Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 10: No 2) >> The Tall Tale Motif in W. G. Simms's ''Sharp Snaffles'' and in Russian Folklore >> Page 1

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Secondary Scholarship | 2002
Transcription The Tall Tale Motif in W. G. Simms's "Sharp Snaffles" and
in Russian Folklore

E. A. Morozkina and Marina Erch;tein

The short story "How Sharp Snaffles Got His Capital and Wife" occupies
an important place in W. G. Simms's literary heritage. John C. Guilds considers
this literary piece "the finest writing in the special genre of the tall tale in all
American Literature."1 Taking into account its original plot and compound
composition, it seems appropriate to qualify this literary work as a masterfully
done Southern frontier short story containing American folklore.
The innovations of this literary masterpiece are so numerous that they
provide W. G. Simms with an honorable place in American literature compared to
that of Edgar Allan Poe or James Fenimore Cooper. It was W. G. Simms who not
only inserted American folklore into fiction but also introduced the definition of
the genre of the American tall tale, which was skillfully interspersed into the plot
structure of his "Sharp Snaffles." One of the heroes of this short story describes a
"tall tale" as a story "chiefly relating to the objects of their [the mountaineers]
chase, and the wild experiences of their professional life."2 Simms notices that
"the hunter who actually inclines to exaggeration is, at such a period, priviledged
to deal in all the extravagances of invention; nay, he is required to do so! To be
literal, or to confine himself to the bald and naked truth, is not only discreditable,
but a finable offense!"3 In other words Simms pointed to the device of
exaggeration "beyond all limits" as one of the most important distinguishing
features of the genre of the tall tale.
It is significant to note that modern folklorists offer a definition of a tall
tale that in many aspects coincides with that made by Simms some twenty years
before even the formation of the American Folklore Society in 1888. According
to Levette J. Davidson in his A Guide to American Folklore, "a tall tale thrives in
the U.S." and is "based upon reality they exaggerate until they pass all of the
limits of plausibility, but they are told us as if the narrator were prepared to swear
to their truthfulness."4
As for Russian specialists in folklore, they suggest the following definition
of the American tall tale: "The text of the tall tale is cast in the form of a true
narrative and filled out with supporting details from the narrator's everyday life.
The facade of factuality is often supported by deadpan style. Because the story

1 J. C. Guilds. Simms: A Literary Life. Favettville. 1992, p. 348.
2 W. G. Simms. "How Sharp Snaffles Got His Capital and Wife." Tales of the South. Ed. by M. A.
Wimsatt. Columbia, 1996, p. 239.
3 Ibid., p. 239-240.
4 Levette J. Davidson. A Guide to American Folklore. Denver, 1951, p. 19.