Introduction to Mutsmag by R. Rex Stephenson

Background by Tina L. Hanlon
2000-2010

Mutsmag - the Story Links Origins of the Story The Author The Illustrations Other Online Storybooks

 

Links to Other Pages on "Mutsmag"

Go directly to the online storybook Mutsmag.

For a description of the plot and other versions of "Mutsmag," as well as related tales from other cultures, see Mutsmag in folktale index.

Study Guide, including picture of Molly Whuppie, and Activities for Teaching Appalachian Folktales

Article Strong Women in Appalachian Folktale Dramatizations by R. Rex Stephenson

Responses to Rex Stephenson's "Mutsmag" by College Students Laurie Borslien, Corey Brooks, and Brandon Showell

"Mutsmag" vs. "Hansel and Gretel" by college student Jessica Foley

Additional drawings by school children

Radford University production of Grandmother Tales in Dec. 2003: short review in Radford's The Tartan

Script of "Mutsmag" reprinted in Crosscurrents of Children's Literature: An Anthology of Texts and Criticism, Oxford Univ. Press, 2006, in Part 3 on Oral and Written Literary Traditions.

 The Origins of the Story

Stephenson's "Mutsmag" is based primarily on versions of "Munsmeg" and "Mutsmag" collected by Richard Chase. These tales illustrate the relationship between stories taken directly from the oral traditions, and adaptations by contemporary writers, in this case a playwright. The Appalachian oral tradition is one of the richest in America, as this is one of many wonder tales brought to the southern mountains by Scots-Irish immigrants and other European settlers from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries. Retold by generations of mountain storytellers, the tales blend Old World folktale motifs with elements of regional American culture and dialect.

Richard Chase (1904-88), who grew up in northern Alabama, had a long career as a popular storyteller and folklorist in southern Appalachia. Although his methods of collecting, combining and retelling folktales from rural storytellers in North Carolina, Kentucky, and Virginia have been controversial with folklore scholars, he acknowledged that he had “taken a free hand in the re-telling,” using his own storytelling experience when preparing tales to publish. His best-known books, The Jack Tales (1943), Grandfather Tales (1948) and American Folk Tales and Songs (1956), are still among the most popular folktale collections in America.

Chase and James Taylor Adams, whose family had a long history in Wise County, Virginia, both worked for the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s and 1940s. For several decades Adams kept typewritten copies of folklore collected by himself, Chase and others. After Adams' death, his widow Dicey gave his papers to Clinch Valley College. When Rex Stephenson and Jack Tale Player Ronnie Davis were looking for stories, Mrs. Adams said they could use whatever they found in the Adams papers. What they found was a gold mine of folklore in twelve neglected cardboard boxes in the college archives. The James Taylor Adams Collection, with the only copies of thousands of items that the WPA did not publish, is now archived at University of Virginia’s College at Wise (formerly Clinch Valley College) and the Blue Ridge Institute at Ferrum College. The version of “Munsmeg” reprinted in AppLit and used as a source by Rex Stephenson is attributed to Richard Chase, Proffitt, Virginia (where he lived for a time). No date or other informant is indicated, but “Munsmeg” is very similar to “Mutsmag” in Grandfather Tales. There Chase lists a number of oral sources: Adams, other Wise County residents, and Cratis D. Williams, a prominent linguist and balladeer/storyteller in Boone, North Carolina. Williams traced his version of "Mutts Mag" (recorded at Boone in 1981, published in 2003) to his great-grandmother, a poor woman born in 1827 in Wayne County, VA. Charlotte Ross noted (in Encyclopedia of Appalachia
) that Williams' mother Mona Williams traced the tale to 1805 in her family.

As Chase noted, “Munsmeg” is related to tale type 1119, “Molly Whuppie,” a folktale of English and Celtic origins about a poor but brave girl who defeats a cannibalistic giant and his wife. Molly is similar to Jack the giant killer in many British and American folktales, and Nippy, a boy in other American tales, has adventures with even closer parallels to Molly’s and Mutsmag’s. Click here for comments on the heroine's name, Munsmeg or Mutsmag; other storytellers have called the heroine Mutzmag, Muts Mag, and Muncimeg. For more on variants of this tale, see AppLit's folktale index page Mutsmag. For more on Stephenson's adaptation, see below.

