Saturday, December 12, 2009

Review of Storytelling for Young Adults

Very pleased to read this review by Elizabeth Herron at

Monday, November 23, 2009

Mulan News

One of the international ballads discussed in Stories from Songs is MULAN.

Cinematheque: Mulan is finally Chinese again! (and other film news)

This blog entry is adapted from:

Mulan, the traditional Chinese ballad that was made into the 1998 Disney movie, is finally finding its way back home to its original country. Under the direction of Jingle Ma and with Zhao Wei in the leading role, the movie about the female warrior goes up on cinemas starting Friday.

"A-lister Zhao Wei plays the brave Mulan, who joins the army in place of her aging dad. For those who doesn´t yet know the story, it goes like this:

When the country is threatened by invaders, a young girl defends her father by sneaking away from home and dressing up as a man to join an all-male army where she eventually assumes a historically critical role in defending the nation in a time of war.

The making of a feature movie about Mulan has actually been going on for years, with a number of actresses considered for the lead role, including Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi and Liu Yifei. Unconfirmed news have leaked that Zhao was been engaged in horseback and combat training in preparation for the role.

Zhao is best known for her supporting role opposite Stephen Chow in the hilarious martial arts comedy Shaolin Soccer. As an active Mandarin pop singer and actress, Zhao is one of mainland China´s leading female entertainers. She´s had some screen fighting experience in past film and television roles under the action direction of veterans like Corey Yuen and Ching Siu-tung.

Chen Kun (Painted Skin) will portray Mulan´s lover and battalion commander Wen Tai. Child actor Xu Jiao will play the young Mulan and Russian pop singer Vitas will make a cameo.

Director of this romantic drama is Jingle Ma, a prominent Hong Kong cinematographer-turned director with past action credits whose most recent work was Butterfly Lovers, from 2008."

Monday, November 2, 2009

Ballad spotting: "Mad, Bad & Dangerous: The Demon Lover

In the latest issue of Realms of Fantasy (December 2009)there is a Folkroots article by SatyrPhil Brucato entitled "Mad, Bad & Dangerous: The Demon Lover." At a first quick glance the article focuses on the archetype of the Demon Lover with references to popular culture such as the Twilight series, numerous fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood. The article briefly alludes to numerous Child ballads such as "The Demon Lover," "Tam Lin," "Lady Isabel and the Elfin Knight" and "The Gypsy Lover" all discussed in my book Stories from Songs but alas, my book receives no mention.

Ah well, it is a worthwhile read nonetheless!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Spotlight on Stagger Lee

Filled with embedded videos of various artists singing/playing Stagger Lee:

"On this day in Jazz Music" blog available at

This ballad is discussed in my most recent book, Stories from Songs.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A bit of boasting

Dave Jenkinson and Gail de Vos to be awarded Distinguished Alumni Awards

Dave Jenkinson and Gail de Vos will be awarded Distinguished Alumni Awards from the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Alberta (U of A) on October 3, 2009.

The Distinguished Alumni Award is the U of A Alumni Association's most prestigious award. These awards are conferred each year to recognize living University of Alberta graduates whose truly outstanding achievements have earned them national or international prominence.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ballad Spotting: Dreiser's Murder Ballad

Additional material for Chapter 3 of Stories from Songs: Murder Ballads: Murdered Sweetheart: Female and Male.

Excerpt from Blog: Thimblewicket
Post: Catch and Release: "Dreiser's Murder Ballad"

"Roark Mulligan's "Dreiser's Murder Ballad" is a well-researched, well-written piece on how the murder ballad genre influenced Dreiser's writing of An American Tragedy, but most people won't be able to read it because it exists in an obscure journal behind the firewall of expensive subscription-only databases."

"Mulligan says Dreiser was 'way more influenced by the popular ballads of his time than by simple newspaper research,and that he was more interested in replicating the pathos of a murder ballad than in writing an "accurate" crime novel. Dreiser used the stock elements of a murder ballad: young innocent chick is "soiled" by a handsome, maybe wealthy cad. . .gets her in the family way, lures her to remote spot with promises of marriage, kills her violently in ways that would do Tarantino proud, except: justice prevails and the tribe punishes him".

"Mulligan suggests that Dreiser's sympathies lay more with the murdered girl than with her murderer, but that late in his life, Dreiser entertained the notion that his book had actually inspired more murders, based on an unpublished essay, "American Tragedies," among Dreiser's papers at the University of Pennsylvania's Rare Books and Manuscripts."

