Hmmm – Fallen Princesses


“Fallen Princesses” is an ironic look at children’s parables, from Grimm fairy tales to Walt Disney. By placing iconic characters such as Little Red Riding Hood or Snow White in modern situations, the series became a commentary on such everyday scourges as poverty, obesity, cancer and pollution.
The book is a collection of essays, online discussion, letters, published works and antidotes about the making of the project.

A good point – folklore and conflict


I just liked this point:

“…apart from its entertainment value, folklore also acts as a record of social events and processes. Myths thus act as social texts which record the various kinds of conflict, negotiation, and human and social relations that take place in society.” (p.8)

Actually, I liked this one, too, which summarises the gist of this article:

“Indian society is stratified into many castes and communities that manifest themselves in a myriad of fractured and contesting socio-cultural and political hierarchical layers. Many of these castes and communities belonging to the lower socioeconomic strata are engaged in a struggle to carve out their identity and acquire social prestige. In such a situation, the memory of an asymmetrical love relationship may sharpen the conflict among these castes, leading to violence and feuds. Each of the castes may remember and narrate the myths from their own vantage-point, giving rise to multiple texts and narratives of these memories that may be the foundational element of their collective memory and narrative. Thus the hiatus between the prevailing myth and the existential realities are completely blurred and the myths become transformed into reality and the reality becomes transformed into myth. Myth is no less powerful in creating contestations and violence around such happenings than the real incidents.” (p.23)

Ref: Badri Narayan (2003) Honour, Violence and Conflicting Narratives: A Study of Myth and Reality. New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 5, 1 (June, 2003): 5-23.

Fairies of the Bush


In an old essay on the Aboriginal influence on literature in Australia (in its many forms), Margaret Dunkle included an interesting section titled:

‘Fairies of the Bush’

She writes: “At the 1978 IBBY Conference in Sydney, Through Folklore to Literature, the Aboriginal poet Jack Davis spoke of the folk creatures he discovered when his family moved from a white community to another ‘where a large number of our own people lived… I was transported from a world of fairies to another world. A world of mummaries, moorlies and widargees’ (Davis 1979, p.122). Patricia Wrightson at the same conference, in her paper ‘When Cultures meet: A Writer’s Response’ spoke of her own voyage of discovery into Aboriginal fairy lore:
I had needed for so long to write creative, contemporary fantasy with that strength that comes only from experience and belief – from authentic folklore; and when I tried to do this on the basis of imported European folklore it very naturally lost that reality and shed its strength. A folklore is man’s response to the mysteries of life in his environment, and so it can illuminate that environment in the light of his wonder. (Wrightson 1979, p.188)

Starting from this premise, Wrightson proceeded to create a new literary genre, that of the Aboriginal folk fantasy, employing the fairies and goblins of Aboriginal oral legend that are still to be found (if you know how to look) in the Australian countryside, just as the brownies and boggarts of England still peer round the corners in their own home place.

Wrightson divides folk material into three strata:
At the top is the sacred myth, at the bottom the once-upon-a-time, and-there-they-are-in-the-stars-forever, definitive story. In the middle, wavering unnervingly up and down, is the on-going, always-active, freely experienced stratum of fairies and superstitions. The middle level is the level of creative freedom (Wrightson 1979, p.190).

And so in An Older Kind of Magic there are earth spirits still living beneath the hard-packed streets of Sydney, and in The Nargun and the Stars the pot-koorok still plays sly tricks (but now on a white child) in the swamp. In The Ice Is Coming, the first of the magnificent ‘Wirrun’ trilogy, it is not whites but an aboriginal youth, with no tribal background but with the land still deep within his being, who embarks upon a quest in which he is aided – and sometimes hindered – by the creatures of the land: ninyas, nyols, turongs, mimis. His adventures are continued in The Dark Bright Water and culminate in Behind the Wind, as Wirrun himself joins the creatures of legend. In her latest novel, A Little Fear, Wrightson [-p.115] has produced a cameo, a small masterpiece in which an old white woman, Agnes Tucker, engages in a battle of wills against an even older creature: a njimbin, a small sly spirit of the hills.

