Monday, July 6, 2020

A map made of stories (Following folktales around the world 163. - Syria)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Syrian ​Folktales
Muna Imady
Msi Press, 2012.

The book is divided into fourteen chapters, according to the fourteen districts of Syria, and each chapter contains one or two folktales from that region. Next to the tales each chapter also has riddles, songs, sayings by the Prophet, and a few local recipes. For example, I now know how to make roast camel.
The end of the book has a glossary, and the introduction talks about Syria and its storytelling traditions (for example the claim that if you tell stories by daylight you'll turn into a donkey). Each chapter begins with a short introduction to the region's history, famous places, and economy.


The tale of Boujhayesh the donkey was entertaining, and had a nice ending. The donkey and his friends - a goose, a duck, and a pigeon - planted a field together, and then all of them ate from it in secret. In the end when it all came to light they admitted their weakness and continued being friends.
I really liked the story of The enchanted snake where a girl wandered into a ghoul's cave, and when she refused to become her accomplice, the ghoul cursed her into a snake. The curse could only be broken if someone jumped over her three times without fear - but every time someone was scared of her, she'd become even uglier. The tale had a happy ending, and I especially liked that we got to hear all of it from the snake-girl's perspective.
The woodcutter and the lion was also a good story, where a poor man visited a lion's forest-island, and the kind lion allowed him to cut some wood. However, when he grew rich, he forgot about the animal's kindness and began to mock him, and even tried to kill him. The hurt lion then took back his island, saying "wounds can heal, but hurtful words last forever." I have read a similar story from Tunisia.


There were many familiar tale types in the book (no wonder, since Syria has always been a crossroads of trade routes). I encountered Treasures of the giant (Nuss-insais or Tiny), a Cinderella / Kind and unkind girls combination like the one from Lebanon (The wicked stepmother), the three gifts (and A cow that told lies), doctor and the devil (or jinn; the two scary wives were called Tunnay and Runnay and became synonymous with fake news), chain story about a cat who lost its tail, a "chatty wife" story ("When it rained meat"), and three clever men and the blind camel (The wise qadi).
I once again encountered my favorite Middle Eastern tale, where a clever girl is married to a kind beggar (The secret of the pomegranate), and the story from Palestine where a family is threatened by a ghoul, and the wife and daughters escape while the father, who didn't listen to their worries, is devoured (Sherehan Abu Khabeza).
The trickster in residence was the sly fox, who tricked several animals into believing he was going on a pilgrimage. Eventually a duck outwitted him. In another classic tale the fox and the raven invited each other for dinner, but when they discovered neither can eat well at the other's place, they apologized and made peace. There was also a version of the African folktale type where the fox decided to give all the food to the lion, after he witnessed the wolf being punished for an equal division.

Where to next?

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Fake news folktales: Talk to your kids about checking sources

Information and media literacy is becoming essential in today's world. The volume of information flooding our days in unprecedented, and children are not immune to it either. We need to start teaching them early not to take things at face value; to ask questions, check sources, and evaluate the information they are provided. And yes, a lot of adults are still learning to do the same.
Stories are a great way to teach, and luckily, there are many of them that touch upon the question of truth and lies. Here is a selection of some of the most interesting ones.

The king of the monkeys (Liberia)

An ugly bird moves into a hole in the ground, and makes the monkeys believe he is some all-powerful, terrifying monster. He holds this power over them, making them bring him food and gifts - that is, until the baby monkeys, who don't know better, actually start poking into the hole, and discover that the "terrifying monster" is just a very ugly, but not very scary bird.

The cat and the fox (Hungarian)

This tale type goes under ATU 103A, and has variants all over Europe. In it, a lazy cat is chased out of the house, and he goes to live in a forest. Since forest animals have never seen a cat before, he manages convince first a fox, and then with her help everyone else that he is a terrifying beast. The animals pay him respect and bring him food, and the lazy cat finds a comfortable kingdom for himself.
This is very similar to the previous story, but also highlights the role of those who support the deceit and benefit from it (the fox).

