Sunday, June 26, 2016

Long tales for a short night - Night of the Museums in Hungary's first Story Museum

Night of the Museums, happening every year around Midsummer Night, has become one of the big events for storytelling in Hungary. Year after year I have been performing in different venues for amazing audiences. This year, for the first time since it opened, I had the pleasure of telling stories in Hungary's first and only Story Museum and Workshop.

The Museum as tiny as it is marvelous; it is housed in a historical building just below the Buda castle. Walking in, one encounters a tiny inner courtyard with a World Tree (still a sapling), and a Fountain of Life; over the front desk, a giant, friendly-looking, colorful centipede marches across the ceiling upside down. In the front room there are reading nooks, storytelling nooks, coloring tables, and walls full of word magnets. Walking into the exhibition, one first arrives to a blue-and-twilight chamber decorated with the silhouettes of traditional Hungarian fairy tale characters - the Prince, the Princess, the Witch, the Magic Horse, etc. There is also a pile of pillows with fairy tale phrases on them; children can pair the pillows with the silhouettes. Moving into the next room, we arrive to my favorite part of the museum: The Dark Forest. The entire space is criss-crossed with tree branches, and kids can play hide-and-seek while also challenging all of their senses: They have to reach into tree trunks to identify objects by touch; smell bottles to find a particular scent; lean over a star-filled well to pick out an animal sound; and they can even climb up to an elevated platform to a gryphon's nest, and watch the giant egg change colors as they touch it. They can climb over the top of the trees to get to the next room, where they have to defeat a dragon with  a fast-paced touch screen game, dress up in fairy tale costumes, learn more about dragons, and finally sit on a royal throne. I was having tons of fun just sitting on a pillow in the forest, watching children play.

The storytelling happened in a different venue: The inner courtyard of the historical building next door. It was cool, even on this very hot June day, and the audience could sit on small box-like chairs or bean bags shaped like giant green and red apples. In the back corner there was a crafts table, but they were very polite and quiet through the storytelling, and I had a microphone that helped me be heard over the background murmur. I had a nice audience of maybe thirty people, kids and parents/grandparents alike.

I was invited to tell stories of magical journeys - my favorite kind. Right before my performance, there was a Q&A with a very popular Hungarian children's author who writes adventure stories about pirates, and islands, and dragons. Listening to the Q&A I gleamed a lot of useful information about what my audience was the most excited about; once I was on stage, I used what I learned to pick the best stories, and color them in similar ways.
First, I told The King's Daughter Who Lost Her Hair; one of my favorite stories, and also one that always goes over well with children. Since they talked a lot about magical plants in the Q&A, and it involves a voyage across the sea to a mysterious island inhabited by talking flowers, it fit right into the theme. Next, I told the tale of the Princess of Tomboso, mostly because the green-and-red apple pillows reminded me of it, and also because it does involve a sea voyage and a distant island. This is also one of my ever-favorite tales, one that I also included in my book under Teleportation. I love watching kids roll their eyes every time Jack makes a stupid mistake, and I really enjoy the sassy princess too. Last, but not least, I told Fionn Mac Cool in the Land of the Big Men (also included in my book), where I had kids and parents alike helping me remember all 8 of Fionn's magical helpers...

Despite the fact that all three tales were very long (as journey tales often are), and some of the kids were very young, they followed all three with rapt attention. It was a very nice audience, primed and ready for sea monsters, and giants, and flying witches, and all kinds of adventures. I especially felt lucky that I got to tell some of my favorite tales, and see that the kids liked them just as much as I do. Definitely a win-win.

If you are in Hungary mid-June, don't miss out on the Night of the Museums. It's full of fun things like this.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Folklore Thursday: The best worst curses of legend and lore

Today is Folklore Thursday on social media! If you want to find out more, follow this link, or click on the #FolkloreThursday hashtag on Twitter! Hosted by @FolkloreThursday.

I have been mulling over the concept of creative curses in world folklore, and the more I think about it, the more I realize how many there are. Even if one goes beyond the standards, like "eternal sleep" or "turning into various animals," humanity has come up with a stunning array of ways of messing with someone's life - an array that ranges from mildly annoying to truly miserable.

