"Louisiana's Folktale Traditions: An Introduction," by Carl Lindahl
from Swapping Stories: Folktales from Louisiana
[The (#) below refers to the tale number in the publication.]
This broad-based collection of Louisiana tales belongs to a current surge of interest in the ageless art of storytelling. Many recent fine and successful collections--including Barry J. Ancelet's Cajun and Creole Folktales (1994), John A. Burrison's Storytellers: Folktales and Legends from the South (1991), James P. Leary's Midwestern Folk Humor (1991), and W. K. McNeil's Ghost Stories from the American South (1985)--attest to a growing interest in state and regional samplers, books that showcase the narrative variety and cultural diversity of living American folktale traditions. In the last years of the twentieth century, readers and listeners are returning to the deceptively simple, limitlessly rich art of oral taletelling.
Not since the early 1940s has American storytelling enjoyed such popularity. The Depression Era work of the Federal Writers' Project sought to help fend off poverty and boost national morale by enlisting professional writers to capture the stories of the country's great amateur artists: storytellers whose jokes and legends, whose imagination and sense of history had created a folk art nurtured in hard work and hard times, a body of tales both extraordinarily rich in detail and essentially free, to be shared by all who cared to listen (Mangione 1972).
The Federal Writers did not merely collect folktales but substantially reworked them, mixing professional journalism with traditional artistry. The resulting blend was not entirely successful. In spite of the fact that the collectors of the 1930s and early 1940s amassed voluminous bodies of texts and traditions not fully digested or appreciated even today, most of the work published by the Federal Writers ultimately displayed far more journalism than folk artistry. As a case in point, Gumbo Ya-Ya--the survey of Louisiana lore compiled by Lyle Saxon, Edward Dreyer, and Robert Tallant, and released in 1945--was filled with valuable stories and impressive bits of oral history, but these tales were not rendered in the actual words of the storytellers, nor were they free of the biases of the collectors. For example, Gumbo Ya-Ya's description of African-American lore in New Orleans limits itself to such negative outsiders' stereotypes as drunkenness and sexual excess. Instead of listening for the values and artistry of the African-American storytellers, the authors of Gumbo Ya-Ya simply heard and repeated the tales that reinforced their own prejudices.
The many failures of the Federal Writers' Project underline some of the daunting problems involved in attempting to translate even the greatest oral performances into readable stories. Storytelling may be the oldest, most popular, and most durable form of entertainment, but it is also, paradoxically, the most delicate and perishable. Louisiana's expert folk narrators rely on face-to-face communication and small audiences; they spice their tales with innumerable subtle references to their physical and social environments. They use gestures and vocal modulations to enrich their performances. They change their tales constantly, tailoring each telling to the interests and understanding of their listeners. When the tales are written down, and the speaker is no longer present to gauge the audience and reshape the tale for them, it is reasonable to ask how much of the storyteller's art can survive.
Collectors and editors face the enormous task of preserving the intimacy of oral storytelling on the cold, impersonal written page. The Federal Writers' Project met this challenge with a curious blend of reverence and condescension. True, the writers found the plots of the stories and some of the tellers' folk speech impressive enough to share with the outside world, but they did not trust the folk artists sufficiently to record the stories in the tellers' own words. Such famous collections as Richard Chase's The Jack Tales (1943) became American children's classics, but the stories were not faithful to the styles of the Appalachian taletellers (Perdue 1987).
More than fifty years after the Federal Writers' Project began, the question of how best to retell folktales remains unanswered. The current storytelling surge breaks into two great waves, the first represented by folklorists and the second by performers, with two distinct notions of how to retell a folktale. The first group turns toward the taletellers' community, seeking to understand the tales as organic parts of the group's daily life. Folklorists see storytellers as entertainers but also as guardians of the artistry and values of their local groups. Told in its natural setting--for example, during a fishing trip or at a family gathering--a folktale binds together the teller and the listeners; it is shaped to its surroundings by artists who invoke the immediate environment and imagination of listeners to create a tale that grows naturally from shared experience. Folklorists solve the problem of representation by sharing with their readers as much of the teller's background and context as possible.
The second wave, the performers, represented by such groups as NAPPS (National Association for the Preservation and Perpetuation of Storytelling), are usually less interested in the local dynamics of folk traditions than in acquiring material for performance. At such large gatherings as the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesboro, Tennessee, a Florida librarian may reshape a Scottish ballad he has learned from a book into a prose tale and attempt to entertain an audience of hundreds of strangers from around the world. Such performers seldom attempt to duplicate the style of the borrowed tales--or to share with the audience much knowledge of the original taletellers and their communities. Although often artful and entertaining, such performances rest on the premise that the tale itself is more important than the folk artist who told it, more important than that artist's folk community.
Folklorists are sometimes so intent on being faithful to the tellers that they leave the general public behind; but performers are often so intent on pleasing their audience that they distort their folk sources beyond recognition.
This book shares the goals of the contemporary folklorists, yet, like today's performers, strives to reach a wide audience. The great innovation of Swapping Stories lies in the circumstances of its collection. Most of the tales included here were recorded during a one-year period as part of a statewide public arts program. Like the old Federal Writers' Project, the Louisiana effort originated with a government-sponsored agency that sent fieldworkers into unfamiliar territory to locate master narrators and record their stories. As such, it ran the risk of missing a great deal of the living traditions and substituting in their place some very unrepresentative tales based on outsiders' partial views and stereotypes. Furthermore, the state project focused its attention on public programming, seeking to identify artists who would perform on festival stages.
Yet, from the beginning, the Louisiana Folklife Program director Maida Owens and the fieldworkers strove to collect and represent these tales on the tellers' own terms. In order to coax storytellers to share intimate traditions with a broader public, the state folklorists developed innovative strategies. One of the most successful was a storytelling pavilion originally conceived by folklorist Barry Jean Ancelet of the University of Southwestern Louisiana and Bruce Morgan of the state's Office of Tourism. The taletellers would sit at the center of the pavilion, next to a collector familiar with their tales who would help elicit stories and fill in background for the audience. Chairs were arranged in concentric circles around the storytellers. Interested listeners could sit in the inner circles and share an intimate storytelling experience. Newcomers could listen at the fringes of the pavilion and--if interested--move closer to the center of the action. Others could come and go at will without disturbing the storytellers, who were insulated from the crowd by a tight circle of intent listeners (Owens 1992).