The Deceiver (Somalia)

Pretty dark story. A deceitful, lying person is exiled from the village of humans, and goes into the wilderness. There, he incites the animals and the elements to rebel against humans. Once they raid the village, however, he begins to accuse his helpers, one after another ("Did you see how the fire burned the village? What if it turns against you next? Let's put it out before that happens!"), and he turns his followers on each other, until no one is left. Then he happily walks away with all the loot. However, in the end he discovers that wealth doesn't make him happy, and he is miserable in exile.

Lies hurt more than a wound (Suriname)

A king keeps insisting that words can't hurt anyone - "sticks and stones", and all of that. Anansi, the spider-trickster, decides to teach him a lesson. He defecates in the hallways of the palace, and starts spreading a rumor that it's the king who can't control his bowels. The rumors spread like wildfire, and the king soon learns that words can, indeed, have very serious consequences.

Cat and rat bathe together (Grenada)

This story is about learned prejudice. A kitten and a young rat go bathing together every day, and they become good friends. However, when their parents find out, they start teaching their young that they should not be friends because they are different from each other. The kitten is told rats are lowly food, and the rat is told cats are dangerous killers. The friendship ends.
(I do want to re-tell this story with a more positive ending, and you might too.)

Qamar Al-Zamaan and Shams Al-Dunya (Lebanon)

A prince is engaged to a beautiful girl, but on his way to the wedding a bunch of jealous women convince him that his bride (whom he has not seen yet, according to custom) is actually ugly and awful. The prince runs away from the marriage. The bride finds out and goes looking for him; she befriends him without telling him who she is, and eventually they get to know each other and fall in love.
(This tale also has a nice version from Palestine.)

The Pincers of Pagan (Burma / Myanmar)

This story is about how "blind justice" is not always the fairest option (or, as you'd say, the difference between equality and equity). A king has a set of magic pincers he uses to dole out justice: the accused has to put his hands between the pincers, and if they are lying, the pincers cut the hands off. However, a thief manages to outsmart the pincers in the story, proving that they can't be solely relied upon for justice.
(There are similar stories about the Bocca della Veritá in Rome.)

Brave Mouse-Deer (Borneo)

A human comes into the forest, and the animals are all scared of the new visitor. Mouse Deer sets out to spy on the human, and observes it doing things animals have never seen before (taking off his shirt, smoking, etc.). Every time Mouse Deer returns with news, the story gets wilder and wilder ("he eats clouds!", "he takes off his skin!"), and panic rises in the jungle. Once the human departs without trouble, however, the animals accuse Mouse Deer of making it all up.

Tunnay and Runnay (Syria)

This is a classic "devil and the fake doctor" type tale, where someone chases the devil away in the end by scaring him into thinking his wife is coming. It features two terrifying women, and it became a phrase in Syria, "Tunnay and Runnay" being synonymous with "fake news."

Plop! Splash! (Tibet)

Hare hears a strange sound that scares him, and starts running, making everyone else think the sky is falling (yes, very Henny Penny). Eventually someone things to check where the sound was coming from, and discovers it was fruit falling into water.

Go to sleep, gecko! (Bali)

I mentioned this one before in relation to quarantine stories, but I'm repeating it here, because it is also about looking into why others do things that annoy us. Gecko is angry at the fireflies flashing, but when Lion investigates, it turns out they have been trying to warn travelers on the road at night. And so on. Gecko learns in the end that all the animals he thought were annoying and wrong had good reasons to do what they were doing.

Anansi seeks a fool (Ghana)

Anansi seeks someone who is foolish enough to do all the work for him while he rests and reaps the results. Crow, however, beats the trickster at his own game, by making him believe that they can spit up work and effort. Anansi ends up doing all the work while Crow pretends to be taking on all the "tiredness" from it. I am including this story here to talk a little bit about checking "fine print" on what a job/social position really is about.

