If you are disturbed by wife swapping, child eating, and substandard English usage, you will not enjoy Mountain Tales, whose six stories contain all these crimes and more.
Somehow, such bloody fairy tales seem more innocent when they take place in Germany, the kids are named Hansel, and someone genteel like Claire Bloom narrates. However, Mountain Tales’ stories, as grim and funny as Grimm, are told by Appalachian folk artists whose accents are so authentic that it took even me, an Appalachian folk person by birth, a minute to get used to the extra vowels and consonants. Cloaked in the haunting language and harsh life-styles of Southern mountain people, these tales are anything but cute — it’s safe to say that nobody will ever market a line of baby dishes featuring ”Fat Man” and ”Jim Wolf,” though they’re wildly entertaining.
The title figure in ”Fat Man” is akin to the troll in ”The Three Billy Goats Gruff.” He lurks by a road, growling ”I eat me a barrel o’ beans and a bucket of lard” and whatever humans are foolish enough to tease him. Eventually he falls off a branch and splits open. This is fun for the whole family, though not for the family that emerges from the Fat Man’s stomach.
”Little Fish Story” is fun for young girls, who will weep for the ”pretty colored fish” who came ashore to live with one. This fish died ironically: ”Hit had drownded.” ”It drowned” would do the job, but not as poignantly.
Side two is a 15-minute tale (with music), ”Three Gold Nuts.” It partakes of ”Cinderella,” ”Beauty and the Beast,” and the tabloids: Young girl is kidnapped by bear, bear turns into great guy, girl loses guy, girl finds guy. Lines that are especially amusing when spoken with a twang, but which you will not want a child to overhear, include ”I’ll be a man of the night and sleep with you” and ”Let me sleep with yore man tonight.”
I’m sorry that my 3-year-old heard this story, not least because she sings the bear-man song constantly, much to the mystification of her little friends. But, as she’s demonstrating, this is an unforgettable collection. A