Even with these innovations, the tales told at public gatherings did not always reach the range or depth characteristic of tales told in more intimate circumstances. Therefore, to balance and enrich the collection, the editors supplied tales collected offstage, in more familiar and small-scale surroundings. C. Renée Harvison visited several master storytellers in their homes (Christian 1993). Barry Jean Ancelet, Samuel G. Armistead, Annette Huval, Nicholas R. Spitzer, and I also contributed tales and narrative songs collected earlier in private settings. Pat Mire and Maida Owens added tales recorded in a barber shop, at a backyard cookout, and in other contexts in which Louisiana's folktales are commonly told today.
Swapping Stories thus presents Louisiana folktales as they were told both in intimate home settings and on public stages. The editors aspire to present these tales in a way that is both faithful to the tellers' speech and friendly to the reader. We have tried to reproduce every word spoken by the taletellers and have added nothing to "touch up" their artful accounts. Unlike many contemporary folklorists, however, we do not reproduce pauses or certain "incidental" sounds--the "uhs," "ahs," and "ahems" that tellers sometimes unconsciously utter when searching for the right word. Even with this slight polish, however, a number of the tales will seem awkward to readers accustomed to traditional storybooks. Tales that grow out of conversation are often the joint creations of one major narrator and several assistants in the audience (see, for example, tale #68). When accomplished joke tellers are swapping stories (as in tale #80), they use all sorts of gestures and sounds that cannot be translated to the page, and they often speak in brief allusions rather than in complete sentences. Such storytelling styles, natural and flowing when witnessed firsthand, appear clumsy on the page, but--difficult to read as they may be--we have decided to include some such performances here, in hopes of giving the reader a better sense of the variety of ways in which stories emerge in daily life.
These Louisiana tales span a great range of folk narration, from historical accounts to belief tales, jokes, and fantasy creations. Some are told in the everyday language of conversation, some artfully embellished, some--such as the Isleño décimas and African- American toasts--spoken or sung in poetic form. This book contains two parts, the first presenting tales from six of Louisiana's most gifted narrators and the second arranged topically to present some of the most prominent themes and types of tales told throughout the state. Both sections begin with the most "realistic" tales, accounts of personal experiences, rich in themselves, but also useful for drawing the reader into the daily environment of the taletellers and setting the stage for their fictional tales. Each part then proceeds to tales more distant from the everyday world, tales focused on the distant past, supernatural occurrences, and, finally, mythic events and folk fiction.
Every folktale will bear the stamp of at least three styles: the style of the individual narrator, that of the narrator's community, and that of the type, or genre, of tale being told (Ball 1959). This book is arranged to take all three styles into account.
Swapping Stories begins with a series of tales from some of Louisiana's most gifted narrators, people who stand out as oral artists in their various communities. Many tellers simply repeat what they have heard with little change, embellishment, or inventiveness. The narrators featured at the beginning of this book, however, are experts who have devoted much of their lives to storytelling; in the process, they have given their narratives a personal, artful stamp.
Few generalizations can be made about this diverse group of artists. But, beyond the fact that they are all great entertainers, it is also true that most of them are old; thus, their stories, drawing upon decades of life experience, tell us much about Louisiana's past. In Harold Talbert's tales of Depression-era Ruston and Wilson "Ben Guiné" Mitchell`s accounts of sharecropping in the vicinity of Parks, the 1980s and 1990s are barely visible, but the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s emerge in sharp focus. We are welcomed into a world that we can no longer see but that comes alive in their words.
This emphasis on times past is common in storytelling collections, the inevitable outgrowth of one important fact: storytelling is a lifelong profession. As a rule, taletellers don't retire. They simply tell more tales, and, as a rule, they simply grow better. If you were to ask to meet the best taleteller in any given Louisiana community, you would usually be led to an older man or woman whose art has been formed and refined by decades of performing for the entertainment of neighbors and friends. More often than not, this person would be respected in his or her community not only as a narrator but as a recognized expert in other skills. Lonnie Gray, a great tall tale teller, was also a master at basketmaking and wood carving; Harold Talbert, a specialist in small-town stories, also directed the local bank; Clifford Blake, possessing a repertoire of African-American tales from plantation days, was also a singer, composer, and the last person in his community to practice the skill of calling the cotton press; Jimmie Davis, a master jokester and tall tale teller, also served as governor of Louisiana. These people, like many others whose stories are found here, have become great storytellers not only because of their verbal skills but because they have been "elected" by their friends and neighbors to represent them in these stories.
Thus, even the most individualistic folktale teller will tell you more than one woman's--or one man's--experience. The taleteller presents a community narrative that encapsulates, to a great extent, the shared experiences, values, and sense of humor of his or her neighborhood or cultural background. For all their uniqueness, Alfred Anderson's magic tales draw upon the group experience of poor African Americans who worked as laborers and sharecroppers for wealthy whites. Learned from his father and neighbors, and told in turn to his children and grandchildren, these stories were shaped as much by the tastes and experience of his teachers and audience as by his own artistry. Alfred Anderson was such an accomplished storyteller that his children and grandchildren always deferred to him and did not try to imitate him. Nevertheless, his stories were their stories as well; he achieved his position of preeminence largely because he was sensitive to their tastes.
Each of the taletellers here represents the cultural style of at least one Louisiana community. Cultural style is conditioned by the shared values and experiences of each of the myriad groups that retell tales. A magic tale such as The Two Brothers may be well over a thousand years old and found in hundreds of different cultures, but each culture will appropriate the tale for its own uses and reshape it continually to correspond with its own constantly changing worldview.
European versions of The Two Brothers are often extremely long and complicated, presenting a series of magical encounters in which a young man with magical animal helpers slays a dragon and wins a princess but is then enslaved by a witch's magic and finally rescued by his brother. American versions of The Two Brothers (AT 303)1--such as Alfred Anderson's "The Toodling Horn" (#57) and Barry Ancelet's "Gaillum, Singo, et Moliseau" (#210)--tend to be much shorter than European versions, and to focus on one episode in which a boy walks into the woods, encounters a monstrous being that attempts to kill him, and finally saves himself by calling his dogs--that magically hear him from miles away and run to save him. Ancelet's and Anderson's tales were probably influenced by an African tale type, Dogs Rescue Master from Tree Refuge (AT 315A), similar in many ways to The Two Brothers. But, despite the fact that Ancelet's tale represents a French-American tradition and Anderson's an African-American tradition, the two tales, when considered together, represent a shared American tradition-- derived from two streams of Old World story that merged into a new, unique tradition representative of the United States. American versions of this tale, as a rule, do not mention dragons, princesses, marriage, or a second brother--but focus instead on a boy alone in the woods. The differences between the two is largely a difference of cultural styles: American magic tales as a corpus tend to be shorter than their European and African counterparts, less concerned with such magical figures as dragons, and far less likely to end with marriages.
