Always For the Underdog: Leather Britches Smith and the Grabow War

Keagan LeJeune. Always For the Underdog: Leather Britches Smith and the Grabow War. Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2010. Pp. xvi+220, 22 b&w illustrations, index. $29.95 cloth.

Danielle Quales
Indiana University

In this book, LeJeune writes about the complicated—and often contested—history of a legendary figure in Merryville, Louisiana: Leather Britches Smith. The area around Merryville was part of a contested zone known as “the Neutral Strip” that was left unprotected after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. LeJeune reports that this area has a history of being a liminal space, existing as a wild place in between areas of civilization. Though not a native of the area, Smith has come to embody the wilderness spirit of the Neutral Strip because his history is equally ambiguous and notorious. LeJeune explains that Smith is an “outlaw-hero” figure who at the same time represents the ideals and possibilities of the area, and also the unpredictable and uncontrollable nature of the zone. Smith’s involvement in the 1912 Grabow War at the Galloway Mill in Grabow, Louisiana would ultimately both secure his place in local lore and lead to his demise. Continue reading “Always For the Underdog: Leather Britches Smith and the Grabow War”

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The Cloak of Dreams: Chinese Fairy Tales

Balázs, Béla. The Cloak of Dreams: Chinese Fairy Tales. Trans. Jack Zipes. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010. Pp. ix+177. Illus., two appendices, bibliography. $24.95 hardcover.

Brittany Warman
The Ohio State University

The Cloak of Dreams: Chinese Fairy Tales is a collection of literary fairy tales penned by the Hungarian author, film critic, filmmaker, and political activist Béla Balázs in the early 20th century. A complex man who experienced great suffering and isolation, Balázs was able to find comfort and beauty in the fairy tale form and often turned to it throughout his life. These particular tales were written in response to a collection of odd and often unsettling illustrations done in a Chinese style by the artist Mariette Lydis – Balázs produced what would become Der Mantel der Träume: Chinesische Novellen (The Cloak of Dreams: Chinese Fairy Tales) in 1922. This new translation is by prominent fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes and part of his new series entitled “Oddly Modern Fairy Tales.” As such, this edition includes introductions to both the author and the illustrator, two appendices – one an early and very positive review by Thomas Mann and the other an additional, earlier Taoist-inspired fairy tale by Balázs – and a bibliography. Continue reading “The Cloak of Dreams: Chinese Fairy Tales”

78 Blues: Folksongs and Phonographs in the American South

John Minton, 78 Blues: Folksongs and Phonographs in the American South. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. (American Made Music Series), 2008. x+288 pp. (ISBN: 9781934110195) (cloth).

Yves Laberge, Ph.D.   
Québec

John Minton is a professor of folklore at Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne and his third book, “78 Blues: Folksongs and Phonographs in the American South”, is taken from his Ph.D. thesis from 1990.

Unlike most scholarly written books, this essay is written in the first person. In seven thematical chapters, Minton reflects on his own initiation into the musical world in his youth (occuring mainly during the 1970’s) and his personal experience of discovering the various musical genres from the previous decades, being aware of the social background of the American music and the impact of the manufacturing of the records he used to listen to. He questions why, say, during the early seventies, almost everybody seemed to enjoy Robert Johnson’s songs as interpreted by contemporary rock groups like Cream, The Rolling Stones and The Allman Brothers, but most of that same audience could not stand (or even have access to) the original recordings of these same works made by the composer in 1937 and 1938, even on LP reissues. The old folk and blues repertoire was revisited for the old folk and blues repertoire (from Woody Guthrie to Mississippi John Hurt) that was “revisited” or rediscovered during the 1960’s by various white artists like Bob Dylan or The Beatles and many British groups (20). In other words, Minton’s awareness and (re)discovery of roots American music was made backwards in chronological terms: “Even then, I knew enough of Southern culture and history to realize they drew breath from a vast rural underclass and a vanished way of life” (20). Back in the 1920’s, most folksongs were not made by professional artists and performers borrowing various identities for every song, but rather by “ordinary people” whose identities were either “workmate, neighbor, church member” when they recorded their music (21). Continue reading “78 Blues: Folksongs and Phonographs in the American South”