Pull on your boots, and grab your coat. Let’s go for a walk.
In such a wildly unpredictable year, it would be a welcome treasure to find a morsel of stability. Something formulaic, eternal in its structure. And who better to offer us this tiny taste than Vladimir Propp? Propp, a twentieth century Soviet folklorist, published his pioneering work, Morphology of the Folktale, in 1928. Morphology was an exhaustive examination of 100 Russian folktales in which Propp identified a set of 31 “functions,” basic structural elements that guide the narrative of the wonder tale. Not every folktale contains every function, but each function must be followed in exact chronological order. No variations. No surprises. What a relief.
After the hero of our folktale has been introduced, and the scene set, our main story begins. In some versions, it is brought to the reader’s attention that there is something lacking from the protagonist’s home environment. In this case, Propp offers several examples of what may constitute “lack:” lack of a friend or loved ones, of money or means of existence, or what Propp refers to as lack in “various other forms.” It is here where I can’t help but be reminded of the ways in which this year has created an abundance of lack. Lack of close gatherings and touch, of certainty and sleep. And yet it is precisely this lack that serves as the impetus for the start of the heroic journey.
What a journey these last twelve months have been. Long, trudging, and full of demands for transformation. So as we continue our slow march towards something that resembles normal, let’s sit down to take a break.
Our second issue of Kentucky Folklife is here to provide respite on an otherwise unpredictable and lengthy adventure. The articles featured here offer a glimpse of what awaits us at the end of our arduous trek. Michelle Howell, owner of Need More Acres farm in Allen County, shares a story of hard work, resiliency, and sustainability. Leslie Dobbins practices tenderness and compassionate care in her role as a doula, helping pregnant people as they deliver newborns into the world. Finally, Senida Husić and Virginia Siegel draw connections between coffee and solidarity in Bowling Green’s Bosnian community.
For some folktales, the hero’s initial lack is liquidated through the assistance of archetypal helpers, magical entities that aid the hero on the quest. Each of this issue’s contributors are helpers in their own right. They have written stories that are inherently rooted in celebrations of life, healing, and growth. So although the end of our journey may not lead us to Xanadu, or Shangri-La, or the Promised Land across the River Jerden, we have the opportunity to rest our wearied bones in a new Commonwealth, a new home of helpers.
Delainey Bowers, Managing Editor