Risto Järv (Estonian Literary Museum)

Character Networks in Two Estonian Books about Reynard the Fox

The presentation discusses the sets of characters emerging in two literary collections of folk tales that contain stories about the fox against the background of animal tales in Estonian folklore. The analysis draws on a comparison of the characters in the collection of stories for children titled Old Tales about Reynard the Fox (1911) by Ernst Peterson-Särgava with the animal characters appearing in the first Estonian-language collection of tales about the fox, Reynard the Fox (1850) by Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald, as well as manuscript recordings of animal tales stored at the Estonian Folklore Archives of the Estonian Literary Museum. Both books are based on the cycle of Reynard the Fox in medieval and later literature. Kreutzwald’s collection is the first Estonian-language collection of the animal epic, while Peterson-Särgava’s work holds an important place in the canon of children’s literature. Both works contain elements from Estonian folklore and are widely known due to their position in general literary history, the history of children’s literature, and among texts used in school education.

Visual representation of the interaction of character networks is a good way of obtaining a survey both of a work’s characters as well as the relationships between them. Narratives such as literary stories about animals and animal tales serve as a good basis for analysing character pairs as in animal tales characters usually appear in twos with much dialogue between them. I analyse characters who appear in the same episode, while consolidating the synonyms denoting the same character (especially Kreutzwald uses both names as well as synonyms such as Wolf and the Master of Forest; Badger and Fearbeard, while both works contain Fox as well as Reynard). Main character pairs in both works are visualised using network analysis. It appears that unfriendly networks dominate over friendly ones both in Old Tales about Reynard the Fox as well as Reynard the Fox. Some characters often act as a group, particularly in Kreutzwald’s book.

A comparison of the frequency tables of each work with Pille Kippar’s survey of the most popular characters in Estonian animal tales (1989) demonstrates that the lists of characters in both books are dominated by the same animals as Estonian animal tales demonstrate that the lists of characters contain the same animals, with a few notable exceptions. However, depending on the emphases of the works, the positions of the animals in the order of importance have changed. If the appearances of the fox are relatively comparable both in the books as well as the folklore corpus, characters such as the bear and the wolf who are popular in animal tales as well, turn up rather less frequently in the books about the fox.