Wrightson is not the only white person to have seen these fairies of the bush. They appear in the Duracks’ The Way of the Whirlwind: Bubba Piebi, the tricksy little red man, Bremurer the great snake, the Whirlwind itself. So many people have seen Bunyip that he has passed into white folklore, and accounts of Yowies rival those of giant wild cats (perhaps they are legendary too?). But apart from Wrightson, Bill Scott is, as far as I know, the only author to bring these creatures into a novel. In Shadows Among the Leaves there are two sorts, one native to the rainforest that collects interesting toys (like bodies!) and another who are refugees, displaced by the clearing of their own land further south. Both are integral to the story, and lead the way, I hope, to more sightings of Old Things in stories yet to come.” (Dunkle, pp.114-115)

Myths and Legends

Dunkle finishes her essay with a section titled ‘Myths and Legends’ that also seemed interesting… Dunkle again: “The other two strata in Wrightson’s definition, the sacred creative muth and the definitive folk story, are part of the linked chain of media through which the religious and social inheritance of a proud people were once transmitted: told, sung, danced, carved and painted by tribespeople from one end of the continent to the other. The early white settlers and explorers observed, uncomprehending, all the artistic flowering of a rich but wholly alien culture. Mary Ann Fitzgerald and Kate Langloh Parker were the first to attempt to record a few fragments, both writing from a sense of urgency because it was apparent that the legends would die with the old people of the tribes. There have been many collections since, ranging from the sentimental to the scientific, and most of them made with the same feeling of time running out. In 1964, for the first time, an Aboriginal storyteller published his own collection. The Legends of Moonie Jarl are told by Wilf Reeves, illustrated by his sister Olga Miller. The stories were told them by their father, an elder of the Butchulla people of Fraser Island. They are children’s folk tales, and the pictures are in the stule of the sand-paintings which traditional storytellers would have made to illustrate the tales as they were being told. Over the intervening years there have been other collections by other Aboriginal owners: Uncle Willie Mackenzie’s Legends of the Goundirs, Joe Nangan’s Dreaming, Tulo Gordon’s Milbi. Like the white collectors, these Aboriginal narrators are concerned to record what they can of vanishing cultures. Often they are the final ‘owners’, the last traditionally educated people of their tribes.

Djugurba: Tales from the Spirit Time was published in 1974, followed by Kwork Kwork the Green Frog and Other Tales from the Spirit Time and The Aboriginal Children’s History of Australia. The three open a new era in Australian publishing because they are the product of young Aboriginal people in transition, not so much remembering the traditional patterns as adjusting them to new stresses in a white-dominated society. Djugurba and Kwork Kwork are the product of young Aboriginal students training as teachers at Kormilda College in Darwin. The History (which begins, naturally, with a Creation legend and the Dreaming) is a collection of stories and paintings from secondary school students all over Australia. What they have in common, despite a wide diversity of cultures, and varying degrees of westernization, is an unfaltering commitment to Aboriginal values and identity, despite the erosion of tribal cultures. These are unique records, of great historical significance, of a brave and beleaguered people in cultural transition.” (p.115)

Overleaf, she continues: “Dick Roughsey (or Goobalathaldin, his tribal name) grew up within a tribal culture on Mornington Island, in the Gulf of Carpentaria. He had always wanted to learn to paint, and a chance aquaintance with artist/explorer Percy Trezise gave him the opportunity. The two men became friends, going on expeditions together intot he wild and inaccessible Cape York hinterland where they found caves filled with dramatic paintings, and were given the legends they represented by the people to whom they belong. The result is history: a series of stunning picture books of Aboriginal legends, quite unlike anything that had been seen before. Combining a spare and simple text with dramatic, brilliantly coloured paintings, they present the Dreamtime beings as the people would have imagined them, moving across the strange and incredibly beautiful landscape of that northern area. Seen in context, the legends fall into place: Quinkins and Rainbow Serpents and mythic beings who can change at will into birds or animals become wholly believable as they move across the pages of these splendid books.

Long long time before our Dreaming, the earth at our feet had no shape, it had no colour, there was no light and nothing walked across it…
It was dust without water, no river flowed, the earth was empty.
Into the darkness came the Birirrk. They came from fary away and made their tracks on the ground….” (p.116)

Another Australian author

Earlier in her essay, Dunkle also mentions author Kath Walker, describing her work in a way that makes it sound rather appealing: “In 1972 the Aboriginal poet Kath Walker published Stradbroke Dreamtime, with reminiscences of her childhood on Stradbroke Island and also some of the legends told by her people. the brief stories ofer a vivid, wryly humorous commentary on white society and provide a unique glimpse of a warm and lively family still adhering to Aboriginal values and cultural patterns within a rural, largely white, community. In 1981 she published Father Sky and Mother Earth, a picture book, which starts as a Dreaming legends of the Creation and ends as an impassioned plea for global sanity. It is an extraordinary parable, with Aboriginal style illustrations…, far ahead of its time….” (p.113)

Ref: Margaret Dunkle (1988) The Aboriginal influence in Australian literature for young people pp.105-121 in Eds. Wendy and John Birman Brave New World International Understanding through Books. Curtin University of Technology: Perth.

