Sometime ago I became interested in folktales that are intentionally revised/rewritten to achieve particular ideological, stylistic, and humorous effects. What do you think of 'modernizing' folktales? Which (children's) authors would you suggest that have shown remarkable skill, finesse, and authenticity in revising/rewriting non-Western folktales?

 

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Miyazaki - although a japanese artist and animator he writes in a universal style. His format is lightstyle early graphic novel. If you ever studied comicbooks and writing styles. I think modernizing folktales does them an injustice. As folktales are ethnicbased and lose the context and morals. As with experience with missionaries and being multiracial, I found that folktales depicting recognized ethno-/regionbased characters, and depictions of ethnically recognized struggles are more intuitive to any adaptation. As you study manga and asian animes, they adapt western stories and highlight key features of many western folktales, they don't lose the meaning and they are accepted and respected. While in western conversions of asian folktales, they do not recognize the key morals, nor the focused meaning of many aspects of the tales. As a writer I found it honorable that some would wish to convert the story, and share the meaning. It shows they understand the writings. But changing styles, and features of the original, is not conductive to the storytelling art. I studied as a bard, each region the same story but different characters or landscapes are used for some tales depending on the audience. While for scholarly audience you would narrate the original. the art is telling the story while having the audience understand the context. most modernized versions completely ruin the story and destroy any form of context to the original. that was colonial format to trun youths against the teaching of the elders in regions being taken over. I am complately against that ideal, and practice. That is the same as rewhiting history issue worldwide.

Hi there, Achirri! It's fascinating that you just wrote. I just came from a visit to a storytelling club here in Toronto where I'm spending the holidays, and thinking that when I came back, I could perhaps take the chance and write sth about the experience here in this forum, you know, to inaugurate it. So, I'm really glad someone came before me in the last minute =)

 

Actually, I wrote a paper a while ago which had something to do with that theme of yours. It was about one single oral folk tale, the Manchay Puytu, very traditional in Bolivia and Peru. In the nineteenth century, however, it became quite common in those countries for white writers to try to put oral tradition on paper and, of course, whenever they did it, they would adapt it (more consciously than not) to the circumstances. The native tale was then christianized by one author, then whitened buy a second author, brought romantically back to its indigenous roots by a third author, and so on, until very recently when Taboada Terán, a Bolivian writer/anthropologist, made a large version of it, much more rooted in aymara and quechua cultures than any of the others - and definetly, much less christian.

 

So, I guess tales are always being modernized, and again, I don't think we can quite validly separate conscious from unconscious attempts of doing so, as I believe them to be always much more conscious than unconscious. Or at least, conscious enough for that sake, even if you dont really know what you're ignoring, you know quite well what you're creating. But then, about your question, I guess you can modernize a tale in many, many different ways. Do you have an example to share with us, perhaps, Achirri?

 

It's not quite a children tale, though, in most of it's versions. It's quite adult actually. And I have to say that your question remains, as I don't really know any children author to suggest you in that sense... or can't remember any right now...

 

I do know that it's quite common nowadays to have attempts of making native cultures survive Western mass-culture by making folk-tale collections adapted to children, but I dont think I have any of those. I do remember taking a look in what seemed to be quite a good one about Aymara folk-tales in a library in Atacama. Maybe you can find something on the internet, but it should be in Spanish..

 

Anyway, I'll write more if I remember anything else.

 

Cheers,

Rafael.

Also a very nice comment there, Abeward. 

 

It got me thinking about the characteristical adapting feature that folk tale usually has. When Western or modern writers put tales down to paper, the tale loses that possibility. It's like recording Jazz music, it completely ruins what's most characteristical of it, which is it's ability to adapt to circumstances, and to be always telling something new.

based on your comments and your prior paper your mentioned, I can relay this to detail. As mentioned I was mentorered by my elders in the traditional ways of oth my tribal and island heritage.then trained under a bard to carry my mom's german and irish traditions. In all I got to see and learn the forms. As I got older I wrote plays and manga-style comics for my relatives.

