Forum

Hopeless, Maine, Fo...
 
Notifications
Clear all

Hopeless, Maine, Folklore, and the Folkloresque  

Page 1 / 2

Jeff
Posts: 16
 Jeff
Admin
(@admin)
Member
Joined: 6 months ago

This thread is an ongoing conversation on the role of folklore and the folkloresque in Hopeless, Maine. Topics of interest include the nature/definition of folklore, its connections to place, and the role of digital media in the creation and performance of contemporary folk cultures.

If you’re willing to participate, I’ll collect your responses to my questions here, and may quote them in future publications. I’ll use your forum handles if you’re comfortable with that, or I can use a pseudonym if you prefer.

Because this is a University study, it’s important that you understand the study and your role before you agree to participate. BEFORE YOU REPLY TO THIS POST, please view the Study Information Sheet and Consent Document, which will give you more details on your rights as a study participant and how I will work to ensure your privacy and confidentiality.

For this study I am only seeking online responses from participants age 18 and above. Please do not reply if you are under 18. By participating you certify that you are at least 18 years of age.

You can choose not to participate at any time. If you don’t want any materials which you have provided here to be used, please message me directly through the forum or email me at jat639@psu.edu, and I will be happy to omit the materials in question.

By posting in this discussion thread you acknowledge your consent to participate in this study.

 

***

Okay, on to the good stuff.

The conversation began via email, but Nimue and Tom Brown, the creators of Hopeless, kindly agreed to move it into this public format. In our most recent email exchange, I had asked Tom and Nimue about the definition of folklore. Tom said he thinks of folklore as "the stories/song etc. that express a sense of place (sprit of place) and give a sense of belonging to a culture or group." In her answer, Nimue emphasized that folklore requires active participation: "It's folklore because we carry it with us, because we exchange it, because it provides important points of references for who we are, who our people are, where we came from, and maybe signs for where we are going."

This is really interesting to me on several levels. Folklorists have had a lot of anxiety over the definition of the stuff they study. One of the most famous, short-and-sweet definitions of folklore is by folklorist Dan Ben-Amos, who said that folklore is "artistic communication in small groups." But more contemporary folklorists tend to take an even broader approach, viewing folklore as simply the ordinary, everyday, informal mode of cultural expression and performance that everybody participates in. Slang, for example--also called folk speech--is something everyone "does" to greater or lesser extent.

If folklore is tied to place, and can give people that sense of belonging, is there a danger of exclusivity? That is, do you think it can create an us/them way of thinking? I have in mind here nationalistic uses of folklore. I don't know if you all are familiar with the group Folk Horror Revival, but they've taken a public stand against nationalistic and fascistic content in their social media--which of course means that some of that has bubbled up from a minority of users, and they've felt the need to respond to it. (I've spoken with the FHR folks for another research project.)

 

Edit: Fixed the reference to Ben-Amos. The full citation is Ben-Amos, Dan. 1971. “Toward a Definition of Folklore in Context.” The Journal of American Folklore 84 (331): 3–15. https://doi.org/10.2307/539729.

24 Replies
Craig Hallam
Posts: 6
(@craig-hallam)
Active Member
Joined: 6 months ago

Hi Jeff,

 

This is a fantastic subject and you couldn't have picked a better way to study modern folklore than with Hopeless, Maine. My name's Craig Hallam, I'm an author of Speculative Fiction of all kinds but I tend to lean toward the Gothic in any of my work. I've had the absolute pleasure of working with Tom and Nimue, submitting my own work to the Hopeless, Maine collective on a few occasions.

For me, folklore show the innate human desire to communicate ideas and feelings through the medium of story. I wrote a foreword for an anthology recently on the same subject, actually. Or rather, a subject that I feel overlaps with this one. As humans, we're restricted by our methods of communication. Because we have to communicate externally through our body language, voices, or other visuo-auditory methods, that makes it very difficult to articulate feelings in a way that we can be certain some other human will understand. Basically, we're lacking a good dose of telepathy. And because our feelings, anxieties, and wisdom are often difficult to put simply into words, we have learned to generate stories that do the work for us. That's where folklore comes in.

I absolutely agree with Tom and Nimue on this one. Folklore is about belonging. Only, in the modern era, we're not talking about belonging to a village community. Modern folklore gives a sense of belonging that breaks physical boundaries. Hopeless, Maine has generated its own community by bringing people from all over the world to a place that exists solely in our collective imaginations. We are all drawn to the poignantly dark genius loci of Hopeless as a fictional representation of our soci-political fears and, oddly, our hopes.

