Landscape

I raise a question here that bugs me. Where is the landscape of the traditional tale?

I think we can distinguish here between four types of story. The first, most obvious one, is where the story and the locality are dependent on one another. Dick Whittington and London; Odysseus and Ithaca [although some doubts have been expressed on this recently]. There is a sub-type to this, where a figure or story has become associated with a place – in English storytelling, Arthur and  Robin Hood have been able to ‘claim’ places like this. The second type is the aetiological story, where a topographical detail merits mythological or legendary associations. The last types are the least clear, since I suspect they may contain elements of the others. The third, therefore, is where a general story is given a specific location. At the most everyday – and in some ways most engaging – level, my Father-in –Law would often begin long-winded stories by telling his listeners about someone in the next village who… or the long road between this village and that where… to set his story in a definite place, before reeling us all in, like so many hooked fish, before it became clear that this was a joke. In Neil Philip’s collection, stories are very often linked to place in this way – sometimes with humour, to mock a rival village, sometimes quite chillingly, as in the case of ghost stories. It may be in stories of the uncanny  we come back to a form of type two; people explaining ruins, unpicking half-forgotten histories, even feelings of discomfort in recounting stories that seek to account for a the sense of place.

The last, which interests me in the contexts of children’s literature, is where the storyteller simply sets the story in a somewhere/nowhere/everywhere setting. Red Riding Hood is set in an everywhere forest – although the migrations of the story will account for this dislocation. The same wood might be the setting for the three little pigs, or even (given the same Grimm-into-England migration) where Rapunzel is kept prisoner. Freya looks out of her window and expects to see “wolf come – eat you up.”

I contend – or I think I contend – that if, as I said before, the stories came with our predecessors from actual localities, or were translations from other countries, or subject to retellings in which the meanings of the localities were lost, the modern author is faced with the task of making the stories real and therefore will frequently universalize the environment; all stories are set in the same wood, the same wolves predating the same vulnerable creatures.

I’m going to leave this and mull it over.

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