Urban legends and travel


Mike Hanne once pointed out (in a lecture – COMPLIT 202: Interpreting Folktales, University of Auckland 2001) that lots of urban legends are associated with travel… ‘What is attractive and what is frightening about being away from home/where you are comfortable?’ he asked…

Consider stories about losing kidneys (for example) in the airport, on the plane, in Disneyland, etc…

or the urban legends associated with restaurants – especially those run by other ethnic groups (cats going missing near Chinese neighbourhoods, for example, or – more recently – near the New Zealander living in small town France)

“In the telling of these stories,” Mike explained, “part of the psychological point is that they’re pushing the question ‘what will you believe?'”

Do these legends require the ‘willing suspension of disbelief’? or is some other narrative tradition in play?

Who tells the stories???


With regards to the collection and interpretation of urban legends, Jan Brunvand writes:

What little we know about who tells the stories, when, to whom, and why invariably contributes towards understanding how legends function and what they mean. Too frequently, however, our contextual and background information is limited to the name, age, sex, and address of informants; seldom do we find scholarly studies that give close descriptions of actual storytelling events.” (p.15)

Ref: Jan Brunvand The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban legends and their Meanings, New York/London: WW Norton, 1981.

Texture, Text and Context: Alan Dundes on Folklore


Folklore, as a discipline, will never be adequately defined unless or until all the various genres or forms of folklore are rigorously described. Attempts to define folklore by means of criteria external to the materials of folklore are doomed to failure. Superstitions, for example, cannot be properly defined on the basis of whether or not an informant believes a particular superstition to be true or valid. If superstition or any other form of folklore is derfined in such a way, the problem arises as to what to call ‘Breaking a mirror is seven years’ bad luck’ when the informant does not himself believe that breaking a mirror has anything to do with bad luck.

Perhaps the most common external criterion used to define folklore is the way in which folklore is transmitted. Folklorists are wont to say that folklore is, or is in, ‘oral tradition’. Yet many forms of folklore are not transmitted orally at all. A boy may learn to play marbles or skip stones by watching other boys play. Nonverbal folklore such as gestures, games, and folkdance cannot be said to be truly in oral tradition. Even the ‘oral’ as opposed to ‘written’ dichotomic criterion, in the final analysis, can be shown empirically to be untenable. There are numerous written forms of folklore. Examples of folklore which are primarily written include: autograph book verse, automobile names, flyleaf rhymes…, latrinalia….” (p.20)

It should be clear that the mode of folklore’s transmission is in no way limited to folkloristic materials and that, consequently, it is of limited aid in defining folklore as distinct from other cultural materials. From this, one could reason say that definitions of folklore which depend completely upon such terms as ‘oral’, ‘tradition’, and ‘transmission’ are of questionable utility in explaining to someone who has no idea what folklore is what folklore is! Yet Utley’s recent attempt to grapple with the problem of definition concludes with his so-called operational definition which consists essentially of the ‘orally trasmitted’ criterion. In another recent study devoted in part to the same bête noir, Maranda maintains that ‘the process of transmission is the key for defining what folklore is.’ However, both of these folklorists are aware that form, in fact, is and in theory should be the decisive criterion for defining folklore. It must be internal, not external criteria which are used to define folklore. There is no harm, of course, in noting that folklore is transmitted like other aspects of culture, but it should be understood that this in no way materially contributes towards a definition of folklore which might differentiate it from other aspects of culture transmitted in the same fashion.

The problem then of defining folklore boils down to the task of defining exhaustively all of the forms of folklore. …However, thus far in the illustrious history of the discipline, not so much as one genre has been completely defined.” (p.21)

Stith Thompson not only confesses that he cannot really answer the question of what exactly a motif is, but he [-p.22] argues that ‘it makes no difference exactly what they are like.’ Thompson’s attitude towards the problem of definition is equally evident in his discussion of his specialty, the folktale. After remarking that ‘no attempt has ever been made to define it exactly,’ Thompson goes on to say in the course of  writing a definition of folktale for a folklore dictionary that this lack of basic definitition is a ‘great convenience… since it avoids the necessity of making decisions and often of entering into long debates as to the exact narrative genre to which a particular story may belong.‘ / this same deplorable situation is found in discussions of other genres.” (pp.21-22)

In an effort to encourage the definition of the various forms of folklore and thus eventually the definition of the field of folklore itself, I would like to propose three levels of analysis, each of which can aid in the task of definition. With respect to any given item of folklore, one may analyze its texture, its text, and its context. It is unlikely that a genre of folklore could be defined on the basis of just one of these. Ideally, a genre should be defined in terms of all three.