As with all good folklore, Hopeless is a representation of the realities of our time represented in story. Our fear that people in power might be insidious, untrustworthy or have no idea what they're doing? Hopeless has Reverend Davies. The worry that our children are being cast aside as an afterthought and left in the hands of carers who are withered to shades by the stress and pressure of soulless government initiatives? Hopeless has the Pallid Rock Orphanage. And the worry that, despite our previous assumptions, the activists for the environment and supporters of nature that we've been told to fear and mock are actually the ones who are switched on and should be rallied behind. I give you Hopeless' resident witch, Anna-Marie Nightshade.

Through it all, characters such as Anna-Marie rail against these fears, and stand strong despite the overwhelming darkness. Our folklore, Hopeless folklore, teaches us that these things might be difficult to overcome, but they can be weathered together. We might not be able to defeat the dragon like in ancient folklore, but we can wait the bugger out and strike when it's got the flu. Hopeless folklore might be whimsical with its Spoonwalkers and Night Potatoes, but it is grounded in a reality that we can recognise. To conjure the spirit of a master of injecting reality into fantasy, we could do no worse than Terry Pratchett:

"I make considerable use of fantasy, but I also make considerable use of reality and indeed, every time Bilbo Baggins takes a quaff of ale, Tolkien makes considerable use of reality."

 

Aaaaaaand I ended up writing a bit of an essay, there. Sorry. I'll leave the topic of exclusivity for another time.

Thanks for having me!

Reply
Nils
Posts: 3
 Nils
(@nils)
New Member
Joined: 6 months ago

Hi, thanks for the invite. The viewpoint I bring in is that folklore forms my inspiration. Your average English county (I know those best), has a fair few dragons kicking about, countless witches, boggerts, pooks, and whatnot. Most of it forgotten because the folklorish memory of new generations is filled with generic Disney stuff and no longer by grandparents telling the old local tales. Or a worship of the old Celtic traditions which is in itself healthy in my humble opinion, but kind of odd coming from the Anglo-Saxons, and a bit sad when they've cast aside their own fascinating folklore in exchange. Being fundamentally lazy, but needy for praise, I steal the forgotten lore, claim to be 'saving' old heritage so that I can pretend I'm doing something noble, and then twist it into tales of my devising. Not just the supernatural, but also a rich vein like Sussex smuggling traditions. All mixed and jumbled up. And then presented as something new. I console myself with the thought that some folk say this blatant thievery is actually the essence of folklore. Not freeze-framing it for ever, but retelling it, re-inventing it, re-weaving it around archetypal needs - and contemporary norms. Let's not forget that long before the Grimm brothers cleaned up Little Red Riding Hood and invented a male character to save the young girl, she saved herself, after a bit of sordid narrative, involving her drinking the blood of her slain grandmother and eating the flesh, despite being warned by a talking cat what refreshments old Wolf had set on the table, and then a very detailed strip-tease in which each item of clothing is instructed to be removed and cast into the fire, after which Red - starkers - gets into bed with the wolf and says: My, how hairy you are, Grandmother." Stories like that change a little over the time and this particular one has been with us for over ten centuries I believe.

Reply
5 Replies
Jeff
 Jeff
Admin
(@admin)
Joined: 6 months ago

Member
Posts: 16
Craig and Nils, thank you both for your thoughtful replies! You've given me a lot to think about, but for now I'll just focus on a couple of the interesting points you both make:

Posted by: @craig-hallam

Hopeless, Maine has generated its own community by bringing people from all over the world to a place that exists solely in our collective imaginations.
...

Hopeless folklore might be whimsical with its Spoonwalkers and Night Potatoes, but it is grounded in a reality that we can recognise.

This is fascinating! Can you say a little more about these two points, Craig? We've been using the term "folkloresque" to refer to this kind of referencing--creative works that are somehow "grounded" in "reality," as you say. But I'm especially interested in the collective nature of the process you're talking about. Would you say it's accurate to think of Hopeless as a "community" (even though that's probably an imperfect term)?

Posted by: @nils

And then presented as something new. I console myself with the thought that some folk say this blatant thievery is actually the essence of folklore.

