Archetypes and Motifs in Folklore and Literature: A Handbook

By Neemann, Harold | Marvels & Tales, January 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Archetypes and Motifs in Folklore and Literature: A Handbook


Neemann, Harold, Marvels & Tales


Archetypes and Motifs in Folklore and Literature: A Handbook. Edited by Jane Garry and Hasan El-Shamy Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2005. xxxv + 515 pp.

Despite some lacunae due to the broad scope of the six- volume work, Stith Thompson's Motif-Index of Folk Literature has certainly remained an invaluable and indispensable research tool for all students of folk narrative for half a century. Jane Garry and Hasan El-Shamy intend their handbook as an introduction to Thompson's monumental work while presenting "in-depth essays on a . . . motifs . . . of primary significance." After providing a historical overview of methods used in devising motif indexes and describing the structure of Thompson's Motif-Index, the editors conclude that his failure to consider psychological principles calls for rectification. Both Treudian and Jungian methods for analyzing folktales are no doubt capable of providing much helpful insight into psychological factors at play in the narratives. The ten-page introduction to this handbook expressly emphasizes the need for includingjungian approaches in folklore study. As evident in the title, in editing this collection of sixty-six essays, Garry and El-Shamy seek to extend the investigation beyond motifs to archetypes. Accordingly, the editors introduce the reader to the notion of archetype, as derived from Carl Gustav Jung's psychoanalytical studies and applied to literary theory, while differentiating it from the concept of motif.

In addition to making their case for elaborating on archetypes, the editors provide a six-page guide for using this book, explaining how they organized the essays according to the subject headings Thompson used in his Motif-Index. Whereas the sections of this handbook follow the organization of the MotifIndex, the editors chose to amplify three of Thompson's subject headings and to refine some of his descriptions. As such, this book comprises entries written by twenty-four prominent scholars, with ten essays being contributed by Garry and four by El-Shamy.

Given the number of entries, it is possible here to provide only an overview of a few selected sections, all of which vary greatly in length. Ehe largest section, organized around the subject heading "Mythological Motifs," presents ten essays examining (1) the nature of the creator integrating opposites and contraries; (2) various motifs in the hero cycle; (3) the dying or departing god motif in mythologies and mystery religions; (4) the creation myth as a symbolic and sacred narrative; (5) the complicated relationship between gods and giants in mythologies; (6) the doomsday motif in religions and present-day culture; (7) the origin of Pentecost; (8) the confusion of tongues motif in creation myths; (9) motifs that serve to explain and justify inequalities in myths, legends, and folktales; and (10) hermaphroditism in ancient creation myths, folklore, and popular culture.

Ehe second section includes five entries under the term "Mythical Animals." Ehese essays deal with (1) mythical beasts and hybrids in mythology and folk narratives; (2) the dragon motif in mythology, folktales, elite literature, and popular culture; (3) mythical birds in stories from India, Persia, Turkey, China, and Egypt; (4) the leviathan motif in international folklore; and (5) the motif of marriage and/or love between humans and magical animals.

Ehe eight essays in section 4 involve the subject "Magic." Ehese entries investigate the following motifs in folklore and literature: (1) magical transformations, (2) magic flight, (3) magic bodily members, (4) soothsayers, (5) magic invulnerability (6) invisibility, (7) bewitching, and (8) fantasy wish fulfillment.

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