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For more than a hundred years, the tales of Joel Chandler Harris have entertained and influenced both readers and writers. Nights with Uncle Remus gathers seventy-one of Harris's most popular narratives, featuring African American trickster tales, etiological myths, Sea Island legends, and chilling ghost stories. Told through the distinct voices of four slave storytellers, indispensable tales like "The Moon in the Mill-Pond" and other Brer Rabbit stories have inspired writers from Mark Twain to William Faulkner, Zora Neale Hurston to Toni Morrison, and helped revolutionize modern children's literature and folktale collecting.
For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.
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Joel Chandler Harris (1845-1908) authored 185 Uncle Remus tales, as well as other short fiction, novels, and children's stories.
Bruce Bickley is professor of English at Florida State University and the author of six books on Joel Chandler Harris.
Table of Contents
I - Mr. Fox and Miss Goose
II - Brother Fox Catches Mr. Horse
III - Brother Rabbit and the Little Girl
IV - How Brother Fox Was Too Smart
V - Brother Rabbit’s Astonishing Prank
VI - Brother Rabbit Secures a Mansion
VII - Mr. Lion Hunts for Mr. Man
VIII - The Story of the Pigs
IX - Mr. Benjamin Ram and His Wonderful Fiddle
X - Brother Rabbit’s Riddle
XI - How Mr. Rooster Lost His Dinner
XII - Brother Rabbit Breaks up a Party
XIII - Brother Fox, Brother Rabbit, and King Deer’s Daughter
XIV - Brother Terrapin Deceives Brother Buzzard
XV - Brother Fox Covets the Quills
XVI - How Brother Fox Failed to Get His Grapes
XVII - Mr. Fox Figures as an Incendiary
XVIII - A Dream and a Story
XIX - The Moon in the Mill-Pond
XX - Brother Rabbit Takes Some Exercise
XXI - Why Brother Bear Has No Tail
XXII - How Brother Rabbit Frightened His Neighbors
XXIII - Mr. Man Has Some Meat
XXIV - How Brother Rabbit Got the Meat
XXV - African Jack
XXVI - Why the Alligator’s Back Is Rough
XXVII - Brother Wolf Says Grace
XXVIII - Spirits, Seen and Unseen
XXIX - A Ghost Story
XXX - Brother Rabbit and His Famous Foot
XXXI - “In Some Lady’s Garden”
XXXII - Brother ’Possum Gets in Trouble
XXXIII - Why the Guinea-Fowls Are Speckled
XXXIV - Brother Rabbit’s Love-Charm
XXXV - Brother Rabbit Submits to a Test
XXXVI - Brother Wolf Falls a Victim
XXXVII - Brother Rabbit and the Mosquitoes
XXXVIII - The Pimmerly Plum
XXXIX - Brother Rabbit Gets the Provisions
XL - “Cutta Cord-La!”
XLI - Aunt Tempy’s Story
XLII - The Fire-Test
XLIII - The Cunning Snake
XLIV - How Brother Fox Was Too Smart
XLV - Brother Wolf Gets in a Warm Place
XLVI - Brother Wolf Still in Trouble
XLVII - Brother Rabbit Lays in His Beef Supply
XLVIII - Brother Rabbit and Mr. Wildcat
XLIX - Mr. Benjamin Ram Defends Himself
L - Brother Rabbit Pretends to Be Poisoned
LI - More Trouble for Brother Wolf
LII - Brother Rabbit Outdoes Mr. Man
LIII - Brother Rabbit Takes a Walk
LIV - Old Grinny-Granny Wolf
LV - How Wattle Weasel Was Caught
LVI - Brother Rabbit Ties Mr. Lion
LVII - Mr. Lion’s Sad Predicament
LVIII - The Origin of the Ocean
LIX - Brother Rabbit Gets Brother Fox’s Dinner
LX - How the Bear Nursed the Little Alligator
LXI - Why Mr. Dog Runs Brother Rabbit
LXII - Brother Wolf and the Horned Cattle
LXIII - Brother Fox and the White Muscadines
LXIV - Mr. Hawk and Brother Buzzard
LXV - Mr. Hawk and Brother Rabbit
LXVI - The Wise Bird and the Foolish Bird
LXVII - Old Brother Terrapin Gets Some Fish
LXVIII - Brother Fox Makes a Narrow Escape
LXIX - Brother Fox’s Fish-Trap
LXX - Brother Rabbit Rescues Brother Terrapin
LXXI - The Night Before Christmas
NIGHTS WITH UNCLE REMUS
JOEL CHANDLER HARRIS was born in Eatonton, Georgia, in 1845. Setting type and learning to write under Joseph Addison Turner’s mentoring at nearby Turnwold Plantation, Harris later worked for newspapers in Macon and Forsyth. He served as Associate Editor for the Savannah Morning News (1870-1876) and for the Atlanta Constitution (1876-1900). Harris earned reputations as a literary comedian, a talented and resourceful amateur folklorist, a local-color fiction writer, a children’s author, and a major New South journalist. He wrote 185 Uncle Remus tales, seven volumes of short fiction, four novels and six collections of children’s stories. Harris’s portraits of poor whites and his socio-logically and rhetorically complex Brer Rabbit trickster stories have influenced generations of writers, from Mark Twain to Zora Neale Hurston, William Faulkner, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, and Julius Lester. Harris’s creation of highly animated, believably anthropomorphic animal characters also helped reinvent the modern children’s story, from Rudyard Kipling’s jungle tales to Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit stories. Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby have also become popular culture icons. Harris died in 1908.
