Nights with Uncle Remus Essay - Critical Context

Joel Chandler Harris

Critical Context

Collections of Negro folklore were just beginning in the late nineteenth century. Some folklorists praised the stories in Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus miscellany as a contribution to this new science. Nights with Uncle Remus resulted from Harris’ ambition to combine a work of fiction, a thematic novel, with an academic collection and anthology. After this book, many more collections of black folklore appeared, either for the amusement and entertainment of a general audience, such as those of Charles C. Jones, Jr., and Mrs. A. M. H. Christensen, or for folklorists, by such scholars as Elsie Parsons, Alan Dundes, and Richard Dorson.

Harris soon realized that Nights with Uncle Remus was a failure both as an academic contribution and as a commercial venture even though the reviews were good. Sales were not as large as those for his first book, and academics took no notice of it. In one inscribed copy of Nights with Uncle Remus, he wrote humorously and deprecatingly concerning the subject of “comparative folklore” that the author “knows no more on the subject than a blind horse knows about Sunday.” In Uncle Remus and His Friends (1892), his third Uncle Remus book, which follows the much simpler miscellany structure of his successful 1880 Uncle Remus, Harris announced the end to his Uncle Remus books, apologizing for the stories as authentic folktales. Later, he satirized folklore as a science in the...

(The entire section is 437 words.)