If you have other stories that would fit the list, let me know in the comments!

Thursday, July 2, 2020

The first sail (Feminist Folktales 20.)

Another Thursday, another post for Feminist Folktales! It's a series of traditional stories from around the world that display motifs that reflect feminist values. I am not changing any of the stories, merely researching and compiling them, and posting them here as food for thought. You can find the list of posts here.

Origin: Marshall Islands

The story

Twelve brothers organize a boat race to decide who gets to rule the "eastern islands". While they are getting ready, their mother Loktanur appears, carrying a large, heavy bundle. She asks her eldest to allow her in the canoe, but he is afraid she would slow him down so he declines. She then asks all the others in turn, but only the youngest, Jebro agrees to take her on. The race starts, and right away Loktanur delays her son, telling him to pull the boat up on shore. It's worth the delay: turns out Loktanur has invented sailing. Mother and son put the mast and the sail and the rigging up, and they set out flying, soon overtaking all the other brothers.
When they reach the eldest, he demands to be given the sailing ship, because he "deserves" it. Jebro wants to decline but his mother tells him to hand the ship over... after taking out some of the rigging. Not knowing how to work the sail, the elder brother flops around in circles, while Jebro and his mother comfortably win the race. They go on to teach people how to sail, and Jebro eventually becomes the Pleiades, signaling the start of the sailing season.

What makes it a feminist story?

I like stories where the brave / clever / wily female hero is not a young girl, but a grown woman or even a mother - one who did not lose her creativity, independence, and initiative just because she had children. In this case Loktanur doesn't only show up to help her youngest son: She has an invention of her own, something she dreamed up, created, and learned to use. She owns her knowledge, and she only shares it with those who show her respect. She hands the ship to her eldest, but not the knowledge that goes with it (and not all the essential parts). She knows her worth and her boundaries, and knows that the only one who deserves her invention and her knowledge is the one who respects her as a person, not just wants her stuff.
And of course she is a good role model, because how cool is it that she invented sailing?!

Things to consider

In multiple cultures of Oceania navigation was something women did; there are legends about them learning the secrets of wayfinding, or inventing tools to help sailing (see the Sources below). They are fascinating stories, worth digging into.


Laurence M. Carucci: From the Spaces to the Holes: Ralik-Ratak remembrances of World War II (Isla III, 1995.)
Gerald Knight: A History of the Marshall Islands (Micronitor News and Printing Co., 1999.)
Jack A. Tobin: Stories from the Marshall Islands (University of Hawaii Press, 2002.)
Anono Lieom Loeak, Veronica C. Kiluwe, Linda Crowl: Life in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (University of the South Pacific, 2004.)


This is not the only culture that believes a woman invented sailing. I read a similar story from Qatar too.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Worlds behind the curtain (Following folktales around the world 162. - Lebanon)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Abu ​Jmeel's Daughter and Other Stories
Arab Folk Tales from Palestine and Lebanon
Jamal Sleem Nuweihed
Interlink Books, 2002.

The 27 folktales in this book were written down from memory by a Lebanese lady named Jamal Sleem Nuweihed when she was 83 years old. The stories were then translated to English by her family - children, grandchildren, nieces. Jamal spent her life writing novels, poems, autobiographies and tales, but she was never allowed to enter literary life outside the home, so a lot of her work went unpublished. She learned her folktales from four women in her childhood: a Lebanese aunt, a Lebanese friend, her own Turkish mother who had an adventurous life, and a Palestinian fortune-teller. The foreword tells us about her life, while the introduction talks about the colorful details of Arab storytelling traditions. Each story comes with end notes and comments. The tales in the book were all colorful, exciting, and beautifully eloquent, reflecting the hidden life and dreams of a brilliant woman writer.