Cultural styles are not only national but regional, ethnic, and local as well. In addition to being distinctly American, many of the tales in Swapping Stories are unmistakably Southern. Many of Harold Talbert's masterfully told reminiscences evoke small-town America, both North and South, but many more carry special Southern accents. Talbert speaks of Baptist revival meetings, cotton crops, the close proximity and playful relations of black and white children. The African-American narratives--in both English and French--project less positive aspects of Southern cultures. Clifford Blake's "Saul and Skeleton" (#208), Alfred Anderson's "The Old Coon" (#60), and Wilson "Ben Guiné" Mitchell's "Vieux Nèg et Vieux Blanc" (#35) recreate a world of masters and slaves in which whites are wealthy landowners and blacks abused workers.
Beyond their Southern coloring, some of the individual tales are pure Louisiana, deeply seasoned by local environment and lifestyle. Tall tales such as "The Alligator Peach Tree" (#134) and animal tales such as "The Girls and the Alligator" (#56) are special local variants of internationally distributed tales. Only in Louisiana do these stories feature the alligator, which--along with the crawfish--serves as a virtual totem animal for the southern reaches of the state. Julia Huval's tales impart the flavor of Louisiana's unique cuisine. In "La Chaudiérée de couche-couche" (#188), the wily rabbit devours a pot of couche-couche--a Cajun and Creole corn mush-- instead of the tub of butter consumed by other tricksters when similar tales are told elsewhere. One reason for this unique change becomes obvious when the reader considers the context: when Julia Huval was growing up, her family had no butter to eat.
Political and historical tales also feature local phenomena and bind together Louisiana's people in a weave of shared experience often quite mysterious to outsiders. Tales of Huey Long and his dynasty of politicians form a narrative common ground; stories of other legendary figures, such as Jean Lafitte (#148, 163, 169) and Bonnie and Clyde (#138-42)--though generally more localized than the Long tales--engage imaginations throughout the state.
Swapping Stories reflects the combination of cultures that has made Louisiana unique. Enola Matthews's tales (#49-55) have much in common with those told by other Creoles in Louisiana and the Caribbean, but Mme. Matthews also passes on certain plots and traits of tales brought from Europe into her family tradition by her Irish grandfather. The English-language tales of Alfred Anderson (#56-62) show clear Creole influence, but they belong to a wider community of African Americans who share a common history as former slaves and sharecroppers. Thus, some of the historically underprivileged Louisiana groups--African-American, Cajun, and Creole--shared far more than their poverty. They shared stories, and the richness of their overlapping repertoires testifies not only to their struggles but also to their wealth of imagination and artistry. Although some of the storytellers featured here suffered from effects of racial and cultural segregation, their stories affirm that, on at least one important level, these cultures were integrated: their stories leaped social barriers.
Each folklore form or genre--the joke, belief legend, historical legend, magic tale, animal tale, or tall tale--bears a distinctive style, shaped by the purpose of the teller and the understandings of the audience. A teller of belief legends, for instance, often dwells on supernatural figures--such as ghosts and loups garoux (or werewolves)--that many believe to exist. Because legends tend to assert the reality of certain supernatural events, the tellers tend to use sincere, straightforward styles to persuade their listeners of hidden dangers lurking in the world. Tellers of magic tales will also introduce supernatural beings--like the talking bear in Alfred Anderson's "The Toodling Horn"(#57)--but these creatures are considered fictional by teller and listeners alike. In legends, the supernatural is often terrifically frightening; in magic tales, it is often entertaining and humorous; thus, even when they resemble each other in content, legends and magic tales possess different generic styles, because they treat the topic of the supernatural in entirely different ways.
Personal experience stories compose one of the richest and most varied bodies of Louisiana folklore. These autobiographical accounts of memorable events are retold dozens, even hundreds of times, recrafted at each telling, evolving into artistic statements to entertain family and friends, often at special ritualistic occasions such as Thanksgiving dinners and family reunions (Stahl 1977). When told by older people, such tales are sometimes strung together in a running account of the "good old days," as listeners are treated not simply to scenes from one man's or woman's past, but also to an entire, vanished world of community life. In telling their own stories, narrators also evoke a whole network of community events and values. Through innumerable retellings, most personal experience narratives become--intentionally or otherwise--at least slightly idealized or fictionalized to express more clearly a community's evolving notions of what is important about its past. Most "personal" experience narratives are thus also community stories, statements about the lifestyle of the teller's group.
The tales of two great personal experience narrators, featured in the first part of this book, reveal much about the diversity of the genre and how it reflects the unique values of each community. Both Harold Talbert, a British American from Ruston (#1-14), and Bel Abbey, a Native American of the Koasati culture (#37-48), possess rich repertoires of stories describing their boyhood experiences. Both dwell on transitional moments in the growing-up process and upon their individual--and sometimes lonely--paths toward adulthood. Beyond these facts, however, the two bodies of stories hold little in common, for they are set apart by the greatly different personalities, styles, and cultures of the two men.
Harold Talbert, a man of many words, speaks at loving length about his boyhood friends and foes. In his small-town world, such fixtures as popcorn, watermelons, freight trains, and movie theaters--unremarkable to today's children--assume enormous importance. As Harold recounts his long walks to and from the movie house, the listener begins to see, through a young boy's eyes, how a small town can present a very large and dangerous world. Harold describes how he used his wits to negotiate his way home from the movie theater in the dark. Like most folktale heroes, the young Harold encounters strange and threatening figures- men in red masks or disguised as gorillas- who invade his town.
Bel Abbey also must deal with strange and threatening forces, but his personal experience stories are set in a world of nature rather than of people. Although he knew many kinds of tales and shared them often with his fellow Koasati, Bel's growing-up stories are all set in the woods, and Bel is always alone (#39-41, 43). Like many folktale heroes, he loses his way in the woods and must confront and overcome his fears there.
The different cultural backgrounds of the two men are made vividly real in their stories. In order to grow up, Harold Talbert must come to terms with hostile strangers; Bel Abbey, on the other hand--brought up in relative isolation among the Koasati--must master the secrets of nature.
