(11/14/02 10:32:01 am)
| Explanation for cross-cultural occurance of fairy tales|
I'm a final year student studying MediaLab Arts BSc(Hons) at the university of Plymouth in the UK.
I am writing my dissertation on "the Cinderella Complex": How basic fairy stories, like Cinderella, appear in radically different cultures - "the extra ordinary coincidence of stories told in all times, in all places".
9.and many more...
Does anyone have any ideas of WHY this phenonomen occurs?
Is it caused, perhaps, by an ancient common root?
Does anyone know of any relevent research?
I'd be very grateful for any help,
(11/14/02 11:43:37 am)
| Check out "Power" topic|
You might want to start with the very lively discussion going on in the "Power in fairy tales" discussion, just down the list from your query.
(11/14/02 2:42:22 pm)
| Re: Check out "Power" topic|
Greg: Thanks for the tip. I just finished reading the *Power* in Storytelling and Tales thread. Interesting topic. The Jung stuff is very relevent to my research (which is being somewhat sketchily formed at www.finalily.co.uk under the link for Dissertation), as I'm planning to include Jung's archetypes in my work.
However, I didn't find much in the thread referencing the question of WHY do the same basic forms of Folktales occur in unrelated cultures? How on earth do they get there? Can the answer to this question be, basically, that they are "narrative-manifestations" of Jungian archetypes? Can archetypes be that complex? If so, then that would be a very interesting slant to my research (which is covering Complexity / Chaos Theory as well). Please forgive me, by the way, if my questions are clumsy: I've just started studying this theoretical framework in any form of depths!
The way I see it is there are three ways that diverse cultures could come to share the same stories:
1) An ancient common culture, from which they all split off (Levi-Strauss's theory that, unlike language, myth can be translated, paraphrased, reduced, expanded, and otherwise manipulated --without losing its basic shape orstructure, could just about explain this phenomena, though we'd need to be talking about a VERY ancient source here that included Chinese, African, American Indian and European peoples as asingle culture...
2) Cross-cultural interaction, IE: trading (which can also be hard to explain considering that there is at least one pre-Columbian version of Cinderella)
3) Independent evolution of the same story in different cultures...
As far as I can see, all explanations seem pretty far fetched. Am I missing some obvious and reassuringly simple explanation for the phenomena????
(11/14/02 5:15:19 pm)
| uneducated guess|
There is one other theory which you don't touch on at all - this is from a person uneducated in literature and anthropology mind you - but it is that to some extent there are universal experiences of all people. Cinderella type stories touch on some of this. This is distinct from the coincidental aspects of independent evolution - I can't quite explain why, but it is at least in my mind. I guess that is why these stories still "speak" to us today despite their somewhat antiquated settings. The story itself is universal. So why not try to look at what is common in these stories and try to theorize about what basic human condition or experience or desire might result in these very similar stories. Certainly, we know that some Cinderella stories have influenced others. What a great topic! How much fun you are going to have.
Again, take what I say here with a grain of salt.
(11/14/02 6:12:20 pm)
| Jack Zipes ...|
Yep, I'm going to do it again. I do this frequently. I'm going to invoke ... Zipes.
In _The Great Fairy Tale Tradition_, he has an essay on just this topic. It's entitled "Cross-Cultural Connections and the Contamination of the Classical Fairy Tale."