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The Author

See also Bibliography of Dramas and Tales by R. Rex Stephenson.

R. Rex Stephenson, Professor of Drama at Ferrum College, has written many plays based on folklore, history, and classic works of children’s literature. He is founder, writer and director of the Jack Tale Players. In 1975, after his oldest daughter brought home a copy of Richard Chase’s collection, The Jack Tales, Stephenson decided to adapt Appalachian folktales using the story theatre method of dramatization, a style that lies between storytelling and an acted-out play. The narrator uses some sound effects and the actors use very few costumes or props as they portray characters and objects. Stephenson began by consulting with Chase and obtaining unpublished versions of folktales from WPA files and oral storytellers. Over the years the Jack Tale Players, a group of student and professional actors, have performed regularly for audiences of all ages in southern Virginia, as well as traveling to many other states and England.

"Ashpet," "Mutsmag," "The Three Old Women’s Bet" and "Catskins" are Appalachian tales adapted by Stephenson in 1998-2007, focusing on female protagonists instead of the folk hero Jack. As storytellers often do, Stephenson changed some details, and he blended motifs from other folktales even more in “Mutsmag” than he had in earlier adaptations. Using the unpublished “Munsmeg” from the James Taylor Adams Collection as his primary source, he expanded the traits that make Mutsmag, like other Appalachian heroes and contemporary heroines, less dependent on magic help than her European counterparts, and more reliant on her own wits and resourcefulness, as well as gifts inherited from her dying mother. Stephenson added a humorous gang of one-eyed robbers in a scene that shows Mutsmag's growing ability to fend for herself and stand up to her mean sisters. Their death threat is reminiscent of a scene in Chase's "Jack and the Doctor's Girl" when some robbers tell Jack, "We got to kill ye. That's our business here." When Mutsmag tricks the dumb robbers into tying her sisters to a tree, Stephenson's adaptation is similar to parts of Scottish and Irish tales that are related to "Mutsmag": In "Maol a Chliobain" (Scottish) and "Hairy Rouchy" (Irish), the selfish older sisters tie the heroine to a tree when they try to prevent her from following them. Also, in a Greek tale, "How the Dragon was Tricked," a jealous older brother ties the trickster hero to a tree. Stephenson’s ending, in which Mutsmag chooses her own reward, is a wonderful compromise between variants of this tale with the traditional ending of marriage to a prince and those with monetary rewards but no marriage. The drawing at left shows the king offering Mutsmag a box of gold or the love-struck prince.

Stephenson, who has three daughters, said he likes dramatizing folktales about girls because “a father of girls is always interested in strong female characters. You hope all your kids would turn out like Mutsmag, would stand up to people and make right decisions based on what they want out of life rather than what is expected of them” (October 1, 2001).

Photos of performances of "Mutsmag" in 2000 can be seen at the top of the Stephenson Bibliography page, in the article Strong Women in Appalachian Folktale Dramatizations by R. Rex Stephenson, and on the Jack Tale Players performance photos pages (which also have photos of Richard Chase at Ferrum College). Video clips and photos from 2008 performances are at Flickr.com (account of AuntTina7). School children throughout Franklin County, VA saw performances in May 2000 and many of them drew pictures in their classes afterwards.

In December 2001, Stephenson wrote the version of "Mutsmag" used in the online storybook, following the plot in his script. In January 2002, he and Tina Hanlon divided up the story page by page, matching the drawings by school children with each part of the plot. See below for more on the illustrations and online version.

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The Illustrations - see also Illustrations for "Mutsmag"

In May 2000, the Jack Tale Players performed Stephenson's new adaptation of "Mutsmag" in all the schools in Franklin County, VA. Children in K-3 classes drew pictures after seeing the performance. Their drawings were displayed in the lobby of the Blue Ridge Dinner Theatre in July, during the production of Stephenson's new family play, The New Snow White. Some of these drawings are shown on this page and at the top of Ferrum Performers Keep Jack Tales Alive and on the page Illustrations for "Mutsmag." (And there is a drawing of Ashpet on the Ashpet bibliography page.)