 

here's what I offer from that rare glimpse of what my professors call a lost art. I find their claim odd, as I mentioned I was trained by my elders. both the asian and westernized parts of my lineage call the skill out-dated. even as they try to reintroduce the art of traditional storytelling. funny, I read like 40 whitepapers on the topic the the researchers seem to have "NO" concept of the true "art" they focus on the "skill". here's why this loses the context. a skill is a standardized format. the art of storytelling is communal. An art is something that is created. on the trabe and in the islands the stories are not verbadum. They change slightly from each generation to the next. When my grandmothers and the old ladies (elders whom had me train in the telling of stories by making recite them over and over, then schedule events where I told the stories to families) Each family was different and each story was told according to level of understanding. the same story is told differently to an older person then you would tell it to a child. The theme is important, the key characters, the events, but the teller has option to vary the locations depending on the story. Thus all recorded folk-tales are biased and vary. the same story will be told by storytellers of each village having the same morales and characters, but some things like dates, interactions, and a few minor things are allowed. But a storyteller would be executed almost universally if they change the story. Definition of a story in traditional sense. As an oral teller sees it. 1st person, not as a field researcher AKA expert whom only "read about it" and thinks they understand... in oral history, you can not change things. these tales are unchanged. you never change them, they are a record of your people. This is true in western and eastern cultures. these are told through dance, and narrative songs almost univerally, this is like modern manga or anime. in the islands we still use dance and narrative songs. these do not change, it's taboo. the folktales on the otherhand are village based. each village from asia to europe to the americas have tales that are only common to regional villages, this is again universal. folklore and folk-tales are localized. outside groups used these tales to pass information about a people they interacted with. It was like today's wikipedia. To understand the world around you they used folktales. to understand the world you belong to you use folk dance and music. both were narrated by the bards or storytelers, but the tones are key. The story loses meaning if told without context, in oral storytelling the teller stresses key parts. imagine shakespeare in monotoneous format. they'd hear the story but would not focus long enough to understand as the words just blend and fade as anything else would distract them. most stories are environmental the teller would use local sights as markers since the would be understood by those people. you'd tell the key points, as the locals would be extremely familiar with the terrain and landmarks and most peoples. telling to a king on the otherhand, they are more read, but not as familiar as they are caged-birds. Thus you use more detailed verbal descriptive words to allow the images and abience to be created in the listeners minds. it's synaptic. storytelling is kinda like hypnosis, scary but physiologically it is almost exact.

 

in modernizing a story you want to create the ambience as well as keep the morales and context. things like allowing a visualization of innocence, calm, peaceful, what do they mean to you? they may not be the same to most... modernizing doesn't take that into context. again a story is localized...modernizing a folk-tale would require demographic knowledge. you'd have to understand the audience and recreate the tale in forms that would relay the needs. say i was telling was going to modernize "the creation of man" or "the creation of the rainbow" from the Philippine islands.the tales differ in northern PI, but in southern parts the character differ. the villages differ, the gods names differ, what is the same is the type of gods, the stuggle of the people, the weapons used. those are the symbolism factors. If i was to modernize those tales one would have to find local villages facing similar factors as the original tales. one would have to keep the volcanoes names the same and the waterfalls and coasts, but the names of the characters can be anything as they never had a name in the past, same as the little mermaid, in the original tale she had no name.

 

basically, the formula is historical tale, keep the names landmarks and characters the same, keep everything, since those are known throughout a large group of people. folk-tale, you keep the character names, landmarks and other local factors. these tales were proprietary to a smaller group of people: it is there pride and achievements, they learn through the acts of others. now folklore, almost everthing can change but the morales. most don't change names as the name of the tale is what separates the morales taught in the story.  

from you reply, I take you noticed this as well. I was just adding insight from firsthand knowledge before getting imprinted with "modern concepts" for now my insight is from traditional knowedge. the things most would go to the field to observe, instead of asking those of us who lived the life and can explain it ourself.

 

the oddest thing abou the field is instead of universities letting us discuss what we already do, and how we do it. The universities are trying to tell us this is how we say you should do it, cause we watched from a distance and noticed this is how it's supposed to be done.


