Sacred-Texts  Native American 

Tales of the North American Indians, by Stith Thompson (1929).

Preface, Table of Contents, Introduction 31,159 bytes
Chapter I: Mythological Stories 81,974 bytes
Chapter II: Mythical Incidents 33,954 bytes
Chapter III: Trickster Tales 58,621 bytes
Chapter IV: Hero Tales 116,201 bytes
Chapter V: Journeys to the Other World 57,176 bytes
Chapter VI: Animal Wives and Husbands 57,424 bytes
Chapter VII: Miscellaneous Tales 63,630 bytes
Chapter VIII: Tales Borrowed From Europeans 143,429 bytes
Chapter IX: Bible Stories 12,158 bytes

Stith Thompson, a Distinguished Professor of English and Folklore at Indiana University, anthologized these Native American tales from the ethnographic literature. His chief contribution to the field was his 'Motif-Index of Folk Literature', which is a cross-cultural index of themes that occur in folktales.

Reading through the traditional folk stories of Africa, Europe, and Native America, it becomes obvious that there are a broad set of motifs that are appear across geographic boundaries. Is this evidence of diffusion or something buried deeper in our cultural matrix that goes back to our common origins? This is still a mystery.

Stories where virtue is rewarded, evil step-relations plot against the rightful heir, anthropomorphic animals play out very human dramas, and so on, soon blur together. There are also stories with violent, brutal, bawdy or transgressive sexual elements. Not all folklore is suitable for children!

Westerners have been schooled by Shakespeare and TV sitcoms to expect that all stories will conclude in the final act with all of the loose ends tied up. This isn't always the case in the dream-like landscape of the folktale.

Some folklore stories seem to go nowhere, or end in a conclusion that seems unsatisfying, or have repetitive episodes that appear to be added just to fill out the story. In modern literature, a story must either be a tragedy or a comedy; most folklore has elements of both. Folklore often violates our modern expectations of how a story should be shaped, while keeping us riveted, wanting to hear more. In this way folklore is much closer to real life, where 'stuff' happens, at random and often without any apparent internal logic.

Stith Thompson's contribution was to attempt to make sense of this mass of material. This seminal book, which appears on the Internet for the first time at Sacred Texts, is his take on the Native American folklore corpus.

-this page © jbh 4/2/2001.

Note on the copyright status of this book.
This text is believed to be in the public domain in the United States. The book was originally published in 1929, and was not renewed in a timely fashion (per the Catalog of Copyright Renewals). Hence it entered the public domain in 1957. This is reflected in the Midland paperback edition of 1966, which bears no copyright notice. The text was scanned from the Midland paperback edition.