In December 2001, Stephenson wrote the version of "Mutsmag" used in the online storybook, following the plot in his script. In January 2002, he and Tina Hanlon divided up the story page by page, matching selected drawings by school children with each part of the plot. Then R. Wymann Spencer, a student at Ferrum College working in the DuPont Technology Lab, used the children's drawings and Stephenson's text to develop the partially animated online version of the story for AppLit. The drawing above left (by Amber at Sontag Elementary School, grade 1) provided the images of Mutsmag, her two sisters and her mother used through much of the online story. Other examples of the school children's original drawings appear on this page and on Illustrations for "Mutsmag." Spencer cropped the drawings and added a few visual details to make the whole story flow together, with some interesting movements in many scenes (such as the mother floating up to heaven when she dies early in the story).

Some observations on all the drawings that were sent in from the schools:

For more examples of drawings by Franklin County children after seeing a Jack Tale Players performance, see Illustrations for "Catskins" by Russell Kent's Kindergarten Class.

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For another Appalachian folktale with drawings by school children (not fully illustrated), see AppLit's Ferradiddledumday by Becky Mushko.

Other Fully Illustrated Tales Available Online

Please note that this list has not been updated extensively since 2002. Increasing numbers of illustrated stories are available online, both reproductions of older works of children's literature and recent stories offered by individual authors and web sites on literature and children.

Activated Folktales for Reading Out Loud. In web site of Activated Storytellers! National Touring Theatre. Burbank, CA. Includes some audio tales, slide shows based on dramatic adaptations, and other activities. "Davy Crockett" is one of the tales.

The Amazing Spectacular Ordinary Bottle, written and Illustrated by William Irvine. A boy imagines what might be in a bottle he finds. At Candlelight Stories.

Between the Lions. Many stories with still pictures from the PBS children's television show. Some stories are based on famous literature from fables to Shakespeare. Each story has related games and guides for teachers and parents. PBSKids.org. Produced by WGBH Boston and Sirius Thinking, Ltd.

The Brahmin's Tale from the Panchatantra, translated and illustrated by Vaibhav Kodikal, an animator from Mumbai, India, published online at Candlelight Stories.

Browning, Robert. The Pied Piper of Hamelin. London: Frederick Warne, 1888. With classic illustrations by Kate Greenaway. Reproduced by Indiana University Libraries, 1998.

Caldecott, Randolph. A Froggie Would A-Wooing Go. Caldecott's highly acclaimed picture book is reproduced with background music and an audio reading of the text, as well as animated movement through Caldecott's illustrations, in Mother Goose: A Scholarly Exploration, Rutgers University Eclipse project. Caldecott's book is also reproduced in University of Florida Digital Collections. George A. Smathers Libraries.

Children's Storybooks Online: Illustrated Children's Stories for Kids of all Ages. Stories listed for three age groups by Carol Moore and other authors.

Cinderella by David Delamare, set in Venice, with lavish paintings, reprinted online. Book published 1993. (See Ashpet for other Cinderella tales.)

Clifford the Big Red Dog Interactive Storybooks. Scholastic web site. Beginning readers make choices about what will appear in the story.

Denslow's Jack and the Bean-Stalk. Adapted and illustrated by W. W. Denslow. New York: G. W. Dillingham,1903. In University of Florida Digital Collections. George A. Smathers Libraries. One of Denslow's picture books published after the illustrated Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, 1900. More books by Denslow and many others are reproduced in this web site.

