Folk Tales As Literature

LittlePeopleBig4Although it is true that the printed page cannot compete with the spoken word in transmitting the spell of the folk tale, it is also true that, in both transcribed and transmuted form, the folk tale has been an important creative force in Southern literature. And that, whether oral or written, the folk tale is literature – the people’s literature.

While remaining faithful to the letter and the spirit of the original the transcription inevitably loses a great deal of its flavor, which the re-created version or translation may try, sometimes successfully, to restore.  Because “dialect writing” substitutes for the naturally beautiful sounds of folk speech the difficult and grotesque conventions of “eye dialect,” the best one can hope to do is to arrive at some sort of compromise or middle ground, remembering always that truth to idiom is more important than truth to pronunciation.

Dialect writing, too, often suffers from the limitations of giving the appearance of humor or grotesqueness where none was originally intended.  That is why the imitated or simulated folk tale, where dialect is deliberately used for humorous effect, as in stage dialect, smacks of burlesque and caricature.  It has little value as folklore or as literature.

The Poopampareno

huntingDeep in the mountains of Western North Carolina, there was a  man who was a great hunter but got to thinking he could do without the faithful dogs that had always helped him.  Their names were Rambo and Bingo, and one day he left them shut up behind a high picket fence and went off into the woods along.  Before he left, he put a pan of milk in the pen for the dogs, but they felt so bad about being left behind they didn’t go near it for a long time.  When they did try to drink the milk, they found that it had turned to blood.

Now, the hunter was walking boldly through the woods when suddenly he found himself face to face with the Poopampareno!  There was only one place that it could be hurt, and that was right under the chin.  Anywhere else a bullet would bounce off from its skin like a rubber ball.  So it’s no wonder the hunter threw down his gun and ran for his life.

Just in time he reached a tall pine tree, the tallest in that section of the woods.  He didn’t stop climbing until he was at the tip top.  When he looked down, his blood ran cold.  The Poopampareno’s lips were draw back from his terrible saw teeth and he was grinning at the hunter.  Then he began to saw with his teeth.  Through the bark he sawed, and into the wood.  Then the hunter called to his dogs as loud as he could:

Here, Rambo!  And Bingo!

Your master’s almost gone!

And a poo-pam and a poo,

And a poo-pam and a po-o-o!

The dogs were far away.  They thought they heard something but couldn’t be sure.  The milk in their bowl was blood.  They feared their master was in danger.  They looked at the high fence and wished they could jump over it.

When the hunter called, the Poopampareno looked up at the hunter and grinned again.  Then he began to saw harder than ever.  The tree began to tremble.  Again the hunter called, louder than before:

H-e-r-e, Rambo!  A-n-d Bingo!

Your master’s almost gone!

And a poo-pam and a poo,

And a poo-pam and a po-o-o!

This time the dogs barely heard him.  They looked at the fence.  It was too high to jump, and there was no hole anywhere.  Far out in the woods the Poopampareno was taking his time, but the tree was now more than half cut through.  It would soon fall.  So the hunter called louder than ever:

H-e-r-e, Rambo!  A-n-d Bingo!

Your master’s almost gone!

And a poo-pam and a poo,

And a poo-pam and a po-o-o!

This time the dogs heard their master plainly.  They backed off as far as they could, and together they jumped.  They cleared those high pickets by a scratch.  Then neck and neck they raced into the woods.  Just as the tree was about to fall , they tore up to the Poopampareno, and they had him by the throat before he could take his teeth out of the trunk.

A Colorful Experience

Lake Santeetlah in the FallFall or Autumn – whatever you like to call it, Lake Santeetlah is ready to welcome you with cooler weather, brighter colors, and awesome adventures. Leaf peepers, hikers, bikers, fishermen and travelers come to the Smoky Mountains from all over the world to experience the unforgettable foliage and cozy charm of our Appalachian town. With a wide variety of activities, the hardest part of planning your trip will be deciding whether to join us for a weekend or a week! The biking and hiking season is in full swing, and scenic drives are a must on the agenda. Dream up your perfect day in the Smoky Mountains and plan your getaway today.

The Ungrateful Constituent

bw photoThe story of the ungrateful constituent has become a classic among politicians.  Its moral is – never take your political support for granted.

It is the story of Farmer Jones.  It opens with a long chronicle of the political favors done for Farmer Jones over the years, by County Attorney Barkley, Judge Barkley, Congressman Barkley, Senator Barkley.  Back in World War I days, Barkley visited Jones in a hospital in France to console him; he interceded with authorities to get him home sooner after the Armistice; he cut red tape to speed his disability compensation; he helped Jones get loans from the farm credit administration.  And so on, down to the mid-1930’s, when Barkley got Jones a disaster loan to rebuild his farm after the floods washed it away, and an appointment for Mrs. Jones as the local postmistress.

