Review: The Folkloresque: Reframing Folklore in a Popular Culture World

The Folkloresque: Reframing Folklore in a Popular Culture World. Edited by Michael Dylan Foster and Jeffrey A. Tolbert. 2016. Logan: Utah State University Press. Pp. viii+265, index. $27.95 paper.

Marisa Wieneke, Indiana University

Download the PDF of the full review here:

The Folkloresque: Reframing Folklore in a Popular Culture World—a volume edited by Michael Dylan Foster and Jeffrey A. Tolbert—offers up eleven essays that do just that; each author examines the relationship of folklore and popular culture through the theoretical frame of the folkloresque. Foster and Tolbert propose the folkloresque as “a heuristic tool. …a tool that encourages us to re-envision categories such as folklore and popular culture, to explore how they mutually influence each other, and to productively problematize distinctions between them” (4; emphasis in original). Thinking with the folkloresque allows the authors to ‘pop the hood’ on the metaphorical engine of culture and look not only at culture as a whole system, a cultural inventory, but at the specific junctures between folklore and popular culture, how popular culture views folklore, and how folklore influences popular culture. Applicable to all manner of cultural product, the folkloresque also serves as a label to indicate a particular relationship between folklore and popular culture—the folkloresque “like a Möbius strip in which folk culture and popular culture are magically, paradoxically, two different sides of the same surface, never intersecting because they are already intersecting” (26).

      As perhaps my mixing of metaphors indicates, the folkloresque is a complicated and slippery term, and to help orient the reader, Foster and Tolbert have delineated three different categories of the folkloresque: integration, portrayal, and parody (15), into which the book is subsequently divided. Each category, outlined in Foster’s introduction to the volume, is further explained by Tolbert in short essays that introduce each of the three sections. Each section is comprised of several wide-ranging essays illustrating the breadth of the applicability of the folkloresque.

      The first section, “Integration,” considers how producers of popular culture incorporate elements of folkloric forms and motifs into commercial products. Foster examines the allusions to folklore in the film Spirited Away; rather than incorporating references to motifs and forms, creator Miyazaki Hayao presents a film that is a “fuzzy allusion” that seems like folklore and is accepted by American audiences as having a sort of traditional authenticity. Tim Evans looks at intertextuality and the folkloresque, as elements of folklore integrated into the works of Neil Gaiman gives his writing a folkloresque quality. Paul Manning lays out the process by which pixies became integrated into nineteenth century fairy mythology. Daniel Peretti thinks about comics as folklore using Superman as a case study.

      The second section, “Portrayal”, contains essays that tackle instances of popular culture’s emic perception of folklore and folkloristics. Tolbert writes about the depiction of folklorists and folklore in the horror videogame franchise Fatal Frame. Chad Buterbaugh examines how an actor with a stage routine came to represent the ideal traditional storyteller in Ireland. The section ends with Carlea Holl-Jensen and Jeffery A. Tolbert’s essay on how folklore is understood to function in the world of Harry Potter, specifically through The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a book of fairy tales published as a companion piece to the Harry Potter series.

      The final section, “Parody”, noted by the editors as “particularly complex” (18), provides the reader with instances of culture that are particularly self-conscious or self-referential. Folkloresque as parody is a form of metacommentary. The first two essays, fittingly for a section on parody, address jokes. Trevor J. Blank looks at jokes that require a specific cultural inventory and Greg Kelley presents jokes that are funny because they are self-reflexive and function as a metacommentary on joke forms themselves. Bill Ellis offers an analysis of the anime Princess Tutu and the ways that the show functions as a metacommentary on the act of storytelling itself. The volume concludes with Gregory Schrempp’s examination of the folkloresque in popular science through a comparison of David Toomey’s Weird Life and the creation of bestiaries as similar documentations of the monstrous and fundamentally anthropocentric endeavors.

      This book is thought-provoking and a necessary part of the conversations on convergence culture, popular culture, folklore, and mass media. Particularly useful for folklorists working with subjects, texts, and contexts overtly connected to popular culture and mass media, this book also has utility as a theoretical work that articulates the relationship between folklore and popular culture, and thus helps us folklorists orient ourselves and our subject of inquiry.


Wieneke, Marisa. 2020. Review of The Folkloresque: Reframing Folklore in a Popular Culture World, edited by Michael Dylan Foster and Jeffrey A. Tolbert. Folklore Forum 44 (1): 45–46.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s