Tales From the Cloud Walking Country
Reviewed by Dan Oko, Fri., July 21, 2000
Tales From the Cloud Walking Countryby Marie Campbell
University of Georgia Press, 270 pp., $14 (paper)
Talking foxes, one-eyed giants, golden birds, kings, queens, and red-headed strangers fill Tales From the Cloud Walking Country, which, surprisingly enough, is not a work of science fiction or fantasy but a collection of folklore. Originally published in 1958, Tales is the result of educator Marie Campbell's travels through the hills of eastern Kentucky to collect the remnants of an oral tradition that links Appalachian culture to its Celtic and German roots. But one suspects Campbell would have wanted credit to go to those taletellers and ballad singers who spoke with her during the 1920s and Thirties. Like Aunt Lizbeth Fields, a pipe-smoking 80-something-year-old woman who favors tales with golden things in them. Or Sam Caudill, a young miner who Campbell reports "whittled down" his stories until they became "hardly more than a synopsis." It's to Campbell's credit as a scholar and writer that her sources' voices come through so clearly on the page. These stories would make great bedtime reading for children and adults alike, and the short biographies of the storytellers provide a decent introduction and effective background to each section of the book. But one need to look no further than the titles -- taken directly from the text of the tales themselves -- of many of these stories for a glimmer of the pleasure they provide. Tales like "The Jay Bird That Had a Fight With a Rattlesnake" or "The Princess That Wore a Rabbit-Skin Dress" sparkle with what we might call "native wisdom." Because of the uniquely American development of this folklore, many of these stories have enough twists and surprises that they will confound readers as often as they reassure them.