In most of the genres (and all those of a verbal nature), the texture is the language, the specific phonemens and morphemes employed. Thus in verbal forms of folklore, textural features are linguistic features. The textural features of proverbs, for example, include rhyme and alliteration. Other common textural features include: stress, pitch, juncture, tone, and onomatopoeia. The more important the textural features are in a given genre of folklore, the more difficult it is to translate an example of that genre into another language.” (p.22)

“Since the study of texture in folklore is basically the study of language (although there are textural analogs in folkdance and folk art), textural studies have been made by linguists rather than by folklorists. Moreover, because of the many theoretical and methodological advances in linguistics, there has been a tendency among some linguists to try to define folklore genres upon the basis of textual characteristics alone. To attempt this is to commit what I would term ‘the linguistic fallacy’, that is, to reduce the analysis of folklore to the analysis of language.” (p.23)

“The text of an item of folklore is essentially a version or a single telling of a tale, a recitation of a proverb, a singing of a folksong. For purposes of analysis, the text may be considered independent of its texture. Whereas texture is, on the whole, untranslatable, text may be translated. The proverb text ‘Coffee boiled is coffee spoiled’ may in theory be translated into any language, but the chances that the textural features of rhyme will survive translation are virtually nil.” (p.23)

The context of an item of folklore is the specific social situation in which that particular item is actually employed. It is necessary to distinguish context and function. Function is essentially an abstraction made on the basis of a number of contexts. Usually, function is an [-p.24] analyst’s statement of what (he thinks) the use or purpose of a given genre of folklore is. Thus one of the functions of myth is to provide a sacred precedent for present action. …This is not the same as the actual social situation in which a particular myth or proverb is used.” (pp.23-24)

“There is nothing wrong with recording an informant’s name and address and the place and date of collection, but one should not delude oneself into thinking that one has thereby recorded context. Such minimal informant data is a beginning, not an end.

Texture, text, and context must all be recorded. It should be noted that texture, text, and context, can each be subjected to structural analysis. Emic and etic units can be distinguished at each level. There are emic slots in contexts which can be filled by etic examples of particular [-p.32] genres. In a given contextual slot, e.g., one involving social protest, a number of different genres may be employed, such as jokes, proverbs, gestures, and folksongs. On the other hand, a given genre, e.g., the riddle, may fill a number of different contextual slots. This is exactly parallel to the sturctural analysis of text. In the case of folktale structure, for example, emic slots in texts can be filled by different etic units, that is, different motifs (allomotifs) may be used in a given motifeme. Moreover the same motif (etic unit) may be used in different motifemes (emic unit). Texture may be analysed in similar fashion.

The interrelationships between the three levels remain to be seen. A change in context can apparently effect a change in texture (e.g., a female narrator or audience may cause the substitution of a euphemisim for a taboo word).” (pp.31-32)

“With regard to the perplexing problem raised initially, that of the definition of folklore, it would seem that the first task of folklorists ought to be the analysis of text. Text is less variable than texture and context. …Once all the genres have been rigorously described in these terms [Texture, text, and Context], it will no longer be necessary to rely upon such vague definitions as those depending upon such external criteria as the means of transmission. Furthermore, the vital relationship between folk and folklore, now virtually ignored by text-oriented folklorists, may finally be given the attention it so richly deserves.” (p.32)

Ref: Alan Dundes Interpreting Folklore Bloomington, University of Indiana press, 1980

The Sleeping Beauty – according to Bettelheim


According to Bruno Bettelheim, “Adolescence is a period of great and rapid change, characterized by periods of utter passivity and lethargy alternating with fantic activity, even dangerous behavior to ‘prove oneself’ or discharge inner tension. This back-and-forth adolescent behavior finds expression in some fairy tales by the hero’s rushing after adventures and then suddenly being turned to stone by some enchantment. More often, and psychologically more correct, the sequence is reversed….

