Introduction to Seven Tales of Uncle Remus, edited 1948

Introduction to Seven Tales of Uncle Remus edited 1948


As a part of Emory University's contribution to the observance of the centennial (1848- 1948) of the birth of Joel Chandler Harris, Litt.D. '02, the Emory Sources & Reprints present seven hitherto uncollected tales of Uncle Remus. The first five appeared in special Christmas and Easter issues from 1889 to 1892 of an Atlanta publication entitled "Dixie": A Monthly Record of Southern Industrial Possibility and Development, for which they were "written expressly." The last two were found among the manuscripts placed by Mr. Harris' family in the Joel Chandler Harris Memorial Collection of the Emory University Library, a description of which is also included in this number.

Although the contributions to "Dixie" were never printed in a collection of Uncle Remus tales, it appears that it was the author's original intention that they should be. Among the papers in the Memorial Collection are five leaves containing the stories torn from copies of the magazine. The tales are numbered XXV to XXVIII, and bear many proof corrections and emendations in Mr. Harris's hand, though the revision is not thoroughgoing. Eventually four of the tales were taken out of the Negro dialect and retold in Little Mr. Thimblefinger (1894). The fifth, "How Bother Bear Exposed Brother Rabbit at the Barbecue," never reappeared.

Of the two stories that appeared in the manuscript, one was taken out of the Negro dialect and retold as "Why the Bear is a Wrestler" in Mr. Rabbit at Home (1895), the second of the Thimblefinger series. The other has not been found to have been printed in any form.

The preface of Little Mr. Thimblefinger, "A Little Note to a Little Book," may furnish grounds for conjecture as to why the tales failed of final conclusion in the Uncle Remus canon: "The stories that follow belong to three categories. Some of them were gathered from the negroes, but were not embodied in the tales of Uncle Remus, because I was not sure they were negro stories..." Although he disavowed a special competence in the science of folklore, Mr. Harris was severely conscious to insure the genuineness of his legends of the old plantation. There can be little doubt that the five stories here printed finally failed to survive his rigid tests.

If there were no other reason than the pleasure which is to be found in the racy idiom of Uncle Remus, it would be worth while to rescue these tales from more than a half-century of oblivion. But there is more. Readers will never weary of the plantation background sketched in with few but deft strokes; here is something rescued from time past that can never return. A special feature of the group is the evidence presented for Mr. Harris's discovery of the Jamaica Negro and his characteristic folklore. The "Two Little Tales" are attributed by Uncle Remus to a slave brought from Jamaica called Jimps whom he had known in his boyhood. There is nothing particularly exotic about either of them. But the second of the sketches left in the manuscript is notable in that it introduces a character called Aunt Nancy, identified as "de granny er Mammy- Bammy-Big-Money," "de ole Witch Rabbit," who is readily recognizable as Annancy, the spider hero of Jamaican folk tales. Here is a new element to be reckoned with in the complete study of the sources of the legends.

If the tales had appeared in a volume of the Uncle Remus series, it is certain that they would have received further revision. The first five stories were rather badly printed in "Dixie" and the author did not complete their correction on the tear sheets. It was necessary, therefore, that the editor undertake to complete the task. Changes were introduced sparingly, however, for the most part on the authority of corrections already made. The tales in typescript exhibit Mr. Harris's characteristically clean copy and they presented no problem.

T.H.E. 1948
Thomas H. English, curator Joel Chandler Harris Memorial Collection,
the Library, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia



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