le plus loin le plus serré

le plus loin le plus serré
mourning art

in memoriam

"yet I tell you, from the sad knowledge of my older experience, that to every one of you a day will most likely come when sunshine, hope, presents and pleasure will be worth nothing to you in comparison with the unattainable gift of your mother's kiss." (Christina Rossetti, "Speaking Likenesses," 1873)

Monday, April 04, 2011

a brilliant metaphor

I've been struggling with this Myth & Folktale class; I tend to create unrealistically high expectations for myself as a teacher, especially with classes where I don't feel completely at home, and Myth & Folktale has turned out to be the most uncomfortable class I have ever had. It's not that I don't know the material; I don't really know how to teach it effectively. I think. And I don't have the level of expertise and depth of knowledge that I should have to do justice to the class. I have spent more time on this class - reading, preparing, researching, planning, agonizing, worrying - than I have on any other class. I'm probably putting in a good 30 hours a week on that class alone.

But one great thing has come out of it: one of my students suggested a metaphor for adaptation and transmission of myths/legends/stories over time that I think is brilliant in its simplicity and its aptness.
We were talking about the way an historical event or personage becomes the basis of a folktale, and the ways that tale changes over time, until it bears very little resemblance to the truth. The context for this was, I think, the Paul Revere myth; we read Ray Raphael's chapter from Founding Myths about Revere, and Longfellow's dreadful poem. And someone had asked: how did we get from the true story of what happened the night that Revere (and others) tried to alert the colonists about the approach of the British troops, to the wildly heroic, and historically inaccurate, myth we now have.
I tried to say something about adaptation and transmission and distortion and distance, and it probably made no sense at all. And then one of the seniors in my class raise his hand and said: "So it's just kind of like that game "Telephone"?"

And the more I've thought about it, the more this is just the best metaphor, or analogy, for how stories are passed along through time. It's also a great metaphor for evolution, which another student noted: as the story is passed along the "Telephone," the best bits get preserved, and the parts that don't excite or interest the teller/listener, get stripped away. Adaptation. Evolution. Storytelling. Mythmaking. Gossip. Telephone.

It's brilliant.


Anonymous said...

Hi Kerry,

I followed the link from Child Lit and while I'm not going to comment on the myth part, I did what to relate what I do teaching the Revere story with my 4th graders. We read Brow's blow by blow history picture book "Let it Begin Here" one week & then (Bing's version) of Longfellow. After that I we compare & contrast and I say wouldn't it be nice to know what Revere said, by which I then respond by reading his deposition (easily accessible from the web) it acts as a great intro to primary source documents. I do talk about the back matter of Bing's version where he relates that Longfellow is writing this on the eve of the Civil War and trying to arouse patriotism & individuality- one reason Revere is portrayed alone. I never knew it was literally the eve of the C.W. until I read a NYTs article in Dec. about it on the 150th anniversary of the firing upon fort In S.C. So that is a big part of the transformation.

Take care,

Michael (LIS 2002, Pitt)

Anonymous said...

That would be Brown's not Brow!