Rafael Lasevitz said:

Hi there, Achirri! It's fascinating that you just wrote. I just came from a visit to a storytelling club here in Toronto where I'm spending the holidays, and thinking that when I came back, I could perhaps take the chance and write sth about the experience here in this forum, you know, to inaugurate it. So, I'm really glad someone came before me in the last minute =)

 

Actually, I wrote a paper a while ago which had something to do with that theme of yours. It was about one single oral folk tale, the Manchay Puytu, very traditional in Bolivia and Peru. In the nineteenth century, however, it became quite common in those countries for white writers to try to put oral tradition on paper and, of course, whenever they did it, they would adapt it (more consciously than not) to the circumstances. The native tale was then christianized by one author, then whitened buy a second author, brought romantically back to its indigenous roots by a third author, and so on, until very recently when Taboada Terán, a Bolivian writer/anthropologist, made a large version of it, much more rooted in aymara and quechua cultures than any of the others - and definetly, much less christian.

 

So, I guess tales are always being modernized, and again, I don't think we can quite validly separate conscious from unconscious attempts of doing so, as I believe them to be always much more conscious than unconscious. Or at least, conscious enough for that sake, even if you dont really know what you're ignoring, you know quite well what you're creating. But then, about your question, I guess you can modernize a tale in many, many different ways. Do you have an example to share with us, perhaps, Achirri?

 

It's not quite a children tale, though, in most of it's versions. It's quite adult actually. And I have to say that your question remains, as I don't really know any children author to suggest you in that sense... or can't remember any right now...

 

I do know that it's quite common nowadays to have attempts of making native cultures survive Western mass-culture by making folk-tale collections adapted to children, but I dont think I have any of those. I do remember taking a look in what seemed to be quite a good one about Aymara folk-tales in a library in Atacama. Maybe you can find something on the internet, but it should be in Spanish..

 

Anyway, I'll write more if I remember anything else.

 

Cheers,

Rafael.

For my PhD research I am looking at the cultural diffusion of information and how such information can be culturally transformed, i.e. different cultures putting different techniques to some underlying technology.  Maybe another way to say it is how a story changes shape to at once reflect and respond to the culture within which it appears and this is exactly what I tried to undertake during my fieldwork in China. So I post a (brief) summary of what I was doing because I would love to hear any thoughts on it and should at the same time prove interesting under this topic even if the direction is going the opposite way.

 

In the hopes of experiencing some facet of how the above mentioned research question might take place I undertook a project to try and take some facet of Irish culture (I am Irish) and introduce it into Chinese culture (my research site, explicitly Shanghai). The most accessible manner for me to do this was to take an Irish folktale and present it for a Chinese audience. I was lucky enough to be able to use the Irish Pavilion at the World Expo as the site for the presentation of the Irish tale.

 

The process summarily involved a rewriting of an Irish tale in part to avoid copyright problems but to also make it conducive to a Chinese audience. In fact this latter dimension was more important at the first stage of simply selecting which Irish tale to use, I chose Tír na NÓg or Land of Youth. This tale having first been chosen, was then rewritten in English was then translated into Chinese (Putonghua). The translation process highlighted problems with names, objects and expressions that are unique to Celtic culture and traditions. Names were translated phonetically, objects by their function and expressions by meaning. So, as might be imagined, if one were to translate back the finished Chinese version in any literal way it would superficially look very different to the Irish version. Other factors are also at work including ‘length’, ‘deadlines’, ‘money’ and more besides that had a real effect on the translation and transmission of the tale.

 

Perhaps the most interesting bit for this topic is my omission of the Christianised ending of the Tír na NÓg story. Depending on the perspective taken I was either self-censoring due to certain requirements in exhibiting at the Expo in Shanghai and trying to avoid any religious sensitivities. I might be seen to have ‘authenticated’ the account by the removal of the Christian ending and returning some original Celtic ideal, or even having ‘modernised’ it by withdrawing from the need for a Christian motif.

 

I am not sure whether I have localised or modernised the tale according to Abeward’s insights earlier, maybe a bit of both? Although I may have self-censored it was done in a way that eliminated a ‘corrupting’ feature in the history of the tale and returned it to a ‘purer’ version. And I like the way Rafael talks of conscious and unconscious changes that are made, during the process the limitations of time and money etc were almost unconscious whereas the more aesthetic elements were far more consciously deliberated upon.

