Date of Defense


Date of Graduation




First Advisor

Lynne Heasley

Second Advisor

James Cousins


The American academic study of folklore blossomed in the past hundred years. The tumultuous battle to define, collate and structure the new study of folklore raged in the academic world, especially in the 1950’s.[1] This obsession not only manifested itself in the academic study of it, but also in the popular culture of the 1900’s. The tradition of the tall tale and the legend exploded into the consumer world, becoming a commodity produced and consumed at will.[2] Richard Dorson classifies this explosion into two very separate studies of ‘folklore’ and ‘fakelore’. Folklore is the group of stories that descended from an oral tradition that the actual storytellers of a ‘folk’ helped to create. Fakelore, by contrast, is the group of stories that derived from a capitalistic attempt to gain profit from a changing, altering, or selection of ideas, concepts or characters previously claimed by folklore.[3]

The focus of this paper will be the two legends of Paul Bunyan and Sleeping Bear Dunes. Specifically, in the case of the second, this paper will study the children’s book by Kathy-jo Wargin, The Legend of Sleeping Bear. The specific origins of the first are widely documented, and scholars have spent years speculating on the topic. The origins of the second legend, however, hold much more mystery and intrigue. I will prove both legends consistent and blatant fakelore. According to Dorson, this fact should result in scholars shunning them from study. I will argue, however, that while both legends are, indeed, fakelore, that does not automatically mean that they are inauthentic, or should be devalued. A close case study of the history of each legend before popularity and the process through which the legends became popular fakelore will reveal that place and industry were extremely influential in the development of each popular legend, creating an extremely authentic development. The fingerprints of place and industry in these fakelores do not diminish the role that these legends had in developing a shared facet of Great Lakes culture. In addition, a case study of the outrage caused by each of these popularized legends will illustrate that story-telling, even in the fakelore format, is still an interactive entity that continues to affect our society.

Some scholarly questions that I hope to address in this project include: What qualities of each legend prove them to be fakelore and not folklore? How has industry affected both the legends of Paul Bunyan, and The Legend of Sleeping Bear? How important is place and location in the Great Lakes region to both of these legends? Should scholars shun these stories, seeing as they are fakelore, and not folklore? Or, despite their fakelore qualities, do these legends still show signs of an authentic development and interaction with the culture surrounding them? Why should we value these fakelores, or any other fakelore? How do these legends help to define a facet of Great Lakes culture, and what exactly is that culture?

Masses of research exist on the legends of Paul Bunyan. Next to none exists on Wargin’s children’s book, however. The gap here indicates that many scholars have heeded Richard Dorson’s plea that fakelore not be studied and evaluated in the study of folklore. I, however, vehemently disagree with Dorson’s argument and will argue, instead, that not only is fakelore valuable as an item of study, but it is necessary for all scholars in this increasingly interconnected world to understand such stories as things that directly impact a culture of the ‘folk’ that they are trying to study. My contribution will be to help create a picture of Great Lakes culture that, before now, has not been attempted. An upfront valuing of fakelore in the wake of Dorson’s evisceration, and a case study of Wargin’s children’s book are truly things that no one has attempted before this paper.



My methods, like my research topic, will be new to the scholarly historical world. I am not, nor do I plan to be, a folklore historian. I have not spent years studying the history and development of folklore like Richard Dorson, Daniel Hoffman, or Barbara Allen. Thus, my research methods will not be like theirs. I come from a literary criticism background – a fact that would make Dorson cringe – and this area is where my strength lies, and thus will be where the backbone of my case study will lie. This paper is not a study of folklore, as explained in the introduction, but a study of fakelore. By definition, fakelore strays from any oral tradition, and feeds off a capitalistic society. The simple fact that both of these legends are written down in book form simultaneously forces me to study these legends as fakelore and from a literary criticism point of view. This will make the case study very unique, interdisciplinary, and will allow me to look at the impact that fakelore has on a unified Great Lakes culture, instead of looking simply at an isolated group of ‘folk’.

My case study will begin by succinctly proving that both the legend of Paul Bunyan, but more importantly, The Legend of Sleeping Bear are fakelore, not folklore. I will accomplish this by shortly addressing the history of each legend before it became popular fakelore – that is, fakelore that mass culture has accepted as true folklore due to wild popularity. Richard Dorson has done much of my work for me with the Paul Bunyan stories. However, next to no scholarly research has been conducted on The Legend of Sleeping Bear. Many sources and websites now attribute the origin of the legend to the Ojibwa or Chippewa Indians, but no trace of the original legend can be found in print form. Indeed, one of the only authorities scholars have that the story originated in the Indian tradition is the word of Kathy-jo Wargin herself, as she does not cite any pertinent source for her claim. The large gap in study will prove to be a significant limitation in my attempt to prove definitively the origin of Wargin’s book, and its classification as fakelore.

The next step in my case study of these legends will be to look at the development of each legend into popular fakelore. For both the legends of Paul Bunyan, and The Legend of Sleeping Bear, I will address two main influential forces that affected their development: industry and place. By looking at how industry and place strongly affected the development of each legend via literary criticism, I will attempt to prove that while each story was blatant fakelore, they were also both extremely authentic to the Great Lakes region. Continuing this line of thought, I will conclude by studying the outrage that the popularization of each of these legends caused, in order to prove that these fakelores have the ability to impact and interact with their society simultaneously helping to create a Great Lakes regional culture. These authentic and influential qualities are what should force scholars to give pieces of fakelore their due study and appreciation in the scholarly world.

I will not address the moral rightness or wrongness of the cultural appropriation that both the legend of Paul Bunyan and The Legend of Sleeping Bear have been accused of. Much better writers before me have argued over the occurrence of cultural appropriation in society as a whole, as well as each of these legends.[4] The argument here is not whether or not the outrage caused by the cultural appropriation that occurred was justified or not, but rather a case study of the fact that such outrage occurred in the first place, giving credence to the fact that each legend had a power over its surrounding culture.

[1] For a complete overview of the definitions of fakelore and folklore, see Richard M. Dorson, American Folklore (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1959), 1-2. Such definitions will be used in this paper and progress report to form the basis of how the case studies are evaluated. While I will use these definitions, I will be showing that a different value should be placed on each type of lore, in contrast to Dorson’s view.

[2] ibid, 2.

[3] ibid, 5.

[4] Vincent B. Leitch, ed., The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2010), 1332-1378, 2110-2126. Althusser, Spivak and De Man as well as Dorson, and broken flute. – For a complete discussion on cultural appropriation that occurs in literatures across the world, I suggest a close reading of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Paul De Man, and Louis Althusser. These authors discus cultural appropriation through literary works, as well as cultural movements and all three will be more than willing to give you their opinion on the rightness or wrongness of such acts. For an argument on how Paul Bunyan exhibits cultural appropriation, see Richard M. Dorson, American Folklore (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1959), 214-226. For an argument on how Wargin’s book appropriates culture, see Doris Seale and Beverly Slapin, A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children (Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press, 2005), 415-419.

Access Setting

Honors Thesis-Open Access

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