Comptes rendusReviews

Peter Narváez. Sonny’s Dream: Essays on Newfoundland Folklore and Popular Culture. (St. John’s, NL: 2012, Department of Folklore, Memorial University of Newfoundland. Pp. xxi + 314, photographs, index. ISBN 978-0-88901-426-8.)[Record]

  • Ian Brodie

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  • Ian Brodie
    Cape Breton University

The late Peter Narváez is essential reading for the history of Canadian folklore. His influence and impact can be seen through the articles that comprise the 2007 special issue of Ethnologies (In Honour of /Hommage à Peter Narváez, 30.2), to which I was a contributor, and to the size and breadth of his research contributions, a list of which is included in this excellent volume. (In full disclosure, my wife was engaged to help prepare this list and compile the index.) As Neil V. Rosenberg indicates in his trenchant introduction, Sonny’s Dream originated as a tribute of sorts by the Folklore Department of Memorial University in an effort to get his various writings about Newfoundland together in one place. But upon hearing of the project Narváez took an active lead in its production, updating the articles and organizing them into themes that would be of the greatest use to the prospective reader. I assume he imagined both the general reader interested in Newfoundland folklore and popular culture and, perhaps more immediately, students in a course on the same. The scope of Sonny’s Dream is thus somewhat modest: absent are his writings on blues outside of the Newfoundland context, which would make for a wonderful follow-up volume, especially if his scripts for radio showcases and documentaries are included. But his writings on Newfoundland are remarkable in their own right: they helped to transition the study of Newfoundland culture from something where folklore only existed in the past or in the periphery to recognizing that it is always, and always has been, emergent. The essays are divided into four sections. The first, “Folk Narrative,” includes his well-known article on “Newfoundland Berry Pickers ‘In the Fairies’” (which was included in his The Good People: New Fairy Lore Essays [1991]) and the retitled “Folklore About Seniors: Newfoundland Media Legends” (previously “The Folklore of ‘Old Foolishness’,” a better title but one that needs immediate contextualizing). The latter turns on the conceit that technology (specifically media, but other examples as well) are detrimental to traditions: he points out, however, that new lore emerges about these technologies and, specifically, the older generation’s inability to use them, much how Robert Klymasz described dialect humour among Ukrainian Canadians as being directed towards the first generation by the second (1970). Narváez also demonstrates how this is just as often inverted when the seemingly backwards “old fool / bayman / Newfoundlander” demonstrates ample facility with technology and shocks his or her “outport sophisticate /townie / mainlander” foil. He also makes ample case for legends as spread through media to be a legitimate avenue for folkloristic investigation, an idea not nearly as mainstream in 1984 as it is today, but one that he was already engaging elsewhere. I must break here to give my one main criticism of the volume: Narváez provided the order for the articles by clustering them thematically, but had he left them chronological it would have allowed the reader to see his thought unfold. Perhaps we like to imagine our thinkers arriving fully formed, but they too develop over time. His last point about what he called “media lore” was articulated in his article “Joseph R. Smallwood, ‘The Barrelman’: The Broadcaster as Folklorist,” which predates “Folklore of Old Foolishness” but appears in the fourth section “Popular Culture.” A footnote does direct one to that article (but not to its placement in the book). As a reader I do not like seeing his work siloed, and I would be much more inspired to see how his work in one area pays off in another. But I might …