I have always loved American folklore. Thank goodness for Disney’s animated renderings of Johnny Appleseed, Pecos Bill, the Uncle Remus stories and others. These tales, and my father’s guidance, led me further into my love of books and words. But there’s something else these wonderful “tall tales” did for me; they helped me to better understand, and to love, this country and its people.
These thoughts surfaced again in my mind last week after I came across a copy of “Pecos Bill: The Greatest Cowboy of All Time,” by James Cloyd Bowman (The New York Review Children’s Collection). Originally published in 1937, this book is a compilation of tales about the mythical, larger-than-life cowboy arranged to form an episodic novel. The bold, eye-catching illustrations by Laura Bannon, many in bright, primary colors, add much to the overall feel of the stories.
As Bowman writes in his introduction:
These adventures of Pecos Bill constitute a part of the Saga of the Cowboy. They are collected from the annals of the campfire and the roundup. They preserve the glory of the days when men were men, and when imagination and wonder rode hand in hand to conquest and to undying fame.
These tales are vital examples of the broad humor of America that has been long in the making. The bigness of the virgin frontier expanded the imagination of the first settlers, and the hardness of the life developed their self-reliance.
It makes me think that in these times when so few of America’s youth understand what being an American is about, maybe the best thing to do is re-introduce our “tall tales” to a new generation.
It should couldn’t hurt!