Lone Ranger and Tonto

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In Sherman Alexie's story, "A Drug Called Tradition," from his story collection, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Victor, the narrator, speaks about what he calls the skeletons of the past and the future: "There are things you should learn. Your past is a skeleton walking one step behind you, and your future is a skeleton walking one step in front of you … Now, these skeletons are made of memories, dreams, and voices. And they can trap you in the in-between, between touching and becoming. But they're not necessarily evil, unless you let them be. What you have to do is keep moving, keep walking, in step with your skeletons … no matter what they do, keep walking, keep moving …"

This idea about skeletons, or the hauntings and the remnants of tradition, and the bones absent of flesh, but animate and manifest, is metonymic of the larger ideas and questions Alexie grapples with in this work: that is, how can a member or a performer of a tradition negotiate the seemingly incompatible drives of that tradition—the desire to perpetuate, to conserve, to maintain an idiom and its meaning, but at the same time, to accommodate the need to innovate, to create, and to move forward in a tradition, and explode and shape its word power? How can a participant in a tradition walk with the skeletons and traditions, but walk and innovate at a pace that avoids being trapped by their embrace?

My discussion of Alexie's work challenges the dogmatic and conservative insistence that, while a written, authored work can be considered a folklore text, it is not and cannot be called folklore. This essay is directed toward both scholars entrenched in the study of literary texts and to academic folklorists who insist on conventional and conservative parameters for what constitutes folklore. My aim is to articulate an approach to this particular authored text which would prevent the incorrect and casual identification of folklore in literature, as well as any preemptive...
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