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America in Legend Paperback – August 12, 1974
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America in Legend: Folklore from the Colonial Period to the Present
By: Richard M. Dorson
America in Legend is a very complex yet simple book that is caulk full with folklore. It covers so many types of folklore from witchcraft to druglore. Folklore is such an interesting topic because it can explain so much with little information. It can explain where a culture came from, what that culture believes in, and why that culture believes in it, which are only a few things you can obtain from reading folklore. The America in Legend book not only is very explanatory but also gives you many examples to prove the point being made. In this paper, you will learn the complete ins and outs of this book and why you should read it. American in Legend: Folklore from the Colonial Period to the Present is a vast collection of folktales that should be read not only because topics it covers but also because of it's structure, that pulls you into the stories.
The author chose very great aspects of our culture to focus on. There were so many aspects of folklore to be touched on that he split them into four categories which are: The Colonial Period (The Religious Impulse), The Early National Period (The Democratic Impulse), The Later National Period (The Economic Impulse), and The Contemporary Period (The Humane Impulse). In the following paragraphs I will discuss every section individually.
In the Colonial Period he talks mostly about witchcraft and the devil. These topics are very big in most culture and, in my opinion, when you hear them you automatically think about religion. Many people back in the day were very preoccupied with witchcraft and it's powers and how they are connected. It is so important in our culture that it is a required read in most high school curriculum (The Crucible).
In The Early National Period he mostly talks about folk heroes. I was honestly a little disappointed in this section of the book because I wanted to learn about more than just the folk heroes. There has to be more types of folklore in this period that has a democratic impulse. However, he focused on five different folk heroes including Davy Crockett.
In the Later National Period he covers so much, including Cowboys, Lumberjacks, Miners, and more. I really liked this section of the book the most because for me it was the most informative because even though you know about these topics and what you think they are in the present day is completely different from what they were originally.
In the Contemporary Period he pretty much only focuses on Druglore. Even though I really liked reading this portion of the book I was left wanting to know more about this time period that he didn't give me. However even though that didn't appeal much to me you know the author knows what he is doing and good at his work when you leave the author wanted more. In my opinion, that is the most important quality of a great book.
However there are more important qualities to a great book besides just leaving the readers hanging and wanting more. Another important aspect of a book is the structure. For a storybook, it's the plot that makes or breaks the story. With an informative book, like this one, the plot is much less important in my mind. What really need to be there is a good outline that makes it easy to move from his informative commentary to actual folklore examples. I think he does accomplish this. He has in structured in a non-confusing way (the four categories) then he goes into many differing subcategories. Reading his book, I realized that his technique for organizing his folklore information was similar to the way Brunvand organizes his information in The Study of American Folklore.
Like most informative books, especially folklore books, he had pages of a bibliography, which I found really helpful when I wanted to read further into topic he had discussed. However besides the bibliography he had hardly anything else that gave me more information on the topics, which I would have liked for him to include. Overall though, to a certain degree, I understand why he didn't add anything else because each category and subcategory can stand on it's own outside of the book. That is one aspect I really enjoyed while reading this book because that is not always something that is easy to do. Hopefully all this gave you a basic overview of what this book is going to give you when you read it and what it will include.
I have included the witchcraft excerpt of the book for you to get a feel of what the book is like, how it informs you, and how interesting and useful you find it to be. I included the witchcraft excerpt because it was overall my favorite topic in the entire book. It was also one that I had slight knowledge of before hand. Witchcraft and magic, in my opinion, is a major aspect of folklore that you find in many different types of folklore books or pieces. Another book that contains folklore that involves magic or how they call it Hoo-do is Mules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston. If you liked this excerpt ob which craft, then I would strongly recommend you read part two of that book.
There are hundred's of thousand of books out there that discuss and interpret folklore covering all different aspects and types of folklore. So why read this one? If you need to read a certain type of folklore for a certain reason and this one doesn't qualify then this book isn't the one for you to read. If you just want to read folklore to gather more information on it or just for fun then I strongly recommend you read this book. It is not only is full of useful information that I bet you thought you already knew but also because it expresses areas of the American culture that are not really touched upon or very well known. Even well known things can seem kind of new when you look at it from a different angle, which is another thing the author does extraordinary well
Hopefully after all the information I gave you it makes you inclined to read this book and if you do I promise it wont be a waste of time. Folklore is truly a great way to gather information in ways you can't otherwise.