Storytelling tradition of the Blue Ridge Mountains
by Leslie Simon
Deep in the “hollers” of the Blue Ridge Mountains, you can hear the sound of stories old and new being told in kitchens, on front porches and in the farm fields. When electricity was hard to come by, instead of radio and TV you provided entertainment with storytelling. This oral tradition is an important aspect of Appalachian life, with generation after generation passing down stories that teach us about life through historical fables, metaphors, and exaggerated tall tales. Listen closely and you will hear unique speech patterns like double negatives, clever wordplay, and unique spellings (“I’m a-goin’ down the mountain”) that involve much of the language of Colonial America.
This unique tradition of the Appalachian people combines tales from Celtic and European folklore, myths of the Cherokee, fables from African American slave culture, magical tales about meeting oversized animals with supernatural powers, and the ever-popular “Jack Tales” that follow the adventures of the trickster Jack. These Jack tales are kin to popular stories like “Jack and the Beanstalk,” and they teach important lessons in cunning behavior and believing in yourself.
This generational passing down of stories allowed for some very old topics to be kept alive in what residents called “the Back Country.” When folklore archivists like Richard Chase and Alan Lomax traveled to the Blue Ridge Mountains area after the Great Depression to record these stories for cultural preservation, they found themes and subjects that went as far back as medieval knights and seafaring adventures. Often starting with the mother sharing stories with the children while working around the house, these tales were passed down from generation to generation, a vibrant tradition that still continues to this day.
In Bright Star, we see this storytelling tradition carry on. Inspired by the old folksong “The Ballad of the Iron Mountain Baby,” Steve Martin and Edie Brickell have created a story of love, loss, and the hope for a better life that keeps us going. Watch and listen as we follow Alice through years of her life, striving to create a home for herself while pondering over past life choices. We hope Bright Star leaves you with a story that you can pass on to others.