Abstract

This address—presented at the American Folklore Society’s 2008 Annual Meeting in Louisville, Kentucky—celebrates the narrators and narratives recorded by Kentucky folklorist Leonard Roberts (1912–1983) and commemorates Roberts’s first audio folktale recording, a 1949 performance of “Merrywise” by Janie Muncy (now Margarett Jane Muncy Fugate). The narrator’s memories and interpretations reveal mountain märchen telling as three continuous arcs: the forestory (the pool of previous images, tellers, and stories that frame the tale), the performance (the tale itself in the moment of oral creation), and the understory (the tale as re-created simultaneously and lived inside the listener). The performance is the only audible arc in this three-part circle of narration: each telling inspires an understory, which then becomes the unheard script for the forestory that shapes the next performance. Through saturation fieldwork and by coming together with performers and collectors—as on the occasion of this address—folklorists attain greater understanding of the dynamics of the full narrative circle.

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