While many fairy tales stress great deeds the heroes must perform to become themselves, ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ emphasizes the long, quiet concentration on oneself that is also needed. During the months before the first menstruation, and often also for some time immediately following it, girls are passive, seem sleepy, and withdraw into themselves. While no equally noticeable state heralds the coming of sexual maturity in boys, many of them experience a period of lassitude and of turning inward during puberty which equals the female experience. It is thus understandable that a fairy story in which a long period of sleep begins at the start of puberty has been very popular for a long time among girls and boys.

In major life changes such as adolescence, for successful growth opportunities both active and quiescent periods are needed. The turning inward, which in outer appearance looks like passivity (or sleeping one’s life away), happens when internal mental processes of such importance go on within the person that he has no energy for outwardly directed action. Those fairy tales which, like ‘The Sleeping Beauty’, have the period of passivity for their central topic, permit the budding adolescent not to worry during his inactive period: he learns that things continue to evolve. The happy ending assures the child that he will not remain permanently stuck in seemingly doing nothing, even if at the moment it seems as if this period of quietude will last for a hundred years.” (225)

“After the period of inactivity,”Bettelheim continues, “which typically occurs during early [-p.226] puberty, adolescents become active and make up for the period of passivity; in real life and in fairy tales they try to prove their young manhood or womanhood, often through dangerous adventures. This is how the symbolic language of the fairy tale states that after having gathered strength in solitude they now have to become themselves. Actually, this development is fraught with dangers: an adolescent must leave the security of childhood, which is represented by getting lost in the dangerous forest; learn to face up to his violent tendencies and anxieties, symbolized by encounters with wild animals or dragons; get to know himself, which is implied in meeting strange figures and experiences. Through this process the adolescent loses a previous innocence suggested by their having been ‘Simpletons,’ considered dumb and lowly,, or merely somebody’s child. …Presently many of our young people – and their parents – are fearful of quiet growth, when nothing seems to happen, because of a common belief that only doing what can be seen achieves goals. ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ tells that a long period of quiescence, of contemplation, of concentration on the self, can and often does lead to highest achievement.” (p.226)

“Recently it has been claimed that the struggle against childhood dependency and for becoming oneself in fairy tales is frequently described differently for the girl than for the boy,, and that this is the result of sexual stereotyping. Fairy tales do not render such one-sided pictures. Even when a girl is depicted as turning inward in her struggle to become herself, and a boy as aggressively dealing with the external world, these two together symbolize the two ways in which one has to gain selfhood: through learning to understand and master the inner as well as the outer world. In this sense the male and female heroes are again projections onto two different figures of two (artificially) separated aspects of one and the same process which everybody has to undergo in growing up. While some literal-minded parents do not realize it, children know that, whatever the sex of the hero, the story pertains to their own problems.” (p.226)

“However great the variations in detail, the central theme of all versions of ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ is that, despite all attempts on the part of parents to prevent their child’s sexual awakening, it will take place nonetheless.” (p.230)

Ref: Bruno Bettelheim The Uses of Enchantment Thames & Hudson: London, 1976

“Peasant storytelling meets literary theory”


Beginning with the observation that Italo Calvino’s Fiabe italiane is a commonly used text in beginner’s language courses in universities outside Italy, Michael Hanne asserts that “If we are going to present these texts to our students, we have an obligation, …not only to familiarize ourselves with the approaches to folktales used by folklorists, but also to offer insights deriving from our own particular repertoire of skills into the major problem, for folklorists, of how folktales may be said to mean.” (p.43)

The relationship between folklorists and literary scholars over the last sixty years,” according to Michael Hanne, “has been both intermittent and uneasy. Indeed the strongest interaction, which began so positively in the 1960s with the interest shown by structuralist narratologists in the work of the Russian folklorist, Vladimir Propp, has in several respects turned out to be the unhappiest. The scheme of thirty-one ‘functions’ (injuty/lack, setting out, misfortune, test, etc.) devised by Propp in the 1920s to describe the narrative structures of Russian fairytales, was taken up and modified, in the first instance, by Claude Lévy-Strauss, then by Barthes, Greimas, Todorov, and Bremond with the very grand aim of creating models for the structural analysis of narratives of all kinds. It is now widely agreed that, the more generalized and abstract these projects became, the more sterile, on the whole, they turned out to be. Propp expressed understandable resentment at seeing his scheme, so elegantly designed for its specific purpose, being wrenched and twisted like Cinderella’s slipper to accommodate something that was obviously far too large and shapeless to fit into it. Particularly galling was the fact that the narratologists had mostly not taken the trouble to acquaint themselves with the major sequel Propp had published in the 1940s on the historical origins of folktales.