-James

First, I applaud your research, having asian and some irish blood in myself. And sorry for the delayed reply, I had to think about a response. I never had to worry about the copyrights of Irish-Lore, those were  way past copyrights. I had to worry about the mentors and a guild. But those issues drive the convention of modernization. Most of us for asian audience tell the old stories in modern media. Games, Anime, Manga/Manhwa, etc.

 

I note the transference of the story, ut knowing the chinese are very well versed in regional tales, It would be best to keep the original, note the origin. The chinese prefer original, if it is an adaptation they also prefer to have that labled. That also keeps the original tale in tact and they would verse themselves as the culture respects comparitives. In a noted modern adaptation in asia, many writers find it an honor. But also look at losing some funding so if you're writing always add a link to the copyright holder so they can share the profits. Asia looks at reality of financial needs. But they also hold the stories as a national treasure. From your summary, I would say you regionalized, not modernized the story. I respect the effort you put into that. I've worked with korean and japanese animators and I can related to the issues faced with sharing a story from different populations. I am sure some would be offended. They would look at the roman history of stealing greek lore and trying to make it their own. I know you are not doing that. That is also the reason in asia they almost always prefer the notation of either an original tale, or a adaptation. and with adaptations, use context notes.(most manga and ebook writers add those, great response too.) I know your effort would be respected by both writers and the audience. It could also serve as a great freface to introduce the tale to the people. I am sure you must have been surprised at how many asian know the irish triads. Yeah, Celtic lore is bid in china and most asian nations. That being said both chinese academics and audience must have loved reading your book. It also helps the original storywriters as asians (almost habit) like to review the otiginals and see whats different. This is why it also helps to add links to the original tale. Most asians are traditionalists and don't mind the tales being from a different location. In the original chinese telling of the celtic triads, they usually begin with the original irish tale then move on to the localized adaptation. This is from acting, we used to perform the triads, like I said I apprenticed as a bard. or in the chinese plays of the same tale, they pass out notes with the original tale, as the play would have been promoted as an adaptation. In asia they don't like wasting time repeating that obvious fact. (the best clue as to adapt from western to asian storytelling, is to think about the guilds as an editor.) I try to keep the original tales but if changes are made we let the audience know what has been done, as it completely changes the story and makes the original writer feel offended as not being noted as being honored. An adaptation of any form is an honor, but to not honor the creators, is plagerism. Thats how I see adaptations. Thats why I respect your effort, you mentioned to took many of those things into account while removing the christian aspects as well. In many Celtic tales the christian theme was not part of the orignal tellings as well. So your version would be closer to the original then most printed versions which survive, as most are highly edited.*I used regionalised as your description took in more then just the local audience. I would have used localized if it was written specifically for a group within a region. it's the same with looking at a academic report compared to the same research written for a science magazine, Same thing, just minorly different. The only difference being one is designed for a small group, while the other is designed for a larger group but would be seen by the smaller group. And the smaller group would have more insight, when looking at both versions. And they will (From experience) comb through everything looking for faults, or differences in details.

 

Thanks,

 James

James Cuffe said:

For my PhD research I am looking at the cultural diffusion of information and how such information can be culturally transformed, i.e. different cultures putting different techniques to some underlying technology.  Maybe another way to say it is how a story changes shape to at once reflect and respond to the culture within which it appears and this is exactly what I tried to undertake during my fieldwork in China. So I post a (brief) summary of what I was doing because I would love to hear any thoughts on it and should at the same time prove interesting under this topic even if the direction is going the opposite way.

 

In the hopes of experiencing some facet of how the above mentioned research question might take place I undertook a project to try and take some facet of Irish culture (I am Irish) and introduce it into Chinese culture (my research site, explicitly Shanghai). The most accessible manner for me to do this was to take an Irish folktale and present it for a Chinese audience. I was lucky enough to be able to use the Irish Pavilion at the World Expo as the site for the presentation of the Irish tale.

 

The process summarily involved a rewriting of an Irish tale in part to avoid copyright problems but to also make it conducive to a Chinese audience. In fact this latter dimension was more important at the first stage of simply selecting which Irish tale to use, I chose Tír na NÓg or Land of Youth. This tale having first been chosen, was then rewritten in English was then translated into Chinese (Putonghua). The translation process highlighted problems with names, objects and expressions that are unique to Celtic culture and traditions. Names were translated phonetically, objects by their function and expressions by meaning. So, as might be imagined, if one were to translate back the finished Chinese version in any literal way it would superficially look very different to the Irish version. Other factors are also at work including ‘length’, ‘deadlines’, ‘money’ and more besides that had a real effect on the translation and transmission of the tale.

