I’m writing a book set in the Nineteenth century, so I’m delving into lots of obscure stuff while researching it. Not that I don’t read obscure (and frankly sometimes stupid and ridiculous) books under normal circumstances, but sometimes a man in my current position just has to avoid actually writing anything because he’s wasting a lot of time finding out what those excessively huge candelabra in the middle of an upper class dinner table were called… it’s an epergne, by the way. You’re welcome.
And so at last to the point, via the houses: in Folkloristics: An Introduction (a textbook published by Indiana University Press, written by Robert A. Georges and Michael Owen Jones) the authors quote in turn Stith Thompson’s The Types of the Folk-Tale (2nd revision, Helsinki 1961) and provide a seemingly complete but not really complete taxonomy of traditional story categories. Now you know that when I say obscure I mean it.
I’m interested in taxonomies, whether they’re sensible and help our understanding of things, or completely nuts and actually make matters more confusing. I think the following list lies somewhere between the two in some kind of quasi-academic, Borgesian territory; that’s why I liked it. It starts sensibly and logically (“Fish”), veers off into the insanely specific (“Stupid Ogre”), then just gives up and shrugs with “2400-2499 Unclassified Tales.”
I note also that “Numskull Stories” is probably more of a thriving sub-genre than it’s ever been thanks to the proliferation of the media, paparazzi, scumbag phone-tapping so-called journalists, and the internet in general. What are Hello! magazine, tabloid gotchas and sites like Gawker or FAIL Tumblrs if not an endless torrent of Numskull Stories? In the case of Hello! and its ilk, however, the new and distinctively 21st century development is that we’re presumably meant to approve of the numskulls and aspire towards being numskulls ourselves… as many people quite evidently do.
I. Animal Tales
1-99 Wild Animals, 100-149 Wild Animals and Domestic Animals, 150-199 Man and Wild Animals, 200-219 Domestic Animals, 220-249 Birds, 250-274 Fish, 275-299 Other Animals and Objects.
II. Ordinary Folktales
300-749 A. Tales of Magic, including: 300-399 Supernatural Adversaries, 400-459 Supernatural or Enchanted Husband, Wife or Other Relatives, 460-499 Supernatural Tasks, 500-559 Supernatural Helpers, 560-649 Magic Objects, 650-699 Supernatural Power or Knowledge, 700-749 Other Tales of the Supernatural.
750-849 B. Religious Tales, 850-999 C. Novelle (Romantic Tales), 1000-1199 D. Tales of the Stupid Ogre.
III. Jokes and Anecdotes
1200-1349 Numskull Stories, 1350-1439 Stories about Married Couples, 1440-1524 Stories about a Woman or Girl, 1525-1574 Stories about a Man or Boy, 1575-1639 The Clever Man (NB the original text says “1525-1639”, clashing with the previous range of numbers: I’m assuming it’s a typo, so I’ve corrected it), 1640-1674 Lucky Accidents, 1675-1724 The Stupid Man, 1725-1849 Jokes about Parsons and Religious Orders, 1850-1874 Anecdotes about Other Groups of People, 1875-1999 Tales of Lying.
IV. Formula Tales
2000-2199 Cumulative Tales, 2200-2249 Catch Tales, 2250-2299 Unfinished Tales, 2300-2399 Other Formula Tales.
V. Unclassified Tales
2400-2499 Unclassified Tales.