Image from here
One of the most beautiful tales in the book was the story of Amina. Eight siblings (seven girls and a boy) ran away from home from an evil stepmother, and started a new life elsewhere, supporting each other. In time their father left the stepmother and found them, and the brother married a princess. What I liked most about this story (other than the bookworm youngest daughter) was that it stated that the father knew about the cruelty of his wife, but didn't have the confidence to do something about it.
The story of Rummana was a gorgeous Snow White variant, combined with elements I knew from tales such as Little Surya Bai. The princess was not exiled here, rather she ran away into the wilderness our of curiosity and got lost. Three hunters adopted her as their sister and raised her. When eventually an evil ghoul killed her, they put her in a glass coffin on the back of a camel and set her free. A prince found her, his mother revived her and cared for her until she was healthy again.
The tale of Qamar Al-Zamaan and Shams Al-Dunya was very similar to one of the Palestinian stories, but it was a longer and more elaborate version. A prince was tricked into thinking his bride was ugly, so he ran away and hid in a garden. The bride disguised herself and befriended him; they slowly fell in love (with lots of poetry) until she revealed who she really was. The seond half of the tale, however, took a tragic turn: evil women killed the wife and her children, and the prince went through a long and dark grief process before he found love again.
Image from here
I absolutely loved the story of Hassan Al-Waqqad (I have recently worked with a different version of it for my book). A clever and brave princess was married to a beggar by her angry father as punishment, but they managed to build a life together anyway, fell in love, and found their fortune together. In another tale a man named Azzam was the most eligible bachelor of his city, but he kept divorcing his wives after the wedding night. Finally a clever girl managed to uncover his secret (he was being blackmailed by a sorceress), got rid of the villain with the help of her maid, and turned his life around. In The midwife's daughter and the bandit another clever and brave girl managed to talk herself out of danger when a bandit found his way into her house at night.


There was, once again a "women's wiles are better than men's wiles" story, although this version was definitely kinder than the ones I have read before. After Palestine, I also encountered again the tale where a poor girl was rejected by her rich cousin, only to marry a beggar - who, to the infinite regret of the cousin, turned out to be Caliph Haroun Al-Rashid himself.
Another Mediterranean tale type appeared in Sons of the rich and daughters of the poor, where a poor girl competed with her rich cousin about which one of them could start a better business. The clever girl grew rich, while the guy ran his family business into the ground.
In "Mine to use as I choose" a young man was not allowed to see his bride, so, similarly to Greek folktales, he had a golden statue made, and hid inside (it was also a beautiful story, btw.). The fawwal's daughter was an Anait-story, where the prince had to learn a trade before he could marry a girl - and his trade saved his life later on. The girl was a spirited, flirty, clever character, who reminded me of Basil Girl tales.
On top of all this, there were several familiar tale types, such as a golden-haired gardener (Clever Hasan), three gifts (Marzuoq the woodcutter), Prince Thrushbeard (Hajji Brumbock), daughter of the sun (Abu Jmeel's daughter), cat bride (Cat of cats, where the cat skin was not burnt in the end, but rather stuffed with gold and displayed as a memorabilia), three pieces of advice (Don't betray those who trust you), Basil girl who seduced her husband three times (The tailor's daughter), and Cinderella / Kind and unkind girls (The golden shoe).

Where to next?

Monday, June 22, 2020

Wise grandmothers and brave women (Following folktales around the world 161. - Palestine)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Speak, ​Bird, Speak Again
Palestinian Arab Folktales
Ibrahim Muhawi & Sharif Kanaana
University of California Press, 1989.

The book contains 45 folktales, preceded by a long introduction about the collection, storytelling traditions, events, and styles. The stories were collected between 1978 and 1980, and out of more than two hundred texts the authors selected the most common tale types to represent the Palestinian folktale tradition.
The introduction talks about some of the seventeen storytellers (14 of whom were women); Palestinian family culture and relationships; society, cuisine, religion, and beliefs, in the light of folktales. The stories in the book are grouped into chapters thematically (individuals, society, relationships, etc.), and each chapter comes with a short Afterword analysis. Each story comes with plenty of footnotes, explaining cultural references and expressions. On top of that, at the end of the books we can find more notes for each story, a folktale motif index, and a bibliography.


