A richly nuanced cultural history of an enigmatic and controversial folktale
Perhaps the best-known version of the tar baby story was published in 1880 in Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings, and popularized in Song of the South, the 1946 Disney movie. Other versions of the story, however, have surfaced throughout the world, including in Nigeria, Brazil, Corsica, Jamaica, India, and the Philippines. The Tar Baby offers a fresh analysis of this deceptively simple story about a fox, a rabbit, and a doll made of tar and turpentine. Tracing its history and its connections to slavery, colonialism, and global trade, Bryan Wagner explores how the tar baby story, thought to have originated in Africa, came to exist in hundreds of forms on five continents. He concludes with twelve versions of the story transcribed from various cultures in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.