Nils, absolutely! A big part of my interest here is in how different academic uses of the word "folklore" often are from other uses. In previous eras of folklore scholarship ("folkloristics" is the word we sometimes use, a bit pretentiously, to name the discipline) people were very concerned with folklore as the collective, anonymous property of a given group. But as folklore and other fields, like anthropology, have learned more about how people actually work, we've moved away from ideas of discrete communities (people have always traveled and intermarried and etc. etc.), and from ideas of "ownership" of folklore along ethnic or national (or whatever) lines. So your point that "blatant thievery" is part of folklore is very much in sync with folkloristics.


I'm really interested to hear your thoughts on the folkloresque. We introduced this term because there's a long history in the field of being condescending and dismissive to "invented" items of folklore. The classic example is by Richard Dorson, a very important American folklorist who had this to say on the subject:

In recent years folklore has boomed mightily, and reached a wide audience through best-selling books, concert and cabaret folksingers, even Walt Disney cartoons. But far from fulfilling its high promise, the study has been falsified, abused and exploited, and the public deluded with Paul Bunyan nonsense and claptrap collections. Without stirring from the library, money-writers have succesfully peddled synthetic hero-books and saccharine folk tales as the stories of the people.

-(Dorson, Richard M. 1950. “Folklore and Fake Lore.” American Mercury, no. 70: 335–43.)

Dorson was actually doing something positive here: he was challenging American nativism and xenophobia. Right after this, in the same article, he goes on to decry the American unwillingness to accept folklore from other places, and explicitly compares this tendency to Nazism.

For Dorson, folklore had to be oral, and it had to be used (that is, told) by people in real life. "Fake lore" was the term he applied to all that other stuff, decontextualized snippets held up as "American folklore," bowdlerized Paul Bunyan stories and the like. The term came to be somewhat conflated with a related idea, folklorism, and together they've been used in a mostly pejorative sense.

We wanted "folkloresque" to undo the damage those terms have done. It does keep Dorson's focus on use (though not on orality): for something to be folklore, it has to be "used" in some sense by real people. But the folkloresque allows for the possibility of such a thing as, say, a fictional story that draws on "real" folklore, to actually become folklore--if it's used and shared by people.

I think you've both pointed to ways that Hopeless does exactly that: Craig emphasized its communal, collective dimension, and Nils the way that people have always used and re-used folk narratives. Does that seem right to you?

 
Reply
Nils
 Nils
(@nils)
Joined: 6 months ago

New Member
Posts: 3

@admin Yes that would seem fair. What struck me most about Hopeless, Maine, and I mentioned this in a review, was the odd sense of deja vu, like I had been there before but not quite. I think the Browns have succeeded not so much in re-telling existing folklore, but absorbing archetypal elements not only in terms of character (most writers grasp archetypal characters, either on purpose or on a sub-conscious level) but also landscape and mood. For me, it was unmistakably New England. As for folklore having to be lore that is still told actively, I disagree. In my case I like to uncover folklore that was told actively but is now in danger of gathering dust in long-forgotten archives. Moreover, in Sussex, I have encountered 'fake' folklore that I would still view as genuine. Ghost stories, for example, in the South Downs (with a long history of sheep, shepherds, and wool) tend to concentrate about paranormal punishment for...sheep thieves. It seems to me these were developed on purpose as cautionary tales to teach younglings that stealing sheep was one of the ultimate crimes. Similarly, there are a great many places haunted by evil spectres, demonic animals, or the Devil himself where it's likely these stories were made up by Free Traders (smugglers) to keep curious folk away from certain caves, barns, crypts, or other 'hides'. The Free Traders are no longer active, the stories persist, guarding empty hides still. Last-but-not-least, I am quite fascinated by the power of fiction. On a national scale, in the UK, King Arthur and Robin Hood could be said to be historical purely in the manner in which they have occupied a permanent place in folk memory and folk consciousness. On a regional scale, I was struck by how many people in Rye spoke of Russell Thorndike's Dr Syn as a historical character, his fictional exploits as historical deeds. I did not counter them, as in their minds fiction had become reality, they weren't being disingenuous - fiction here had turned into folklore and my main concern was how to tap into this, much as Hopeless, Maine taps into the spirit of New England.  

Reply
Jeff
 Jeff
Admin
(@admin)
Joined: 6 months ago

Member
Posts: 16

@nils Great points! And I share your feeling that, whatever it "is," folklore doesn't have to be "active" at present. I guess I'd modulate some of the above stuff to say that, if people have used it as part of ordinary culture at some point, it qualifies. It's certainly possible to locate things that existed previously as folklore in archives and books and whatnot. (But all of this goes to show, of course, that scholarly definitions are pretty arbitrary.)

I especially like your point about fiction, and I think you're onto something really important. The role of stories, especially as they relate to "place" (which can include whatever--town, county, nation) can't be overestimated.

If you don't mind my asking, do you have much personal experience with New England? You mentioned that Hopeless has a very New England feel. What does that mean, for you?

Reply
Nils
 Nils
(@nils)
Joined: 6 months ago

New Member
Posts: 3

@admin Unfortunately, I only visited once and that was mostly Boston, Mass. My 'New England' feel is entirely based on poetry and literature. Henry David Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, lot of John Irving and far too much Stephen King. I add Washington Irving because of the 'feel'. To show the power of stories, when I wrote a short piece set in Hopeless, Maine for the Browns, I started off in Maine and Tom Brown wanted to know when I'd been in Maine because my grasp of the state was sufficient to make him homesick. That was purely an accumulation of reading experience. 

Reply
Jeff
 Jeff
Admin
(@admin)
Joined: 6 months ago

Member
Posts: 16

@nils That's very cool! I guess there's a lot to be said for literary depictions of landscape. I spent a week or so at a friend's cabin in a small Maine town. There was no running water, and there were mosquitoes the size of barnswallows. I loved it, and would love to go back. But I also very much want to spend more time in your neck of the woods. My knowledge of UK geography is unfortunately not great. I was in Cornwall this past fall for a conference, though, and absolutely loved it.

Reply
Craig Hallam
Posts: 6
(@craig-hallam)
Active Member
Joined: 6 months ago
Posted by: @admin

This is fascinating! Can you say a little more about these two points, Craig? We've been using the term "folkloresque" to refer to this kind of referencing--creative works that are somehow "grounded" in "reality," as you say. But I'm especially interested in the collective nature of the process you're talking about. Would you say it's accurate to think of Hopeless as a "community" (even though that's probably an imperfect term)?

The Hopeless collective is definitely a kind of community just like there are many online communities. The interesting thing for me is that communities are historically brought together by physical proximity. A village, a school, a workplace. The creation of the internet means that geography is no longer a defining factor in the development, or membership to, a community.

Like any good fantasy (myth, folklore, legend), Hopeless creates an imaginary world that is a mirror of our own. As we all know, in historical communities folklore was not only a way to wile away the dark hours around the fire, but a way of sharing morals, experiences, and warnings. The world is dangerous, we must stick together to survive, avoid the local pond or Jenny Greenteeth will get you (a warning against drowning). And those things were understood by that community because they shared a point of reference, be it the untrustworthy local squire, wolves in the woods or the local pond where they actually lost loved ones. Any good folklore tales are the ones that stretch beyond a single village, of course. There are many ponds, many wolf infested woods, and so stories get passed around because they are useful to other communities as well.

Now, it would be easy to assume that the internet has taken away those close-to-home reference points that make folklore function in a community. Distance surely creates fewer cultural reference points between people across the globe. But actually, we're finding through endeavours such as Hopeless, Maine that we have far more in common with each other than we could have ever imagined.

As I mentioned earlier, we live in a time where government decisions, viruses and global warming don't just affect our little village; they are worries that people have the world over. People can come to Hopeless and recognise their local diabolical politician, the way that their weather is changing, and the desperation in their neighbours. And through our stories, poetry, and art, we fight against those things together although we're a world away.

The term community might be imperfect for this kind of interaction but it's certainly the closest thing that we have. Maybe we're just taking the word back to its original meaning from which it deviated. It's less about a quirk of residence and more about a group of people with a common feeling, thought or interest.

 

Posted by: @admin

Dorson was actually doing something positive here: he was challenging American nativism and xenophobia. Right after this, in the same article, he goes on to decry the American unwillingness to accept folklore from other places, and explicitly compares this tendency to Nazism.

For Dorson, folklore had to be oral, and it had to be used (that is, told) by people in real life. "Fake lore" was the term he applied to all that other stuff, decontextualized snippets held up as "American folklore," bowdlerized Paul Bunyan stories and the like. The term came to be somewhat conflated with a related idea,folklorism, and together they've been used in a mostly pejorative sense.

We wanted "folkloresque" to undo the damage those terms have done. It does keep Dorson's focus onuse(though not on orality): for something to be folklore, it has to be "used" in some sense by real people. But the folkloresque allows for the possibility of such a thing as, say, a fictional story that draws on "real" folklore, to actuallybecomefolklore--if it's used and shared by people.

