The subtitle of this book is Historical, Cultural, and Multiethnic Approaches to Oral Traditions Around the World. A huge undertaking? You bet. Possible in one volume? The editor admits that choices had to be made regarding what, and how much could be included.
Part one of the book is comprised of four essays. Leeming, the book's editor, gives us an historical overview of storytelling. Carol Birch and Melissa Heckler address the issue of pluralism and the use of stories by people outside the culture of the story. Emory Elliott and Jackie Stallcup examine American oral tradition, and Jack Zipes writes of the Utopian tendency of storytelling. These were included, I suppose, to provide a foundation for the examination of oral traditions. All were well written, with those of Zipes and Birch and Heckler addressing questions and issues as opposed to the other two which were basically reporting trends and facts.How next to address part two? The press release described the book by saying that it covers "such fundamental storytelling elements as themes, motifs, characters and places, with descriptions of storytelling traditions from around the world. I decided to pretend I was a library user doing research, and started, selfishly enough, by looking up Canadian Storytelling.
I went past Calamity Jane, Italo Calvino, Calypso's Island, Camelot, Joseph Campbell, and there it was. About the same length as Campbell's entry, less than the entry for Castles-Enchanted. There is a brief overview of the people who make up Canada including the Inuit (whose folklore is not addressed in the article nor elsewhere in the volume that I could find), Indians, French and English speaking peoples. Of our Native Peoples it says only "the stories and legends of many of Canada's Indian tribes were influenced by the French colonists and the stories they brought from France."
Of French Canada it says that because of its isolation from France it has been a preserver of many oral forms of folklore that have disappeared in France.However, it mentions only the legend of Gargantua and the Arthurian legends. There is no mention of Ti-Jean, and no specific mention of the wealth of other French Canadian lore.
Robert Service's poems, American Jack London's, stories, and contemporary author Jane Urqhart (who wrote a recent novel about Niagara Falls) are the only names mentioned in the paragraph on English speaking Canada. And the suggestions for further reading at the end of the entry? They referred me to a book called Rabelais and Bahkin: Popular Culture in Gargantua and Pantagruel, to the book Gargantua and Pantagruel by Rabelais, and to The Shooting of Dan McGrew! No mention of folklorist Edith Fowke's books which would lead one further into Canada's folklore, nor of Helen Creighton, nor Marius Barbeau. No direction to any collection of Native Canadian works. No mention, in this article entitled Canadian Storytelling, of our national storytelling organization. (The national organization of the U.S., the NSA, was not in the book either.)
I started looking up stories and characters at random as they occurred to me. I knew that a one volume encyclopedia was not going to be all-encompassing, so I was not so much bothered by what was missing as I was by a lack of SEE references. Given the alphabetical arrangement of the book, I went directly to La Llorona, genie, djinn, and Nanabozho and did not find them. I then checked the index and was directec to the articles where they were located (Mexico, jinnie, and Manabozho). I wonder if many users would think to look for an index in a book set up alphabetically, especially since it was not mentioned in the preface. (It is, however, listed in the table of contents.) Since I have pointed out the lack of SEE references, it is only fair to make note of the fact that the articles do cross reference so that the reader is referred to related topics.Pausing to read about Asian Storytelling I was once again put off by the suggestions for further reading. There were only two books listed, and they were Murasaki's Tale of Genii and Sakade's Peach Boy and Other Japanese Children's Favorite Stories. Hardly representative for such a broad topic.
The articles are written in a non-academic way making this volume useful for secondary school students and general browsing. A wide-range of topics are covered including those I would consider literary rather than having to do with oral and folklore traditions.
A brave undertaking, not without its faults, which does, nevertheless, bring together some material not easily found in other sources. Augment its use with sources listed in Judy Sierra's Storytellers' Research Guide.
The Second Story Review, Vol 3, No. 1, March 1998