The Treasure of Tales


July 5, 2022

Le Trésor des contes is a collection of nearly a thousand tales collected in Auvergne by Henri Pourrat and published in thirteen volumes in the Blanche collection by Gallimard editions between 1948 (volume I) and 1962 (volume XIII).



For several years, Henri Pourrat has been collecting tales and songs in the country of Ambert, sometimes in the company of the félibre from Ambert Régis Michalias. Pourrat was neither a folklorist nor an ethnologist, so he took advice from Arnold van Gennep, with whom he began a correspondence in 1912. However, the conception of the two men differed radically: van Gennep was attached to strict scientific fidelity to the original material when Pourrat advocates an essential literary adaptation alone able to do justice to the naturalness of orality in writing. Their collaboration does not succeed. Thirty years later van Gennep however published their correspondence as a preface to his Floklore de l'Auvergne et du Velay. In the meantime, Pourrat pursues his quest and his idea. From 1908 to 1956 he collects everything we want to tell him in a circle around Ambert whose circumference is his green line, the line of his mountains, distinct from the rest of volcanic Auvergne: in the jasseries of Pierre-sur-Haute as far as the Col des Supeyres in the Monts du Forez, in the farms around the Bois Noirs in the Livradois, in the isolated houses and hamlets or in the stalls of Ambert, where he goes every afternoon. noon, tireless walker in gaiters and musette slung over his shoulder, to meet the last holders of this precious popular knowledge: the tales of fairies, witches, horror, brigands, pranks, hagiographies, miracles, which already dot Gaspard des Montagnes , "the work of a disgruntled storyteller". A total of four hundred songs and several hundred tales against which Pourrat methodically records the name, age, profession of the storyteller, date and place of collection. He has his networks of correspondents, priests, teachers, who guide him throughout the region, translators for texts in a dialect he understands but does not speak. He doesn't record and initially doesn't take notes so as not to interfere with the storyteller's memory work, so as not to break the enchantment when the words finally flow.

Walk Notes

His "walking notes" or "expression notebooks" on the other hand are filled with images, colors, flavors of nature, fleeting visions which he soaks up during his walks in search of his storytellers. After a first audition, Pourrat asks the storyteller to tell his tale again. He then notes the landmarks necessary for memorization but also the incantatory, enigmatic formulas. Similar to a wild garden, the teeming text of the "walking notebooks" is sometimes illegible, made up of unfinished words, abbreviations, wastelands. The graphics are shaky in the absence of stable support. The form of the text conveys hesitations, pauses, laughter and whispers. The legend rubs shoulders with the tale, the formula meets the song in an apparent disorder but above all alive. However, isolated from their context, these words are only fragments of meaning which, when read aloud, could only be punctuated by silences.

Writing work

After a night of decantation, the notes are taken up in a work of writing that meets the requirement of absolute fidelity to popular material. The oral story does not fall under school standards, to hear the other it is necessary to put aside stereotypes and prejudices. The tale is closely adjusted to the reality of the narration in a continuous frame in accordance with the teachings of Arnold van Gennep: do nothing