In this essay, Zipes approaches one of the most frustrating elements of working in the field of fairy tale studies. Fairy tale studies cannot be treated in exactly the same way as other areas of literary endeavor, for the basic reason that, unless one begins with the intention of working with a particular author’s version of a specific tale in an effort to say something about that one author and that one tale, unless one is very careful not to generalize, one can easily fall prey to abstraction. There can be no one preeminent, privileged variant, but only a particular author’s telling of it. In an examination of, for example, Aarne-Thompson type 510B, one can discuss the Grimm’s version, or Perrualt’s version, or Basile’s version … but the tale will tell us as much about the preferences of the individual writer as it will about the culture which produced the tale. There is a dual problem; first, that of conflating a tale with its country of origin; second, there is the fact that no one author’s literary retelling of a tale from the oral tradition can satisfactorily convey all that it has meant to the people who have told it before him, but only that which it means to him. The presence of a system of examination for the growth and distortion of tales as they travel across chronological and physical borders helps to establish a clear system of study – hence the efforts of Antti Aarne, Sith Thompson, Vladimir Propp, and all of their academic brethren. However, the subjectivity of those systems present new, and equally troubling problems. Let us follow Zipes through his points to his conclusion; namely, that the scholar of fairytales must demolish the artificial boundary between the "literary" fairy tale and the "oral" fairy tale, and consider all tales according to the same criteria; as having been affected by their scribes. As Zipes says, "There was never such a thing as a "pure" folktale or a "pure" fairytale. (The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm, ed. Jack Zipes, W.W. Norton & Co., 2001, p. 845)
Zipes begins his argument by pointing out that
For a long time it has been commonly assumed that our classical fairy tales were representative of particular cultures. Charles Perrualt’s tales are considered very French, the Grimms collection is clearly German, and Hans Christian Anderson’s tales are certainly Danish. While there is some truth to these assumptions, they conceal the cross-cultural and multi-layered origins and meanings of these Pan-European tales that also have fascinating connections to the Orient, which includes the Middle and far East … Of course there can be no denying that … tales … are culturally marked: they are informed by their writers, their respective cultures, and the socio-historical context in which they were created. In this regard one can discuss the particular Italian, French, German or English affiliation of a tale. Nevertheless, the tales have a great paradoxical appeal that transcends their particularity: they contain "universal" motifs and components that the writers borrowed consciously and unconsciously from other cultures in an endeavor to imbue their symbolical stories with very specific commentaries on the mores and manners of their times. (Ibid.)
Thus, there can be no definitive version of a tale originating from the oral tradition; thus, in seeking to discuss the tales broadly, as possessing themes applicable to the various people attracted to them (there are Donkeyskin variants in every European country, Eastern or Western, apparently without exception, and in India, and Africa; likewise Cinderella, which also extends into Asia; likewise Sleeping Beauty, of which in fact, one version appears in the Arabian Nights), we must examine numerous versions to reach the psychological needs of the collective unconscious that drives us to the repetition of these symbols. But, how do we resolve that question when dealing with a specific version of a tale type possessing clear variation from the root-stock, the basic tale … does it say more about the culture, or the author? Zipes says that " The universality of the form that makes it so attractive is precisely what makes it so problematic, as establishing a chronology of composition or spread is next to impossible in an oral tradition." (Ibid.) He goes on to point out that, "The truth values of a fairy tale is dependant on the degree to which a writer is capable of using a symbolical narrative strategy and stereotypical characterization to depict, expose, or celebrate the modes of behavior that were used and justified to attain power in the civilizing process of a given society" (Ibid.), and that, thus, the reading of a text is dependant upon the writer’s requirements and perceptions – both the author of the text, and the author of the analysis.
One is forced to ask, then why do we distinguish between the two forms of the literary and the oral folktale? Zipes explains that development by saying,
For the past three hundred years or more, scholars have sought to define and classify the oral folktale and the literary fairytale, as though they could by clearly distinguished by one another, and as though we could trace their origins back to some primeval source. This is an impossible task because there are very few if any records, with the exception of paintings, drawings, etchings, inscriptions and other cultural artifacts, that reveal how tales were told and received thousands of years ago… It is really not until the late eighteenth century that scholars began studying and paying close attention to folktales and fairy tales, and it was also at this time that the Brothers Grimm, and many others to follow, sought to establish national cultural identities by uncovering the "pure" tales of their so-called people, the fold, and their imagined nations. (Ibid. p. 846)
He also goes on to explain that "From a contemporary perspective, the efforts of the Brothers Grimm – and the numerous efforts that they helped to inspire … - have led to a misconception about the nature of folktales and fairy tales: there is no such thing as a pure national folktale or literary fairy tale, and neither genre, the oral folktale or the literary fairy tale – if one can call them genres – is a "purebreed": in fact, they are both very much mixed breeds, and it is the very way that they "contaminated" one another historically through cross-cultural exchange that has produced fruitful and multiple versions of similar social and personal experiences." (Ibid.) Zipes refers here to an effect similar to William J. Ong’s concept of the media as providing a "secondary orality," as using text to communicate orally, and aurally. Similarly, the widespread prevalence of the literary fairy tale in Europe from the twelfth century onward created a kind of a "secondary literacy" in which tales were taken from literature, passed through the transformative lens of oral storytelling, and collected again with newly introduced additions and variations.