Elsewhere in this collection, tellers of personal experience stories dwell upon the basic themes of daily life: courtship, marriage, playing games. Yet all of the stories presented here--like nearly all personal experience narratives--involve common situations with uncommon twists. Such tales are popular because they give everyday experience the aura of a magical event. Master storytellers like Harold Talbert push reality to the verge of fantasy: a tale that begins in a sleepy town ends in frenzied flights from a wild gorilla; a baptism nearly becomes a drowning. Such stories walk the thin line between the personal experience story and the tall tale.
Tall tales, like personal experience stories, are presented as true accounts and usually told in the first person. Tellers tend to begin by describing common situations; the tales unfold in environments familiar to their listeners. Yet, as the narrator continues, he (for tall tales are most often told by males [Brown 1987, 12-14]) adds more and more unusual features to his story, until the believable and the utterly absurd tangle together, transforming fact into fantastic fiction. The typical tall tale teller performs in a monotone, as if he found nothing unusual about the incredible events he relates; neither his voice nor his facial expression betrays the fact that he is attempting to disguise a monstrous lie as an ordinary fact. Tellers often spice their stories with expressions--such as "this is the dying truth"; "if I'm lying, I'm dying"; "this is no damned lie"--aimed at persuading listeners to believe them (Biebuyck-Goetz 1977).
Also called "whoppers," "yarns," "windies," "trash," and "lies" in Louisiana and elsewhere, tall tales are told throughout the world but are particularly popular in the United States. According to one folklorist's study of published folktales, there are more than one hundred American tall tales for every one recorded in England (Baughman 1966, xiii). The tall tale certainly did not originate in the New World, but Americans have adopted it as their preferred, distinctive folktale form.
Many explanations have been offered for the American fascination with tall tales. Folklorists have pointed out that these stories tend to celebrate the limitless possibilities and magical aspects of nature. In Lonnie Gray's yarns, giant fish provide shingles for houses (#27); Harry Methvin tells of mosquitoes that sacrifice their lives to suck poison from the body of a snakebit man (#127). In such stories, nature becomes a magically friendly force that provides food, shelter, even life itself, and presents a world of "unlimited good" (Dundes 1971) in which all may prosper and no one has to suffer want. Newcomers to America often left behind crowded quarters and limited opportunities. Arriving in a region with seemingly inexhaustible land and possibilities, they may well have felt that they had entered a world where magic and reality came together, just as they do in the tall tale.
Furthermore, tall tales--wherever they are told throughout the world--are particularly popular among all-male occupational and recreational groups: sailors, soldiers, lumberjacks, and hunters. The huge and shifting American frontier was settled by just such populations. Like much of America, Louisiana attracted many all-male communities of trappers, hunters, and cowboys. Even in more settled, family-based communities, there were many predominately-male pastimes--such as gambling, horse racing, and fishing--that served as ideal environments for the exchange of such tales. Nineteenth-century newspapers are filled with written versions of the tall tales that circulated in Northern Louisiana (Anderson 1960).
Finally, tall tales tend to thrive in mobile, dynamic social settings, where they are used to test and initiate newcomers. In such situations, the tall tale teller strives to establish his turf by shocking the newcomer, testing his gullibility and his sense of humor. We Always Lie to Strangers reads the title of Vance Randolph's great collection of Ozark tall tales (1951). Randolph describes how groups of men gathered at a local store would begin exchanging tall tales with each other as soon as a stranger would come within earshot. The newcomer would hear the men describing impossible events in matter-of-fact voices, and the tellers would watch from the corners of their eyes to gauge the effect of their performance on the stranger. Nineteenth-century Louisiana--like Louisiana today--saw a constant stream of newcomers invading the turf of established residents, and these immigrants provided a steady supply of victims for the tall tale teller.
Tall tales are particularly popular in rural environments; the great majority of tall tale motifs center on farm life or wildlife. Farmers will explain about one summer day so hot that the sun popped whole acres of corn, turning it into popcorn. Hunters will describe mosquitoes so large that they carry off children. Thriving in the woods of northern Louisiana as well as in the southern bayous, tall tales populate all the rural regions of the state and are told endlessly among people who spend significant portions of their lives hunting, farming, or fishing.
In certain situations, one expert narrator--for example, a hunting guide--will dominate a tall tale session, regaling listeners with an endless string of impossible stories. Just as often, however, tall tale telling is a group-participation event, in which several men vie to tell the most outlandish story. On fishing trips, at favored bars, on benches--sometimes called "liar's benches"--in front of stores or on courthouse lawns, tall tales are often swapped by close-knit groups. Barry Jean Ancelet has described an especially vital group of older Cajun men who congregate at a bar in Mamou to perpetuate the adventures of a hero named Pascal (Ancelet 1980a). One man may start a Pascal story but another may finish it; all present add their own embellishments, sending Pascal on trips to the North Pole or to the moon.
In the male-dominated world of the tall tale, women are sometimes present as listeners. The women often express disbelief, thus goading the men toward greater efforts to tell outlandish stories (Cothran 1979; Dégh 1976). In the section of tales collected from Lonnie Gray by Renée Harvison, Lonnie's wife, Mary, was also present, and she told two stories (#19, 22), but hers were legends--tales that she not only claimed to be true but also believed to be true. Mary's more emphatic voice contrasted with Lonnie's deadpan monotone. Her presence added to the tale telling session but served largely as a spur for Lonnie to expand upon his lies.
The public nature of tall tale telling makes it particularly well suited for the festival stage. One stage performance appearing in this collection underlines the fact that tall tales often suffer little when transported from the liar's bench to the public arena. In the summer of 1991 at Ruston, Harold Talbert, Bill Cox, and Lonnie Gray took the stage to swap stories about possum (#14). Their repartee is characteristic of the group nature of tall tale telling and produces mind-dizzying results as three expert narrators conspire to create a shared world of imagination.
Historical anecdotes and legends are heavily represented in this collection. From accounts of the pirate Jean Lafitte (#148, 163, 169) to recent sightings of Elvis (#150), these tales of local heroes and villains who have made their mark on Louisiana present a rich and highly varied folk history of the state.
A handful of historical figures are celebrated throughout the state: these are the politicians. What the Kennedys are to Massachusetts, what the Daleys are to Chicago--and then some--the Longs are to Louisiana. All regions of the state and nearly all ethnic groups have shared in creating and maintaining the extraordinarily rich body of lore centered on Huey Long, the charismatic governor assassinated at the height of his powers, in 1935, in the Louisiana Capitol that he had had built. Huey's brothers Earl and Julius also figure largely in the legends collected here, but Huey dominates, just as he has in state history.
