chapter  5
28 Pages

Troubles in the Garden and How They Get Resolved: A Young Child's Transformation of His Favorite Story

One of the enduring legacies of William Wells Newell, the compiler of the classic 19th-century collection of children's folklore, is his insight into children's complex relationship to cultural resources. According to "Newell's paradox" (Fine, 1980), children are both conservative and innovative toward traditional lore. They treat the formulas of play "as Scripture, of which no jot or tittle is to be repealed" (Newell, 188311963, p. 22), yet delight in modifying traditions and inventing languages, legends, and games. This paradox applies not only to children's folklore but to other cultural texts, including narratives. Stories of personal experience, family stories, stories from children's literature-all evoke contradictory impulses to conserve and to innovate. Underlying this paradox is the child's intense involvement in particular texts, an involvement which is evident in repeated listenings and spontaneous retellings. The child can't stop telling the story; the parent can't tell or read it to her often enough.