2013-11-08 / Community

Library Links

Harvest tales and the wisdom of folklore
By Rachel Davis

Although we tend to think of Thanksgiving as a quintessentially American holiday, many cultures around the world celebrate the time of the harvest. Since ancient times, a successful harvest has meant the survival of a people through the harsh season of winter. The harvest also represents the culmination of effort: after the planting and growing is done, it is time to reap the rewards. For us, Thanksgiving is also a time of generosity and sharing. The same is true for harvest celebrations in other cultures as well. For example, the Festival of the Harvest Moon in China focuses on the moon as a symbol of togetherness, and the Hindu festival of Pongal culminates in a sumptuous feast shared with friends and neighbors. Harvest celebrations in Nigeria, Germany, Mexico, Korea, India and more share these same values.

The ideas of community, generosity and the rewards of hard work are not only part of harvest traditions throughout the world, they also imbue some wonderful stories from folklore.

Here, at the Thomas Memorial Library, we are pleased bring internationally renowned storyteller Odds Bodkin to the library to tell three such tales of thanksgiving. In this special free event for families, Mr. Bodkin will tell from the Swedish, African and American traditions ,all with the common theme of the harvest. The program will take place at 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16 in the library’s Community Room. All are welcome.

In the mean time, perhaps you’d like to explore some of the wisdom to be found in folklore from around the world. Stories that come from the oral tradition so often speak to the universal qualities that make us human; they are timeless, and ageless as well. There are so many wonderful collections of folktales to be found in libraries through the state, but here I will highlight just a few that are noteworthy.

 “World Tales: The Extraordinary Coincidence of Stories Told in All Times, in All Places,” collected by Idries Shah (Octogon Press, 1991). The 65 tales retold in this beautifully illustrated collection speak to universal themes shared by many different cultures throughout history. It’s fascinating to experience the same stories told in many different ways by people separated by time and space. The collection is filled with the wisdom of the human race, binding us all together as one people.

 “Favorite Folktales from Around the World,” edited by Jane Yolen (Pantheon, 1986). Yolen is a prolific author for young people. Many of her own works of fiction and poetry draw upon mythology and folklore, so it stands to reason that her passion for these subjects would make her particularly good at gathering together a sampling of wonderful traditional stories from all over the world.

 “Fair Is Fair: World Folktales of Justice,” by Sharon Creeden (August House, 1994). The 30 tales of wise judges, wily lawyers and willful tricksters from around the world illuminate our understanding of contemporary ideas of justice. This unique collection from a professional storyteller and lawyer pairs each tale with a well-known court case or ongoing legal debate, demonstrating the relevance and universality that traditional tales can have in our lives today.

And of course, stories from the oral tradition are even better when experienced live, performed by a talented, wise, and seasoned storyteller. I hope you will visit Thomas Memorial Library on Nov. 16 to hear the incomparable Odds Bodkin, who expertly accompanies his tales with instruments ranging from Celtic harp to African thumb piano. Visit our website to learn more about the program, and to see some videos of Mr. Bodkin in action. Anyone with a library card may borrow the recommended books, and many others, through the shared library catalog, Minerva.

Rachel Davis is assistant director/ children’s librarian at Thomas Memorial Library in Cape Elizabeth.

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