He doesn't provide a single definitive answer on whether there is some great ur-tale out there, or whether these tales simply address issues that are, to some degree, if not iniversal, then widely relevant to many peoples, but he definitely provides a good deal of food for thought. ... Phew ... the funny thing is that this is how I *relax* from grad. school. After thinking about Barthes all day, Zipes is a positive pleasure to deconstruct. Hope that this helps!
(11/15/02 9:56:42 am)
| folktale universals?|
>1) An ancient common culture, from which they all split off (Levi-Strauss's theory that, unlike language, myth can be translated, paraphrased, reduced, expanded, and otherwise manipulated --without losing its basic shape orstructure, could just about explain this phenomena, though we'd need to be talking about a VERY ancient source here that included Chinese, African, American Indian and European peoples as asingle culture...
JB: On the precise subject of "The mythical power of the myth endures through the worst translation" (a quote or something close to it from Levi-Strauss), please see my "Oolachan-Woman's Robe" in Brian Swann ed., ON THE TRANSLATION OF NATIVE AMERICAN LITERATURES.
I wouldn't want to argue that there is a sole ancestral human culture from which all fairytale "ideas" descend, but there are certainly old connections between now quite separate cultures. Raven is a culture hero on both sides of the north Pacific (though the stories about him differ). Amur River and American-north-Pacific coastal peoples share rather similar magical/religious notions about salmon and salmon runs. The bear-ceremonial complex, or at least elements thereof, have a practically pan-hemispheric distribution across the northern latitudes of Europe, Asia and the New World. The distribution of the so-called "shaking tent" shamanic ritual/demonstration is also interesting. One of my professors used to speculate about the "Paleolithic substrate" common to north Asian, European and American cultures. Pure speculation, but intriguing nevertheless.
Note that if such things exist, there would also likely be a "Paleolithic" or "Neolithic substrate" common to southern Europe, the near East, and Africa.
>2) Cross-cultural interaction, IE: trading (which can also be hard to explain considering that there is at least one pre-Columbian version of Cinderella)
JB: Two comments here. First, the subject of trans-Pacific pre-Columbian (post Ice Age) contacts is likely to get you different responses from different folks. But it certainly could have happened. The Polynesians found freakin' Hawaii! How could they have missed South America? I suppose the big question is the cultural significance of such contacts (assuming they existed). I'm amused that, in the hoo-haw over Kennewick Man (apparently pre-Paleoindian human remains found in central Washington state, claimed by some Native Americans as an ancestor), a few archaeologists have raised the issue of the similarity of Solutrean (stone-tool types found in Ice Age France) and Clovis (stone-tool types of the pre-Paleoindian culture in North America). One flintknapper commented that the similarity goes all the way to the bone, as it were: the blades don't just look similar, they are knapped in precisely the same way, precisely the same sequence of strokes, etc. What do you do with that? Thousands of years and a hemisphere apart?
My general feeling about interhemispheric contact is that people go everywhere they can, but that large-scale migrations or cultural exchange is probably much much rarer.
(There is a story, possibly apocryphal, about a version of BEOWULF that was recorded as oral tradition from a Southwest Native group, extraordinarily similar to the original... Much excitement, turned out an anthropologist had told the story to some Indians who liked it and incorporated it into their repertoire. Unexpected, transient contact often does happen with odd results. Another story: a writing system astonishingly close to the Cherokee syllabary was discovered in West Africa. Independent invention? Nah, turned out a freed slave who had learned the syllabary from the Cherokee took it back to Africa and adapted it to the particular African language).
