Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Tales of Uncle Remus by Jerry Pinkney

Get ready for all of the laughs, adventure and hip-hopping good times in this all-new imaginative and modern retelling of Uncle Remus' best-loved tales. Parents and kids alike will delight in the escapades of the most mischievous and clever Brer Rabbit as he gleefully outwits Brer Fox, Brer Bear and a whole cast of other critters! With irresistible and toe-tapping new songs and an all-star lineup of voice talent (Wayne Brady, Nick Cannon, Danny Glover, D.L. Hughley and Wanda Sykes), The Adventures of Brer Rabbit is sure to be a family favorite for years to come!

      Uncle Remus is a fictional character, the title character and fictional narrator of a collection of African-American folktales adapted and compiled by Joel Chandler Harris, published in book form in 1881. A journalist in post-Reconstruction Atlanta, Georgia, Harris produced seven Uncle Remus books.
      Uncle Remus is a collection of animal stories, songs, and oral folklore, collected from Southern United States African-Americans. Many of the stories are didactic, much like those of Aesop's Fables and the stories of Jean de La Fontaine. Uncle Remus is a kindly old former slave who serves as a storytelling device, passing on the folktales to children gathered around him.

      Harris created the first version of the Uncle Remus character for the Atlanta Constitution in 1876 after inheriting a column formerly written by Samuel W. Small, who had taken leave from the paper. In these character sketches, Remus would visit the newspaper office to discuss the social and racial issues of the day. By 1877 Small had returned to the Constitution and resumed his column.
      Harris did not intend to continue the Remus character. But when Small left the paper again, Harris reprised Remus. He realized the literary value of the stories he had heard from the slaves of Turnwold Plantation. Harris set out to record the stories and insisted that they be verified by two independent sources before he would publish them. He found the research more difficult given his professional duties, urban location, race and, eventually, fame.
      On July 20, 1879, Harris published "The Story of Mr. Rabbit and Mr. Fox as Told by Uncle Remus" in the Atlanta Constitution. It was the first of 34 plantation fables that would be compiled in Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings (1880). The stories, mostly collected directly from the African-American oral storytelling tradition, were revolutionary in their use of dialect, animal personages, and serialized landscapes.
       Remus' stories featured a trickster hero called Br'er Rabbit ("Brother" Rabbit), who used his wits against adversity, though his efforts did not always succeed. Br'er Rabbit is a direct interpretation of Yoruba tales of Hare, though some others posit Native American influences as well. The scholar Stella Brewer Brookes asserts, "Never has the trickster been better exemplified than in the Br'er Rabbit of Harris." Br'er Rabbit was accompanied by friends and enemies, such as Br'er Fox, Br'er Bear, Br'er Terrapin, and Br'er Wolf. The stories represented a significant break from the fairy tales of the Western tradition: instead of a singular event in a singular story, the critters on the plantation existed in an ongoing community saga, time immemorial.
      Harris described Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, as a major influence on the characters of Uncle Remus and the Little Boy. When he read Stowe's novel in 1862, he said that it "made a more vivid impression upon my mind than anything I have ever read since." Interpreting Uncle Tom's Cabin as a "wonderful defense of slavery," Harris argued that Stowe's "genius took possession of her and compelled her, in spite of her avowed purpose, to give a very fair picture of the institution she had intended to condemn." In Harris's view, the "real moral that Mrs. Stowe's book teaches is that the. . . realities [of slavery], under the best and happiest conditions, possess a romantic beauty and tenderness all their own."
      The Uncle Remus stories garnered critical acclaim and achieved popular success well into the 20th century. Harris published at least twenty-nine books, of which nine books were compiled of his published Uncle Remus stories, including Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings (1880), Nights with Uncle Remus (1883), Uncle Remus and His Friends (1892), The Tar Baby and Other Rhymes of Uncle Remus (1904), Told by Uncle Remus: New Stories of the Old Plantation (1905), Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit (1907). The last three books written by Joel Chandler Harris were published after his death which included Uncle Remus and the Little Boy (1910), Uncle Remus Returns (1918), and Seven Tales of Uncle Remus (1948). The tales, 185 in sum, became immensely popular among both black and white readers in the North and South. Few people outside of the South had heard accents like those spoken in the tales, and the dialect had never been legitimately and faithfully recorded in print.
      To Northern and international readers, the stories were a "revelation of the unknown." Mark Twain noted in 1883, "in the matter of writing [the African-American dialect], he is the only master the country has produced."
      The stories introduced international readers to the American South. Rudyard Kipling wrote in a letter to Harris that the tales "ran like wild fire through an English Public school.... [We] found ourselves quoting whole pages of Uncle Remus that had got mixed in with the fabric of the old school life." The Uncle Remus tales have since been translated into more than forty languages.
      James Weldon Johnson called the collection "the greatest body of folklore America has produced."

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