(1/20/03 2:01:04 am)
Fairy Tale motifs: The Aarne Thompson motif index|
Hi all, my first post . .
My question is this. Does anyone find the Aarne-Thompson index useful, and if so, why?
I find the tale index arbitrary and annoying. Bluebeard is type 312, no matter whether the ogre is male, female or dog because the rescuer is male. However, if the rescuer is a woman, it suddenly changes to type 311.
Anyone who has read Carter knows that the sex of the rescuer is important, but is it more important than all the other aspects of the tale? I'm not sure.
Likewise, the motif index frequently fails to help. The cruel stepmother is motif S31 falling under 'unnatural cruelty'. But hang on a moment. Before Wilhelm Grimm started editing to appease bourgeois christian values, all the the cannibalistic step-mothers of the published tales(re-marriage is evil, kids!) were cannibalistic *mothers* in the collected tales. Here's an example of folklorists calling the step-mother a motif of *folklore* because the editor who bowdlerised the tale he was told could not publish such a tale in the moralistic climate of his day. The cruel stepmother is therefore not a motif of folklore, but a motif of literature, a product of particular social circumstances and the editing of one man.
So . . is it just me? Are there people who find the AT index useful? If so, I'd like to know how you use it and why.
(1/20/03 5:14:34 am)
long standing problems|
Yes! The AT is a frustrating document--one because it is sort of the only resource place we have to go and quickly grab a handful of possibly related tales, or that assortment of tales that might have that interesting motif. Add to that, the fact that other folklorists have continued to add to the encyclopedia so to speak with more narratives and its hard not to find it a useful first stop.
But it also contains all the problems you speak of...the arbitrariness of the collector making a decision about the relative importance of images in a narrative from a culture they may not be part of, or they have political, cultural reasons for interpreting those images in a particular way.
I always take it with a truck load of salt...grumbling with it...even as I am using it, looking for something. Comaprative analysis is really interesting, but really difficult to figure out how to do effectively. For the structuralist who is less interested in the surface images but how they function and then are patterned in recognizible narrative structures, the AT offers an opportunity to quickly sort/find/ and examine a wide range of narratives. But it is far from perfect--its flaws mildly compounded as each new generation stuffs it with more data (and not always working with the same criteria in the first place!) But as messy and imperfect as it is--it is still a good place to find narratives one might otherwise not know--to have at my fingertips twenty odd versions of the armless maiden narrative--is rather nice.