The Stories Begun

{November 14, 2009}   Aarne-Thompson-Uther . . .

. . . The super-heroes and banes of my existence.  I promised another blog in “Novella” and felt that this was worth the immediate creation of said blog.  So here it is!

The Aarne-Thompson-Uther classification system is a resource for aspiring (and established) folklorists everywhere.  It’s a brilliant system, and I cannot sing its praises enough.  What I can do is give you a little information so that when I blog and randomly throw out an ATU number and the related title, you won’t be quite so lost.  I do apologize if this next section sounds a bit stuffy, it’s essentially a paragraph from my critical analysis of my senior thesis, where I had to do a similar explanation.

The Aarne-Thompson-Uther classification system was originally developed by Antti Aarne in 1910 as a numbering system of the basic plots in folklore.  He based it off his studies with Julius and Kaarle Krohn, the men who invented and developed the scientific method of studying folktales, known as the historic-geographic method.  In 1928, Stith Thompson, an American folklorist, translated the work from Finnish to English and expanded the system to include 2,500 potential, yet basic, plots that were placed in five categories.  That system stood for nearly eighty years when, in 2004, Hans-Jörg Uther expanded the categories to seven (a couple sub-categories were quite large and deserved categories of their own) and deleted defunct and repetitive plots.  However, he did not change existing numbers, so the old Aa-Th system (you may also find AT system, depending on the writer) that had been used for nearly eighty years could be integrated.  This makes research much easier, because old books are still valid except in the cases of deleted numbers.  Now, Aarne, and perhaps Thompson, would have argued that this system only applies to Western and Near Eastern faerie tales, because that’s about as far as his (and the Krohns’) research went.  However, because of trading, immigration, and a surprising discovery that man is much the same in basic (think Jung’s collective unconscious), there is enough crossover that this system can be, and has been applied to Far Eastern tales with success.  Hooray for the universality of faerie tales!

As a side note, I’ve run across a few books published post-2004 that still use the Aa-Th system, so the integration of ATU seems to be happening slowly.  These two systems work together so well that they’re nearly interchangeable.  Uther’s edition is simply cleaner, less cluttered.  He published a three volume guide of it, which I am planning on getting eventually.  It’s expensive, but well worth having around.

Now, what does this mean for my blog?  First of all: I will be referring back to this system quite a bit whilst I talk about Strains of a Sonant Storie, mostly because that epic has a high research ethic inherent to it.  I go around looking for cultural versions of the ATU number, rather than just going off one version of the tale.  I think total count for Stefan came to twenty-two versions (give or take).  So, if I say ATU 425C, “The Beauty and the Beast,” I am not talking about Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont’s version, one of the earliest and most popular versions (then and now).  I am speaking of the entire collection of world-wide faerie tales that follow this plot line.  I do promise to always include the category title beside the number to eliminate as much confusion as humanly possible*.  Like I said at the beginning, these men were super-heroes, but are also the collective bane of my existence.

I think that’s all for today! 🙂


*For those interested, ATU 425A, “The search for the lost husband”; ATU 425C, “The Beauty and the Beast”; ATU 425D “Vanished husband learned of by keeping inn”; ATU 245G “Husband recognizes bride when heroine tells her story”; and ATU 425N “The bird husband.”  I have no idea why they skip letters, unless those were letters cleaned out (some spaces are also left open in the assumption that there are tales that bridge the gap, kind of like the missing link between man and monkey–this might also be the reason).  There is some debate as to which one different versions get filed under: I would personally file “East o’ the Sun, West o’ the Moon” a Norwegian variant of the cursed husband under ATU 425C, but many put it under ATU 425A.  Sigh–we academics can’t ever agree.


[…] Beauty and the Beast.”  (For those of you who do not know what the ATU system is, another blog is coming, I promise–”The Beauty and the Beast” will do you for now.))  However, […]

[…] adaptation of my favorite version of ATU 425C (need a refresher on the ATU system–find it here).  Had I been in the position to perform my normal process, I wouldn’t have required reading […]

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