Wren’s Nest in the New York Times

Local landmark, The Wren’s Nest, is featured in a recent New York Times article. I have mentioned the Wren’s Nest in a few posts and Wren’s Nest director Lain Shakespeare is a Metblogs reader (and very nice guy – Still meaning to come by and introduce my kiddos to the Uncle Remus world, Lain!)Akbar%20Telling%20Stories.jpg

The article is interesting in its discussion of Lain’s attempts to shape up the Wren’s Nest. (I mentioned the Community Service Day held at the Wren’s Nest back in April.)

More interesting to me is the discussion of the public’s perception of the Uncle Remus folklore and the author himself, Joel Chandler Harris. As a child, I can remember having a book of Uncle Remus stories, and I remember my father reading them to me. In the eyes of an innocent child, these stories were no different than reading Grimm’s fairy tales; A little dark, maybe, but to a child, void of underlying meaning or message. They were just stories.

As an adult, I can certainly see where people are coming from when they say the stories are offensive or racist. I can see where the stories might make an adult feel uncomfortable in the listening, but I feel we should hold on to these stories as a reminder of our background, our history, and a bygone way of life; Not to be put on a pedestal as a shining example, but to be studied and understood as part of what makes us what we are today.

The child in me, though, still loves the stories for the authenticity of the sounds of the words, and the funny animals portrayed in interesting stories. The child in me only remembers that they helped make me want to read.

What do you think of the stories? What do they mean to you?

Wren’s Nest Online
Wren’s Nest Blog

7 Comments so far

  1. gretagretchen (unregistered) on July 2nd, 2007 @ 7:57 pm

    I am honestly not totally sure about the stories. I don’t really know them well (I’m a northerner). But I do have fond memories of playing the Uncle Wiggly game at my grandparents house. I just went to Disneyworld and the Splash Mountain ride is about the story of Brer Rabbit (from Song of the South I assume) It was one of the best rides there.

    So I don’t know — I think we need to take it for what is it. Gone with the Wind had its questionable moments too.

  2. Cletus McNirtny (unregistered) on July 3rd, 2007 @ 10:40 am

    I know the stories well as I also grew up with them. I think they are fine when taken in the context of when they were written. The stores weren’t meant to offend anyone and are just pieces of folklore from another time. If we start erasing history simply because it is offensive by today’s standards we will have a lot of erasing to do.

  3. gretagretchen (unregistered) on July 3rd, 2007 @ 11:04 am

    It seems that the stories themselves aren’t completely the problem. It’s that they were popularized by a white writer who used a then questionable, now racist “Uncle Remus” as a vehicle to tell them.

  4. Annie (unregistered) on July 3rd, 2007 @ 2:11 pm

    It seems that much of the problem people have with the stories is through their association with the Song of the South movie.

    It is interesting, though, that people are upset by a white man writing down these stories that he heard people telling. In his own way, he preserved the stories for posterity. One wonders if it would be seen as “racist” if a black man had done the same thing. Anyway, I agree with Cletus that it is part of American folklore history and should be preserved. I also think that you can study and preserve something without that meaning that you are glorifying it.

  5. Lain (unregistered) on July 3rd, 2007 @ 3:53 pm

    Good points, all.

    As the single most biased person on this subject, I’ll spare you most of my opinions (you’re welcome!); however, a few things to consider–

    1. Before the Brer Rabbit stories there simply weren’t talking animals in children’s literature. Now think about Peter Rabbit, Bugs Bunny, Roger Rabbit, etc and those are just the rabbits! The last of which is even more directly influenced by Song of the South.

    2. Harris’ work as associate editor of the Atlanta Constitution (1876-1900) consistently demonstrates support for African-American education and voting rights, while consistently condemning racism, intolerance, and lynching. This, while many others were still debating whether African-Americans actually had the capacity for learning.

    3. Harris detested the illustrations his publisher chose for the first edition of Uncle Remus because they were condescending caricatures that didn’t do Uncle Remus justice. After all, it’s Uncle Remus, and not Brer Rabbit, who is the protagonist of the stories.

    and finally…

    4. If Uncle Remus is named after one of the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, who is his Romulus in this equation? Well, I think it’s Joel Chandler Harris. Uncle Remus isn’t just a character, he’s an aspect of JCH’s personality. You know, like Mark Twain is to Samuel Clemens. To me, the implications of that union are astounding. But I don’t want to get all English major on you.

    Anyway, nice post, and I’m happy to answer any questions or field comments here or elsewhere.

  6. Cap'n Drew (unregistered) on July 6th, 2007 @ 7:40 am

    I found a foreign bootleg of the old Disney movie a few years ago and bought it JUST so I could watch the animated sequences of Br’ers Rabbit, Fox and Bear…. and hear the Zippity Doo-Dah song again. Interestingly, as I understand it, this bootleg came by way of Japan, where in the 1980’s they apparently had some sort of “Mamie” collecting frenzy. At one point in the bootleg you see subtitles (in Kanji?) at a really odd part of the film, when all you hear is background singing of the slaves/sharecroppers (can’t remember the time period of the film now) working out in the field. I *believe* that the subtitles are of the lyrics those people are singing… an interesting, alien reaction to the film by a people completely removed from our history.

    It would be wonderful if the stories could be rehabilitated with sensitivity to their origins, but without any revisionism in the basic, human messages they teach.

    But that’s going to be a big challenge without the active, willing participation of scholars from black colleges like AUC et al.

    To paraphrase Brer Bear from the Disney film, on the topic of race in America: “They ain’t nothin’ in there but beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeessssss!”

  7. Annie (unregistered) on July 6th, 2007 @ 1:20 pm

    Interesting, Drew – thanks for the comments.

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