Tag Archives: Folk Hero

Paul Bunyan: A folk tale hero


“I think what’s not talked about a lot is Paul Bunyan.” The informant grew a smile on their face. “Paul Bunyan is an American folk tale. It’s just a guy that’s really big. So it’s this really big guy and he lives in the sort of upper-Midwest of the United States– near Canada, Minnesota. That area. And he has this big blue ox named Babe that he saved from the snow of one cold winter. That’s his pet.”

They looked up in thought for a moment. “There’s not really a single tale, he just is a folk figure. He was born big and then grew up to be even bigger. Once he was an adult he became a lumberjack, so he wore plaid and looked like, you know, the basic lumberjack with an axe made for his size. And by virtue of being big, he was very good at being a lumberjack. “

People don’t think of America having folk tales like that, but we do! And Paul Bunyan is the biggest one.”


“I don’t think of Paul Bunyan a lot, and the area he exists in isn’t one I’m particularly used to. I just have an appreciation knowing that he’s a specifically American thing.”

“I don’t remember specifically, but it’s a piece of Americana that you just absorb over time simply by being raised in the United States. Kind of like Uncle Sam and John Henry. It was just cultural osmosis.”

“He’s very much just representative of the lumberjacking culture. It’s an interesting folk tale because it’s something that was uniquely American. Folk tales are representative of the culture and Paul Bunyan uniquely represents individualism, the rugged American spirit, being self-made, and all ‘I pulled myself up by my boot straps.'”


I believe Paul Bunyan is very much representative of an average man with potential that’s larger than life. I think that a very important aspect of his character is the fact that, despite being so large and strong, his choice of work is very humble and is a huge part of his identity, marking its importance. It’s this aspect of him that makes him strangely relatable and human. Personally, I’m aware of Paul Bunyan’s tale being a result of fakelore– as it was created by lumberjacking companies, but the fact that my informant wasn’t aware of this, makes me think about the effectiveness of the tale. Maybe, since Paul Bunyan is representative of the American spirit, there’s something to say about the commercial value behind him.

Lady Triệu

Background: My informant is a Vietnamese college student. Their parents immigrated to the United States from Vietnam when their parents were around 20, for religious and other reasons. My informant’s identity and worldview is largely shaped by their Vietnamese culture and immigrant upbringing. One of my informant’s main life goals is to one day move back to Vietnam and be in their homeland. My informant is interested in studying decolonization and has done so in college. Thus, this story about Vietnamese decolonization is especially important to them, although they did express that they are not certain about how this history of Vietnam being colonized affects their identity.

Context: Context: This conversation was recorded on a zoom meeting that we had on a Monday evening. My informant is a friend of mine, and the conversation occurred in both of our rooms. The purpose of the call was specifically so that I could gather folklore from my informant, and they were aware about that as well. After our call, some other people joined the zoom call and the atmosphere was generally friendly.

Main Piece:

For most of our existence as a country(Vietnam), we’ve been colonized, and mostly by China. So we have a lot of like … we have stories about warrior people who fight and like try to rebel against China, meaning that and a lot of these stories are usually women. Because apparently Vietnam used to be a matriarchy or something so a lot of our stories usually involve women fighting against China. 

Here’s this woman. Her name is Lady Triệu. Orphan woman. But she lives with her brother and his family. And her sister in law was kind of horrible to her. And so she killed her sister in law and runs away to the mountains and like starts mountain training. And her brother tries to convince her to come down and that sort of thing but she doesn’t because because she wants to train and so she enlists in the army. 

So sometime between like the mountains and her listing she gets married has baby or at least one baby.

And like in all the depictions of her. It’s like she’s a fierce woman with long boobs. And when she goes into battle she throws her boobs over her shoulders.

Me: So like, just for, like, so I can categorize this. Like do people actually think this happened?

Think of it more like like the story of Hercules where it may happen, but a lot of the stuff is exaggerated, all the time.

Thoughts: Thoughts: This was interesting to me because I was previously unaware of Vietnam being colonized by China. The first time I heard of this story was in friendly conversation and we made light of the fact that the woman is primarily characterized as having long boobs. This was obviously sexualized in our discussion and I wonder if that feature had the same context when it was told throughout history. Lady Triệu also plays into the tendency of warrior leaders in uprising who tend to become historical legends or folk heroes.

The Legend of Ned Kelly

“Ned Kelly came from a very poor family. There are many stories about him and his exploits. The main story is that the police always gave him a hard time. One day, a police officer called Fitzpatrick turned up and was having a go at Ned Kelly’s sister. He tried to defend his sister. It ended in a fight the policeman, which meant that Kelly and his brother had to run away and become outlaws. This forced them to turn to a life of crime to sustain themselves. They started always robbing from the rich people. They would then go back to their community and share the money they stole. Eventually, two others joined him, and they became the Kelly gang. The police hired special trackers to find hunt them down. The gang soon got cornered in this town called Glenrowan. They knew they would get cornered, so they build armor for Ned to wear to protect him from the police’s gunfire. All the gang members were shot and killed except for Ned, who was captured. He was tried and hung for robbery and murder since he had killed some cops. He died very young. Allegedly, his last words were “such is life”.”

The legend of Ned Kelly is one that is often retold all over Australia. During the late 19th century, Ned was a real criminal and outlaw who rebelled against the British forces that had been ruling over Australia by stealing from them and distributing their money to the lower classes. There are many stories that Australians enjoy telling about him, but probably the most famous concerns the suit of armor that he wore to protect himself. The original suit still exists today and is held in a museum in Australia.

The informant, Angus Guthrie, is a 20-year-old student who was born and raised in Australia. Because he and his family have been in the country for a very long time, he believes that he is quite familiar with Australian folklore and traditions. Angus read story of the Kelly gang as a child in an Australian folklore book that had been written for children. He feels that people enjoy the legend because it is a truly fun story that is an integral part of Australia’s cultural history. Many, including Angus, see Ned as a national hero because he is a symbol of the fight against the tyrannical British government.

The story of Ned Kelly perfectly exemplifies the reason why some outlaws can become local legends and heroes. Although Ned Kelly and his gang did kill innocent people and steal property that did not belong to them, their battle against the British forces was interpreted as a futile but courageous stand against their oppressive government. His stoic death only cemented his position as a cultural icon. Because the Australian people had been suffering so much at the time, it is likely that they were seeking a source of strength and hope to make their days easier. Clearly, they found their source in Ned.

For more research on Robin Hood characters (including Ned Kelly), see Seal, Graham. “The Robin Hood principle: Folklore, history, and the social bandit.” Journal of Folklore Research 46.1 (2009): 67-89.