Roark Mulligan, "Dreiser's Murder Ballad," Studies in American Naturalism, Summer 2008, Vo. 3, no. 1.

Posted by Cynthia Shearer at Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mulan and Ballad Spotting

This posting is an update to my entry on "The Ballad of Mulan" in Stories from Songs. Two very recent reworkings of Mulan's story have been published: a young adult novel and a graphic novel aimed at middle school readers. Here is my take on these two reworkings:

Dokey, Cameron. Wild Orchid: A Retelling of “The Ballad of Mulan.” [Once Upon A Time Series]. Simon Pulse, 2009.

The product description states: “Wielding a sword as deftly as an embroidery needle, Mulan is unlike any other girl in China. When the emperor summons a great army, each family must send a male to fight. Tomboyish Mulan is determined to spare her aging father and bring her family honor, so she disguises herself and answers the call. But Mulan never expects to find a friend, let alone a soul mate, in the commander of her division, Prince Jian. For all of Mulan's courage with a bow and arrow, is she brave enough to share her true identity and feelings with Prince Jian? “

Readers familiar with the Ballad of Mulan will be quite surprised with Dokey’s retelling of her story. It is, indeed, much closer to the ancient song than the Disney movie but I can’t help thinking that the movie had a great deal of influence on this novel. The romantic male hero is introduced to the reader from the very beginning as the story of Prince Jian rescue by Mulan’s father and the subsequent reward to marry the woman he loves instead of a traditional arranged marriage is told to provide Mulan’s family background. Mulan’s mother dies in childbirth and her father refuses to come home to meet his daughter for the first thirteen years of her life. She is raised by servants and befriended by a young boy, Li Po, who shares all of his lessons with her. She grows up more than proficient in martial arts as well as in reading and writing.

There is much repetition regarding the fact that “there wasn’t a girl in all China who had my unusual combination of skills, not matter that I looked like a simple country girl on the outside” (31). When her father makes his way home, he is aloof, wounded and disgraced. Although it had always been one of her wishes to make her father love her, Mulan almost gives up the desire until she repairs his newly opened wound with her embroidery skills and a fragile relationship begins to build. This relationship continues when Mulan’s father remarries and impregnates his wife. A call to arms is received at this crucial point and Mulan secretly answers the call. She immediately makes contact with her old friend Li Po and her father’s best friend, both in the service of Prince Jian, the third but favourite son of the Son of Heaven. Her archery skills and acute strategic planning result in her heroic saving of the army in her one and only battle. Li Po is killed, Mulan wounded and her gender is discovered. As proclaimed in the ballad, Mulan is rewarded for her brave deeds but in the novel she deflects the reward to Prince Jian who can now choose his own path which, oddly enough, includes marriage to Mulan.

There is very little about Mulan as a warrior or honest heroine for China, instead this is another retelling of the romantic coming of age of a contemporary young adult dressed in ancient costume.

Hughes, Susan and Willow Dawson. No Girls Allowed: Tales of Daring Women Dressed as Men for Love, Freedom and Adventure. Kids Can Press, 2008.

The story of Mu Lan is only one of the tales included in this graphic novel but it is told with much more connection to the traditional ballad than Wild Orchid. In this brief telling, Mulan’s aging father is aware of her leaving for battle, Mu Lan spends many years as a soldier, gradually working her way up to general all the while keeping her true gender successfully hidden. She, too, declines the reward offered her but because of being homesick. After returning home and returning to her own identity, Mu Lan is visited by some fellow soldiers who are nonplused but not repulsed by the fact that she is a female. The short story ends as does the ballad with the words about Mu Lan’s disguise: “Two hares running side by side close to the ground, How can they tell if I am he or she?” (27) Jeanne M. Lee’s 1991 picture book is recommended for further reading in the back matter of the graphic novel.

Other stories included in this anthology: Hatshepsut, Alfhild, Esther Brandeau, James Barry, Ellen Craft and Sarah Rosetta Wakeman.

The book is highly recommended on the blog “The Graphic Classroom.”

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Stories from Songs: Two Reviews

From Reference & Research Book News, May 2009, page 274.

PS476 2008-031208 978-1-59158-424-7
Stories from songs; ballads as literary fictions for young
De Vos, Gail.
Libraries Unlimited, ©2009 452 p. $45.00 (pa)
For storytellers, librarians, researchers and teachers in high schools and colleges who deal with folktales and ballads in their classrooms, De Vos (library and information studies, U. of Alberta-Edmonton) describes modern renditions of traditional ballads that might appeal to teenagers today. For each she sketches the plot, identifies alternative titles, traces its history, samples critical response over the years, and cites contemporary reworkings. The media she considers include novels, short stories, graphic novels, poetry, and of course recordings of the ballad itself. She and Anna E. Altman have produced two previous works that form a trilogy with this one.