JOHN T. BICKLEY earned his B.A. in Literature from Florida State University and his M.A. in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is currently working as a fiction editor and completing his Ph.D. in Medieval English Literature, with a minor in Film, at Florida State. He has published fiction as well as articles on film, the humanities, and Native American anthropology.
R. BRUCE BICKLEY, JR., Griffith T. Pugh Professor of English at Florida State University, received his B.A. in English from the University of Virginia and his M.A. and Ph.D. in English from Duke University. He has published The Method of Melville’s Short Fiction and six books on Joel Chandler Harris.
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices:
80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published in the United States of America by James R. Osgood and Company 1883
This edition with an introduction by John T Bickley and R. Bruce Bickley, Jr.,
published in Penguin Books 2003
All rights reserved
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
Harris, Joel Chandler, 1848-1908.
Nights with Uncle Remus / Joel Chandler Harris ; edited and with an introduction by
R. Bruce Bickley and John Bickley.
p. cm.—(Penguin classics)
Includes bibliographical references.
eISBN : 978-1-101-01040-2
1. Remus, Uncle (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Georgia—Social life and
customs—Fiction. 3. African American men—Fiction. 4. Plantation life—Fiction.
5. Animals—Fiction. I. Bickley, R. Bruce, 1942- II. Bickley, John T. III. Title. IV. Series.
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Folklore Performance and the Legacy of Joel Chandler Harris
In the summer of 1882, still flush with the popular and critical success of Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings (1880), Joel Chandler Harris was waiting to catch a train in Norcross, Georgia, twenty miles northeast of Atlanta. Harris explains in detail the unique experience he had that night, and he made sure to include this important episode in his introduction to his second book, Nights with Uncle Remus: Myths and Legends of the Old Plantation (1883). The train was late, and darkness had already fallen when Harris overheard several black railroad workers sitting in small groups on the platform and perched on crossties, cracking jokes at each other’s expense and laughing boisterously. Harris sat down next to one of the liveliest talkers in the group, a middle-aged worker. After enjoying their banter for awhile, Harris heard someone in the crowd mention “Ole Molly Har’.” Suddenly inspired, and “in a low tone, as if to avoid attracting attention,” Harris narrated the tar-baby story to his companion, “by way of a feeler.”
Harris reconstructs in some detail what occurred next, a folkloristic event any ethnologist today would swap the SUV for. The lively man next to Harris kept interrupting the tar-baby narration with loud and frequent comments—“Dar now!” and “He’s a honey, mon!” and “Gentermens! git out de way, an’ gin ’im room!” Suddenly, Harris’s audience of one grows exponentially into a storytelling community of thirty.
These comments, and the peals of unrestrained and unrestrainable laughter that accompanied them, drew the attention of the other Negroes, and before the climax of the story had been reached, where Brother Rabbit is cruelly thrown into the brier-patch, they had all gathered around and made themselves comfortable. Without waiting to see what the effect of the ‘Tar Baby’ legend would be, the writer [Harris] told the story of ‘Brother Rabbit and the Mosquitoes,’ and this had the effect of convulsing them. Two or three could hardly wait for the conclusion, so anxious were they to tell stories of their own. The result was that, for almost two hours, a crowd of thirty or more Negroes vied with each other to see which could tell the most and the best stories.
Harris notes that some of the black workers told stories poorly, “giving only meager outlines,” while others “told them passing well.” And then he adds that “one or two, if their language and gestures could have been taken down, would have put Uncle Remus to shame.” Harris, always the astute observer, stresses that a storyteller’s language and gestures must interact with the audience’s emotions to create a truly memorable oral performance.