I think you've both pointed to ways that Hopeless does exactly that: Craig emphasized its communal, collective dimension, and Nils the way that people have always used and re-used folk narratives. Does that seem right to you?

That's an excellent point. As soon as the folklore is no longer "in use" among a group of people, that is, as a growing and living construct, then surely it stops becoming folklore. The folk are removed, if you will, and therefore it is simply lore. Simply writing it down wouldn't stop the growth as we know that tales of King Arthur have continued to evolve and change after their initial transcription. But the act of modern books to create a single, ineffable, unchangeable story that everyone in the world knows and recites stops the growth of the tale dead. Folkloresque, therefore, is an incredibly useful term for the folklore version of fake news. Except, where fake news is the thing that runs away from facts, folkloresque is an evolutionary construct of storytelling being stopped dead in its tracks and pinned as a fact. The very act of pinning down the folklore butterfly stops it being the living thing that it needs to be to remain truly folklore.

That kind of certainty can also lead to a local tale becoming scripture. And that's where we cross the boundary from folklore to religion.

Reply
6 Replies
Jeff
 Jeff
Admin
(@admin)
Joined: 6 months ago

Member
Posts: 16

@craig-hallam Really interesting points about community. I especially like how you've decoupled community from geography. And yet, Hopeless itself has a geography. Is "imaginative geography" too much of a stretch? What I mean to say is, it seems like the place that is Hopeless is an important place to the community that coalesces around it. Does that seem right?

(Interesting sidenote, as a child I had a large number of these wonderful early-90s toys called "Monster in my Pocket," which were little rubber figurines of various supernatural creatures from folklore and fiction. The details are foggy now, but I think it was Monster in my Pocket that introduced me to Jenny Greenteeth. I wish they'd bring the line back. I'd buy dozens of them.)

Yeah, the "use" issue is a tricky one. As Nils suggested above, it's certainly true that we can find examples of folklore in old books and archives and whatnot. But your formulation makes sense, Craig. The "lore" being removed from its context makes it something other than what it was. Folklorists have made similar insect-pinning comparisons.

I think the folkloresque is less of a stopping, in any permanent sense, than a sort of temporary crystallizing. Disney stuff is a good example. I don't have statistics on this, but I'd bet that for many Americans, the versions of "Snow White" and "Cinderella" that are most familiar--maybe the only versions they know--are Disney's. So in a sense, the Disney versions have temporarily frozen the narrative in a certain configuration, and they've certainly impacted how those stories are understood by a majority of people. But then children incorporate those versions into their play, imagine themselves as characters, tell new stories set in those worlds--and these processes are folklore, too. In other words, I think it does happen that folkloresque constructs like Disney's Snow White loop back in to folklore processes.

And in fact, this "crystallizing" would happen with any example of folklore, too, albeit on a different scale. If we use folk narratives as an example, a storyteller makes a decision about how to tell a given story, what motifs to include, what pacing and voice, etc. In the moment of performance, there's a temporary crystallization. But it doesn't shut down other possibilities, and in a future telling, the same person may tell the story differently.

But what do you think?

Reply
Craig Hallam
(@craig-hallam)
Joined: 6 months ago

Active Member
Posts: 6

@admin

Perhaps "Conceptual Geography" might work as well. Perhaps imagining place isn't the defining characteristic, but the fact that it is a geography created to adhere to conceptual vision of the imagineers.

I absolutely used to love Monster In My Pocket as well. I had loads of little myths and legends laying around.

What Nimue says makes perfect sense in this regard. The folklore is an emerging, evolving thing that can be passed from person to person. Then we have a movie or a book and the story is pinned down, perhaps simply becoming lore. But a soon as that idea comes into someone's head and they start to shape it and work with it again either changing it with details or through performance, it reverts to folklore. Is that makes sense? Perhaps folklore enters these periods of dormancy, of being pinned down, between ages of growth and development. On that way, stories become something of a natural phenomenon like plate tectonics or seasons. And that certainly feels right to me.

Reply
Jeff
 Jeff
Admin
(@admin)
Joined: 6 months ago

Member
Posts: 16

@craig-hallam This does make sense, absolutely. I think perhaps some of the problems we're discussing--about gatekeeping and the like--come from those moments of "pinning-down," of thinking of a certain example as being the same as the tradition it references.

