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This book is an overview and analysis of the global tradition of the outlaw hero. The mythology and history of the outlaw hero is traced from the Roman Empire to the present, showing how both real and mythic figures have influenced social, political, economic and cultural outcomes in many times and places. The book also looks at the contemporary continuations of the outlaw hero mythology, not only in popular culture and everyday life, but also in the current outbreak of global terrorism.
The book also presents a more general argument related to the importance of understanding folk and popular mythologies in historical contexts. Outlaw heroes have a strong purchase in high and popular culture, appearing in film, books, plays, music, drama, art, even ballet. To simply ignore and discard such powerful expressions without understanding their origins, persistence and especially their ongoing cultural consequences, is to refuse the opportunity to comprehend some profoundly important aspects of human behaviour. These issues are pursued through discussion of the processes through which real and mythical outlaw heroes are romanticised, sentimentalised, sanitised, commodified and mythologised. The result is a new position in the continuing controversy over the existence the ‘social bandit' that highlights the central role of mythology in the creation and perpetuation of outlaw heroes.
Graham Seal —
Graham Seal is Professor of Folklore and Director of the Centre for Advanced Studies in Australia, Asia and the Pacific (CASAAP) at Curtin University, Australia.
Seal, Graham. Outlaw heroes in myth and history. Anthem Press, 2011. 232p bibl index afp ISBN 0-85728-792-3; ISBN 9780857287922. Reviewed in 2012jan CHOICE.
Folklorist Seal (Curtin Univ., Australia) examines the durability of the outlaw as hero in the imaginations of the disenfranchised. Instead of focusing on what social bandits across cultures and history have been remembered for, the author explores how and why they have been remembered, arguing that these figures--in both historical and contemporary incarnations--are part of the folklore of the oppressed. Seal geographically and temporally extends and broadens the arguments he began in The Outlaw Legend (1996), drawing on his folklorist's lens to identify recurring elements, motifs, and themes that characterize the outlaw in social memory. He uses mostly journalism and secondary sources to set up a critical history of outlaws across time and place, an ambitious approach that sacrifices details of the hero's role in community. (For that perspective, see Seal's earlier work or Edward Ives's ethnohistorical study, George Magoon and the Down East Game War, CH, Mar'89, 26-4055.) Particularly valuable is the book's final half, where Seal crafts a structural analysis outlining the cycle by which social and cultural circumstances transform the bandit into outlaw hero.
Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above, particularly academic institutions supporting folklore and related programs. -- M. L. Murray, Kean University