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. Continue Reading