The Long legends seem to present two different Hueys. In John Campbell's "He Knew How to Get Votes" (#91), Huey is the hero who "revitalized" the Railroad Commission and public life in Louisiana; but as seen by Hiram Wright (#81, 82), Huey is a nearly subhuman monster. John Campbell comes closest to describing the intensely two-sided nature of Huey Long: "Huey was the most outstanding individual I've ever known. . . . He could be a statesman among statesmen. He could get down with the lowest people in the world. Or he could be an s.o.b. among s.o.b.'s. . . . He was smarter than any of them" (#92).
Many of these tales about the Longs depict common people in the act of talking back to, or facing up to, the powerful. In Hiram Wright's account of "Earl's Grave" (#81), the craftsman who puts the finishing touches on the tomb also condemns Earl to hell. In "Hugh Goes Courting" (#89), Eck Bozeman tells how a recently widowed woman responds heroically to Huey's father's tasteless proposition. In stories, if not elsewhere, Louisianans control, humiliate, and govern their politicians.
Although no other figures dominate statewide legendry as the Longs do, a substantial number of stories has clustered around the names of Jean Lafitte and Bonnie and Clyde. Lafitte's name is kept alive largely in connection with the various treasures he is rumored to have concealed along the south coast of Louisiana; tales by British Americans Arthur Irwin (#162-63) and Wendell Lindsay of Calcasieu Parish (#148), and Cajun Velma Duet of Lafourche Parish (#169) testify to the breadth of Lafitte's notoriety as well as to the fact that his legends thrive in diverse regions and cultures in the state.
More typically, however, folk historical anecdotes and legends tend to take on a specifically local character. A case in point is the body of tales about the outlaws Bonnie and Clyde thriving in Bienville Parish, where the couple was shot to death (#138-42). In contrast to American popular culture, which has cast Bonnie and Clyde, Jesse James, and others as Robin-Hood-style outlaw heroes, local folk culture portrays the two robbers in extremely negative terms.
Most of the other heroes and villains depicted in this collection are local figures, people whose reputations may extend no farther than a day's walk from their place of birth but who are extremely important in neighborhood legendry. Ben Lilly, of Morehouse Parish, comes alive in the words of James B. Rider (#147). Such local strongmen are extremely popular in small-town legendry: Maine's Barney Beale (Dorson 1964, 40-54) and Florida's Acrefoot Johnson (Reaver 1987, 61) are just two examples from other regional traditions. Like Barney Beal, Ben Lilly isn't merely strong; he's good as well. He is so exemplary in his piety that he would rather lose his cattle than violate the Sabbath. Ben's size merely magnifies his goodness. Yet there is something almost supernatural about him as well. Like such famous heroes as the Roman Romulus, suckled by a wolf, and the Icelandic Bothvar, a bear's son, Ben is "more animal than human." Ben Lilly legends illustrate how even the most familiar local characters can take on superhuman proportions as their tales are retold by their neighbors and descendants.
In certain traditions, such as the African-American toast and the Isleño décima, legends are rendered in verse or song. Arthur Pfister's toast of "Shine and the Titanic" (#149) provides a masterful example of how African-American legends can be transformed into poetry. Behind the current craze for rap music is a long-lived tradition of tightly rhymed, rhythmically chanted narratives known as toasts, which have formed a major part of black oral tradition in the South and urban North throughout this century. Discussed at length by Abrahams (1970, 97-172), the toast has served traditionally as an expression of protest, a compensation fantasy in which the black underdog proves superior to his white would-be oppressors. "Shine and the Titanic" is one of the best-known toasts. After the sinking of the Titanic, legends sprang up about boxer Jack Johnson, the first African-American Heavyweight Champion of the World: denied a berth on the Titanic, Johnson was left on shore and thus spared a watery death. Within a few years, rhymes similar to those in Arthur Pfister's toast began to celebrate Shine, a presumably fictional black hero who escaped the doomed ship and swam to shore. Although Shine is generally considered a fictional character by performers and audience alike, the toast celebrates an actual historic event; furthermore, Arthur Pfister updates the story for a 1990 audience with references to Rambo, Dolly Parton, Robin Givens, and Mike Tyson.
The toast is principally a memorized tradition, but innovative oral artists will always elaborate on the material they have received. Raised in a New Orleans neighborhood where he and his peers often spoke in rhyme, Pfister--like other great toast performers--has taken a largely memorized text and added his own special flourishes.
History and the supernatural often meet in legend, but never more often than in buried treasure stories. Though extremely common in the United States, treasure tales have been underrepresented in even the best recent regional collections (see, for example, Burrison 1989). This collection, however, contains a rich and varied sampling of such stories. Some of these narratives, such as "The Widow's Buried Gold" (#157), unfold in the everyday world, while others, such as "A Moaning Ghost and Buried Treasure" (#165), are filled with otherworldly occurrences. Even when ghosts fail to appear (as in the tale of "Buried Treasure Money Used to Build a Catholic Church" [#158]) the teller often suggests that there is something eerie or cursed about the treasure. The idea that one cannot get something for nothing is embedded in these tales' descriptions of elusive, buried riches--and in the curses that accompany the treasure when it is finally discovered.
Belief legends are largely stories of the supernatural, accounts of the eerie consequences experienced when ordinary people confront inexplicable forces beyond their understanding or control. Legends are also about boundaries--moral and social limits that, once crossed, open up worlds of punishing terror. Such legend villains as "The Red-Headed Witch of Bogalusa Creek" (#179) help set the geographical and social perimeters of the taleteller's community: lovers' lanes, isolated woods, and cemeteries are "off limits," particularly to young people, and especially after dark. Other legend villains, such as the loup garou (or werewolf) described by John Verret (#170), are transformed humans who have become monsters by crossing invisible but equally real moral boundaries: unlike the Hollywood werewolf--a man who becomes a monster simply when bitten by another werewolf--the folk loup garou is a man who is transformed by committing a sin such as missing mass on Sunday (Dorson 1975, 465; Ancelet et al. 1991, 215). As John Verret explains, "you do something wrong, . . . then . . . God turn His back on you. Then the devil take over."
