settlers came to the Appalachian Mountains in the 18th century, mostly
from the British Isles and Germany, a heritage of storytelling came
with them. With printed materials scarce and schools few in the mountains
until the early 20th century, oral traditions flourished-richly metaphorical
speech, riddles, tall tales, ghost stories, and wonder stories.
Most traditional stories in Appalachia feature
an unlikely hero or heroine who overcomes fantastic obstacles on
the way to success by using wit rather than strength or force. A
cycle of stories called the Jack Tales, for example, tell the adventures
of Jack, a humble boy who can outwit the most challenging opponents.
The telling of the story likewise reveals the storyteller's wit
to the audience. Cleverness with words is highly prized in Appalachian
culture, and so are good storytellers.
Storytelling has been so important in Appalachia
that the region is home to the National Storytelling Festival each
October and to a multi-million-dollar, state-of-the-art International
Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, Tennessee. While much of the
storytelling that receives attention in the region today is performed
by professional or revivalist storytellers, when family or friends
in the region gather, funny and poignant stories still fill the
If all the men were put into one man, what a great man that would
And if all the trees were put into one tree, what a great tree that
And if all the poleaxes were put into one axe, what a great axe
that would be.
And if all the seas were put into one sea, what a great sea that
And if that great man cut down that great tree with that great axe,
and it landed in that great sea, what a great splash that would