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 3

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Secondary Scholarship | 2002
Transcription The second ring contains the folk motifs which are connected with the

marriage plot and at the same time shape the third ring including "three persistent

elements" of folklore "the wonderful hunt, the man borne into the air by geese,

and the man pulled from a hollow tree by a bear."10 This chain of rings is made
of the episodes carefully combined together by various artistic means: by the

atmosphere of the campfire setting, by Sharp Snaffles's remarks, such as "I tell
you, Jedge" (p. 252), "Oh, Jedge," (p. 256), "I must liquor, Jedge" (p. 258),

organizing the original rhythmical structure of the story, which in some aspects
resembles that of a folk tale. The episode of Sharp Snaffles counting his

numerous children shapes the logical ending of the second ring and at the same

time locks the chain.

James E. Kibler in his "Simms's Indebtedness to Folk Tradition in `Sharp
Snaffles' mentions that many critics "more aware of European than of frontier
influences" used to search for the roots of these motifs in European tradition,
mostly "in Baron Munchausen's wonderful hunt."11 "Several American versions"

apparently known to Simms, as Kibler indicates, are "somewhat closer to `Sharp
Snaffles' than to European sources."12 We are inclined to adhere to Kibler's
notion about Simms's tall tales with their roots in American folklore and can add
some "Russian evidences" testifying that at least two of the tall tales, namely "the

man borne into the air by geese" and "the man pulled from a hollow tree by a
bear," exist in early Russian folklore. In the Russian variant of the tall tale,

however, the geese become cranes made drunk with wine and honey.13 As for the
motif of "the man pulled from a hollow tree by a bear," it is especially interesting

to confirm that this tall tale was told by Dimitriy Gerasimov and written down by
the Italian historian Paul Novokomsky in 1525. The Russian tall tale about the

man who got into "the lake of honey" inside the tremendous old tree abandoned
by bees and then successfully taken out by the huge mother bear14 is now

considered the earliest fixed tall tale in Russian folklore.15
The fact of the existence of the same motifs in Russian as well as in

European folklore proves the international character of these motifs and also
testifies to their possible migration and reappearance in folk tales of various

countries. These "Russian evidences" might be considered the cogent arguments
in favor of the American origin of the folklore motifs used by W. G. Simms in his

"Sharp Snaffles."

10 M. A. Wimsatt. Introduction to Tales of the South, p. 15.
11 J. E. Kibler. "Simms's Indebtedness to Folk Tradition in `Sharp Snaffles.'" In Wimsatt, p. 247.
12 Ibid.

13 Russian Folk Fairy Tales. Ed. by A. N. Afanasiev. In 3 vols.. Moscow, 1957, vol. 3, p. 220.
14 Russian Folk Tales in Early Notes and Publications of the 1 6th-18th Centuries. Leningrad, 1971,
p. 40.
15 Ibid, p. 8.