Second comment: "pre-Columbian version of Cinderella" raises questions in my mind. Who recorded it if it is "pre-Columbian"? What makes it a "version" of "Cinderella"? Are there glass slippers, a coach, a ball, a fairy godmother or other magical helper, malevolent step sisters? When you talk about basic forms of the folktale, what exactly do you mean by "basic" and "form"? (And "folktale," that term too.) Not to be a quibbling academic here, but serious discussion of this issue requires looking at concepts and terms.
>3) Independent evolution of the same story in different cultures...
JB: I'd like to agree with Jess that there are certain... dramatic or psychological trajectories that have widespread (always nervous about that word "universal") appeal. A really widespread North American story element is the "deserted child," where because of disease, ugliness, moral failing, and so on, the village or tribe abandons the hero/ine. Hero receives aid (often from a grandmother), survives and wins supernatural favor, beautiful spouse, etc., is eventually revealed to tribe in all his/her glory. "Youngest-smartest" is another widespread story idea (I'm trying hard to avoid "motif") -- the youngest child is the one who gets what's going on but is often ignored. These both combine the notion of being the underling or being despised and triumphing in relation to those who oppressed you. But neither one is Cinderella.
(11/15/02 11:38:44 am)
| Re: folktale universals|
Even without going outside the limits of Western or IE culture, there seem to be many precursive elements of folk stories in ancient tales. Take a look at "Fairytale in the Ancient World" by Graham Anderson (I've mentioned this book on a couple other topics). He goes digging through ancient stories on a quest for the elements of fairy tales, with the notion that maybe these elements, originally separate, accreted over time to form the stories as we know them now. Some of what he finds seems to me a real stretch. But other pieces, other stories, do seem as if they might be an interstitial form somewhere between oral folktale and finalized (if such can be said) fairy tales. I suppose he's offering an alternative to the Jungian model of a collective unconsicous, in saying that the pieces were all out there to be assembled, and that it is perhaps not surprising that tales made in different places and times would be quite similar given the raw materials--which is, again, something like what Judith is saying, I think. That you don't need a sole ancestral core necessarily in order for tales in various cultures to echo one another--which in his book seem often to be localized variants on particular themes.
A contemporary analogy comes to mind, too. There's an argument Gardner Dozois makes regarding the "cyberpunk" fiction of William Gibson: which is that writers had been trying for years to capture this formula, but no one quite got it right. He cites works like Jack Dann's "The Man who Melted" as proto-cyberpunk books, so you have a body of storytellers trying on this form, and none of them getting it just right until Gibson lucks into it. Don't know if this an apt analogy, but it does seem to me a kind of compressed version of the evolution of a particular story type.
(11/15/02 3:30:21 pm)
In fact, Judith--the glass slipper, the ball, the magic coach, the fairy godmother are not canonical to Cinderella. They are later additions.
A magical helper is one element. A token (ring, slipper, dress) another. A third is that the girl (or boy) goes to some public gathering (church, ball, king's supper.) So I wouldn;'t count out a pre Columbian Cinderella. I just don't know one. Unless we are talking the Chinese variant or the Egyptian variant.
(11/15/02 6:17:23 pm)
| Re: Elements|
First off, I'd like to thank everyone for all their help in answering my questions. It's really useful to me - and fascinating as well (which is why I picked the subject in the first place).
Judith: Far from finding you a "quibbling academic", your comments are very pertinent - and of exactly the level of academic focus I need to take on this subject area.
I personally feel that the ancient common source theory is highly
viable, for some cases at least, though not all: for instance, there
is a Creole version of Cinderella, Cendrillon, whose name, I think,
gives it away as being adapted from the European version (see www.shaker.org/resources/listG4.htm
Have any of you read Bleek's collections of lore from the Kalahari San Bushmen at the time of the Dutch and Zulu invasion of their territory. Apparantly, these bushmen still produced cave art (with examples dating back 20,000 years) and were able to tell him the meaning of what they were painting, along with their accompianing folktales (which Bleek collected). Contemporary theory (IE: 10. Lewis-Williams D. (2002) The Mind in the Cave) compares these cave paintings to paleolythic European cave art. I've not yet read Bleek's work, but was thinking that, if any of the San's folktales (which apparantly are still current among modern Kalahari bushmen) parallel versions of folktales from other cultures, then the case for the "ur-tale" theory would be supported.
