South From Hell-Fer-Sartin: Kentucky Mountain Folk Tales

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South from Hell-fer-Sartin, a short creek flowing into the Middle Fork of the Kentucky River, lies one of the of the most isolated regions in Kentucky. There, on the north slope of the Pine Mountain range in Leslie and Perry countiesprobably the last stronghold of white, English-language folk tales in North AmericaLeonard W. Roberts recorded this rich collection more than three decades ago.

To a people who, at that time, watched dancing hearth fires more often than television, the adventures of Jack in the land of witches and giants, monsters and beautiful princesses, provided first-class entertainment. Here are such old favorites as Sleeping Beauty and The Golden Arm, retold in the idiom of the Kentucky mountains. Here are hauntingly beautiful cantes fables and earthy Irishman jokes. Here are encounters with Indians and marvelous hunting escapades.

Roberts introduces his collection, first published in 1955, with a sympathetic description of the mountain way of life. He notes especially the bewildering and rapid changes that came to the Pine Mountain watershed in that decade as the highways and electric lines at last brought in a sophistication that preferred the soap opera to the folk tale. Although the stories Roberts recorded were still a firm part of folk tradition at the time, he believed that within a decade or two they would be forgottena prediction, sadly, by now no doubt fulfilled.

Any lover of the vanishing art of tale telling will relish this rich treasury of folklore and humor. Full notes on sources, types, motifs, parallels, and possible origins of the tales make this collection valuable also for folklorists.


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