And here were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
- Kubla Khan
About other patterns
1. Vertical Journeys
2. The Four Zones
3. The Three Women
4. The Restorative Journey
5. The Cosmogonic Triad
It follows from the considerations in previous chapters of this study that the historical reason why a tale like the story of the Two Trees was told in Africa (or elsewhere) must be sought in the narrative itself, not in the material life, religion, or social experience of those who told it. Oral fable gets its fundamental character from its own past, not from the chance persons or peoples whom collectors have randomly caught telling fable. From an historical point of view, who tells a tale or how he tells it palls into insignificance before the tale itself.
The most important evidence for an antiquity of the Two Trees’ story greater than that witnessed in ancient writings and iconography is inferential. The universality of the Two Trees in the story-telling of widely separated peoples whose mutual influence upon one another, or whose common subjection to an imperial influence emanating from one of their number, cannot account for that universality argues not only that the story is very old, but also that its age is universal. The diffusion of mankind, not the diffusion of the narrative within any already existing population, must be looked to for the real origin of the story.
The popular supposition that at some time a single “great mind” must have invented every common trope of imagination or fantasy in oral traditional narrative is not so much disproven as rendered superfluous by the evidence of the Two Trees’ story and other patterns of fable like it. As are most popular suppositions on this subject, the “great-mind theory” is founded much more upon the ostensible reasonableness of the theory itself than upon the facts of fable. For if we admit that some prehistoric great-minded individual invented this story (rather than ‘merely’ reconstituting a tale already known to him from preceding tradition, in the manner of modern oral traditional narrators), we must also admit that the central concerns of the story, and hence its probable date of invention, lie more within an actuality crucial to the dryopithecine antecedents of mankind than to the diverse human cultures where the tale has so persisted into modern times. The ingrainment of the Two Trees in the narrative culture of the modern Eskimo at one extreme and of the Iraqi Arabs on the treeless plains of Mesopotamia at the other extreme is in any case less obviously vital to them than it would have been to the sylvan hominoids who in so many other ways “invented” and genetically left as legacy to us their innovations of form and behaviour.
And if we thus come to admit that the “great mind” behind the story of the Two Trees was as possibly that of a thoughtful tree-ape as it was human, why should we not also admit that some inscrutably deep, subconscious dryopithecine psychic legacy in untold generations of human story-tellers has caused perpetual re-invention of the tale in every age and every branch of humanity for tens and hundreds of thousands of years? But again, such an hypothesis is more superfluous than demonstrably wrong. A tale such as the Two Trees’ that is always and everywhere present in oral narrative culture needs no invention; and given what generally is known in natural science about the rise and diffusion of the human species (apart from the disputations of palaeology in detail), what is both unique (as is fabulous storytelling) and truly ubiquitous in man (as is the tale of the Two Trees) is ipso facto a feature assignable to the origin of our species.
In the previous chapters I have described the pattern of the Two Trees’ story by reference to examples of it in certain traditions of the Old World, specifically African, European, and Middle Eastern. I claim, however, a much wider sphere of prevalence for this and other story-patterns like it—that they are in fact world-wide phenomena found in the oral narrative traditions of every people whose traditions of that kind have been made accessible to learning. To prove the truth of this averment completely would require an encyclopaedic treatise beyond the patience or the actual needs of any reader. Those who find the idea and the method I offer in this work useful will be able to proceed for themselves from the more limited demonstration I provide to a wider application of their own in other narrative of particular interest to them. I rather hope therefore to suggest the worth of the method than to exhaust its applicability through my own exposition, which in any case I do not think I could do.
For some readers, however, prior ideas about distinctions of genre, about stages of civilization or cultural ‘progress,’ and about the ethnic genius of individual peoples may effect understanding of story-patterns and how they ‘work’ in a broader spectrum of cultural diversity than my few preceding African, European, and Middle Eastern examples display. For those readers and others who may be interested, I have incorporated some further discussion of the Two Trees and further examples of them from other parts of the world in the Appendix. There I have examined at greater length the diversity within which a single pattern may be expressed and still be itself.
But there are many patterns in oral fable. The exact enumeration and description of all of them is a task for the future. For the most part, the material in this treatise illustrates only one general kind of pattern, which I call ‘unbounded’ or ‘disjunctive.’ Disjunctive patterns are coherent constellations of generic motifs like the Two Trees and their satellites, but they are permeable by the motival elements of other patterns which are found interspersed with them in given performances of fable. Bounded or conjunctive patterns on the other hand are motival clusters that traditionally resist penetration by elements of other conjunctive patterns and so present clear-cut textual boundaries in the linear progress of particular performances. Disjunctive patterns require to be analyzed like the constituents of a compound chemical; conjunctive patterns are arrayed sequentially like the beads on the strand of a necklace. Bounded patterns are in the technical sense the themes of oral fable, but skill in the analysis of disjunctive patterns remains an essential preliminary to thematic studies.
In order accurately to observe the characteristic intermeshing of disjunctive patterns, it is necessary to have at hand the descriptions of several others besides the Two Trees. This chapter concerns five patterns that are often interwoven with the hewn and green wood. A general proof of the universality of the five patterns described here will not be provided as was done for the trees in the preceding chapters and in the Appendix. Such a tale-by-tale verification of these five patterns’ range and age would fill several volumes, and is unnecessary in any case. Once the existence of patterns is recognized, verification of their presence in particular tales from various ethnic traditions becomes an automatic consequence of reading the tales attentively.