Earlier today I was watching a documentary on a climactic event in the middle ages that, as they so often do, changed the course of history. The documentary’s argument relied heavily on one particular scholar, who was quite compelling, but early in the film’s diegesis it pans across the books in his study as a way of establishing his bona fides, as if to say: “Look here. He’s read all these books. He must be smart.” It’s a trope really, one that the past two years of video conferencing has made commonplace. I tend to kinda zone out during these moments, but the glazing of my eyes was halted when the camera panned to the complete set of Stith Thompson’s Motif Index of Folk Literature. (I think they are out of order.)
Well, you don’t see that every day, and I was delighted and paid that much more attention to what followed.
Later, I noted what I had seen to fellow folklorists on the social media platform where we gather, and which is now relentless in its delivery of ads. Of late, a number of those ads have featured decks of storytelling cards or “storyteller tactics.” I can’t comment on the content of these things, because they are extravagantly priced: Fabula’s Storytelling Cards retail for $150 and Pip Decks’ Storyteller’s Bundle starts at $190 for just the digital deck and goes to $250 for the physical deck to be included. (For more, see Fabula and Pip Decks.)
What I can say is that folklore studies missed the boat when it comes to commoditizing the indices.