My love of folklore started when I was about seven years old and came across a magical book in my Mom’s glass fronted bookcase. On rainy days I’d steal into the room, carefully remove the book, and curl up in a cozy chair for hours to read the amazing tales. There were stories from the Pueblo Indians about tortoises, narratives about the Mississippi riverboats and the colorful characters that worked on them, and then tall tales about the California gold rush. The book was filled with diverse folklore, regional superstitions, and even ghost stories throughout the United States. I was absolutely mesmerized.
As I got older I expanded my love of folklore to include tales from different cultures and regions. In college one of my majors was humanities where I had a number of classes that focused on folklore and storytelling throughout the ages and the anthropological implications of those stories. To me folklore did a few different things. One it formed the historical base for a group and helped to form and strengthen its identity. The tales served as a way of recording real events, capturing actual people, and defining the beliefs and customs of a particular group of people or region. Another thing folklore offered were explanations for things that people didn’t have the technological ability to explain or didn’t know how to explain. The last thing it did was to provide tales from different cultures that served as fables to teach lessons to children, ghost stories to frighten people as they gathered around a campfire in the darkness, or to immortalize a fanciful character that entertained people with amazing feats or hilarious antics.
I was always partial to ghost stories surrounding the gold rush era. I found plenty of spooky stories detailing the misadventures of Joanquin Murrieta, a Robin Hood type character that died young and haunted the foothills of California, and the lost Dutchman’s Mine that lured many to an untimely demise with the promise of riches. Maybe because I was born and raised in California that was why I had such a fondness for the stories that helped shape that state.
To this day I still love folklore and all the things it represents. I never tire of reading the stories that represent the things that define a culture or shape a country.