My favorite in the whole book is a story cycle named "Seven leavenings" - sadly, only two of the seven have been collected. The hero is a clever old woman who, while waiting for dough to rise, walks down to the sea, gets on a random ship, and goes traveling to other cities. In each city she solves some kind of a problem (usually marital) with trickery. I would LOVE to read more of these stories.
"Sumac, you son of a wh***, sumac", the story with the best title in the book, was a pretty great version of the tale type where a girl is born a cannibalistic monster (here, a ghoul), and her brother ends up hunting her down after she eats the whole family. Here the hero was helped by two tame lions he raised. In an unexpected twist, at the end of the story he solved a riddle with the help of his sister's drops of blood (who yelled the solution at him in the above mentioned title format). Similar monster-hunting appeared in the story where an old ghoul woman stole the brides of a prince on their wedding night, until a clever lady broke the curse and sent guards to kill the ghoul. In the story of the Transjordanian ghoul mother and daughter killed the monster, while the man of the house was taking a nap.
The story of the brave young man reminded me of the devil's golden hairs - but it was not about a brave young man at all. His sole role was to go to the terrible ghoul and tell his wife the ghoul needed to die - at which point the brave and clever woman took care of the monster-killing. She was not the only interesting female hero in the book, either. The tale of Gazelle was a version of the type known to many of us as the Russian Koschei the Deathless - but here the jinn the guy accidentally released from prison (where it had been put by the heroine) didn't kidnap the wife, but rather challenged her to a fight which she accepted (saying "this time I will destroy you"), and while they fought the husband went off to find the jinn's hidden strength.
The story of Soqak-Boqak was interesting: jealous bystanders made a prince think his bride was ugly, so he ran away from his wedding. His bride disguised herself, found him, and they fell in love before she revealed that he had been lied to.


I was happy to read another version of the Saudi-Arabian tale where a woman goes into an underground kingdom out of shame for a burp. Here, a  poor woman sank underground because of a fart, and returned rich; when a rich woman tried to copy her, she returned cursed. It was especially funny to see how farts lived in the underground realm as people.
The tale of Tunjur Tunjur belonged to the funny type where a talking bowl brings gifts to its owner (here, also its mother). The story of Lady Tatar was an interesting mix of Daughter of the Sun and Daughter of the Wild Man - a heroine raised by a ghoul used her magic powers to show how she was better than all the other brides of her husband. There was also a version of the cute Middle Eastern tale type where a Cricket girl married a mouse, then fell into a puddle, and her husband heroically rescued her.
There were many familiar tale types represented in the book, for example princesses kidnapped to the underworld (Precious One and Worn-out One), treasures of the giant (Half-man), an animal brother tale (The orphans and the cow), "mother killed me, father ate me" (The green bird), Golden-haired children and the Water of Life (The little nightingale), Canary prince (The chief of birds), All-kinds-of-fur (Sackcloth), Rapunzel + magic flight (Lolabe), kind and unkind girls (Chicken eggs), tablecloth, donkey, and stick (with a Woodcutter and jinn in a well), Aladdin (Maruf the shoemaker, whose wife eventually stole the magic ring back), false fortune-teller (named Sparrow), and Seven kids (here with three kids, and a hyena disguised through a chain story). There were other chain stories in the book too; one about a cat who wanted her tail back, and another about a louse that started a mass grief chain among the animals. Dunglet was one of those stories where a monster keeps devouring everyone and getting bigger and bigger (here, it was an ever-growing piece of dung).

Where to next?

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Returning the selkie skin: Divorce in folktales, in a positive light

I somehow ended up being the "positive divorce" storyteller on Twitter.
My parents divorced two years ago, in a friendly way, and ever since then I have been interested in traditional folktales that portray divorce in a different light. There are situations in life where divorce is absolutely the solution, even if it means a painful ending to something that had been good once.

