Aspects of Oral Tradition and Belief in an Industrial Region

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Those whose daily work lies in academic fields will almost certainly regard the word ‘aspects’ in this paper's title with misgivings, and perhaps even grave suspicion. It is a word that can conveniently be taken to mean all or nothing—a sort of ‘etcetera’ word. I hope to show that in this instance at least it means something, and that its use, in speaking of this part of the field of folk-life studies, is at the moment justified and necessary.

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... Folklore is not fixed. Folktales and traditions are malleable; they have a tendency to change over time, and many scholars have focused on this element of mutability, exploring how traditional folktales and customs have been gradually acclimatized to modern culture, from Donald McKelvie's survey of folkloric survivals in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and John Niles's review of the modern modifications undergone by traditional fairy tales, to Ronald Dore's consideration of how traditional practices have persisted in the world's largest metropolis, Tokyo (McKelvie 1963;Niles 1978;Dore 1958). ...
This paper examines the mutability of the ‘meaning’ of folklore, as articulated by Lauri Honko. The paper aims to illustrate the amorphous and ambiguous nature of customs and traditions by considering the multiple ‘meanings’ ascribed to a contemporary British folkloric custom: the Cumbrian coin-tree.
... 12 In his paper, Donald McKelvie outlines his approach to the study of oral tradition, commenting on a '"broad measure of agreement" among us', which is coupled to 'differences of approach and emphasis'. 13 This helps again to highlight the diversity of the study of Folk Life. This porous quality, the ability to draw from a wide variety of disciplines and subject matter, is a formidable strength, essential to the ultimate concern with everyday life, 14 although like all great strengths it may at times and from certain directions be perceived as a weakness. ...
Jason Marc Harris's ambitious book argues that the tensions between folk metaphysics and Enlightenment values produce the literary fantastic. Demonstrating that a negotiation with folklore was central to the canon of British literature, he explicates the complicated rhetoric associated with folkloric fiction. His analysis includes a wide range of writers, including James Barrie, William Carleton, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Sheridan Le Fanu, Neil Gunn, George MacDonald, William Sharp, Robert Louis Stevenson, and James Hogg. These authors, Harris suggests, used folklore to articulate profound cultural ambivalence towards issues of class, domesticity, education, gender, imperialism, nationalism, race, politics, religion, and metaphysics. Harris's analysis of the function of folk metaphysics in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century narratives reveals the ideological agendas of the appropriation of folklore and the artistic potential of superstition in both folkloric and literary contexts of the supernatural.
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