Sunday, July 24, 2005

Family Folklore

Tonight with our children we watched The Secret of Roan Inish, which is a hauntingly beautiful tale. The telling of family stories--their personal folklore--plays a central role in the film; the main character, Fiona, comes to know who she is through her family's stories.

Coincidentally, I read Holes this last week, a story with an entirely different tone and setting, and yet one that rests just as completely on family folklore. Again, the main character knows his family's stories, reaching back several generations, and these tales not only serve to inform his growing sense of identity; they ultimately save his life.

It makes me wonder: how much of my identity do I derive from a sense of family history/place? I simply don't know many family stories, but I would really like to. I doubt there are journals stashed away, and I imagine that most of the stories of my recent ancestors have passed away along with them.

Is a sense of one's history as mystical and larger-than-life extremely uncommon? Would it give someone a sense of destiny, of the past propelling the future? There's something weighty about decisions a great-grandmother made, as distant as they are, compared to the lifepath of one's parents, say. So how far back does one have to go before family stories take on the character and stature of mythology?

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