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Orality in a Norse-Icelandic Perspective

Michael Chesnutt

Oral Tradition, Volume 18, Number 2

Students of early Scandinavian literature and folklore face analogous problems when dealing with oral tradition. For most readers of the Icelandic sagas, that tradition constitutes no more than a stylistic and factual backdrop to the developed artistry of literary narrators taking their cue from works written at the major centers of European civilization; for most folklorists of the early twenty-first century, oral narrative has more to do with individual self-expression than with loyalty to the collective memory. One Scandinavian folklorist has gone so far as to question the validity of the international folktale typology of Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson (Aarne and Thompson 1961), stating that the nineteenth-century records of oral prose tradition rather give the impression of kaleidoscopic variation of motifs and episodes. This influential scholar also held that complex folktales probably could not be remembered over long periods of time.

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