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Essay Fairylore Good New People

" Whether called “the good people,” “the little people,” or simply “them,” fairies are familiar from their appearances in Shakespeare’s plays, Disney’s films, and points in between. In many cultures, however, fairies are not just the stuff of distant legend or literature: they are real creatures with supernatural powers. The Good People presents nineteen essays that focus on the actual fairies of folklore—fairies of past and living traditions who affected, and still affect, people’s lives in myriad ways.

A book certain to become a classic reference work. -- Australian Folklore

An extraordinary study of the 'little people' by an impressive assembly of eminent scholars. . . . Overall, the work features the best current thought on fairylore. -- Come-All-Ye

A notable step forward in the international study of fairylore. -- Folklore

A useful and important collection. . . . It leaves one with a provocative folkloristic perspective on fairylore. -- Journal of American Folklore

This is a posthumously published collection of essays by the folklorist, field-researcher, musician, teacher, and popular culture studies scholar Peter Narváez, who died in November 2011, shortly before its planned completion. The two key people responsible for seeing the book through to publication were Eileen Collins and Paul Smith, both of Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Department of Folklore Publications Committee. Most of the 15 essays collected here have been published before, in one form or another, though they were revised and updated by the author for this publication.

As the subtitle suggests, all the essays here focus on the folklore and popular culture of Newfoundland—a remote island for most of us, even today, and more so throughout its history. Its early population of indigenous people are not considered in the book. Rather, the focus is on the living past and present that stems from the island’s European settlers. Newfoundland was the earliest British colony, pre-dating the Empire. It remained so until as late as 1949, when it became, with Labrador, a Canadian province. Early British and Irish settlers brought with them their work songs and traditions, and these survived in relative isolation into the twentieth century. They continue to offer rich subject matter for folklorists, and Narváez was particularly alert to the clashes and cross-fertilization between local and imported cultural traditions.

Peter Narváez was a United States citizen of partly Mexican parentage, born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of a union organizer. He was in New York during the Folk Revival years, seeing live performers and becoming a musician himself. After majoring in history, he studied at the Folklore Institute at Indiana University, undertook field studies in Puerto Rico and Virginia, became an assistant professor of history and anthropology in Maine, and arrived at Memorial University in St. John’s in 1974. Thus, he plunged into a multi-faceted scrutiny of the folk and popular culture of this unique, tough, enormous island with a trained eye and ear, despite being an outsider.

This book represents a fair sampling of its author’s prolific work across the third of a century and more in which Newfoundland was his adopted home. The list of his “Publications, Research and Performances” given at the back of the book is extensive enough to suggest that Sonny’s Dream is indeed, to use a cliché with real applicability around Newfoundland, the tip of the iceberg.

The essays are divided, as Narváez intended, into four sections: “Folk Narrative,” “Custom,” “Vernacular Music,” and “Popular Culture.” The first section concentrates on the exploration of legend as a narrative form and on the connections between local and international legends, drawing on the author’s own fieldwork as is evident throughout his scholarship. The essay “Newfoundland Berry Pickers ‘In the Fairies”’ first appeared in an earlier form in Lore and Language in 1987. Narváez also edited the book Good People: New Fairylore Essays (Garland, 1991; and University Press of Kentucky, 1997). The same section’s other piece, “Folklore about Seniors: Newfoundland Media Legends,” was published in an earlier form as “The Folklore of ‘Old Foolishness’: Newfoundland Media Legends,” in Canadian Literature 108, 1986. Its opening sentences encapsulate the author’s central beliefs, themes, and teachings in folklore:

The technological media which transmit popular culture have often been viewed by folklorists and other students of culture as “destroyers of folklore.” Folklore, however, is a dynamic component of culture which functions adaptively in situations of rapid cultural change; such adaptiveness is especially reflected in the generation of folkloric forms which make critical comments about new situations.

(p. 37) [End Page 474]

The book’s second section, “Custom,” comprises a study of “Tricks and Fun’: Subversive Pleasures at Newfoundland Wakes,” updated from 1990s publications and papers. It also includes an ingenious study of the occupational folklife of Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reporters, first published in earlier form in American Behavioral Scientist in 1990.

Section 3, “Vernacular Music...

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