Legends are about belief, but they are not always told by believers. Legend is best characterized as a "debate about belief" engaged by believers and nonbelievers alike, as they negotiate together the boundaries of the possible in their view of the world (Dégh 1972).
Because so many legends are told by believers to warn their friends and neighbors about the powers of the supernatural, content is often much more important than style in legend telling. "True believers" are usually much more intent upon sharing important beliefs than upon creating art; these narrators dwell upon the informational aspects of the stories and try to make their accounts persuasive by stressing their own convictions and the credibility of the people who have reported encounters with otherworldly events. A legend may be told at any moment by a believer who feels the need to warn or inform others about the dangers of the supernatural. Nevertheless, there are many situations in which the legend tellers cast doubt on the truth of their tales. Loulan Pitre, for example, sees a substantial difference between what younger Cajuns believe today and what the older Cajuns believed when his father was a boy. In his tales about a werewolf, mermaids, and a shadow that haunts an old man, Pitre calls attention to ways in which beliefs have changed: the older people "actually got each other to believe" in the existence of werewolves (#174); stories that were tragic in the old days seem funny now (#177).
In other cases, legend telling is recognized as an art form. Around the fire at summer camps, or during slumber parties, or on Halloween night, adolescents often congregate to exchange "scary stories" or "ghost stories." In such situations, the teller often uses art to enhance the effects of a chilling tale.
Furthermore, legends are not merely stories or debates; they are often rituals as well. Stories of ghosts that haunt forbidden settings give rise to ritual visits in which teenagers search for these monstrous figures. Across America, ghosts stalk lovers' lanes, and adolescents who travel with their dates to visit lonely places tell each other hair-raising accounts of the spirits of frustrated lovers or sex maniacs preying upon teens who are "too interested" in sex. Folklorist Alan Dundes (1971) once attempted to explain such strange stories simply as warnings. But if they are warnings, they are the most singularly ineffective warnings imaginable, because these stories are told again and again by people visiting the haunted sites, by couples intent on "making out," or by people like Mary Etta Scarborough Moody (teller of "The Red-Headed Witch" [#179]), who have to see for themselves if the ghosts are there. Obviously, these stories are more than warnings; they also serve as challenges to young people, testing if they are grown-up enough to make such nighttime visits. During the ritual visits, storytellers act out the plot of the legend, and when they return to the company of friends, they tell the story of their experiences; these accounts become a part of the legend process. Like so many lovers' lane legends told across the country, Mary Etta Scarborough Moody's story is in two parts: half is the story she heard as a child, and half is an account of her own trip to visit the Red-Headed Witch.
Like most serious folktale genres, legends generate parody forms. Sometimes called "humorous anti-legends" (Vlach 1971), such tales as "Who's Gon'na Sleep with Me?" (#184) begin as potentially frightening supernatural accounts. The taleteller builds suspense; listeners steel themselves for a horrifying ending. But in the end the teller deflates the terror by turning the scary story into a joke. Anti-legends suggest just how terrifying serious legends can be: in legend-swapping sessions, tellers often turn to the anti-legend to dispel the growing mood of horror created by a chain of frightening, presumably true stories.
Jokes are among the richest oral traditions in Louisiana, as in the country at large. This collection conveys only a hint of the range and popularity of this vital folk form. The editors have chosen to concentrate on the older and longer humorous narratives (labeled Schwänke by folklorists) which present vivid portraits of traditional life in Louisiana's past. Such tales typically present the stereotyped characters who act out common conflicts of neighborhood life.
Among the oldest joke cycles represented here is a series of African-American tales dedicated to John and Old Master. John is a clever old slave or servant who is continually finding ways of impressing his master. Often, as in Alfred Anderson's tales of "Skullbone" (#61) and "The Old Coon" (#60), John proves too clever for his own good. In "The Old Coon," John finally saves himself by mistake, but in "Skullbone" he is beheaded by his merciless master. Such stories affirm that even the funniest oral narratives may embed serious social messages. "Skullbone" and Clifford Blake's "Saul and Skeleton" (#208)--based on an African tale type (Bascom 1992, 17-39)--are often told among African Americans to warn listeners that they should watch what they say when speaking to whites, or else suffer painful consequences (Levine 1978; Lindahl 1982).
One joke cycle unique to French Americans concerns Jean Sot (or Foolish John) featured in Enola Matthews' tales, Les trois couillons (#52) and Jean Sot, la vache, les chiens et sa petite soeur (#53). This numskull continually falls into trouble by confusing the meanings of words or failing to adapt to changing situations.
Jokes based on religious topics are popular among many of Louisiana's folk groups. As Barry Ancelet has shown, Cajun Catholics, though deeply religious, tend to single out clerics and such religious rituals as confession for playful treatment (1985). In Évélia Boudreaux's tale "Bless Me, Father" (#114), a priest is brought down to size when he utters a curse right after warning his parishioner of the evils of swearing; in "Curing Corpses" (#115), a young boy misinterprets the ritual use of incense as an attempt to "smoke" a dead body.
Louisiana Baptists and other Protestant groups focus many of their jokes on lengthy sermons that often put parishioners to sleep. Harry Methvin (#121) and Harold Talbert (#9, 10) tell similar tales about a sleeping man who wakes up at just the wrong time. Other Protestant jokes take aim at holier-than-thou attitudes; in "A Heaven Joke" (#30), Lonnie Gray makes light of certain congregations that take themselves too seriously, and in "The Reverend Gets the Possum" (#120), Sarah Albritton parodies the sanctimonious attitude of certain parsons.
Magic tales. For parents who read storybooks to children--or for people of all ages who have been enraptured by Disney's feature-length cartoons--the words "folktale" and "fairy tale" are synonymous. In reality, however, fairy tales--most often known as märchen, wonder tales, or magic tales by folklorists who study the oral forms of such stories--constitute a relatively small part of America's--and Louisiana's--oral traditions.
Oral magic tales, once told largely to entertain adults (Dégh 1989), are now told in America principally by parents and grandparents to children. These tales tend to center on growing-up experiences. Typically, a girl (like the clever heroine of Alfred Anderson's "The Smart Sisters and the Lazy Sister" [#59]) or boy (like the protagonist in Julia Huval's "Quatorze" [#189]) will leave home alone, enter the wilderness, and encounter such frightening figures as monsters, giants, and witches. Sometimes aided by magic, sometimes armed only with his or her wits or virtue, the child overcomes these formidable foes, growing up in the process. Folklorists have long noted that, while storybook tales based on European magic tales most often end with the marriage of the hero or heroine, American oral tales do not emphasize marriage nearly as often. The magic tales presented here offer a telling confirmation of this point, for not one of them ends with a wedding. Although earlier collections of Cajun Louisiana's märchen (Saucier 1962; Ancelet 1994) contain some tales that end in marriage, the state's oral repertoire tends to emphasize the American notion that growing up is a process that does not necessarily entail "tying the knot."