Another thing about the folkloresque is that it typically includes certain assumptions about what makes something "like" folklore. Think of pop culture representations of dusty old tomes and parchment maps and robed old men (usually men, because patriarchy is everywhere) reading from scrolls; or the "folk horror" subgenre of fringey pagan cults preserving forgotten rituals. These are popular and easy indexes of "folkness," and they're often emphasized (along with many more) in the kinds of work we call folkloresque. They have "production value," in other words, that is never a part of actual folkloric processes. Monster in My Pocket is a good example here.

There's an artist commune near where I did my graduate work, in a town called Nashville, Indiana. I once had to go there for a class assignment. It's a very self-consciously "quaint" kind of place, with burnt-wood signs and clapboard siding and lots of little artist shops. I remember one sign in particular that said something suitably folksy--it may actually have been "Ye Olde Artist Shoppes" or something similar, though I can't recall precisely. The sign was covered in moss. I was told (though I could never verify) that the sign was deliberately seeded with moss to make it appear rustic. It's not precisely the same as what we're discussing here, but there seems to be a similar kind of impulse at work. (And I'm not saying any of this is bad--just that there are certain formal and aesthetic decisions being made.)

Do you think the construction of these "conceptual geographies" relies on that kind of appeal to old age, ancientness, "folksiness"?

Reply
Craig Hallam
(@craig-hallam)
Joined: 6 months ago

Active Member
Posts: 6

@admin Do you think the construction of these "conceptual geographies" relies on that kind of appeal to old age, ancientness, "folksiness"?

In that kind of instance, certainly. But in that case, someone is using a "quaint" and "old age" aesthetic to change a geographical location to their preferences. I think that "conceptual geography" would be more defined by a place which doesn't actually exist and that can't be physically visited. It's definitely an overlapping impulse, though. That yearning for something. In the case of Hopeless, it might be a yearning for camaraderie when you feel isolated in the dark (whether that's social, political, or any other kind of darkness).

For me as a writer, creating a place like Hopeless in a fictional past might have the same uses as making horror movies based in the 70s or previous centuries. They don't have the things that can keep us safe like cars or mobile phones. That makes it very easy for the writer to isolate the characters. Inversely, creating a nostalgic space in a village with a Ye Olde vibe might be a compulsion to escape the same things. Escape from TV, pollution, neon bulbs and social media. 

Perhaps a conceptual geography would be something that is purely conceptual, as many art forms are. The case of the town in Nashville, I might consider more of a pinning down of those concepts. Especially if they are maintained in a particular way. We go from ideas to solid experience again. Imagination to location. Concept to precept.

Reply
Jeff
 Jeff
Admin
(@admin)
Joined: 6 months ago

Member
Posts: 16

@craig-hallam 

I think that "conceptual geography" would be more defined by a place which doesn't actually exist and that can't be physically visited.

I love this. It would apply to an awful lot of fiction, of course, but is a very good way of describing how world-building happens.

Reply
Craig Hallam
(@craig-hallam)
Joined: 6 months ago

Active Member
Posts: 6

@admin exactly. There's definitely some overlap there.

Reply
Nimue Brown
Posts: 4
(@nimue-brown)
New Member
Joined: 6 months ago

For context, my parents met in the folk club my mother and grandmother were running. I grew up with the folk tradition, with the music and stories of the British isles. My grandmother had a lot of stories about the landscape we lived in. I grew up in a landscape that was alive with stories – some of them held in the context of wider folklore and history, some more specific to my own family.

The world of my childhood also included Welsh myths, Tam Lin, barrows, hill forts, fairy tales and fairy folklore, moon magic, old straight tracks, the ghosts in my grandmother’s house, Kevin Crossley Holland, Alan Garner, and other writers working heavily with traditional stories and more. It wasn’t something I dipped into – it was where I lived. I knew you didn’t accept food from fairies, and that the barrows were liminal places (long before liminal was a world I knew) and that the Severn river is sacred, and that you have to be careful crossing thresholds, and that white animals might lure you to the otherworld.

From my teens onward I’ve been more deliberate and self conscious in my reading, and my engagement with folklore and reworkings of folklore. But even so, I know not to accept food from fairies and that the river Severn is sacred, and you have to be careful about crossing thresholds. I miss the ghosts in my grandmother’s house now that she’s gone.

When I write, I don’t sit down and think ‘I know, I will deliberately borrow this bit of folklore and then I will make up this other thing to sound a bit like folklore but fit my story needs.’ I write what I know, and when I’m writing fiction, I don’t dissect it. The witchcraft in Hopeless is a case in point here. It’s all based on everything I have absorbed across my lifetime about traditional witchcraft and fairy tale witchcraft. I have breathed in witchcraft in all kinds of ways. I breathe out Annamarie Nightshade, and Jemima Kettle and Lilly May.

