The Marrow of Human Experience: Essays on Folklore

The Marrow of Human Experience: Essays on Folklore

The Marrow of Human Experience: Essays on Folklore

The Marrow of Human Experience: Essays on Folklore


Composed over several decades, the essays here are remarkably fresh and relevant. They offer instruction for the student just beginning the study of folklore as well as repeated value for the many established scholars who continue to wrestle with issues that Wilson has addressed. As his work has long offered insight on critical matters--nationalism, genre, belief, the relationship of folklore to other disciplines in the humanities and arts, the currency of legend, the significance of humor as a cultural expression, and so forth--so his recent writing, in its reflexive approach to narrative and storytelling, illuminates today's paradigms. Its notable autobiographical dimension, long an element of Wilson's work, employs family and local lore to draw conclusions of more universal significance. Another way to think of it is that newer folklorists are catching up with Wilson and what he has been about for some time.

As a body, Wilson's essays develop related topics and connected themes. This collection organizes them in three coherent parts. The first examines the importance of folklore--what it is and its value in various contexts. Part two, drawing especially on the experience of Finland, considers the role of folklore in national identity, including both how it helps define and sustain identity and the less savory ways it may be used for the sake of nationalistic ideology. Part three, based in large part on Wilson's extensive work in Mormon folklore, which is the most important in that area since that of Austin and Alta Fife, looks at religious cultural expressions and outsider perceptions of them and, again, at how identity is shaped, by religious belief, experience, and participation; by the stories about them; and by the many other expressive parts of life encountered daily in a culture.

Each essay is introduced by a well-known folklorist who discusses the influence of Wilson's scholarship. These include Richard Bauman, Margaret Brady, Simon Bronner, Elliott Oring, Henry Glassie, David Hufford, Michael Owen Jones, and Beverly Stoeltje.


I often misplace certain William A. “Bert” Wilson articles and then find them in unexpected locations. When researching Mormon folklore, I may need “On Being Human” and finally find the article in a folder marked “Definitions of Folklore” or “Folklore and the Humanities.” The article might be tucked in the folder I use for the Introduction to Folklore course or even in the folder for my advanced writing class. The process gets repeated for the “Deeper Necessity” article, the “Herder” article, and others. For this very personal reason, I have wanted a book compiling Bert Wilson’s essays. I want a good variety of his writings in one easily accessible and transportable collection.

More seriously, and less selfishly, I requested to work on this essay collection with Bert so others could receive and study the work of an excellent teacher and champion of folklore studies and the humanities. The essays won’t convey exactly what it was like to be in his classroom, what it was like to experience the variety of personal experiences, lectures, slide shows, guest speakers, films, and other multimedia displays he used to present folklore in all its varieties to his students. But these writings will introduce new and ongoing students of folklore to useful definitions and functions of folklore study. They may guide readers who know little of this field, as well as seasoned folklorists, to recognize and remember the imperatives of traditional expression—the powerful needs to create, to know, and to commune within the realms of change, continuity, and a common humanity. These essays in folklore will immerse their readers in Bert’s passion for folklore as a way to negotiate recurring human needs, to recognize the values and concerns of particular groups, and to understand what it means to be human.


When studying folklore, it seems important to indicate that the creation and sharing of knowledge takes place through face-to-face contacts as well as by reading and writing. I studied folklore with Bert as a master’s student at Brigham Young University and heard him give several of the invited lectures on Mormon narrative traditions now included here. As a folklore doctoral student at Indiana University, I discovered that he had a wider influence than Mormon folklore when my . . .

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