This year I’m presenting with the Medieval Section of the American Folklore Society. I’m investigating the relationship between the medieval tale of Saint Andrew and the Three Questions, in which Andrew saves a bishop’s soul from the devil disguised as a maiden by answering his three riddles. Andrew’s answer to the devil’s last question, “What is the distance between heaven and earth,” isn’t even a real answer, but an acknowledgement of his ignorance: “You would know, because you fell that distance!” I have found analogues of this tale present in modern folktales, including one collected by the Grimms. But more interesting are the ways that the riddle contest is used in medieval religious legends in different contexts. In my paper, I sketch out some of the ways in which the riddle contest moves between different genres and accomplishes different narrative goals.
My panel information is below:
Claiming Authority, Resisting the Devil: How Lay Appropriations Shaped Medieval and Early Modern Traditions
Fredericka Schmadel, “An Uppity Street Nun’s Quest for God”
Steve Stanzak, “Sacred and Secular Narratives: How Saints and Soldiers Decipher the Devil’s Riddles”
Charlotte Artese, “’They Will Not Intercept My Tale’: Oral and Classical Traditions in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus”
Dan Terkla, “The Duchy of Cornwall and Hereford Mappaemundi: Heritage, Patronage, and Commemoration”
My review for Jan M. Ziolkowski’s recent book on medieval Latin fairy tales is now published with my usual venue, the Journal of Folklore Research. I enjoyed it quite a bit, especially its pointed criticism of some recent fairy tale scholarship that ignores viable medieval evidence. Medieval studies in folklore certainly has had its heyday, but those days are long past. It’s refreshing to see some medieval folklorists reminding the discipline of its origins.
Read my review at the Journal of Folklore Research website or below.
We do not, and never will, have access to oral folktales from the Middle Ages. Although unfortunate, this does not mean that folktale scholars should give up hope of ever understanding storytelling in the medieval period or that all our written evidence should be discarded as inauthentic and therefore not valuable. Jan M. Ziolkowski’s book, Fairy Tales from Before Fairy Tales: The Medieval Latin Past of Wonderful Lies, advocates for a “use what’s available” approach to medieval literature, taking into account the varied and nuanced textual practices in use at the time. Some texts with value to folklorists have survived the centuries, and careful attention to historical and cultural contexts may reveal much about medieval vernacular practices. Folklorists who dismiss written evidence out of hand solely because of its medium downplay the complexity inherent in folklore’s transmission. Continue reading