How I write is a consequence of who I am. I’m not a folklorist. I’m not using folklore to try and ground a project or make it more attractive. It’s there in my work because it is a part of me, a part of my life, my family history, my relationship with place. I write the way I do because I understand the landscape in a storied way. The folklore is in me, and has been in me my whole life. As a baby I was passed through the Men-an-Tol in Cornwall. It is intrinsic to who I am and how I understand myself and how I see the world – how could I write from anywhere else? It is home and hearth and who I am.

And so when anyone talks about ‘real’ folklore as something that is, by definition not mine, outside of me, separate from me and unavailable to me, I experience pain and grief on a scale I find it hard to articulate. Because when someone presents it that way, it’s telling me I am not allowed to be myself, I am not allowed the things that make me who I am.

Reply
7 Replies
Jeff
 Jeff
Admin
(@admin)
Joined: 6 months ago

Member
Posts: 16

@nimue-brown This is fascinating. Thank you for sharing your experiences like this. I see how deeply folklore is a part of your identity, and I think your creative process makes perfect sense.

Do you still feel that the idea of the folkloresque has that affect? That it diminishes your experiences with the folklore of your place?

Reply
Nimue Brown
(@nimue-brown)
Joined: 6 months ago

New Member
Posts: 4

@admin Context is everything. So the idea of the folkloresque doesn't automatically have that impact on me. I think it's a great term for talking about folklore in popular culture, in products, and possibly also for how fandom works. Things that function like folklore.

I was really upset around the whole Folklore Thursday experience of being suddenly pigeonholed and having the term put onto me. That felt really uncomfortable and arbitrary - on the same day they'd accepted an image of the witch from Willow as needing no commentary and not needing to be labelled as folkloresque... (yes, still bitter about this). 

So it depends a lot on why someone is doing it. if the term is being used - as you do - as part of a way of trying to understand things, I might feel uneasy (mostly I don't) but I don't feel entirely erased by it.

The problem as I see it is that where there is folklore defined as old stuff, and folkloresque defined as new stuff in the way that you define it, there's just so little, or no space for living tradition. We don't have cultural identities around European folk heritage that get taken seriously but we do have many people living and working inside folk tradition, a significant number of whom come from families where that's also a thing... or from communities where traditions have been passed down. If folklore is either history, or folkloresque, where is the space for the people singing the mining songs their grandfathers sang? Or the third generation morris dancers, or the Abbots Bromley horn dancers, or Benjamin Zephania reimagining Tam Lyn as a modern migrant story...  folk dies if people aren't interacting with it. But if the people interacting with it are taken to be outside of folklore, that feels really problematic to me. I'm struggling to find the right language here.

Reply
Jeff
 Jeff
Admin
(@admin)
Joined: 6 months ago

Member
Posts: 16

@nimue-brown

The problem as I see it is that where there is folklore defined as old stuff, and folkloresque defined as new stuff in the way that you define it, there's just so little, or no space for living tradition.

Well, it's not that the folkloresque is "new." My colleague Paul Manning wrote in the Folkloresque book about Anna Eliza Bray's writings on the Devonshire pixies. The pixies weren't "new," but Bray's books about them were, and contributed to the literary development of a whole pantheon of British fairies.

It's precisely the distance between a folkloresque "thing" (a movie, for example) and the tradition it draws from that makes it folkloresque. Say you have a fictional film about Jenny Greenteeth, since she came up earlier (and I love her). The film draws on existing traditions, maybe adds some new material to stretch things out into a 90-minute plot. As it stands, the movie is a movie, part of a mass-mediated form of cultural production that is not linked in any substantial way to the traditions it draws from. But this would change completely if people saw the film and modified the Jenny Greenteeth stories they told their kids to incorporate things from the film, for example. When it's just a movie, it's not a part of the tradition; it is at most a reflection of tradition. But if the movie is taken up and incorporated in some way into the tradition, or if it inspires new traditions, that use becomes folklore.

