From Game to War and Other Psychoanalytic Essays on Folklore

By Oring, Elliott | Western Folklore, Winter 1998 | Go to article overview

From Game to War and Other Psychoanalytic Essays on Folklore


Oring, Elliott, Western Folklore


From Game to War and Other Psychoanalytic Essays on Folklore. By Alan Dundes.

(Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1997. Pp. xv + 123, preface, bibliography, index. $29.95 cloth, 17.95 paper)

Alan Dundes has published some eight volumes of his own essays on folklore. This recent volume presents another five: "The Psychological Study of Folklore in the United States"; "Traditional Male Combat: From Game to War"; `"The Apple-Shot: Interpreting the Legend of William Tell"; `"The Flood as Male Creation Myth"; and "Why is the Jew 'Dirty'? A Psychoanalytic Study of AntiSemitic Folklore." Those who are not familiar with these particular essays will find that they are in fact elaborations of previous work, albeit with different folklore traditions being scrutinized. The essay on male combat recapitulates his work on American football, Turkish verbal dueling, and cockfighting; that on William Tell continues his symbolic analysis of legend and folktale; the essay on the biblical flood story extends his thinking on the Earth-diver myth; while the essay on anti-Semitism amplifies his previous work on German national character.

As an author, Dundes is a clear and engaging writer with a wonderful eye for details which he corrals within a framework of psychoanalytic interpretation. Even when readers might hesitate to accept such interpretation unequivocally (perhaps with good reason), they are forced to acknowledge the lack of ready alternatives for those curiosities of myth, legend, and custom to which Dundes calls attention. So there is something to be gained from reading these psychoanalytic essays, if only in terms of understanding what constitutes the data that need be explained.

Some of Dundes's interpretations are more compelling than others. I, for one, am more intrigued by his comments on male sports and anti-Semitic motifs than on diluvial traditions or the phallic symbolism of Gessler's cap. The only essay that is truly problematic in the volume is "The Psychological Study of Folklore in the United States." In the first place, Dundes is only interested in the narrow psychoanalytic band of psychological study. But even this seems artificially restricted. As a committed Freudian-a reincarnation of Ernest Jones, perhaps-Dundes gives short shrift to Jungian and no shrift at all to Kleinian, Adlerian, or other approaches (which although not prominent, nevertheless exist). More disturbing is that there is not even an allusion to efforts by other folklorists (e.g., Thomas A. …

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