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The endless and unending folk tale

A guide to the special issue on folk tales

The introductory article of the special issue on folk narratives includes a chain tale „Peas Won’t Go into Bag”, classifiable under the tale type ATU 2030, where in order to get things right a funny piece of violence is required to be enacted on increasingly bigger recusant animals. This is a cumulative story told to the author of the article by a special informant met at a tale-collecting fieldwork. There is nothing unusual in story-telling, despite the frequently idealized portrayals of the great story-tellers of old, sometimes deliberately contrasting with the modern tradition. Actually, most of us are able to produce a tale or two even today, especially stories of personal experience. As personal stories are, however, strongly rooted in tradition there is never an end either to topics or to storytelling, which makes folk narration, in essence, an endless process.

A folk tale is a juncture of two seemingly opposite planes – one analytical and informative, the other poetic and visionary. Narrative poetics enables the conveyance of different types of information by a skilful and creative use of imagery. Hence the necessity of dwelling upon some key concepts of folk tale poetics, such as simplicity and memorability, genre requirement or code, associations with real life, even in the case of apparently unreal topics (like in fairy tales), and the message of a story, which depends on the context of the narration. Throughout times, many of the folk tales have been based on rumour and gossip, while the opposite end of the everyday axis points to the classical „valuable” genres such as legend, fairy tale and myth, with the everyday story (Gm Alltagsgeschichte) sitting somewhere in between. Earlier folklorists would use a static text-centered approach, which by to-day has mostly been replaced by one regarding folklore as a process, hence the choice of the authors for the special issue. However, although text-centered analysis requires folk tales to be captured on paper, which is somewhat like the above attempt to force peas into a bag, with some unavoidable violence involved, it is not unfeasible after all.