Here are some of my favorite examples so far:

Why the Sun shines in the day and the Moon shines at night (Lithuania)

This story tell us about the mythic divorce between Sun and Moon, and how they decided to share custody of their child, the Earth. They decided Sun will keep an eye on her during the day, and Moon will do so at night. The arrangement seems to be working so far.

How Soslan married Kosher (Ossetian Nart saga)

The most famous of the Nart heroes, Soslan, fights for the hand of a lady who lives in a magic flying tower. After many adventures and some flirting, she agrees to marry him. However, eventually she grows bored of living in one place, and since Soslan won't leave the Narts, they decide it's better for them to divorce. They say goodbye, and she flies away in her tower.

The marriage of Sultan Hasan (Egypt)

A sultan is told he'll have seven years of bad luck, so he dresses as a beggar and goes into exile to keep his family from suffering. In a village he encounters a rich man who keeps divorcing and re-marrying his wife out of cruelty. According to law, after three divorces he can only marry her again if she's had another husband in between. So they marry her to the first random beggar (the sultan), hoping to divorce them the next morning. However, they take a liking to each other, and decide not to divorce. Instead, they live on in a much happier, harmonious marriage.

The selfish husband (Zambia)

During a time of famine a family moves into the wilderness. The husband finds a lot of wild honey, but doesn't give any to his wife and children. The wife sets out on her own and catches an antelope, but can't carry it home alone. People from a nearby village help her, and since she can now care for her children with the help of the community, she divorces her selfish husband.

The selkie wife (Scotland)

A fisherman who doesn't have anyone, and wears a birthmark on his face, meets a selkie. First he steals her skin so she can't return to the sea, but then he feels bad about it and gives the skin back to her. The girl decides to stay with him anyway. Fifteen years later, however, she grows homesick, and returns to the sea, telling her husband to follow in time. When their children are grown, the fisherman goes into the sea and turns into a seal as well.
(I don't know if this is divorce or separation, but it's the best selkie story I know.)

Red Roderick and the selkie (Scotland)

Also a selkie story, except here the wife steals back her own skin after the birth of three children, and walks into the sea, telling her husband not to hunt seals ever again.

Fallen men spoil virtuous women (Syria)

In this tale type that exists in East Africa and the Middle East, a man divorces his three wives because each has a character flaw. Another, kinder man decides to marry them, and discovers that "character flaws" are actually largely the result of how badly the women had been treated by their husband (e.g. the one called "gluttonous" never got enough to eat).

The man who spoke the language of animals (Eritrea)

A classic tale type, where a man can't tell his wife where he got his magic powers. However, here in the end instead of beating his wife they simply divorce over their differences - and thus divorce is introduced to the world for the first time.
(This divorce saves the man from dying, and the woman from a dishonest marriage.)

The three little eggs (Eswatini)

Not as much divorce as escape from an abusive husband, towards a better future. I wrote about this story in detail in the Feminist Folktales series (see link).

Skadi and Njörd (Norse myth)

The goddess Skadi accidentally marries Njörd, the old god of the sea. They are such an awful match, however, that they decide to separate, and Skadi goes on to fall in love with Ullr, god of archery, who is a much better match for her.

Monday, June 15, 2020

A treasure trove of stories (Following folktales around the world 160. - Israel)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

The ​Power of a Tale
Stories from the Israel Folktale Archives
Haya Bar-Itzhak & Idit Pintel-Ginsberg 
Wayne State University Press, 2019.

