Finding New Monsters in Old Places: A Review of the Works of Simon J. Bronner Through an Age-Intersectional Lens

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Cory Thomas Hutcheson


In the Fall of 2015, Midwestern Folklore: Journal of the Hoosier Folklore Society published a collection of essays by students from Simon J. Bronner’s graduate course on the folklore of aging and the life cycle. I was fortunate enough to be among those students selected to contribute to the issue, which featured essays on Mormon baptism, life-cycle board games, and quilting traditions. My piece discussed the phenomenon of father-child “horror play,” in which the adult pretends to be a monster in pursuit of the child or children. In his introduction  to the issue, Bronner said “the subject of aging has been approached mostly by categorizing folklore under the heading of an age group, especially children or senior adults, rather than analyzed as a human-cultural developmental process in which folklore plays an instrumental role” (Bronner 2015:3). Dr. Bronner is,  of course, being a bit modest in his assertion that aging has mostly been seen as a taxonomic activity rather than a scholarly pursuit of process. In fact, he has published copiously on exactly that process over the years. Even his landmark 1988 work, American Children’s Folklore, turns to questions of linear and cyclical development in the aging stages of young people. Bronner’s encouragement has led many of his students—several of whom appear in this volume—to engage with the aging process ethnographically, symbolically, functionally, and folklorically to determine how people create meaning out of the dynamic temporal structure of their lives. His work has covered aging from many angles, including two which became central to my study of father-child play: the role of “horror” in childhood (and adult) development and the intersectionality of age-related lore among generations. As Bronner passes his own life-cycle milestone and retires from the legacy program he founded at Penn State Harrisburg, we, as folklorists, would do well to take stock of his influence and re-interrogate his work in light of our own scholarship (and vice versa) to discover the vast territory he has already mapped and the many lands he is leaving us to explore.


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