That evening, Harris goes on to explain, he heard a few stories he had already included among the thirty-four animal tales in Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings. He also heard several that he had previously “gathered and verified” but had not yet published. Yet “the great majority were either new or had been entirely forgotten.” Then Harris shares an insight that reflects on the collective psyche of his fellow storytellers and, even more importantly, on his own conflicted self. Harris explains that the darkness that night “gave greater scope and freedom to the narratives of the negroes, and but for this friendly curtain, it is doubtful if the conditions would have been favorable to storytelling.” Furthermore, “however favorable the conditions might have been, the appearance of a note-book and pencil would have dissipated them as utterly as if they had never existed.”
Like a professional folklorist, which he never claimed to be, Harris knew the inhibiting effects on his human sources of introducing the reporter’s pad in a natural, unforced, oral-performance setting. Gifted with a remarkably discriminating ear and auditory memory, however, Harris carried off the Norcross stories in his head as surely as he had stored away the Middle Georgia black folk tales he had heard from Aunt Crissy, Old Harbert, and Uncle George Terrell while he worked as a printer’s devil at Turnwold Plantation, outside Eatonton, in the mid-1860s. A decade later, when the Atlanta Constitution’s staff local colorist had taken a leave of absence, Harris had filled in for him. His memory banks had opened up, and out hopped brash Brer Rabbit, aided and abetted by his sly raconteur Uncle Remus—whom critics have proven to be as much the trickster as his wily folk hero.
Harris had named Uncle Remus after a gardener in Forsyth, Georgia; but he also explained that Remus was an amalgamation of three or four black slave storytellers he knew, including Turnwold’s Harbert and George Terrell. Yet Remus is also more: he is a mitigating voice, created in part to comfort anxious minds of Reconstruction-era America. His is the soothing voice of wisdom, reassuring white America with his loyalty to memories of the Old South—and meanwhile working for reconciliation between blacks and whites and between the regions after the War. Uncle Remus is also far more complex than his family retainer role suggests, for he is the product of what Harris would later memorably call his “other fellow”—the deeper and bolder part of Harris’s psyche that takes over from the newspaper journalist and writes folk tales and fiction, the ostensibly plain and Christian voice that suddenly shifts paradigms and tells stories that are anything but plain and Christian. Along with the young white Abercrombie boy, Remus’s devoted pupil, we learn—as Brer Rabbit lures Brer Wolf into a honey-log and burns him alive, or as he tricks Brer Wolf into selling his grandmother for vittles or, indeed, tricks Grinny Granny Wolf into boiling herself alive and subsequently feeds her flesh to her own son—that Brer Rabbit’s morality is not the morality of nineteenth-century white Christianity.
The Norcross evening reveals something else important about Harris’s psyche, too. He was an illegitimate child, and generous citizens of Eatonton, Middle Georgia, had luckily befriended him and his mother. Shy and self-conscious all his life, and afflicted with a mild stammer, he never read his Brer Rabbit stories aloud, not even to his own children. In fact, in May 1882, just prior to the Norcross encounter, Harris had met with Mark Twain and George Washington Cable in New Orleans to discuss joining them for a lucrative national reading tour. But Harris’s inveterate, self-effacing shyness had forced him to decline their attractive invitation. Yet that summer night in the comforting and anonymous darkness at Norcross, Harris was relaxed and unobtrusive. Moreover—and for the only time in his life that we know of—he was actually able to tell some of his beloved folk stories in a public setting. It’s as if Harris’s “other fellow” had taken control again and had spoken for him in a deeper tongue.
Harris’s payoff for temporarily escaping his self-consciousness was two rich and rarefied hours of cross-racial communion and oral folklore performance and story-collecting. Furthermore, the Norcross station tales Harris heard that summer, and the stories they reminded him of, fed directly into his second book, his ambitious and carefully structured collection of seventy-one folk stories, Nights with Uncle Remus: Myths and Legends of the Old Plantation. Published in November 1883, a little over a year after his fruitful Norcross experience, Nights was another popular and critical success for Harris. While its sales would never equal those of Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings, his second book nevertheless sold 25,000 copies across twenty-five print-runs in the mid-1880s. Even two decades later, Nights was still doing well; a 1904 edition sold over 80,000 copies. Including posthumous collections, the Uncle Remus canon would eventually grow to 185 published stories.
In a chapter of his 2001 study, R...
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