The wry observation made by other folklorists is that few literary scholars are willing to devote to the folktale itself the sustained attention they have granted to a theory of narrative deriving from folktale study – and that when they do examine folktales, they make what folklorists know to be the most elementary errors. They privilege the written text (especially the literary elaborations of Perrault, published in France at the end of the seventeenth century, and of the Grimm brothers, early in the nineteenth century in Germany) over the great mass of oral versions told by folk narrators.” (p.42)

“The great American folklorist, Alan Dundes, defines two steps as essential to the study of folktales, ‘identification’ and ‘interpretation’, and observes that folklorists have been consistently more active in taking the former step than the latter. So they record and collect stories from oral narrators, classify the stories by tale-type and motifs, using the international indexes developed by Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson, or the more localized indexes these have spawned, and seek to determine relationships between possibly cognate stories. They study the processes by which stories have been transmitted over time and space, mutating, blending and splitting. They analyse and describe the narrative structure of tales, using Propp’s scheme and those of others.

Interpretation of folktales remains problematic to folklorists because there is so little agreement amongst them about the origins of folktales and, in a sense therefore, about what folktales are. A theory which held sway during much of the nineteenth century, advanced by, amongst others, the Grimm brothers and which a minority of scholars still subscribe to, is that folktales are debased secular versions of ancient sacred myths. A refined form of that theory, advanced by some major folklorists including P. Saintyves and Propp… in this [last] century [i.e., the 20th], links the trials, tests, and interrogations characteristically found in folktales to ancient initiation rites.” (p.43) Hanne continues: “A very different approach, taken in recent years by, amongst others, Eugen Weber and Robert Darnton, [-p.44] emphasizes the extent to which folktale motifs such as the abandoning of children in forests, extreme hostility between women and their stepchildren, fear of wild animals, even the eating of children should be seen as deriving from the harsh realities of peasant existence up to quite modern times. According to the psychoanalytic approaches developed by folklorists from Géza Róheim to Alan Dundes, as well as non-folklorists such as Erich Fromm and Bruno Bettelheim, folktales are, to a greater or lesser degree, comparable with dreams in that both are projections from the unconscious of infantile concerns and conditioning.” (pp.43-44)

The problem of origins

Hanne continues his discussion, noting that “Recent research attests both to the great age of many European folktales (some stories still circulating in peasant communities in Europe can be identified with stories recorded as being told in Mesopotamia as much as four thousand years ago) and to their extraordinarily wide geographical dispersal (as far away as China and Japan). These findings intensify the problem of origins: are we to hypothesize a single original for each tale-type from which all the versions everywhere are derived or must we assume that tales of the same type grew up independently in different cultures? Both the durability and the wide occurrence of certain folktales suggest that they must have profound human significance, yet the major problem remains: does a given tale-type possess a core of signficance which is essentially unaltered across cultures with different belief-systems, kinship-systems, and rituals, or rather a narrative core which means differently to different generations and within different cultures?” (p.44)

The problem of meaning

Taking La finta nonna as a test case, Hanne explores the possibilities of meaning attributed to this ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ variant. “Both groups, folklorists and literary theorists,” he writes, “have had to confront the question; how is the search for meaning to be conducted if it is not the reconstruction of authorial intention?” (p.49) “Literary theorists,” he goes on to explain (in some depth), “have answered that question in a number of ways.” (p.49)

“Folktales, [Giorgio Dolfini] says, are empty structures …available to be filled with meaning by their ‘users’ (‘fruitori’), in which category he places both narrators of, and audiences for, folktales. …Such absolute relativism, superficially attractive though it is, lacks a historical perspective, not only in the sense that it neglects the problem of the origin of folktales, but also in that it fails to set the individual narrative event in the historical sequence of tale-telling. It is, moreover, only pseudo-democratic (like most ‘free-market’ approaches) in that it ignores all issues of gender and power.” (p.52) Hanne goes on:

A whole tale type, I suggest, constitutes not just, in Barthes’s phrase ‘a theatre of production’ of meaning, but a vast arena of struggle for meaning, a battleground which has been fought over by different interest groups, holding different social positions and competing belief-systems and, most importantly, male and female, in an ongoing struggle to narrate the world their way. So the tale-type, including all the variants of that tale, is perhaps best viewed as a vast archaeological site, revealing relics left over from (ideological) battles which have taken place at intervals over several hundred years, even millennia, but some of which, especially in terms of gender, are still going on today.” (p.53)

Ref: Michael Hanne ‘Peasant storytelling meets literary theory: the case of La Finta NonnaThe Italianist, 12 (1992): pp.42-58