Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

It has been the usual pattern that folk heroes have evolved over the course of centuries, slowly developing their unique characters and accumulating their colorful histories through the oral traditions passed on by generations of storytellers. In a country as young as America, however, this pattern could not be played out, and folk figures scarcely had time to be conceived in the popular imagination before they were overtaken by a rapidly moving history. For this reason, out of a gallery of local heroes which included Mike Fink, Sam Patch, Pecos Bill, and Cap’n Stormalong, only Paul Bunyan has carried his fame into the twentieth century in a considerable body of popular fiction and in some serious literature as well.

Actually, mention of Paul Bunyan did not appear in print until as recently as 1910; over the course of the next decade, only a few scattered references were to be found, including a tale told in a lumber company’s advertising brochure, and a 1916 article published by TRANSACTIONS OF THE WISCONSIN ACADEMY OF SCIENCES, ARTS, AND LETTERS. The latter, a study written by K. Bernice Stewart and Homer A. Watt, is one of the few remaining authentic sources of the Bunyan legends, since the rash of best-selling lumberjack stories that followed altered the original tales in many essentials to increase their appeal to a widespread reading audience. These popular adaptations, which flourished from the 1920’s on, not only expunged the most...

(The entire section is 428 words.)