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Folklore, Fairytales, and Symbolism: A Research Guide: Reference

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Reference Sources

Many of these classic titles are available online and in recent editions. To find additional encyclopedias and reference sources, search our Catalog or contact the reference staff.

Encyclopedias, Dictionaries, & Other Reference Sources

Cirlot, J. E. A Dictionary of Symbols. Translated from the the Spanish version, Diccionario de simbolos tradicionales.
New York: Philosophical Library, 1962.
(Olin Reference BF 1623 .S9 C57 1962)
Essays on the significance of objects, animals, colors, characters, and names that appear in religion, literature, and folklore throughout history. A classic.

Chevalier, Jean. The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols. Translated from the the French version, Dictionnaire des symboles, by John Buchanan-Brown.
New York: Penguin Books, 1996.

(Olin Reference GR 931 .C4413 1996)
Comparable to Cirlot but with many unique entries.

de Vries. Ad. Elsevier's Dictionary of Symbols and Imagery. Revised and updated by Arthur de Vries. 2nd edition.
Boston/Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2004.

(Olin Reference BL 600 .V74 2004)
Yet another useful and classic guide to the significance of objects, animals, and characters.

Eberhard, Wolfram. A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols: Hidden Symbols in Chinese Life and Thought. Translated from the German version, Lexikon chinesischer Symbole, by G.L. Campbell.
New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986.

(Kroch Asia Reference DS 721 .E16 L6 1986; shelved in dictionary stand by Asia desk.)
An alphabetical guide to all kinds of real items (such as bananas, or vinegar) and natural features (mountains, various animals and flowers, etc.); human functions (gestures, menstruation); and terms, symbols, and numbers ("ren," swastika). The entries are often tied to legends or folklore and include the brief tales. [C. Atkinson]

Ferber, Michael. A Dictionary of Literary Symbols. 3rd edition.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

(Olin Reference PN 56 .S9 F47 2017)
Explicates examples of symbolism in (mostly English) literature to the twentieth century as well as Classical and Biblical works. The 1999 (1st) edition is available online as an eBook from eBrary.

Encyclopedia of Women's Folklore and Folklife. Edited by Liz Locke, Theresa A. Vaughan, Pauline Greenhill. 2 volumes.
Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2009.

(Olin Reference GR 470 .E63 2009 +)
"[O]verview essays survey the present state of scholarship on women's folklore and folklife around the world.More than 260 alphabetically arranged entries written by more than 130 expert contributors detail the world of women from girlhood to widowhood and everything in between. Topics covered include: Abortion; Banshee; Barbie Doll; Best Friend; Cinderella; Courtship; Cowgirl; Cyber culture; Erotic Folklore; Folk Photography; Glass Ceiling; Hair; Hip Hop Culture/Rap; Lesbian and Queer Studies; Marriage; Menstruation; Muslim Women's Folklore; Photocopy Lore; Quilt making; and many more. In addition, there are entries on women's folklore and folk life in 15 regions of the world, such as the Caribbean, Central Asia, the Middle East, and Western Europe." [from Greenwood Press information]

Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Beliefs, Customs, Tales, Music, and Art. Thomas A. Green, editor. 2 volumes.
Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 1997.

(Olin Reference GR 35 .F63x 1997 +)
"A comprehensive general reference work for students, scholars, and general readers on forms (e.g., Ballad, Folktale, Legend) and methods of inquiry and analysis (e.g., Fieldwork, Historic-Geographic Method, Linguistic Approach) relevant to the study of folklore." [Preface]

Gale Virtual Reference Library.
(Online reference titles)
Searching folklore or symbolism in this online collection of subject-specific encyclopedias covering the social sciences and the humanities will find many articles from various disciplines and different points of view on these subjects.

Folktales and Fairy Tales: Traditions and Texts from around the World. 2nd edition of The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Folktales and Fairy Tales. Edited by Anne E. Duggan and Donald Haase, with Helen J. Callow. 4 volumes.
Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2016.

(Olin Reference GR 74 .F65 2016 +)
"The four-volume collection covers national, cultural, regional, and linguistic traditions from around the world as well as motifs, themes, characters, and tale types. Writers and illustrators are included as are filmmakers and composers-and, of course, the tales themselves. The expert entries within volumes 1 through 3 are based on the latest research and developments while the contents of volume 4 comprises tales and texts." [Publisher's note] The only near competitor is the Enzyklopadie des Marchens 1977- , ed. by Kurt Ranke et al [Olin Stacks GR 550 .E56]. [Choice, 08/01/2008]

Opie, Iona and Moira Tatem, eds. A Dictionary of Superstitions.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Cover[s] the wide range of folk beliefs that have survived into our own age. Each superstition is illustrated by quotations tracing its development through the centuries. Entries tell of the traditional significance of animals, colours, days, and the elements; rituals to be observed at certain seasons or when faced with natural and unnatural occurrences; cures, taboos, and the uses to which people have put everyday objects in pursuit of good fortune or knowledge of the future. [Publisher's preface]

Speake, Jennifer. The Dent Dictionary of Symbols in Christian Art.
London: Dent, 1994.

(Fine Arts Reference N 7825 .S74 1994)
Alphabetically arranged entries contain biographies of saints and descriptions of objects and symbols most likely to be encountered in Christian art. Cross-referenced terms highlighted by asterisk. Selected bibliography, list of saints' names, and visual index provided.

Thompson, Stith. Motif-Index of Folk-Literature: A Classification of Narrative Elements in Folk-tales, Ballads, Myths, Fables, Mediaeval Romances, Exempla, Fabliaux, Jest-books, and Local Legends. 6 volumes. Revised and enlarged edition.
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, [1955-58].

(Olin Reference GR 67 .T47 1955; eBook version)
A classic reference work that uses alphanumeric codes to classify themes in folktales, fairy tales, and other stories and cites examples of each type in print. I find the printed version easier to understand and navigate. Usually referred to as "Stith Thompson." See also Types of the Folktale in the Arab World, under the Regional Folklore tab.

Zipes, Jack, ed. The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales. 2nd edition.
New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

(Online. Print: Olin Reference PN 3437 .O94 2015)
Entries on individual tales and characters, the illustrators and writers who retold the original versions. This reference book also examines related topics such as Disney, film, opera, science fiction, music, even advertising. Special survey articles explore the development of the fairy-tale tradition in individual countries, focusing particularly on the European and North American traditions.

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