The relationship between the practice of everyday storytelling, on the one hand, and the writing of novels, on the other, has on the whole eluded narratological research. There are various reasons for this state of affairs. For one, there exists a plural consensus that oral narrative and the novel have nothing or very little in common. 1 Narratology, except for its structuralist origins in folk-tale analysis (Propp 1968), has concentrated on fictional narrative, mostly on the eighteenth- to twentieth-century novel, with some subsidiary consideration of the short story. 2 Recently, there has been a new trend to consider medieval narrative, and narratological insights are currently being brought to bear on the epic. 3 The novel and the epic, as art forms, seem to be considerably more sophisticated than conversational narrative, although work on oral poetry suggests a close link between oral literature and the chansons de geste, the early German verse epic, and equivalent English forms (Bäuml 1985; J.H. Fisher 1985; J.M. Foley 1985a). To exclude the analysis of oral narrative from narratology is therefore quite unjustified. Formulaic oral poetry, it has been demonstrated, frequently preserves some of the formulaic features and many of the structural and compositional aspects of the oral language on its way from orality to written composition (which originally entailed oral performance). On the other hand, the status of epic formulae in the written epic is arguably different from their original function in the still entirely oral literature. Whereas the formulae in oral poetry enable composition in performance, in the (written) epic an imperceptible and gradual shift has occurred from the status of an intrinsically compositional factor to that of a stylistic or literary device. 4 One must therefore conceptualize the move from orality to literacy as a continuum that affords the narratologist interesting insights into different functions of narrative elements within their narrative patterns.
Research into the epic and into forms of medieval narrative has so far still left open the basic questions of the precise relation between naturally occurring narrative and folk tales at one end of the literary spectrum and our present-day sophisticated novelistic genre at the other. Structuralist analyses of the folk tale and other ‘simple forms’ 5 have proved