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Saturday, November 17, 2018

Riley - The Bear Story - Keeping the Public in Public Domain

Forget the calendar.  Winter begins earlier on my hilltop.  We've had snow dustings and coverings for some time now (the start of November?).  I'm not a fan because everything becomes more difficult.  Maybe I'd like it more if all I had to do was look at it, since it is pretty, or hop into my car and drive on dry streets?

I've found myself thinking about bears and hibernation.  The Truth About Bears and Hibernation says they don't truly hibernate, just become dormant or go into a torpor, sleeping deeply, possibly snacking a bit, but clearly reducing their accumulated fat.  Sounds like a great idea to me!

Of course I got to thinking about bear stories and when I went prowling at the old Story-Lovers website, on's Wayback Machine to the October 22, 2016 snapshot and then scrolled down to and clicked on SOS: Searching Out Stories, I then scrolled down it to the second category, of Animals, Birds, Amphibians, Fish, and Insects Stories Folklore and Facts, and clicked on it, then clicked on Bear Stories, including Riley's Bear.  The "Riley's Bear" surprised me as it was James Whitcomb Riley's poem as told in dialect.

Oh my!  As a performer in plays as well as storytelling, I have a healthy respect for dialect knowing the fine line between becoming unintelligible and keeping the flavor of a different way of speaking.  I also remember vividly being a young reader and not appreciating the difficulty of understanding what was said.  Years later I ran into this in my attempts at developing a reading knowledge of Russian.  A classic story had a German accent transliterated into Russian's Cyrillic script!  Yikes!  As if I didn't have enough trouble.

By State of Indiana - The Chronicle of Your State in Pictures, Public Domain,
In his day James Whitcomb Riley was noted for his stories in dialect.  Later critical opinion criticized them.  It also pointed out that, although the poems supposedly used the language of the common people of his home state of Indiana, they really used the language of children.  That's an interesting coincidence as Halloween reminded me of his "Little Orphant Annie" with the refrain of "An' the Gobble-uns 'll git you Ef you Don't Watch Out!" (That article about Riley reveals her name was supposed to be "Allie", but a typesetter's error changed it.)  The late Fort Wayne, Indiana storyteller, Larry Givens, used to tell that poem as Riley remained popular as the "Hoosier Poet" and may still be required in schools there.

"Riley's Bear" not only confused me with its dialect, but its title was confusing as I sometimes found it headed up as "That Alex 'ist maked up his-own-se'f' " . . . HUNH?  I also had difficulty learning where the poem originated.  Prowling under Riley's name and "The Bear Story" I found The Accuracy Project gave the poem and said it came from The Works of James Whitcomb Riley: Vol. X -- A Child-World (1899) but checking Project Gutenberg shows A Child-World is the tenth of Riley's books collected.  Going there I finally understood "That Alex 'ist maked up his-own-se'f' " is part of the introduction to it.  The preceding section also tells about the boy making up the story.

The poem is quite long, so you may choose to go to The Accuracy Project link above, which gives the original.  Another resource is a YouTube video of John Cooksey reading the poem. It may give you an idea why the story has remained a favorite with so many people.  It also may make it easier to understand by hearing it rather than trying to read it because of the dialect.

I love the way the story is definitely being changed by the little boy, Alex, making it up as he goes along.  He tells you something and then says NO! and changes what happens, giving further details.

I'm going to translate it next week, omitting the dialect -- some may consider this sacrilegious to change the poet's work.  For those of us not interested in trying to decipher words like "'ist", I hope you'll return next week for a lively tall tale.

In the meantime I need to decide how much I want to attempt hibernation, torpor, or whatever!  I think bears miss one wonderful part of curling up in their dens ... READING!
That and the usual fine print after a "Keeping the Public in Public Domain" segment, should give you some suggestions.  I hope you come back next week for my translated version of "The Bear Story" as it is a lot of fun.
This is part of a series of postings of stories under the category, "Keeping the Public in Public Domain."  The idea behind Public Domain was to preserve our cultural heritage after the authors and their immediate heirs were compensated.  I feel strongly current copyright law delays this intent on works of the 20th century.  My own library of folklore includes so many books within the Public Domain I decided to share stories from them.  I hope you enjoy discovering new stories.  

At the same time, my own involvement in storytelling regularly creates projects requiring research as part of my sharing stories with an audience.  Whenever that research needs to be shown here, the publishing of Public Domain stories will not occur that week.  This is a return to my regular posting of a research project here.  (Don't worry, this isn't dry research, my research is always geared towards future storytelling to an audience.)  Response has convinced me that "Keeping the Public in Public Domain" should continue along with my other postings as often as I can manage it.
Other Public Domain story resources I recommend-
  • There are many online resources for Public Domain stories, maybe none for folklore is as ambitious as fellow storyteller, Yoel Perez's database, Yashpeh, the International Folktales Collection.  I have long recommended it and continue to do so.  He has loaded Stith Thompson's Motif Index into his server as a database so you can search the whole 6 volumes for whatever word or expression you like by pressing one key.
  • You may have noticed I'm no longer certain Dr. Perez has the largest database, although his offering the Motif Index certainly qualifies for those of us seeking specific types of stories.  There's another site, FairyTalez claiming to be the largest, with "over 2000 fairy tales, folktales, and fables" and they are "fully optimized for phones, tablets, and PCs", free and presented without ads.

    Between those two sites, there is much for story-lovers, but as they say in infomercials, "Wait, there's more!"
The email list for storytellers, Storytell, discussed Online Story Sources and came up with these additional suggestions:            
         - David K. Brown -
         - Richard Martin -
         - Spirit of Trees -
         - Story-Lovers - is now only accessible through the Wayback Machine, described below, but Jackie Baldwin's wonderful site lives on there, fully searchable manually (the Google search doesn't work), at .  It's not easy, but go to snapshot for October 22 2016  and you can click on SOS: Searching Out Stories to scroll down through the many story topics and click on the story topic that interests you.
       - World of Tales - 
You're going to find many of the links on these sites have gone down, BUT go to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to find some of these old links.  Tim's site, for example, is so huge probably updating it would be a full-time job.  In the case of Story-Lovers, it's great that Jackie Baldwin set it up to stay online as long as it did after she could no longer maintain it.  Possibly searches maintained it.  Unfortunately Storytell list member, Papa Joe is on both Tim Sheppard's site and Story-Lovers, but he no longer maintains his old Papa Joe's Traveling Storytelling Show website and his Library (something you want to see!) is now only on the Wayback Machine.  It took some patience working back through claims of snapshots but finally in December of 2006 it appears!
    Somebody as of this writing whose stories can still be found by his website is the late Chuck Larkin -  I prefer to list these sites by their complete address so they can be found by the Wayback Machine, a.k.a., when that becomes the only way to find them.
You can see why I recommend these to you. Have fun discovering even more stories!

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