As magical as magic tales seem on the surface, they are also realistic in many ways. The heroines and heroes of Alfred Anderson's African-American stories (#56-62)--like the neighbors and family members to whom he told his tales--are hardworking and resourceful people who must do all in their power to succeed in a world of limited opportunities. Similarly, such Cajun heroes as Julia Huval's Quatorze use their wits to confront and conquer poverty. In their adventures, such characters may encounter fantasy villains, but they also face real problems, problems that are familiar to the taletellers and their listeners. No matter how fantastic they may be, magic tales offer real lessons in character, survival, and success--and these lessons are important and relevant enough to help explain why the stories continue to be told.
The British Americans who settled Appalachia, upstate New York, and the Ozarks brought with them and developed a considerable body of magic tales--many about a young boy named Jack who fights giants (Lindahl 1994)--but scarcely a trace of such tales can be found in Louisiana, even among surviving records of nineteenth-century storytelling. Yet magic tales did form an extensive part of the repertoire of African Americans and French Americans in the state. Cajuns, black French-speaking Creoles, and English-speaking African Americans exchanged many tales, building a shared repertoire.
A great range of folk narratives--including tall tales, jokes, and magic tales--feature animals, but folklorists assign the term animal tales particularly to fantasy stories populated principally--or entirely--by animals that play stereotyped roles representing certain human traits. In Louisiana, animal tales have most often been collected from African-American, Cajun, Creole, Native American, and Vietnamese-American storytellers.
Fables featuring animal characters were transmitted by European Americans to Creoles and African Americans. Wilson "Ben Guiné" Mitchell's colorful telling of "The Ant and the Grasshopper" (#32) can be traced back to the influence of Lafontaine, a seventeenth-century French poet. Clifford Blake's tale of the "Snake in a Wagon Rut" (#206) is as old as Aesop, but it may also have been derived from African tradition, where it has been quite popular.
More common than fables among Louisiana's African American, Cajun, and Creole populations are animal trickster tales featuring the wily Brer Rabbit, who is known simply as Lapin in French-language tradition. West African peoples have a long and rich tradition of animal trickster tales, many of which feature the spider Anansi. When brought as slaves to the Caribbean, the Africans brought their trickster tales with them. Anansi the spider is a popular trickster hero in Caribbean tales to the present day (see, for example, Bennett 1979).
In the North American colonies, and on some of the neighboring islands (including the Bahamas), the tales that had been told of the spider Anansi were transferred to the trickster Brer Rabbit (or "Brabby," as he is known in the Bahamas [Crowley 1966]). Exactly how and why the spider became a rabbit is unclear, but some believe that Native American trickster tales featuring a sly rabbit were primarily responsible for the change. Whatever the reason, many of Louisiana's African-American storytellers--including Alfred Anderson and Clifford Blake--delight in telling Brer Rabbit tales similar to the Uncle Remus stories made famous by Georgia folklorist Joel Chandler Harris. In "Brer Bear Meets Man" (#62), Alfred Anderson treats us to a typical example. Brer Rabbit knows man, and he is fully aware of the dangers presented by him. But the dull-witted Bear has never met man. Refusing to heed Brer Rabbit's warning, Brer Bear walks up to the man and is shot in the behind.
Creole and Cajun narrators tell similar tales concerning the wily Lapin, but they replace Brer Bear and other dupes with Bouki, a character whose name means "Hyena" in the West African Wolof language (Gaudet 1992). Though they found no hyenas in the New World, African Americans retained the name "Bouki," and they continue to identify this character as a stupid and often ugly creature. "Bouki" is often a nickname given to an ugly or funny man in Cajun and Creole communities.
If Louisiana fables are principally derived from Europe, the trickster tales come primarily from Africa. Rich traditions of cultural exchange have ensured that both blacks and whites in Louisiana now participate in both traditions. Wilson "Ben Guiné" Mitchell's tale of "The Little Tar-Man" (#33) (known throughout the English-speaking world from Joel Chandler Harris's "Br'er Rabbit and the Tarbaby" and its Disney cartoon adaptation) is also known to white Cajuns such as Max Greig (#190); both versions appear in this book.
Brer Rabbit is a trickster with two sides. Sometimes he serves as a hero for the powerless, as a "little man" who uses his wits to get the better of powerful people who would otherwise take advantage of him. In this role, he is an essentially moral figure who overcomes social injustices. More often than not, however, Brer Rabbit, or Lapin, is amoral or immoral. His trickery serves only himself, and although tellers and audiences enjoy his antics, they derive a certain amount of pleasure from his occasional defeats. Occasionally Brer Rabbit proves too tricky for his own good--or for anyone else's. Wilson "Ben Guiné" Mitchell ends the Tarbaby story uncharacteristically, by having Lapin captured (in most versions--for example, Max Greig's, the rabbit escapes to the briar patch). Wilson "Ben Guiné" Mitchell is aware of the typical ending, but he feels that the trickster should lose once in a while: "it was high time to catch Lapin, you understand? It was past time."
Myths and aetiological tales are folk stories that hearken to the distant past and serve to explain the origins of current phenomena. These tales depict the ancient actions of gods and people that caused the world to take on its present form and properties. Myths have special religious significance. They may be believed literally (as fundamentalists read the Bible); or figuratively, as explanations about the origins of certain natural phenomena; or as metaphorically moral truths about the workings of the world. Bel Abbey's and Bertney Langley's Koasati myths (#37, 42, 45-46, 196-98) explain the workings of nature, the relationships between the natural and the human world, and the relationship between Native American and European peoples. Nicholas L. Stouff, Jr., a member of the Chitimacha culture, tells two stories that illustrate his tribe's close attachment to snakes. In "A Chitimacha Flood Story" (#191), snakes and people become close friends when riding out a massive flood together inside the same clay pot; for Nicholas Stouff, this incident explains why snakes are so special to the Chitimacha people. A second tale (#192) concerns the creation of Bayou Teche from the dying motions of a giant snake. In the world of the Chitimacha, traces of the snake are everywhere: in the bayou, in their past; it is not surprising that Chitimachas once tattooed the images of snakes on their bodies.
