This semester, I’m taking a course called “Forms of Folklore.” Before I went into the class, I didn’t really know what was the distinction that made folklore, well, folklore, rather than mythology or religion or simply custom. To me, “folk” was an adjective that modified different art forms, but that stayed within a particular rustic setting. It was simple. It was rough-hewn and unvarnished.
And to some extent, it is, but folklore is basically an all-encompassing term for anything which has been passed down but not formally taught through any institutions/organizations. This could include jokes, tongue twisters, and a slew of other things.
But the thing that most interested me about folklore was perhaps the ways in which they tried to connect seemingly disparate stories. One of the examples that my professor gave was Hansel & Gretel or Fatima and her sisters — the disappearing children in the woods, who must outwit their way out of the clutches of some evil. In Germany, or at least in the area that would eventually become Germany, the children were a brother and a sister, but in Arabic-speaking parts of the world, the story is of Fatima and her x amount of siblings, usually sisters, and she alone was responsible for the saving of them all.
These narratives do not necessarily have to connect with and originate from the same source, but the fact remains that there are specific tropes that do have their claws in “traditional” stems of stories, and that the ways in which they diverge sometimes do not correlate with geography or trade or any of those other ways in which information surreptitiously spreads.
Which begs the question… how does anything spring forth at all? And how does that ancient narrative bedrock, and the questions surrounding said bedrock, then follow through into the modern world?