Folklore Dictionaries, Handbooks and Overviews: A Very Incomplete Review

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I got inspired to do this post while browsing through the interesting list of recommended books on the #FolkloreThursday blog. As wonderful as the list is, I couldn’t help noticing that it feels a bit skewed towards Europe and the UK. Since the booklist is compiled from Twitter recommendations with the #FolkloreThursday hashtag, this skewness is a bit on folks like me, who have interests outside of Europe and the UK, for not tweeting the texts that we use and love. Hence, this blog post.

Obviously, my list is also skewed towards my own interests, and the limits of my time and resources. I compiled it from the reference sections of several of my blog posts, and by scouring my bookshelves and hard drive. Just for the sake of some structure, I limited and organized the list into dictionary-style references, handbooks, and mythic overviews: the kind of resources one might want when beginning to learn about the stories of a particular culture. Since these are all books I’ve used or at least looked through, I added some comments about them, as well. I alphabetized each sublist by title.

One thing I did notice is that I don’t have any good Filipino folk dictionaries or bestiaries. I’ve tried to remedy that, and I’ll add those books to the list when I get them.

John Bruno Hare, the founder of the Internet Sacred Text Archive, wrote that one focus of his archive was “remedying the underrepresentation of traditional cultures on the Internet.” I offer this list in somewhat the same spirit. I hope it’s helpful, and I encourage other people to post their favorite dictionaries, bestiaries, etc., too.

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Reading Yūrei: The Japanese Ghost

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I’ve long been a fan of Zack Davisson’s Japanese folklore blog Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai (named after the game of 100 Weird Tales), so I was eager to read his new book, Yūrei: The Japanese Ghost. It did not disappoint.

Davisson traces the origins of the yurei from their basis in Japan’s belief systems and traditions about the dead, starting with early animistic beliefs and their mixture with beliefs from Shintoism and Buddhism. The worlds of the living and the dead are perhaps nearer to each other in the Japanese conception than they are in Western belief systems. Your obligations to your ancestors continue past their deaths — and perhaps their interest in your life outlives their deaths, too. Becoming a ghost might be as simple as dying with something pressing on your mind — and moving on as easy as fulfilling the goal that keeps your ghost here.

The book also presents the literary history of the Japanese ghost story or weird tale (kaidan), beginning with the story behind Maruyama Ōkyo’s famous 18th century painting The Ghost of Oyuki. Oyuki is the prototype of the modern image of the yurei: pale, dressed in white, with no feet; she also graces the cover of the book. From there, we follow the weird tale through Japanese art, Japanese literature (and Chinese contributions to Japanese literature), Noh and Kabuki theater, and film. We learn about the three great yurei of Japan: the lovelorn Otsuya, the vengeful Oiwa, and the earth-bound (or maybe well-bound) Okiku. As with the Latino legends of La Llorona, there are many versions of the stories of Otsuya, Oiwa, and Okiku, and Davisson introduces us to several variations. He also shares other classic ghost tales and legends from Japanese and Buddhist mythology.

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Reading Pariah Missouri

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Pariah, Missouri – Book 1: Answering the Call
Decade Brothers Studios
Created and Written by Andres Salazar
Pencils by Jose Pescador
Finishes, Coloring, and Letters by Andres Salazar

Writer Andres Salazar contacted me not too long ago, about his new series Pariah, Missouri (Book 1: Answering the Call is due to hit comic book stores this Wednesday, August 28). I don’t normally do on-request reviews, but his supernatural western series sounded fun, and I had a little spare time, so here goes…

First off: this is a beautiful book. Artist Jose Pescador’s detailed yet uncluttered pencils and Salazar’s understated ink washes produce an old-timey, moody, almost noirish feel to the art that matches the story’s era and occult narrative quite well. I like the full-page splash of Marshal Kane, shown above, quite a lot — it’s almost like a woodcut. The use of isolated areas of contrasting colors in otherwise monochromatic panels (Kane’s yellow badge; the boys’ rust-colored trousers) is very effective.

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The narrative setup is fun, too: Pariah is a boom-town along the Missouri River run by a mysterious triad of “founders.” Hiram Buchanan is a young East-coast dandy and grifter who wanders into town, for no apparent reason. Why is he there? Are the sudden disappearances of the town’s Marshal and of two young boys related to a mysterious Punch & Judy show that arrives in town? Buchanan investigates, with the help of the fallen-on-hard-times orphaned daughter of one of the town’s late founders, and several loners with special magical talents…

It’s a good premise, and an interesting, suspenseful story. I like the cast of characters, there’s a lot of juicy drama simmering in the town, and the traveling Punch & Judy show was a nice creepy touch. My one complaint is that it all happens a bit too fast. I wouldn’t have minded if the story had been half again as long to give us more time getting to know the different characters and the town (and the monsters); there’s certainly enough meat here to justify that. For instance, there’s a lot of promise in the Kane character — and yet beyond the (kickass) scene where the splash page above comes from, we hardly see him at all, and he doesn’t really contribute to this episode’s denouement. Hopefully we get more of him in the next book.

And yes, there is a next book: the creators are running a Kickstarter campaign to fund Book 2 ; I’ve contributed, and I’m looking forward to the next chapter.

If you like westerns, supernatural horror, or occult detectives (or better yet, all of the above) — visit your local comic book store (and the Pariah, Missouri Kickstarter campaign) and check it out.

The Book Review as Creative Prose

Back when I was in grad school, my beloved weekend ritual, especially on those sunny and temperate autumn days that are one of Pittsburgh’s best features, was to sit at a sidewalk table at my favorite Squirrel Hill coffeehouse with a big cup of French Roast and read the New York Times Book Review Sunday supplement cover to cover. I read about new novels and biographies, about books on economics and politics and social criticism and art, about Amelia Earhart’s last flight and about Ernest Shackleton’s travails. I learned a lot; enjoyed it all. And I never bought or borrowed a single book that I read about.

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