Duvall, Deborah LRabbit and the Well, Rabbit Goes to Kansas and Rabbit and the Fingerbone Necklace. Illus. Murv Jacob. 2002-2007. Cyber Storybooks with audio by Duvall and beautiful color paintings by Jacob (by the author and illustrator of the Grandmother Stories Series and Cherokee World Series of picture books). In Rabbit and the Well, a drought is drying up the Long Man, or river by Ji-Stu's home. The other animals try to make pots to save water and hold councils led by Terrapin to find better solutions. Ji-Stu (Rabbit) knows of water underground. Terrapin calls on the forces of nature and digging animals to help dig a well, but Ji-Stu angers everyone by not helping to dig, just taking credit for the idea. He finds it easy to steal water from the well but the other animals trick him with a tar wolf when they catch him. It begins to rain after Otter uses his oil to help Ji-Stu get free of the tar wolf and he promises not to steal again. In Rabbit and the Fingerbone Necklace, Ji-Stu "tries to retrieve a magic human finger bone necklace from Little Raven's relatives." These stories also published by Univ. of New Mexico Press in 2007, 2008, and 2009. See Appalachian Picture Books: Cherokee Tales.

Edward Lear Home Page by Marco Graziosi contains poems, illustrations, and essay on Lear, author of nonsense poetry, including narrative poems such as "The Owl and the Pussy-cat."

Farmhouse Fables. Children's Stories and Fables by Jan Luthman, East Sussex, England. Animal tales offered free for bedtime reading with or without the illustrations on the web site (mostly photographs of plants, animals, and landscapes), with "concise versions" for younger children, and some stories for adults.

Lear, Edward. Edward Lear Home Page by Marco Graziosi reprints Lear's 19th-century nonsense poems with his illustrations. These include limericks and narrative poems such as "The Owl and the Pussy-cat."

Meghan's Fairy Tale Pages. Personal web site with copies of fairy tales and selected illustrations from published books. Contains samples of art from recent picture books by artists such as Ruth Sanderson and Paul O. Zelinsky.

Molly Whuppie: An English Fairy Tale. Adapted and illustrated by Toni Murphy. In Story Hour. Kidspace@The Internet Public Library. Read the text or listen to an audio version narrated by Meaghan Murphy. Molly Whuppie is the British ancestor of Mutsmag. See Evaluating Electronic Children's Literature for comments from Tufts Univ. on the photographed images of clay figurines used as illustrations, and links to other online picture storybooks.

Mountain Marbles: An Appalachian Tale, by Tracy Roberts, is an original tale in this web site, with two wonderful illustrations by Stella Reinhard.

The Real Mother Goose by Blanche Fisher Wright, 1916, with original illustrations. Reprinted at Johanna Cormier home page.

Room 108 Kids Stories. The Kids Educational Activity Center. Stories by elementary teacher John Rickey, with illustrations, animation, sound. Includes a retelling of "Cinderella."

Sesame Street Story Corner. Sesame Workshop.org.

Story Hour. Kidspace@The Internet Public Library. Some of the stories are based on Mother Goose or traditional tales. Links to other online stories are given in this site.

Struwwelpeter. A classic German book of cautionary poems about the horrible fates of disobedient children with color illustrations, by Heinrich Hoffmann. In Nineteenth-Century German Stories.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. Eight other tales by Potter are also reprinted with her original illustrations, some with audio, at Kids' Corner, WiredforBooks.org.

The Three Little Kittens. New York: McLoughlin Bros., 1890. Electronic copy in University of Florida Digital Collections. George A. Smathers Libraries. This book with color illustrations is one of hundreds available in this collection. Fairy tales illustrated by Walter Crane, Randolph Caldecott, W. W. Denslow, and others are reproduced in this site.

The Wizard of Oz as Retold and Illustrated by Kindergarten and First Grade Children at Carminati Elementary School, Tempe, Arizona. With guidelines for teachers and links to other activities on Oz. (Link not functioning 8/26/06)

Many audio stories are also available on the Internet, some with illustrations or images of the storyteller. Some are listed at AppLit's Links to Online Texts and at Appalachian Folktales in General Collections, Journals, and Web Sites.

Marilee's Picturebook Links by Marilee Schuhrke is a private site giving links to online stories and sites on authors and illustrators.

Webtime Stories gives annotated links to online stories of different kinds. Pacific Bell Knowledge Network Explorer.


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