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Kotlyar E.S. The Plot and Its Modifications in the Temporal and Generic “Space”. Studia Litterarum, 2017, vol. 2, no 4, pp. 362–377.(In Russ.) DOI:10.22455/2500-4247-2017-2-4-362-377

Author: Еlena S. Kotlyar
Information about the author:

Elena S. Kotlyar, DSc in Philology, Director of Research, A.M. Gorky Institute of World Literature, Russian Academy of Sciences, Povarskaya 25 a, 121069, Moscow, Russia.

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Received: July 19, 2017
Published: December 25, 2017
Issue: 2017 Vol. 2, №4
Department: Folklore Studies
Pages: 362-377

UDK: 398
BBK: 83
Keywords: epos, plot transformation, Lianja, Nsong’a, Mandinka epos, the motif of serpent killing, mythological trickster.


With the loss of mythological beliefs, traditional plots become decompensated by their new interpretations. For example, when a tribe borrows a plot from a neighboring tribe but does not share the beliefs of the authentic “bearers” of this folklore, we may observe the plot’s transformation that often results in its deformation and eventual transfer to a different generic category. For example, a leitmotif of a hero, tribe leader searching for a great river and new lands for his tribe as presented in the epic legends by Lianja (and Nsong’a) transforms into a residue motif in the secondary variants that focus only on the moment of the “movement” itself. Motifs concerned with the magic become au- tonomous of the main character and prompt the inclusion of magicians. We encounter similar examples of plot transformation in Mandinka epos devoted to the development of medieval Sudan state in the 13 th century Mali. Comparison of the more archaic texts about the “patron of the water” with the more recent heroic narratives about the “guard of the water,” demanding the sacrifice of female victims in exchange of the water, reveals a variety of plots — from archaic myths to numerous transitional texts and epic legends. In the more recent texts, the guard of the water replaces the patron of the water, and water does not disappear after his death. A young stranger who redeems people from the obligatory sacrifices by killing the serpent, commits a heroic act and gains a reward. The image of mythological trickster with whom Khoisan tribes associated all their mytho- logical events also underwent radical metamorphosis. The more recent texts accentuate not his properties of the demiurge but his humoristic and comic traits of a simpleton or a fool. In general, plot deformation and underestimation of the ideal epic hero image lead to the reorientation of the original legend and to the destruction of the epic genre.


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