Folklore

One way of constructing place is through story. There are many types of stories we can tell:

These stories differ not only in the kinds of elements they involve (e.g., supernatural or not) or their claims to truth, but also the purposes to which they are typically put.


How do these stories relate to place and space? They serve to delimit or describe the kinds of places available in the world. Fairy tales, for instance, describe the difference between the mundane and the fantastic. These may (as in the
Harry Potter books) suggest that the reader's true home (and therefore nature) is in the fantastic. The mundane is the world in which the reader is different, odd, or not accepted.


Or, take the story of Hansel and Gretel. The children are abandoned by their parents in a forest (due to the parents' poverty), and are ensnared by an evil witch after they started eating her gingerbread house. The forest becomes the dark and foreboding "other", where the children are forced to work, and where they are eventually going to be eaten by the witch. Gretel, however, cleverly tricks the witch into the stove, and frees Hansel. They loot the place, and return home, crossing an intervening river by riding the back of a duck. Their father is happy to see them, and with all the loot they live happily ever after.


So what do we have in this story? Pairs of places - outside the forest and inside, outside the gingerbread house and inside, outside the stove and inside. In each case, the inside is to be feared; in each case, the children have to use their wits to get from inside to outside (or, in the case of the stove, avoid the inside). Note also that by getting back outside, they have in effect earned their father's love. This is a moral tale, told using places, meant to be a lesson for all good children.


By the way, note also that it is the mother's idea to abandon the children at the beginning. She suggests it twice. The first time, the children get out on their own, and the second, they end up at the witch's house. By the end, she is dead, as is the witch. Not a very uplifting feminist tale.