A very special collection with a great backstory. The 53 tales in this book were selected from the Israel Folktale Archives (IFA) to celebrate its 50th anniversary - the book was published in Hebrew in 2009, and finally in English last year. The archives were founded in 1955 to gather folk narratives from people immigrating into Israel, as well as from religious and ethnic groups living in the country (actively contradicting the idea that Israel would have to be culturally homogeneous). Today the archives contain more than 24,000 texts! All the stories in this book are tales that have not been published before. They represent 26 ethnic groups; nineteen of the tellers were women, and thirty-three were men.
This book really has everything a reader-researcher can wish for: a detailed Introduction about the history of IFA and the collection projects; bibliographies, folktale types, photos of the storytellers, an index, statistics of IFA, etc. Each story comes with a full background essay, with sources and notes and bibliographies, written by folklorists in Israel and abroad. Each takes a different approach to its story: a feminist point of view, comparative folklore, story psychology, cultural anthropology, etc. They were often as fascinating to read as the stories themselves. The whole book is a rare resource and a fun read, and definitely worth the time.


My favorite story in the book was about The king who trusted the kingdom to his daughters (I blogged about it here). I love it because the heroine saves a kingdom with her kindness and empathy, turning her tears into diamonds to help people. Another story I loved a lot was titled A mother's gift is better than father's gift, in which a stepmother made her stepdaughter do chores around the house, and the girl hated her for it. When she grew up and fell on bad times, she suddenly realized she'd learned to work from her stepmother to survive. Good stepmother tales are a rare find!
Professor Dov Noy,
 founder of the IFA
The tale of The rich miser from Iraq was quite funny. He had his shoes mended so many times that they became heavy as rocks, and every time he tried to get rid of them they caused more and more trouble, until he had to admit it would have been easier to buy a new pair. The tale of Men's wisdom and women's slyness started out equally funny, but turned kind of cruel. A woman tricked a conceited man just to prove women could be sly and wise - but she did so at the expense of a crippled girl. The accompanying essay unpacked all the possible implications of the tale quite well.
Since the book focused on stories that are culturally relevant, it contained several narratives from times of pogroms and discrimination, telling of heroic sacrifices and miraculous survival. In the legend of Serah Bat Asher from Georgia, a king made fun of the Jews and made discriminatory laws against them, until one day he encountered a warrior woman, daughter of one of Joseph's brothers, who gained eternal life from God, and she convinced him to believe and revoke his laws. In a Persian story the Jews were saved when they used a magical bottomless bucket to fish the cruel king out of his palace through a well, and made him sign a document that gave them protection. In a story from Poland a boy was taken from his family and raised in Russia to be a soldier, and he found his parents later on by accident; in a story from Romania a boy was rescued from a persecuted Jewish family, and his wandering father found him years later, living as a rich man.


Recording stories (Image from here)
Of course there were also stories in the book that rang quite familiar, or belonged to international types. There was a Godfather Death tale, but with a female Death (!), and a kinder ending. Here, when the man asked for his life candle to be extended, Death kindly reminded him that he'd chosen her as godparent because she treats everyone equally. The tale of The princess in the wooden body was an All-kinds-of-fur type story, and the accompanying essay outlined the symbolism of abuse and childhood trauma quite beautifully. The six girls in the mountains was a Bluebeard tale, but here the heroine only ended up saving herself, not her sisters. The story aptly titled The measure of a woman is two, the measure of a man is one was a Basil Girl variant, complete with the part where the clever wife seduces her own husband in disguise three times in a row. The girl born from an egg was a Rapunzel story.
The tale of the cat demon was a fairy midwife tale; here the midwife did not only help with the birth, but also saved a changeling from being taken by demons. The life legend of the Polish hero Dobush started out with him being lost in the woods as a baby and being suckled by a female dog, much like Romulus and Remus. Between Sun and Moon was a Bedouin tale of a boy with a secret dream who won not one but two wives with his cleverness. I really like this type.
The queen and a fish reminded me of a story from Iraq; the queen's infidelity here was also revealed by a fish after multiple warnings by cautionary tales. From an Ethiopian source there was the tale of the Lion's whiskers, of a patient woman who learned how to approach her husband. In Muslim Arab stories I encountered the motif of a clever girl giving a drink of water to a man slowly, so that he is not harmed by it; I knew this one from Queen Anait from Georgia.

Where to next?