As for the pre-colombian Indian version of Cinderella I mentioned, I got it from World Tales by Idris Shah, Octagon Press (1979) which is a collection of "the extra ordinary coincidence of
stories told in all times, in all places". I don't know what
proof there is that, like the Creole version, it isn't just an adaptation
of the European version, although it's essential "Cinderella"
elements seem authentic, being encouragingly free of glass slippers
and pumpkin icons (point taken, Jane). I found a version of it,
if anyone's interested, on the Internet at this URL: expedition.bensenville.li.../tale1.htm
(11/15/02 6:40:39 pm)
When you say, "Pre-Columbian Indian", do you mean, "Native Americans before Columbus"? If so, which tribe was this from? The myths and cultures of different Native American tribes vary greatly. I might be able to connect you someone who works with the Eastern Band Cherokee and is familar with Cherokee culture and myth.
(11/16/02 4:05:17 pm)
| Creole Cinderella|
You mentioned a Creole version of Cinderella- Cendrillon, and commented that the name points to European origins. Not only the name points in that direction- history does too.
Acadians, the first French settlers in North America settled in what is now Nova Scotia. In 1713, the French crown ceded this territory to the English, and the English demanded that the Acadians either pledge allegiance to England, or withdraw to French territory. Rather than pledge allegiance to Britain, they traveled to Louisiana, where the word Acadian was gradualy corupted to become "Cajun". These people, French in origin, no doubt brought their stories with them, explaining why the particular version of Cinderella you mentioned bears the same name as the traditional French. Hope this is useful! Good Luck!
(11/17/02 8:02:27 pm)
| the "Indian Cinderella"|
I googled a little on the subject of the "pre-Columbian version of Cinderella." The text at the URL cites as its source "The Indian Cinderella" by one Cyrus MacMillan. This appeared in MacMillan's CANADIAN WONDER TALES (1916). This volume included stories of seemingly European ancestry as well as ostensibly New World ones (e.g., "The baker's magic wand"; "Star-boy and the sun dance"; "Jack and his magic aids"; "The bad Indian's ashes"; "The mermaid of the Magdalenes" and so on. A listing on the UBC library web site says, "The stories of the Micmac hero Glooskap are among the strongest in the collection and have been reprinted"; in fact, they won the Canadian Library Association Book of the Year for Children Award in 1957, several years after Macmillan's death.
About Macmillan, the site also says, "Macmillan was born in Prince Edward Island, and educated at McGill University and Harvard University. He became a professor of English and then Dean of Arts and Science at McGill University... Macmillan gave these retellings of Indian legends somewhat of a romantic, European cast." Macmillan was also remembered (and sometimes reviled) by his poetry students as leaning excessively in the direction of pastoral romanticism. Two stories are also listed under his name in the ISFDB as having been published in WEIRD TALES, "Atlantic Isle of Mystery (1954)" and "The Phantom Soldier at Ticonderoga (1953)."
All this is to try to understand his "Indian Cinderella" story, which to me has the feeling of mixing some genuine elements of indigenous tradition with non-Native story ideas and sensibility. Internal evidence as well as Macmillan's own background suggest a Maritime Province origin for the Native elements, possibly Micmac. Extensive European contact and even missionization goes back in that area to the 17th century -- earlier if you count fishermen and Vikings. Jen notes the long Acadian influence in that area. I don't know the usual story pattern numbers from that area, but 3 is less common in north America than 2 or 4 -- 3 sisters and the like in a retold story with supposedly indigenous origins always makes me suspect the number was altered by the re-teller; much worse things have happened in even modern "reputable" anthologies. In sum, the degree of "Indian-ness" in this "Cinderella" story is hard to determine without more information on Macmillan's own sources, but it has certainly been romanticized in a European direction, as the UBC site says, and "pre-Columbian" cannot be claimed for it.