From Internet Bookwatch

Lyrics are a form of poetry set to music. Like all good narrative poems, lyrics tell stories blending information, emotions, ideas, ideals, and entertainment. This is especially the case with the folk music genre. In "Stories From Songs: Ballads As Literary Fictions for Young Adults", Gail de Vos (Adjunct Professor, School of Library and Information Studies, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada) has compiled a 453-page seminal study of folk ballad origins, history, interpretation, and how they have both generally and specifically evolved over time. Illustrative ballads are thematically grouped into 'historical', 'riddle', 'murder', 'tragic love', 'other worldly', 'shape-shifting/female monster', as well as 'tricks and disguises'. Of special note are the chapters devoted to 'talking birds, singing bones, and materializing revenants'. Professor de Vos also includes chapters dedicated to 'ballads as national icons' and concludes with 'A Sampling of Other Ballads' ranging from the well-known 'Pretty Peggy-O' to the obscure 'The Walled-Up Wife'. Enhanced with the inclusion of two appendices, an Author/Illustrator/Musician Index, a Ballad Index, and a Title Index, "Stories From Songs" is an impressively presented, informed and informative scholarly study that is an essential edition to academic library collections and appropriate for both students of Folk Music History and non-specialist general readers with an interest in learning about the background and development of the ballad as a source of information, ethics, cultural development, and social entertainment for teenagers and young adults.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception

While author Maggie Stiefvater does not rework any traditional ballads in the telling of her story, she does pay homage to Irish songs and the power of music in the life of the fae. Thomas the Rhymer makes a guest appearance as well as does mention of the ballad telling his tale.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Robert Johnson and the Crossroads

"What's up man?" I asked.

"I don't know," he said. "I've just got a feeling."

"Like what kind of feeling?"

"Crossroads," he said.

What's that mean?

"There was this blues dude -- Robert Johnson--got to the crossroads, met the devil, and they struck up a deal. Sold his soul to the devil for some guitar licks."


Jonesy stood up and tucked the Bible under his arm. "I'm just wondering if I need to strike me up a deal," he said.

From Sunrise over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers, Scholastic Press, 2008, page 28.

I have been running into the folklore of Johnson and his meeting with the devil at the crossroads quite frequently lately, particularly in the research I did for Stories from Songs. Possibly the most interesting contemporary reworking of this legend can be found in the manga Me and the Devil Blues: The Unreal Life of Robert Johnson, Volume 1 by Akira Hiramoto (Del Rey, 2005, English translation by David Ury, 2008). Highly recommended.

Gypsy Laddie

One of my favourite artists, Arthur Rackham, illustrates one element of the story of the Gypsy Laddie/Gypsy Davy. I am presently working this ballad into a tellable tale for the presentation I am doing early in June.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Perspectives on Centemporary Legend Conference

I will be presenting a session on "A Tragic Love Story: The Tale of the Ballad of "The Gypsy Laddie"/"Gypsy Davy" on June 4, 2009 at the Perspectives on Contemporary Legend Conference held this year in Baddeck, Nova Scotia.

This presentation is based on research I did for my newest publication Stories from Songs: Ballads as Literary Fictions and is related, to the presentation that I made at the Perspectives on Contemporary Legend conference held in Copenhagen three years ago.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Love is Hell and Ballad Spotting

This young adult collection of short stories of supernatural romance contains two stories evoking/reworking/retelling traditional Child Ballads. Both of these stories would have been happily added to Stories from Songs: Ballads as Literary Fictions for Young Adults if the anthology would have been published earlier. Look for Love is Hell with stories by Melissa Marr, Scott Westerfeld, Justine Larbalestier, Gabrielle Zevin and Laurie Faria Stolarz. (HarperTEEN, 2008).

In "Love Struck," Melissa Marr explores the folklore of the male selkie as celebrated in the ballad of "The Great Selkie of Sule Skerry."

Thinner Than Water by Justine Larbalestier is, as the author stated on her blog, a dark faery reworking of several Cruel Lover ballads that she has been writing, under a variety of different titles, off and on, for over two decades.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Welcome to the blog of Gail de Vos, storyteller.