I have long held that my personal favorite curse in legend and lore is that of Macha - the lady who is forced to race the king's horses while in labor, and in exchange curses all the men of Ulster to lie in labor pains for three whole days every time their kingdom is attacked. There is something truly satisfying in this one... But once I started claiming it as my favorite curse story, people started asking: "Wow, what are some of the others?..."

So, without further ado, here is my list of runner-ups:

Cast for all the wrong reasons, I always thought that Cassandra's curse is truly hellish: Constantly being right, and not being able to prove it to people around you, having to watch them run into their doom despite your warnings. Even as a kid I felt tremendously sorry for Cassandra, and marveled at the razor-sharp cruelty that Apollo displayed with this curse.
(Side note: Interesting to look at how Apollo attempts to "embrace" Cassandra, and when she rejects him, he curses her so that no one will ever believe what she says. There is a metaphor in there somewhere...)

Hilde, the Good Stepmother
In this Icelandic folktale, a mother's curse compels a princess to do three things: Burn down her father's palace, get pregnant out of wedlock, and kill a man. All three parts are fulfilled with minimal casualties, courtesy of the princess' kind and clever stepmother, Hilde. Part of the allure of the story is the curse itself (especially with the added weight of it coming from the mother), and part of it is the enjoyment of watching Hilde avoid disaster on all three counts, using technicalities.

Narts vs God
And while we are on technicalities: There is an Ossetian Nart saga where God curses the Nart heroes with food shortage. However much they work in a day on the fields, He declares, it will only ever amount to one bucket of wheat. The Narts' response is one for the ages: They start harvesting one handful of wheat a day - and it, per the word of God, still results in a full bucket. Boom.

Frogs and snakes
I always found folktales where people "speak" things fascinating - in many versions of the tale of the Kind and the Unkind Girl, the good girl gains the power to speak/laugh golden coins, while the lazy girl ends up with something nasty. Most often, whenever she opens her mouth, frogs and snakes fall out. While in picture books this is usually portrayed as reptiles and amphibians manifesting out of thin air just outside her lips, somehow as a kid I always imagined her actually spitting them up. Either way, yuck.

Sex swap
I know I have been hung up on this folktale type ("The princess that turned into a man"), but here it is again: In many versions, it is a curse that changes the princess from female to male, and her male companions into female. The fun part is, it is intended as a curse, but the princess is usually quite happy with the result, and doesn't mind at all. Also fun is that the curse doesn't only take on people - it also affects their horses and other animal companions.

Eternal Wandering
This one is actually quite common - a curse on a person, or a group of people, to wander aimlessly without being able to stop or settle down. The most famous examples include the Flying Dutchman, the Wandering Jew, and the Roma people (I found this one quite recently in a collection of Romani folktales). It is usually punishment for lack of hospitality given to someone, lack of compassion shown, or for a challenge against God - and as a side effect, it sometimes comes with eternal life, so that the person doesn't only wander across space, but also time... I always found the thought of such a curse epic in magnitude, and heavily charged with emotions.

There are, of course, many more curses in legend and lore. These are simply the ones I have given the most thought as a storyteller, ideas that made me think, shudder, or wonder.

What are some spells in lore that you would NOT want to be under?...

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Folklore Thursday: We really need to talk about the "Female Drakula"

Today is Folklore Thursday on social media! If you want to find out more, follow this link, or click on the #FolkloreThursday hashtag on Twitter! Hosted by @FolkloreThursday.

This weekend we went on a family trip to Slovakia to do what we enjoy doing best: Visit medieval castles. We do this periodically, once or twice a year, and since every hill and mountain sports a jaw-dropping view and a ruin on top, we can hit three or four of them in a day trip.

