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Henri Pourrat

Henri Pourrat
Henri Pourrat

Pourrat, Henri (1887-1959)

Henri Pourrat was a regional folklorist from Auvergne France.  Over the course of a career which spanned more than 50 years, Pourrat went about collecting and authoring folklore and fairytales from Auvergne for his chronicles.  One of his most notable works were the 13 – volumes of Le Trésor des contes (Treasury of Tales, 1948 – 62).  The fairytale from which The Universal Fairytale/The White Rat project is based on his La Rate Blanche from the Les Fees volume.  The first landscape drawings of “The Kingdom” from the project, are based on an image from his L’aventure De Roquefort (The Roquefort Tales).  Treasury of Tales preserves more than 1009 rustic tales from Auvergne which outpaces the more famous French folklorist Perrault.  Perrault’s tales seemed to make it unfashionable to be “real”, he pandered towards more noble society.  Pourrat’s tales proudly belong to “the people of the kingdom”.    Pourrat believed strongly in the oral storytelling tradition.  His Old Marie, the principal narrator in Gaspart des montagnes (Gaspard of the Mountains) is a rural French Sharazad.

As an individual, Pourrat is exceptional in that he came to his profession in the process of healing himself; a process which imposed severe physical limitations on the youth.  Pourrat had suffered a great disappointment when his career plans for agricultural engineering were thwarted by tuberculosis at the age of 18.  He made the most of this be using his less mobile morning rest periods for writing and his more physical afternoon hours for the pursuit of interviews with the storytellers who were scattered around Auvergne’s countryside.  That love of nature and agrarian living translates into the artistry used to maintain the organic, nature loving intensity seen in the physicality of his tales.  These interviews produced some 30,000 regionalisms which were developed from his notebooks into the many essays, folk-tale collections and historical romances he produced over the course of his lifetime.  Despite being highly productive, Pourrat was shunned by his professional colleagues in the areas of ethnology because of his unorthodox techniques.  What he was shunned for is what makes Pourrat the muse of The Universal Fairytale.  Pourrat was an active storyteller.  His work is justification for the points Walter Benajamin makes in The Task of the Translator .