Aetiological tales answer the question, "Why?": Why does the mosquito suck blood? Why is the crow black? The answers are sometimes serious but often humorous or fanciful. African-American culture, for example, possesses a rich body of "why" stories (see Abrahams 1986, 39-79), almost none of which are literally believed but nearly all of which possess at least a kernel of serious content. African American Sarah Albritton tells a story about how the first woman and the first man obtained different social powers by bargaining with God (#193): the man gets greater strength, but God gives the woman a key which she can use to lock out the man if she needs to control him. This tale is both fanciful and serious. Although no one would mistake it for history, the story possesses a submerged seriousness which does indeed reflect certain aspects of gender roles in some contemporary African-American communities, where women, relatively powerless in many other respects, exercise great control over the household environment (Stack 1974). All of the Vietnamese tales in the present collection are aetiological tales. As Tang Thi Thanh Van, the skillful teller of the Vietnamese stories presented here, explains in "Why the Ocean is Salty" (#204), "[this is] another why [story]. We have a lot of that kind of story."
The Vietnamese myths retold in this collection are among the most recent additions to Louisiana's oral repertory. When American troops withdrew from Vietnam in the 1970s, floods of refugees entered the States, and they brought their tales with them to help maintain crucial cultural ties to their homeland. These tales were so important to the Vietnamese that they were broadcast over loudspeakers in American resettlement camps to help bolster the morale of the refugees. Tang Thi Thanh Van learned her tales from her grandmother and now retells them often to her students in bilingual education programs. For Vietnamese-American children who have never seen their country of origin, Tang Thi Thanh Van's tales provide a vital link to old and respected traditions. Whether or not her tales are regarded as literally true, they clearly possess extraordinary value for her and for many other Vietnamese Americans.
As earlier remarked, most of the tales in Swapping Stories bear significant relationships to other tales told internationally. In order to identify the broader traditions behind each tale, as well as the special features of many, I have provided comparative notes at the end of this collection. These notes, I hope, will help illustrate the extraordinary balance of the unique and the common that characterizes Louisiana folktales. Each tale is one person's special story, but all are part of a richly varied pattern that represents the state of Louisiana and ties it to the entire world through the universal love for a well-told tale.2
1. The abbreviation AT refers to the Types of the Folktale (Aarne and Thompson 1961), a classificatory catalogue of internationally distributed folktale plots. The "Notes on the Tales," near the end of the book, employ the Types of the Folktale as one tool for illustrating the similarities between the Louisiana narratives assembled here and other stories told elsewhere throughout the world.
2. In terms of variety of folk narratives presented, and in terms of the cultural range and the number of the narrators included, Swapping Stories: Folktales from Louisiana is the most diverse and comprehensive anthology of Louisiana folktales yet published; indeed we believe it to be the most diverse and comprehensive collection from any state. Nevertheless, certain important folktale genres and taletelling groups are underrepresented.
Two important kinds of legend receive little or no attention. Although we have included many tales that emphasize monstrous aspects of the supernatural- the workings of witches and werewolves, for example -there are only a few legends that dwell on positive aspects of belief (for example, #185, 186). Among the most commonly told tales in Louisiana today are accounts of miracles, comforting visits from the spirits of dead loved ones, and visions of saints or deities. The tellers of many such tales consider them to be too private or personal to share with large or unfamiliar audiences.
A second type of legend underrepresented here is a category of nonsupernatural stories often called contemporary legends, modern horror legends, or urban legends. Some of these tales- such as "The Hookman," often told among teenagers at summer camps or during slumber parties- are grisly accounts of madmen who stalk young lovers (these are similar in many ways to such supernatural horror stories as "The Silk Lady" [#178] and "The Red-Headed Witch" [#179]). Other contemporary legends are accounts of people caught in perversely unpleasant or painful situations: finding a mouse in a cola bottle; putting a wet poodle in a microwave to dry if off; entertaining a prostitute in a hotel room and awakening alone to find "Welcome to the world of AIDS" written on the bathroom mirror. Although told daily across the state, such tales often fail to find their ways to storytelling stages, partly because they are often told as news and believed to be true, and are therefore not regarded by the tellers to be folktales at all. Many such urban legends are available in the collections of Baker (1986) and Brunvand (1981, 1984, 1986, etc.).
Nearly missing from Swapping Stories are narrative poems and songs. We have included some Spanish-language décimas (#153-58) but have omitted the substantial traditions of ballads sung by Cajuns and British Americans, among other groups. Also missing are those personal experience narratives known as testimonials, used to convert or persuade members of certain congregations, social causes, or twelve-step programs.
As Maida Owens noted earlier in this volume, there are also many Louisiana culture groups missing from or underrepresented in Swapping Stories. Many of these groups are simply undocumented by folklorists at present; in other cases, we simply lacked the staffing or the resources to represent these groups adequately in this collection.
Swapping Stories also admittedly features an age bias. As mentioned earlier, the most celebrated narrators tend to be older people. Younger storytellers, as well as the tales they most often tell--contemporary legends, supernatural tales, and many types of up-to-date jokes about current events and situations--are all but absent from this anthology.
Finally, there is a substantial gender bias in Swapping Stories: at least three times as many male as female narrators appear here. The public, staged nature of the collecting process has something to do with this phenomenon, because in American culture men are more likely to narrate public stories than are women (see Baldwin 1985; Mitchell 1971). The tall tale, for example, is one genre very popular in public settings, and it is also seldom told by women (Cothran 1979). Thus, although Mary Gray was present while her husband Lonnie was telling tall tales, Mary contributed only two stories (compared with Lonnie's fifteen), and these were not tall tales.
Another reason for the imbalance is that women's storytelling often tends to be collaborative: every woman in a small group may lend a hand in a communal performance. Such small-scale group productions are often difficult for fieldworkers to collect and, once collected, are even more difficult to translate to the written page. For example, Sidna Coughlin's "Down the Wrong Hill" (#68) was shared with eleven close women friends who meet regularly, and it could be said that all present contributed to the narrative. When Sidna came to the climax of her story, she was overcome with laughter, and several members of her audience took over by saying "Oh, God!" When Sidna returned to her tale, she made "Oh, God!" the first words of one of the characters in the story. This type of group interaction, richly rewarding to experience in person, is almost impossible to represent in a written collection; hence we have included no further examples in Swapping Stories.