This weekend the first stop on our journey was the castle of Csejte (Cachtice), a scenic ruin in the Vág valley that was made (in)famous by Erzsébet (Elisabeth) Báthory - most commonly known in legend and pop culture as "the Monster of Csejte" or simply "the Blood Countess." Many foreign books, movies, websites, and other sources tag her as the "female Drakula," or, in more reasonable cases, one of the most vicious female serial killers in history.
Legend says that Báthory, a wealthy widow at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries, believed that the blood of virgins could make her eternally youthful - and therefore started murdering young women, and bathing in their blood. According to historical sources, she killed about 80 of them before the Palatine and the King brought her and her accomplices to trial. Her name today is synonymous with torture and blood.

Which is sad, because the story is bullshit.

I'll let you do the historical math: 16th century, wealthy woman with no husband, a king who owes a ridiculous debt to her family and can't pay, while the entire country is in a political and religious turmoil that makes Game of Thrones look like the Teletubbies. Oh, and by the way, it is biologically impossible to bathe in blood, in case you were wondering.
Yup, Báthory Erzsébet's trial was a political one. She got imprisoned without a sentence in her castle, walled in until she died alone 4 years later; her two female servants were tortured, maimed, and then burned alive (they confessed under torture), her male servant beheaded and then burned, and her female doctor also burned alive for witchcraft.
And somehow this story is not bloody enough for people.
Go figure.


Here is what pisses me off: People want this story to be true. They want it to be true so bad that even in the face of facts they try to salvage it. In the castle's own museum exhibit (generously supplied with fake Halloween spiderwebs), the sign read "While it is impossible to bathe in blood since it congeals too fast, medieval books could have had secret herbs and knowledge that we know longer know about."

This was, however, not the only thing that made me want to scream in Csejte. In the doorway of the castle someone was selling "Báthory energy drinks," some kind of a canned concoction dyed blood red with cherries. The castle (gorgeous, by the way) was peppered with Halloween-style decorations such as spiderwebs, plastic skeletons, and pictures of the "Iron Maiden," a torture device that Báthory is claimed to have used. In addition, there was an archery contest happening in the castle at the time, and one of the targets set up in a dimly lit hall was in the shape of a white-skinned woman with blood-red lips, and a large red heart which you had to shoot.
And in the entire, ENTIRE exhibit (or the touristic websites I browsed before traveling) not a single word about how the story might not be true.

Now, it makes sense that a tourist destination would want to bring in people by whatever means necessary - and clearly if anyone even finds their way to Cachtice, Slovakia, they will be here specifically to be titillated by legends of torture and gore. This allure is only elevated by a much beloved patriarchal trope: The sad, middle-aged woman jealous of the beauty of younger women, and turning violent out of vanity.
But would it really be so hard to make a footnote of history? Say something like "Here is the legend in all its gory glory, but be advised that the historical events were put into motion by politics and greed." I think the real story of women being dragged through the mud, humiliated, tortured, starved to death or burned alive, for the sake of asserting dominance, is way more chilling and emotionally intense than the fancy story of Once Upon a Female Vampire.
Just, you know. Less sexy.


In order to do some justice to Báthory Erzsébet as a storyteller, a couple of years ago I have created a full-hour storytelling performance that presents both sides. It is titled "Requiem for the Blood Countess;" in the first half, I tell the classic legend of blood and jealousy, and in the second half, I tell the historical story of the trial. People can decide in the end which one is worth talking more about.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Gepids, Goths, and Giants - Storytelling on Archaeology Day

Archaeology Day takes place over the last weekend of every May. As an archaeologist-storyteller, it has become tradition for me to spend this event at the museum in Szolnok, a town in Hungary that sports a wealth of finds from the Migration Era. Last year I told Nart sagas for their Sarmatian theme - this year I was invited back to create a storytelling program for their Gepid exhibit.