Jane, I cited glass slipper et al. facetiously; my point was about classification, and how comparative study is grimly and eternally bound to classification, so the worth of your comparative study depends upon the validity and usefulness of your classificatory critieria. Why makes "The Indian Cinderella" a Cinderella story at all and not, say, a Star Husband story, which would be a possible North American tale type to assign to it? And, after all, is the whole concept of tale type not just, at best, a convenience and at worst a barrier to understanding the mutability and complexity of genuine oral (and written) tradition?
(11/18/02 4:17:08 am)
| Ah, stories. . .|
Judith--yes--obviously we are too often (and too tightly) tied to classifications as a way to try and bring order to what is seen as the chaos <BG> or at least the eternal "messiness' of stories. But what else to do?
Stories are magpie critters, ignoring border guards, tribal affiliations, picking up a bit of lace here, a fur boot there, crossdressing, and often singing inappropriate songs. What to do? What to do?
(11/18/02 8:17:47 am)
<off topic sidle>
By Jane's description, I'm a story! Woohoo!
<returns topic to less easily distracted people>
(11/18/02 10:54:49 am)
It's not just the stories that are magpie critters. It's the discussions of them, as well. Your comments evoke the notion of yet another level where stories are transgressive--that is, to the very classifications whereby we try to separate out their types (including transgressive). So now I'm classifying the transgression of classification by the stories.
My brain hurts,
(11/18/02 12:39:13 pm)
| "Singing Inappropriate Songs"|
Love that image. It'd make a good title, too.
(11/19/02 5:00:27 am)
| any examples?|
So, does anyone know of ANY examples of culturally isolated versions of the same essential folktales having being recorded???
(11/19/02 5:48:28 am)
| Re: any examples?|
A tale belonging to the Swan Maiden cycle, for example, was found amongh the Smith Sound Eskimos a few hundred miles from the North pole. (common elements of the tale comprises: a bathing maidien and a man who finds her wings/swan covering and discovers that she is a transformed maiden. So he hides the wings from her and she is forced to marry him, and so on....)
I was reading Stith Thompson's "The Folktale" yesterday and I found it interesting. I don't know if it is an "isolated" version, but judging by the region, it very well could be. I don't know.
Thompson's book is great because he doens't talk just about the tale types, but also where they can be found.
Edited by: Yellow McMaggie at: 11/19/02 5:53:43 am
(11/19/02 6:14:17 am)
| Swans and Selkies|
The Smith Sound Eskimo tale sounds identical in all relevant details to some Selkie stories I know of. Such tales never seem to end happily, either.
Probably someone with more knowledge of them than I can confirm, but it makes me wonder if this motif recurs in many diverse cultures who rely on fishing, or live on water.
(11/19/02 7:41:01 am)
| Re: Swans and Selkies|
Those are my thoughts exactly, as I have been trying to look into cultural variants of the Selkie Tales, such as "The Mermaid wife" from the Shetland Islands and "the Goodman of Wastness" from the Orkney Islands. So far I have found the Selkie tales to be predominantly around the Scottish coasts and Islands, Iceland and bits of Norway. (most likely a Celtic/Norse tale)
I find it very interesting to find similar tales elsewhere, particularly if, in the case of these tales, if they incorporate different animals, such as a swan.
I haven't completely finished looking into all of the cultural variants yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if I find similar tales from the inland, which incorporate more land-based species, such as bears and such.
I need to look more into this, as it has become a recent fascination of mine.
Edited by: Yellow McMaggie at: 11/19/02 7:46:23 am
(11/19/02 9:31:41 am)
And there is the Eskimo selkie variant regarding Sedna, who 'created' seals and whales and other sea creatures from her severed fingers, and is sometimes depicted as part seal herself.
I love selkie stories. I'd love to hear about other versions that you run across.