Saturday, March 6, 2010

Some Folktales Are Hard to Write

Some folktales are hard to write. When the folktale motif is more tragic than it is 'happy' the story can be difficult to write. I know. I've tried several times in my mind to imagine a folktale about my father who died just a few weeks ago.

While there were elements of his life that were romantic/ sweet. Unfortunately there were also vast sections of his life that were marked by the debris of his violence and cruelty as well as that of others.

He was a lumber jack kind of guy who helped to set up roadway benchmarks along the Pacific and Southern coastlines for the U.S. Geographic Survey. He was also the man whose anger, jealousy and possessiveness did more than terrify me, my siblings and my mother.

As a young man he traveled with other surveyors into wilderness areas (well, areas that didn't have roads) and learned to live off of supplies that followed on horseback. As a result his ability to be resourceful was honed almost to perfection.

And yet his perfectionism led him, a battered child himself, to terrorize us on many levels because he either could not or would not help himself and because, true to the social norms of the time, no one else intervened.

A brilliant engineer he designed sophisticated roads through all types of terrain as skillfully as he re-enacted the darkness of his own battered childhood in our lives.

There are so many motifs that apply to him: 1) A man more comfortable in the natural world than he was the civilized world; 2) A wounded heart that never healed; 3)A self-made professional; 4) someone who always carried a chip on his shoulder and more.

The beauty of folktales is that I can write them about him one at a time. I don't have to pick just one motif to describe him, his achievements or his personal aggression/oppression. Over time I can use them to preserve the pleasant memories because they are proof that at times he was a good man. I can also apply other motifs like 'rageful man destroys his world' which reflects how out-of-control and lost he really was.

Folktales also allow me to hold the humanity of his life (who he was) in a way that defies condemnation. He had both dark and light universal traits and folktales help me to remember that about him, myself and others.

These individual applications of universal themes give me a way to "see" the many facets of who he was. And for that I am grateful.


  1. Karen, I'm glad I found your blog through a blog chain. Entertaining and great for those interested in the arts.
    Carolyn Howard-Johnson
    Blogging at Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites pick

  2. Thanks,Carolyn.
    I have a copy of your book and really enjoy it!
    Thanks for stopping by,