As a simpler example, I have a bunch of Lego figures based on various supernatural beings. Medusa, Athena, a werewolf, vampires, a banshee (whom I adore), multiple ghosts of various kinds... All are based to some degree on "real" legendary or mythological beings. I don't think anyone would suggest that, as my Lego Medusa sits here on my desk, she is somehow an active part of a folk tradition or process relating to those beings or the belief systems they come from. Lego Medusa and Athena don't suggest that I, or the Lego company, or anybody else has any actual belief or direct participation in ancient Greek mythology. As representations of that mythology that don't actually participate in it, they are folkloresque. But, if we shifted our focus to how I and others use these Legos--playing with them, using them as decorations, connecting them to other hobbies and interests--all of these things could be contributing to the formation of traditions. So these folkloresque objects could be taken up and made a part of a living tradition. It's not the same as being an ancient Greek philosopher wondering about how the gods could be so licentious, or a politician consulting the oracle at Delphi about a crop failure. But it's still a living tradition that draws inspiriation, so to speak, from the very fact that it purports to represent that earlier tradition.

If folklore is either history, or folkloresque, where is the space for the people singing the mining songs their grandfathers sang?

Wouldn't this just be folklore, full stop? It may be a revival tradition, which can have a different dynamic than others because they're typically very self-conscious, and often more organized, polished, and performative than the earlier traditions they draw from; but it would still be a tradition that is performed into life by people. That's really what makes something "folklore" as we understand it: its use by people. If it was used by people in the past to communicate things informally, as part of normal daily life, and exhibited both tradition (stability) over time and space, and variation, then it was folklore. The verb tenses there can be adjusted as necessary.

As a final example, if a lone artist painted a picture of a fairy, which then hung on a wall somewhere and didn't participate in any actual discourse on fairies, or belief in fairies, or conjecture about fairies, that picture would not itself be a "piece" of folklore, because it wouldn't play a part in the cultural processes that define folklore. It would be a folkloresque representation of a creature from folklore. But if that picture were placed alongside others, reincorporated into stories and beliefs about fairies, informed the creation of new traditions--then it would be participating in folklore. Product and process is really a key distinction here. Folklore as folklorists define it isn't a thing or a product; it's a process. Or more accurately, it's many processes, which people use to express things about themselves, their groups, their beliefs, etc.

Reply
Nimue Brown
(@nimue-brown)
Joined: 6 months ago

New Member
Posts: 4

@admin it was precisely the experience of being treated personally as outside folklore and not proper folklore that got us into this conversation. Folklore Thursday went on to remove all of the content from us they'd had on their website, it felt very personal. And that as a big, public facing representation of what folklore means in a modern context, with genuine gate keeping powers, it had quite an impact, at least at the personal level. It was made explicitly clear to us that we were not folklore people, we were folkloresque - by people in a position to dictate the terms in which we got to participate in a public exploration of folklore. Up until that experience I had, in an uncomplicated sort of way, seen myself as a participant. 

Reply
Jeff
 Jeff
Admin
(@admin)
Joined: 6 months ago

Member
Posts: 16

@nimue-brown I'm sorry again that you had that experience. Have your feelings changed at all since then? Does this conversation help re: the folkloresque, or does it just cement your feelings that it's an exclusionary concept?

Our intent with introducing the term was not to exclude anybody or anything. On the contrary, we were trying to be far more inclusive than earlier approaches had been.

Reply
Nimue Brown
(@nimue-brown)
Joined: 6 months ago

New Member
Posts: 4

@admin this is a difficult one for me which is why it's taken me a while to answer. My first experience of the term 'folkloresque' was having it imposed on me as a form of gatekeeping. Inevitably, that's informed my experience of the term. I've read your book, and there so much to respect and admire in what's there and in what you are doing. I think if I'd come to the term in a neutral way, seeing how it can be used to talk about interactions between people it would charm me entirely and i wouldn't feel compromised by it. Intellectually, I like what you're doing and it seems productive. Emotionally, I have to push past the other stuff to engage. I have to push past feeling erased and overwritten by other people. I have to push past strong feelings of mistrust and anxiety to be in the conversation. You've given me every reason to do that and every reason to trust you so here I am, pushing back as best I can against the emotional impact this word has on me. And I'm conscious of how totally unfair that is because you've set out to do something good and someone else has used it badly, in a way you had no control over.

Reply
Jeff
 Jeff
Admin
(@admin)
Joined: 6 months ago

Member
Posts: 16

@nimue-brown I think this all makes perfect sense, and I don't blame you at all for feeling the way you did/do. I'm sorry again that you had to deal with all that--but I'm very grateful you're willing to have this conversation! Hopefully together we can turn things around to a place that you're more comfortable with. At the risk of oversimplifying, folklorists have to talk to people; if we don't, whatever we're doing, it isn't really folklore.

Reply
Page 1 / 2
Share: