Notes Concerning the Author
Joel Chandler Harris (1848 – 1908) was a journalist, fiction writer, and folklorist best known for his collection of Uncle Remus stories. Harris was born in Eatonton, Georgia into a father-less family of little means. His schooling was incomplete, but he learned writing skills working at a newspaper beginning at the age of 13 years. He spent the majority of his adult life in Atlanta working as an associate editor at the Atlanta Constitution.
Where did young Harris get his wonderful African-American tales? This account from Wikipedia explains:
Harris quit school to work. In March 1862, Joseph Addison Turner, owner of Turnwold Plantation nine miles east of Eatonton, hired the 13-year-old to work as a printer’s devil for his newspaper The Countryman. Harris worked for clothing, room, and board. Harris learned to set type for the paper, and Turner allowed him to publish his own poems, book reviews, and humorous paragraphs.
Turner’s instruction and technical expertise exerted a profound influence on Harris. During his four-year tenure at Turnwold Plantation he read extensively in its library. In The Countryman Turner insisted that Harris not shy away from including humor in his journalism.
While at Turnwold Plantation Harris spent hundreds of hours in the slave quarters during time off. He was less self-conscious there and felt his humble background as an illegitimate, red-headed son of an Irish immigrant mother helped foster an intimate connection with the slaves. He absorbed the stories, language, and inflections of people like Uncle George Terrell, Old Harbert, and Aunt Crissy. The African-American animal tales they shared later became the foundation and inspiration for Harris’s Uncle Remus tales. George Terrell and Old Harbert in particular became models for Uncle Remus, as well as role models for Harris.
This reviewer, born in 1938, remembers fondly his mother reading from the Uncle Remus book series. There were originally 7 books and we had one or two of them, but today you need to acquire the complete set of tales in one large book. Mom reading from Uncle Remus sure beat listening to war stories during my pre-school years. The tales are educational and great humor. The following review posted on the internet by a far younger, present-day reader is hard to improve upon.
“These animal stories were banned in the late sixties from many schools and libraries for being racist (the storyteller in the book, Uncle Remus, is a slave and uses the “n” word). But it seems that it’s now ok to like these stories again, and a good thing that is, because they are not only hilariously funny, they are also deeply revealing of the foibles of us humans. But perhaps most importantly, they are a treasure trove of African American folklore.
“The stories combine folktale motifs brought from Africa by slaves with those of the native peoples of the south, particularly the Cherokee and Choctaw. Since both cultures had stories with animal characters, and specifically trickster rabbit characters, ethnologists have not been able to completely determine which elements are the African and which are the Native American. No matter, since the two storytelling traditions blend together seamlessly.
“This edition [the one the Society recommends] is the most encyclopedic of all the Uncle Remus collections, and contains many different types of tales. There are origin tales, like how Mr. Dog originally came to live with Mr. Man and why Mr. Cricket has elbows on his legs. There are satirical tales, like the one in which Brer Rabbit convinces Brer Fox that it’s the fashion in town for up-to-date foxes to have their heads cut off, which is information that Brer Fox, out of vanity, acts on in the way Brer Rabbit hopes. There are Trickster tales –mostly involving Brer Rabbit and Brer Tortoise (who is the only character who can out-trickster Rabbit). And there are tales of witches, magic, and superstition specific to Africa.
“It’s written in Southern African-American dialect of the 19th century, which can be tough going for some, but there is a glossary in the back that helps. Also, the stories demand to be read out loud, being originally of an oral tradition, and I think you will find that reading them aloud while just following the given spelling will make the dialect more understandable than just reading it silently.
“These stories are so wonderful that my teenaged sons, who think it’s “babyish” to be read to, will still allow me to read Brer Rabbit tales to them. If you are looking for great Literature that’s funny and easy to read, buy this book and have a really good time!”
In 1955 Walt Disney produced an animated full-length movie based on the Uncle Remus tales, a classic, advanced technology color film called “Song of the South.” This is also a recommendation of the Society. Check it out in the web-site section devoted to movies.
Availability of this Book
The Society recommends the Houghton Miffin publication of 848 pages, a nice hardbound book of 848 pages, published in 2002. There are smaller books as well are large books edited to make the language more politically correct. Avoid those.
You should also check out the digital books and audible books and songs. To see this, go to Gutenberg at: