The stores of Mildred Haun, collected here for the first time, are unique in the annals of American literature. Set in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee and covering a span of family history from the Civil War to 1940, these tales achieve the forceful, intractable simplicity of the traditional ballads. But one also finds in these twenty-three stories an overview of the forces of nature, the paradoxes inherent in the human condition, and a full acceptance of the real world and the supernatural.
Born to the milieu about which she wrote, Mildred Haun recorded a world which combined stark natural phenomena and passionate supernatural forces. And because the supernatural is woven into the dramatic fabric of the stories, it contributes, paradoxically, to the final credibility of events.
Few writers in the twentieth century have set down so rich and complex a rendering of folk tradition and such a comprehensive treatment of superstition in the southern Appalachians. In these tales we meet a talking apple tree, a boy with the “hant bleach” of doom upon his brow, a bleeding ghost, a child’s winding sheet wet with tears, and God’s revelation in a blue bird.
No other dialect collection from the South has been as close to the oral tradition or has achieved the same distinctive flavor and natural tonal qualities. The speech strikes the ear directly from the printed page. The language is simple and strong. A sparse, direct economy prevails. The total impact is explosive.
Although Miss Haun dramatized themes of cruelty, revenge, and the loss of personal dignity in a harsh world, the comic tales in this volume call to mind the Native American humor of the Old Southwest and demonstrate that a female humorist, without coyness or bawdry, can hold her own alongside Davy Crockett, Sut Lovingood, and the nameless spinners of tall tales.