Retelling Tales - It’s Been Done Before: Lynne Garner

From Uncle Remus or Mr. Fox,
Mr Rabbit and Mr Terrapin
 Written by Joel Chandler Harris, circa 1890's 
If you’ve read any of my previous posts you’ll know my first set of eBooks were a collection of shorts stories featuring the traditional African character, Anansi the Trickster Spider (volume onevolume two). These have been selling for a while now and as I’m between commissioned work I felt it was time to start a new project. So based on sales I decided my next project would be along similar lines. I started my research and within an hour or so I'd downloaded a small collection of eBooks onto my Kindle including:

Nights With Uncle Remus – Myths and legends of the old plantation
Written by Joel Chandler Harris
Originally published 1911
Downloaded from The Gutenberg Project  

Afro-American Folk Lore: Told Round Cabin Fires on the Sea Islands of South Carolina
Written by A. M. H. Christensen
Originally published 1892
Downloaded from Forgotten Books

Louisiana Folk-Tales: in French dialect and English translation
Collected and edited by Alcee Fortier
Originally published 1894
Downloaded from Internet Archive 

Since downloading them I’ve been reading, taking notes and choosing which character to focus on. During my research I discovered that some stories have been retold and reshaped again and again, often with different characters. For example:

Version one:
Jabuti (a tortoise) cheats a man who then puts him into a box. Jabuti starts to sing and the man’s daughter opens the box to listen. Jabuti asks the little girl if she wants to see him dance, which she does. In order to see him dance she takes him out of the box, where upon he absconds.

Version two:
Brer Rabbit helps himself to some veggies in a garden. The owner of the veggie patch captures Brer Rabbit and places him in a sack. Some time later the man’s daughter is told by Brer Rabbit that he is a great singer and dancer. She lets him out of the sack so he can perform for her. Obviously as soon as he is able to Brer Rabbit makes good his escape.

Version three:
A magic bird that makes milk and is kept in a cage. The bird tells the owner’s daughter that he can dance and he’d love to show her how well but there isn’t enough room in the cage. Eager to see the bird dance she lets him out and yes, you’ve guessed it the bird escapes.

I started to wonder why some stories (such as the ones above) are retold and reshaped time and time again. I don't think there's just one reason but I do believe they must resonate with us somehow. Perhaps it's because many of us enjoy reading about the underdog who manages to come out on top. But what ever the reason it gives me hope that if someone has already felt it worth retelling a story then someone will want to read mine as well.

P.S. Hopefully by this time next month I'll be able to give you news of my latest book featuring... sorry you'll have to wait to discover who I chose. 


madwippitt said…
oooh hope it's Brer Rabbit! I remember our form teacher reading a Brer Rabbit story to us each afternoon at school as a treat :-)
We all loved his naughtiness and wily ways!
Dennis Hamley said…
I believe this very strongly. Why similar story themes such as the trickster keep springing up independently in widely diverse cultures does suggest something archetypal about them. This is especially true with ghost and supernatural stories. They vicariously give comfort, fear, consolation, wonderment and they kept appearing in common images and structures long before written cultures. And they still occur today - and they still work. They taught me a lot about the nature and sheer cruciality of narrative.
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