Chapter

“ Once the Child is Lost He Dies ”: Monster Stories vis-a-vis the Problem of Errant Children

Michelle Scalise Sugiyama and Lawrence S. Sugiyama

in Creating Consilience

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199794393
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199919338 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199794393.003.0020

Series: New Directions in Cognitive Science

“ Once the Child is Lost He Dies ”: Monster Stories vis-a-vis the Problem of Errant Children

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Over the past fifteen years, it has been shown that evolutionary theory has much to contribute to the study of literature. This chapter addresses the question of what the study of literature—specifically, the oral traditions of foraging peoples—can contribute to the study of the human past. Oral tales are sharply constrained by the limits of memory—that is, by the kinds of information the mind is designed to attend to, store, and recall. The mind, in turn, is designed to process information that, in ancestral environments, tended to promote survival/reproduction. Thus, folklore patterns—especially subjects that occur repeatedly within and across oral traditions—are clues to the kinds of information the mind is designed to process and the information demands of ancestral hominin life. On this view, the theme of cannibalism raises an unsettling question: Does this theme reflect a genuine fear rooted in an actual problem or is it symbolic? If the latter, of what is it symbolic? These questions are explored in light of the distribution of the cannibalism theme across foraging cultures; evidence of cannibalism in the archaeological and ethnographic records; evidence that events depicted in oral traditions correspond to documented historical accounts; and the logic of narrative symbolism.

Keywords: cultural transmission; disobedient children; hunter-gatherer childhood; monsters; narrative theory; oral tradition; storytelling; warfare

Chapter.  11753 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy

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