On the Horizon:
Richard M. Dorson is a trained folldorist, which means that he has learned to take down stories just as he hears them—by tape recorder, if possible —from members of some old-established and backward community, and afterwards resist the temptation to improve them. I suspect, though, that in Negro Folktales in Michigan a certain degree of editorial censorship has been exerted by the Harvard University Press authorities—not a word of really coarse language is included, and such modest periphrases as “the hoodoo man took a nail with some of the thief’s bowel-movement on it, and drove it into a tree,” do not read quite right to me. (I have just been comparing Cecil Sharp’s published folksongs in the Journal of the English Folksong Society with the unpublished transcriptions of the verses as sung to him by dirty old men in village inns. He has done a wonderful job of purifying them of erotic and filthy expressions; but is it scientific?)
The folklorist’s next job is to arrange the stories in categories, and then go thumbing through Stith Thompson’s and Ernest Baugham’s master collections of folk tales, in search of a “type number,” or “motif number,” which can be used as a pin for securing each bright-winged specimen to the cork-lined cabinet.
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