Folktales of French Canada


151 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography
ISBN 0-919601-61-8






Marguerite Andersen is a professor of French studies at the University
of Guelph.


Edith Fowke, who has published in the field of folksong and folktale since 1957, confirms with the second revised edition of Folktales of French Canada her contribution to our knowledge of the francophone part of Canadian heritage. Students of folktale, storytellers, and their adult or juvenile audiences will delight in discovering the francophone legends and stories which she has translated in a masterful way.

Fowke has adopted, for this collection, Stith Thompson’s subdivisions of fictional tales into “Animal Tales,” “Jokes and Anecdotes,” “Formula Tales,” as well as his type and motif numbers. Her five-page indexes of tale types and motifs give an excellent overview of the tales included. While all these detailed indicators will be useful to the student of folktales, her desire to see Canadian folktales as quite related to their counterparts in other cultures is even more important.

Folk Tales of French Canada is representative of the golden age of oral literature — i.e., from the beginning of Canada to about 1850, a time when, at least to begin with, printing presses were illegal in Quebec, when English was used as much as possible in public life. Oral literature then flourished in spite and maybe even because of the domineering language. Today, the attuned reader can, in an animal tale such as “The Fable of the Bear and the Fox,” sense the underlying meaning when the narrator concludes that “the little fox is indeed smarter than the bear.” I for one can see the gleam in the eye of the nineteenth century storyteller — in this case, Edouard Lizotte from Ste. Anne, Kamouraska.

Fowke has given us direct translations adhering “as closely as possible to the way in which the original narrator told the stories.” Her rhythm is fast — when necessary, exciting. The texts are lively; even the most addicted TV child will listen to these stories with great delight. Of course, the folk-tales portray French Canadians essentially as villagers and isolated farmers in whose lives church and winter play the most important roles. On their soil, these farmers live well (they also drink rather “well!”). People walk a thin line between the good life and one with too much fun. God’s severity is evident, and so are mementoes of the Devil. The French-Canadian seems a type that needs God’s strict surveillance. Stubborn, cunning (especially the women), sometimes a little dishonest, the French Canadians in these tales are lively people who know laughter, anger, and also sexual feelings. Of course, the pipe-smoking man in his ceinture fléchée is the main character in the tales, which cannot but render a rather traditional image of the habitant. Care should be taken to provide especially children also with images of modern men and women in French Canada.

Folk Tales of French Canada is an enjoyable book to read. Its scholarly notes and its sensitive translations should make it a classic in the field of Canadian studies.


Fowke, Edith, “Folktales of French Canada,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 23, 2024,