The Myth-Folklore UnTextbook

(This is a Week 2 assignment for MLLL-3043-995.)

Welcome to the Myth-Folklore course! By this point, you've completed the Orientation week, and now you are ready to get into the real class activities: reading stories, and then telling stories of your own based on what you have read. That's what I call "stories from stories."

And as you'll see, "stories from stories" is the central theme of this class: because of their amazing generative power, folktales and myths can live on and on for thousands of years, and they are still going strong in this new millennium. Stories WANT to reproduce, they want to make more stories, and those newly created stories grow and change and develop their own identities just as human beings themselves do. You are connected to your parents, but at the same time you are your own person, and in a similar way folktales and myths are connected to the past, but each one is also a new story, existing in a specific moment in the words of a specific storyteller addressing a specific audience.

An Eternal World of Storytellers. So, when you write your stories this semester based on the stories from the past, you will be doing just what Homer and Jesus and Scheherazade did in their time: you will be taking an existing story and making it your own. Of course, the tools you are using are different from the tools that Homer used — you will use writing, while Homer relied on his voice and the power of singing (his song was written down much later), much like the epic storyteller in the photo above who is reciting the Indian epic Mahabharata. Because we have access to new tools like writing, and also digital media, that means we have even more storytelling opportunities! In that sense, we are very lucky to be living in this day and age, with so many storytelling technologies available to us, both analog and digital.

By the end of this semester, I hope that you will have developed a sense of yourself as a storyteller, while also having enjoyed hundreds of stories as told by storytellers from around the world, along with the stories told by other students in this class. Think about it: by the end of the semester, we will have created hundreds of new stories together as a class, along with your fellow storytellers in the Indian Epics class (and yes, you'll be reading each other's projects later on as the semester takes shape). 

Introducing the UnTextbook. For the readings in this class, you will be using something that I call the "UnTextbook," a gigantic blog of stories that  I created during the summer of 2014 (it's hard for me to believe that already 6 years have gone by since then!). Because I see the world of folklore and mythology in terms of unlimited storytelling possibilities, I really wanted to give you MORE options to explore and choose from as you do the weekly readings for this class. This past summer (Summer 2020), I added some new units to the UnTextbook taken from some books that I published: Tiny Tales from Aesop, Tiny Tales of Nasruddin, and Tiny Tales of India. I am curious what you will think about those if you choose to read any of them.

Before I made the UnTextbook, there was a choice of two reading options every week in this class, for a total of 28 reading units. And that worked pretty well: there were lots of great stories for people to read and enjoy that way. But with so many myth and folklore books now available online, I wanted to do a better job with the reading options for the class.

The result is this UnTextbook, an anthology that draws stories from over a hundred different public-domain books and other openly licensed books. Using the UnTextbook, you will be choosing what you want to read each week from the various options and in that way you will create a unique textbook of your own.

In addition, I built the Freebookapalooza, a blog with over a thousand public domain and openly licensed books; if you see books there you would like to read, let me know, and we can find a way to weave those books into the class too. One of my projects this past year was to update the Freebookapalooza, and there are now over 1500 books there.

Trillions of Textbooks. As you can see in the sidebar here at this blog, there are 100 different reading units in the UnTextbook (Aesop's fables, Cherokee legends, Dante's Inferno, Japanese fairy tales, etc. etc. etc.), and those units are organized in geographical groups: Africa, Asia, British Isles, etc. You can also see the units organized week by week using the tabs across the top of this blog post:

There are trillions — literally, trillions — of possible combinations!

Diversity and Connection. So, the UnTextbook is all about variety, both a wide variety of stories and a wide variety of ways that you can combine them as you create your own reading experience for the semester. At the same time, you'll also see how closely connected the stories are, even when they are spread out over great distances of space and time. Stories are created from other stories ("stories from stories," like I said above), so, if you look, you can usually follow a thread of stories that will lead you from one place to another, and from one time to another — often in very surprising ways! As the Chinese proverb says, A cloth is not woven from a single thread

So, please take a half hour or so just to EXPLORE: look through the different units in the sidebar, clicking on anything that grabs your interest and saving links to the units and/or stories that you think you will want to return to later on. Write up your thoughts and put those links in a blog post that you will then can refer to later when the regular reading assignments begin in Week 3.

For details about the blog post, see the assignment instructions: Week 2 Reading A assignment.

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And, for one last image, here is something really cute that a student made for the class back in Fall 2014: it's a LOLCat for the UnTextbook — enjoy!