Joel Chandler Harris’s literary talents were considerably broader than the Uncle Remus tales for which he is so well known. He was an accomplished editor, essayist, folklorist, and biographer, and he wrote several romantic novels.
Joel Chandler Harris was best known in his day for his collections of Uncle Remus tales, particularly Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings and Nights with Uncle Remus, tales which were not created but recorded by him. When the American Academy of Arts and Letters was founded in 1905, Harris was elected to be one of the inaugural members. The black man/white boy which Harris uses in the Uncle Remus stories was highly influential on Mark Twain’s portrayal of the Jim/Huck relationship in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). With the emergence of the Civil Rights movement, however, and with the portrayal of Uncle Remus as a man among cartoons in Walt Disney’s movie Song of the South, the figure of Uncle Remus (who was in part based on Harriet Beecher Stowe’s character Uncle Tom from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1852) fell into some amount of literary and political disfavor. Twentieth century studies of folklore have, however, established Harris’s importance as a folklorist who collected authentic black folk tales.
Baer, Florence E. Sources and Analogues of the Uncle Remus Tales. Helsinki: Academia Scientiarium Fennica, 1980. Essential to anyone trying to study the Brer Rabbit stories. For each tale, Baer gives a summary, the tale type number from The Types of the Folk-Tale (1928), motif numbers from Stith Thompson’s Motif-Index of Folk Literature (1955-1958), and a discussion of possible sources. She also includes an excellent essay discussing Harris’s legitimacy as a collector of folktales.
Baker, Margaret P. “The Rabbit as Trickster.” Journal of Popular Culture 28 (Fall, 1994): 149-158. Discusses the image of the rabbit as trickster in popular culture; concludes that, although some of the traditional folk images of the trickster have changed, twentieth century trickster figures help people deal with paradox and irony and show their audiences that they are neither totally victims nor victors but can capitalize on their own weaknesses to build strengths for coping with life.
Bickley, R. Bruce, Jr. Joel Chandler Harris. Boston: Twayne, 1978. A full-length study, including chapters on the major as well as the later Uncle Remus tales, and Harris’s other short fiction. Includes a brief, useful annotated bibliography.
Bickley, R. Bruce, Jr. Joel Chandler Harris: An Annotated Bibliography of...
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