In 1938, Barkley had a hot fight on his hands with a challenger for re-election to the Senate.  Barkley was thunderstruck to hear that his old protégé Farmer Jones was supporting the other guy.  Barkley hastened around to see Jones, who admitted as he guessed may he would vote for the opposition.  Barkley, choking down his indignation, recited the long saga of his political labors in Jones’ behalf.

“Surely,” said Senator Barkley, “you remember all these things I have done for you?”

“Yeah,” said Jones sullenly.  “But what in hell have you done for me lately?”

As Halloween Approaches It Conjures Those Evil Spirits!

halloweenConjuration is effective not only in the material but also in the spirit world.  The devil is a master of the black art and there are charms for summoning him as well as for seeing and talking with ghosts.  But the conjuring of spirits takes the form chiefly of charms to ward off or avoid eveil spirits and to keep them from interfering with human affairs.  This fact has special interest in view of the absence of benevolent fairies among these supernatural creatures in America.  In one tale (which seems more European than American) the poor, hard worked old mother of a big, no-‘count brat has a dream in which “tiltin on the bed-foot some little folk whinnied with each other and she heard them making talk ‘bout that no-‘count whelp she had: and by “taking their yarnin for truth – she was that near wooden they say” she managed to cure her son of laziness by means of a magical horseshoe.  With hammer for toe and a thousand pins in each calk, it was sewed on his back while he was asleep, and every time “he went to set down or thought on doin aught else but toil that hammer beat him and them pins pricked him till he thought not on idle fare more.”  But such beliefs in “wee folk” are only “idle fare” and, far from being active, are rare even as survivals in Southern folk tales.  Ghosts and the devil are very much alive, however, and witches only a little less so, for, though charges of witchcraft are heard occasionally, most of the bewitching takes the form of conjuring, and the old broom-riding variety of hag lives only in “the old ones’ yarns” and in tales to scare children.

As in all counter charms, evil smells are effective in driving away spirits but mustard seed planted under the doorstep, or fern seed in the hollow, a sprinkling of salt, pepper, sulphur, or collard seed, a Bible or a sharp object under the pillow will keep away both “hants” and witches, who can be killed only with silver (sometimes brass) bullet.  Used against witches, a broom or hair brush across the door or a Bible or sifter under pillow are effective because the witch has to stop to count whatever come before her.  And sharp things (forks, knives, scissors, needles, around the bed, or under the pillow) catch in her skin, which she has to shed before she can ride you, and keep her from getting back into it when she is through.

With the devil, who when not attired as a silk hated gentleman with an “ambrosial curl” to hide his horn, assumes the forms of black cat, rabbit, terrapin, serpent, house fly, grasshopper, toad, bat yellow dock, black billy goat, with witches, who take the form of old women, black cats, ghouls, vampires and nightmares, and ride people till they can’t sleep and horses till they are all tired out, leaving them with tangled hair or knotted manes; with ghosts of the wicked, who take the form of headless black men, black cats, dogs, hogs or cows and good spirits who appear as white doves, men, and children or look like mist or clouds, we enter the world of demons and bestial shapes.  These include not only diabolic and spectral transformations but animals with uncanny powers.  This is the realm of erroneous nature beliefs, akin to the “unnatural natural history” that preceded the science of zoology.  Here the aleatory element is submerged by fantasy; superstition gives way to mythology.

The Language of Signs

BB9319-001In general, signs are of two kinds – warning signs, the unnatural signs which indicate effects to follow, on the basis that coming events cast their shadows before them (omens, portents) and luck signs good or bad, which indicate observances (charms, cures, sometimes in the form of counter-charms to break another charm or avert a bad omen) or avoidances (taboos).  Warning may be a good sign or a bad sign or just a sign or mean something; charms and taboos are described in some such terms as hits good luck to do this or hit’s bad luck to do that; while a cure is good for or a sure cure for.  A person has a warning or know of a cure; he can feel a change in weather coming on, but animals know it; signs come true, work out, or work out true.  The reading of a weather sign may take the form of  looks like or something looks like…from the way; the report of a sign may begin, “I know you don’t believe much in signs,” or “I don’t believe in all signs, but”; the favorite expressions of faith and approval are “I’ve always heard that,” “I’ve heard it that way all my life,” “I’ve never knowed it to fail yet,” and of doubt and disapproval, “I never did pay no mind to,” “I never knowed it to happen out that way,” or “You can’t tell.”