by another storyteller and you don't want to copycat.  What do you do?
You head for your nearest university library.  Therein will you find The Types of the Folktale by Anti Aarne and Stith Thompson.  You will also find Thompson's Motif Index of Folk Literature.  At about $800 per set, these volumes are beyond the range of most public libraries, but any good university will have them in the Reference Section.   (You can now find the Motif Index onlineBe sure to click a copy with "full view." Next click "Go to the beginning of the book" and use arrows or page numbers to browse.  Unfortunately the sixth volume, the Index, is omitted, but you can see a few other books there with a Motif Index for specific peoples if you just search for Motif Index.)

Don't let "Reference Section" rustle up images of dry paper chases.  With the proper tools--the indexes, a working knowledge of geography and culture, and time--tracking down stories can be as simple as an afternoon's work and more fun than a Halloween scavenger hunt.  For it is a scavenger hunt of a kind.  You work your way along information trails, picking up clues, diverting to follow false leads, backtracking to the main purpose, and ultimately arriving at --if not the goal you set for yourself--at least some very nice places.

Consider the trials and tribulations of "Jane Storyteller";

1) Jane falls in love with a story set in a culture she doesn't feel comfortable telling about.  She wants to find out if a version of the African-American folktale about Bear fishing with his tail through ice exists in another culture.  Jane gets out the Thompson motif index.  A "motif" is an element of a story in the same way that a syllable is an element of a word; they can be incredibly small (a lantern will not blow out) or very large (a princess sets three impossible tasks).  Like syllables, they are natural divisions along the rhythm of the language and seem obvious until you start to think too hard about them.  The best rule of thumb is, if you think it is a motif, it probably is.  Knowing which motif you want to follow is essential to keep yourself on task.  It is far too easy to get diverted in the thrill of the chase.

Jane looks up "bear" in the alphabetical index found in the last book of the six-volume set.  Bingo:  She finds "b. fishes through ice with tail  A2216.1" listed.  All motifs have a letter and several numbers attached to them, corresponding to Thompson's division of motif types.  The motif index lists 23 types of folktales, assigning each a letter.  A is for creation stories; J is for wisdom and foolishness; U contains homilies.  

Jane picks up volume one, and quickly locates A2216.1.  She beholds the bewildering entering; "*Type 2; DhIII 49.  Finnish - Aarne FFC VIII 14 No. 78; Estonian - Aarne FFC XXV 146 No. 42; Flemish - XXXVII 86 No. 78.  K 1021.  The tail fisher."  

Jane has lucked out on two counts.  First, that enigmatic little "*Type 2" means Jane need look no further in the motif index.  The story she is after is such a well-known tale type, it is catalogued in The Types of the Folktale.  Second, Bear is not the only fisheranimal using his tail for a hook; K1021 reveals a cache of tales about animals doing the same thing.  She can now either look up K1021 (K is from the section for trickery and action) or she can turn to the AT index, as The Types of the Folktale is often called.  If Jane were a real stickler for detail, she might also be excited by the FFC numbers; those show that Anti Aarne wrote articles about the Finnish, Estonian, and Flemish versions of this story, which were published in Fellows of Folklore Communications monographs.  You can find these easily by the reference numbers that follow.  The DhIII refers to a book in which the story appears; Jane can find it by looking up Dh in the front of the Motif index to see which collection/collector it stands for.

However, most storytellers will find little to gain from a perusal of academic dealings with the story.  They want versions for performance.  Thus Jane turns to The Types of the Folktale(Online at this writing only in Limited Search, as opposed to Full View.)

This single volume is a list of numbered story types followed by books in which they are found.  Since it was published in 1940, collections cited by The Types of the Folktale must obviously be from before then--another reason to use a university library.  The list is organized by numbers: 1-299 lists animal tales; 300-749 are the wonder tales; and so on.  AT numbers, as these are called, differ from motif index numbers in size.  A typical tale type number looks like this: AT333 (Little Red Riding Hood).  Cinderella is 510, although it is possible to have a 510b or c for the subdivisions of whether it is the dress or the shoes which are magic.  (The AT stands for the authors' names, and is dropped when both parties involved know they are discussing tale types.)  (A good example of this can be found at the back of each volume of Margaret Read MacDonald's Storyteller's Sourcebook.)  

Jane is looking for tale type 2 which appears readily enough on the first page.  Here she finds a bewildering display of abbreviations listed next to countries or ethnocities: "Italian: Alex. Lat Am. XI, 270" for example.  No less than 45 geographic or cultural sources are given.

Like DhIII in the motif index, the abbreviations in this display all refer to collections of tales; to find the full title and author's name, Jane turns to the front and discovers that "Alex. Lat Am. XI, 270" stands for Alexander's Mythology of All Races of Latin America, Volume XI, Boston, 1920, page 270."  

There is where Jane can do a little fancy footwork; she can either find Mr. Alexander's book and read that version, or she can gamble.

Jane now knows that this story is found in, among other countries, Italy.

She can leave the reference section and head for the 398.2 section of her library's circulating collection.  There she find two collections of Italian folktales.  Scanning the tables of contents, she finds these titles: "How the Fox Outwitted Bear", "Bear's Fishing Trip,"and "Why Fox Has a Long Tail."  Jane is a smart cookie.  She remembers from the K1021 clue that more animals than Bear have been caught with their tails in the water.  Even though that last story sounds a bit different, it involves a key word.  She looks up the long-tailed fox.  The wily trickster is the butt of the joke this time, as the story details how his tail, caught in the ice was stretched by his attempts to free himself.  Jane has a variant to play with.

Next Jane looks up "Bear's Fishing Trip."  Nope; this is about Fox tricking Bear out of his fish catch.  The third story, "How Fox Outwitted Bear" proves a double find.  Bear fishes with his tail in this tale, but at the end of the story are annotation notes!  Jane's heart beats faster.

Annotations happen when folklorists doing just what I have been describing here write their paper trails down for others to follow.  Finding annotation notes for a story means your work is almost done.

Jane sees her old friend K1021, and several references to A2200,  A quick walk back to the reference stacks would reveal that A2200 begins the motif index section for folktales explaining how different animals became the way they are--what tellers often call porquois stories.  Jane now has a whole playground of story ideas open to her.  She can stick with Bear on the ice, or she can slide off to new possibilities by tracking down references within the motif index's A2200-2599 section.  Jane could read through the various subheadings in a matter of minutes; it covers less than three pages.  The common misconception that "research takes too long" is just that.  

Jane could also skip A2200-2599 altogether and pursue Bear through Norwegian, Scottish, Southern American, and Native American tales collections (all of which Thompson cites) but perhaps she has now had enough of Bear and Thompson.

For about half an hour of research, she has netted not only the story for which she came, but also several new possibilities.  Jane can go home happy.

That lets us reach a happy end to the problem of what to do if "it is from a culture outside your realm of experience", but the benefits from Aarne and Thompson don't end there.  The next post here will look at what to do if the story is not very common and is under copyright.