 

Perhaps the most interesting bit for this topic is my omission of the Christianised ending of the Tír na NÓg story. Depending on the perspective taken I was either self-censoring due to certain requirements in exhibiting at the Expo in Shanghai and trying to avoid any religious sensitivities. I might be seen to have ‘authenticated’ the account by the removal of the Christian ending and returning some original Celtic ideal, or even having ‘modernised’ it by withdrawing from the need for a Christian motif.

 

I am not sure whether I have localised or modernised the tale according to Abeward’s insights earlier, maybe a bit of both? Although I may have self-censored it was done in a way that eliminated a ‘corrupting’ feature in the history of the tale and returned it to a ‘purer’ version. And I like the way Rafael talks of conscious and unconscious changes that are made, during the process the limitations of time and money etc were almost unconscious whereas the more aesthetic elements were far more consciously deliberated upon.

-James

I would also note this: Have you ever noticed the asian concept of word-play? It's not about gaelic syntax, it's contextual meaning of the word. you don't have to use foriegn words. if it's a chair, then it is a chair. if it is a name of a person or relic or location, those are what you keep. it took me months of doing fan fictions to learn that.(Thanks to a Korean who worked in Hong Kong, but studied in London, and russia.) His insights helped me alot as you already know asian syntax is contextual. same words, same sentence can mean the wrong thing even if your voice pitch is off. hehehe, funny memory of trying to speak korean, and getting misunderstood.

James Cuffe said:

For my PhD research I am looking at the cultural diffusion of information and how such information can be culturally transformed, i.e. different cultures putting different techniques to some underlying technology.  Maybe another way to say it is how a story changes shape to at once reflect and respond to the culture within which it appears and this is exactly what I tried to undertake during my fieldwork in China. So I post a (brief) summary of what I was doing because I would love to hear any thoughts on it and should at the same time prove interesting under this topic even if the direction is going the opposite way.

 

In the hopes of experiencing some facet of how the above mentioned research question might take place I undertook a project to try and take some facet of Irish culture (I am Irish) and introduce it into Chinese culture (my research site, explicitly Shanghai). The most accessible manner for me to do this was to take an Irish folktale and present it for a Chinese audience. I was lucky enough to be able to use the Irish Pavilion at the World Expo as the site for the presentation of the Irish tale.

 

The process summarily involved a rewriting of an Irish tale in part to avoid copyright problems but to also make it conducive to a Chinese audience. In fact this latter dimension was more important at the first stage of simply selecting which Irish tale to use, I chose Tír na NÓg or Land of Youth. This tale having first been chosen, was then rewritten in English was then translated into Chinese (Putonghua). The translation process highlighted problems with names, objects and expressions that are unique to Celtic culture and traditions. Names were translated phonetically, objects by their function and expressions by meaning. So, as might be imagined, if one were to translate back the finished Chinese version in any literal way it would superficially look very different to the Irish version. Other factors are also at work including ‘length’, ‘deadlines’, ‘money’ and more besides that had a real effect on the translation and transmission of the tale.

 

Perhaps the most interesting bit for this topic is my omission of the Christianised ending of the Tír na NÓg story. Depending on the perspective taken I was either self-censoring due to certain requirements in exhibiting at the Expo in Shanghai and trying to avoid any religious sensitivities. I might be seen to have ‘authenticated’ the account by the removal of the Christian ending and returning some original Celtic ideal, or even having ‘modernised’ it by withdrawing from the need for a Christian motif.

 

I am not sure whether I have localised or modernised the tale according to Abeward’s insights earlier, maybe a bit of both? Although I may have self-censored it was done in a way that eliminated a ‘corrupting’ feature in the history of the tale and returned it to a ‘purer’ version. And I like the way Rafael talks of conscious and unconscious changes that are made, during the process the limitations of time and money etc were almost unconscious whereas the more aesthetic elements were far more consciously deliberated upon.

-James

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