Cinderella in America: A Book of Folk and Fairy Tales.
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Subject:||Books (Book reviews)|
|Publication:||Name: Cultural Analysis Publisher: Cultural Analysis Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Cultural Analysis ISSN: 1537-7873|
|Issue:||Date: Annual, 2010 Source Volume: 9|
|Topic:||NamedWork: Cinderella in America: A Book of Folk and Fairy Tales (Collection)|
|Persons:||Reviewee: McCarthy, William Bernard|
Cinderella in America: A Book of Folk and Fairy Tales. Compiled and
edited by William Bernard McCarthy. Jackson: University Press of
Mississippi, 2007. xiv + 514 pp., appendix, bibliography, 4 indexes, 18
Cinderella in America: A Book of Folk and Fairy Tales is a highly readable and unique addition to the project of documenting the development of European marchen as transplanted to American soil. While Cinderella in America represents the widest range of American folk tales available in one volume, William Bernard McCarthy limits his scope solely to tales of European origin, choosing to exclude American tales with origins in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, or Native American cultures. However, he includes European tales retold in African American and Native American communities. He further restricts this collection to include only wonder tales/marchen rather than the joke narratives and tall tales popular among American narrators. These limitations are necessarily somewhat arbitrary, but they also inform the specific polemical function of this volume: to prove that, far from withering in the New World, the European wonder tale has had a vibrant and persistent life of its own in the United States.
The collection is separated into five parts organized by both historical period and ethnic group, then sub-divided into seventeen chapters on specific regions. A sixth part and eighteenth chapter offer a case study of not simply a tale, but the taleteller herself, including personal background and photos of her in performance as a final illustration of the process by which European marchen were adapted as an integral part of an American repertoire. An introduction prefaces each section, providing cultural and historical background on the group. It also describes the material available and provides a narrative of the collection process for each region.
The explanatory notes at the end of each tale are informative and often appealing in their own right. Details included are that of tale-type classification, transcription and translation information, and description of story elements, in addition to anecdotal descriptions of collector and performer. McCarthy also uses the endnotes as an opportunity to point out unusual features of the tale that mark it as distinctly "American" in its retelling. The endnotes often reference other works with slightly different transcriptions of similar tales, in addition to offering parallels to other tales within the volume itself. This results in a degree of comprehensiveness; while obviously unable to include more than a sampling of the rich variety of tales that are available, the endnotes provide a sense of the holistic panorama of American tale telling and collecting. These background notes legitimize the collection as a production for the serious scholar, while moving this information out of the main body of the text allows McCarthy to retain the interest of a more casual reader.
Despite the interesting and informative editorial notes, the tales themselves are what make this volume worth reading. Drawing from archives, regional collections, unpublished notes of fellow folklorists, and his personal work, McCarthy presents a range of tales that represents a wide swath of the Euro-American tale telling experience. Thus many of the tale texts are either unique to this volume or found only rarely in other publications. McCarthy has taken care to ensure as much accuracy in the reproduction of the original voice of the performer as possible (while eschewing "eye-spelling" or dialect exaggeration) by returning to the original recording or transcription when available and personally re-transcribing the material. This results in an easily readable yet powerful presentation of these expressive tales in their rich variety of contexts and idioms.
The engaging style in which both tales and background are presented suggests that McCarthy writes with a popular audience in mind. However, he also offers an unobtrusive but thorough academic background for his work through the editorial notes described above, an extensive list of references and credits, and multiple indexes including tale types, motifs, collectors, and storytellers. As one of the few scholarly collections of American marchen, Cinderella in America would serve as a convenient and reliable initial reference point for those interested in pursuing research on Euro-American folk tales.
McCarthy sets out prove that, contrary to conventional assumptions, the Old World tradition of tale telling did indeed travel with European immigrants to the United States, becoming as much a part of American social fabric as the people who retold them. This large and varied collection of evocative wonder tales serves not only as a valuable resource and a pleasant read, but as an array of highly persuasive evidence for this argument.
University of Southern California
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