It is a lot easier to create a show for Sarmatians than it is for Gepids. Go figure. This Germanic ethnic group did not leave written sources of their own behind - all we know about them, we know from chronicles written by others about the Gepids. Out of these historical accounts emerges the sad tale of Rosamund, a Gepid princess kidnapped and abused by Alboin, king of the Langobards, arch-enemies of her people, who was forced to drink from the skull of her own father. She ended up having her husband assassinated, and then got executed herself - her story still lives in ballads in Lombardy.
Well, this is kind of a mood-killer, but a very important part of early medieval European history. I was lucky enough to dig up a frame story that made it amazing: Theophylact Simocatta, Byzantine historian, recorded a murder case where the suspect (a Gepid mercenary) used this tale in his defense. The mystery case, together with the tale of the Gepid-Langobard feud, ended up being a pretty neat historical story, if I do say so myself. The rest of the program I filled up with legends about my old friend Dietrich, who is a legendary figure based on Theodoric the Great, king of the Ostrogoths, who were not exactly friendly with the Gepids, but they were related, and Gepid warriors did serve in Theodoric's army. I also threw some Germanic/Norse mythology into the mix, and some German folktales for little children, in case we got any.
(We didn't)

Since last year I told in a full Sarmatian costume, I decided to keep to this tradition as well. My Gepid outfit just kind of happened - it was assembled from gifts I got over the past years from my SCA friends, all of which just happened to fit perfectly into a reconstruction of a famous Gepid female burial that my former archaeology professor published. All I really needed to buy was some beads to recreate the necklace and belt ornaments, and I was ready to roll!

There were two one-hour shows scheduled for the day, both of which were promoted to school groups since they happened during a school day. In the first round I had a 5th grade class (20-something students), accompanied by some adults. They were a loud bunch of little smartasses, and I absolutely loved them. They had comments for everything, but they were comments related to the tales, and moved the plot forward in hilarious ways. I opened with the tale of the Gepid warrior's trial, then moved on to Dietrich legends - the tale of Mighty Huntress Lady Minne, Sigenot the Giant, Sistram Who Was Fished Out of the Mouth of a Dragon, and finally, just for good measure, the myth of Thor and Utgard-Loki. After this last one they wanted to know if I could also tell a story about Deadpool (I wish), or Iron Man (to which I pointed out that everyone was wearing iron in all these stories). Generally the mood was great, I had fun with the cheeky comments, and the stories felt awesome in the telling. None of them (except for the first one) was too serious, and they hit the age group just right. 
Some of the gems:

Me: "King Dietwart and Lady Minne lived happily ever after."
Boy: "Did they have children?"
Me: "Actually, they did! According to the chronicles, they had forty-four children."
Boy: "Whaaaat! How do you name that many children?"
Me: "You don't. You number them."
Boy: "But how? Did she have one child a day?"
Girl: "Stupid! You can't have a child in a day!"
Boy: "Why not?"

Me: "After they pulled Sistram out of the dragon's mouth, they needed to make sure the story was always remembered."
Boy: "So they took a selfie!"
Me: "Well, there were no cameras back then, but they did a medieval selfie."
Boy: "They painted a picture?"
Me: "That's right! Onto Sistram's shield!"
Boy: "That's awesome."

Me: [Telling about Thor losing all of Utgard-Loki's challenges]
Me: [Tell them what they really were]

And my favorite:

Girl: "How old are you?"
Me: "Thirty."
Girl: "Oooooh."
Me: "I have been a storyteller for ten years!"
Boy: "Compared to that, you are really good!"

The school group for the second round did not show, but I still got a lovely audience: Two mothers with their kids (one with a girl and one with a boy), and several of the museum's archaeologists. I did the same lineup again, except this time I told a short version of King Laurin's Rose Garden instead of the Norse myth. Sistram flew even better the second time around, and there was a lot of laughter in the audience. The best moment was when the little boy (maybe 6 or 7) literally said a line of the story the same time I said it (it was "This is not worth starting a war over"). 

All in all, I had a wonderful time. I loved being in costume, I enjoyed all the stories, and the audience made it all absolutely worthwhile. I am already slated to appear again next year. I wonder what the theme will be... I need to get sewing. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

5 Folklore Landmarks in Rome - Little known and worth visiting!

I am a storyteller. I travel with stories, and for stories - therefore my itineraries rarely ever follow the usual tourist routes. And there are not many places in the world as completely saturated with story as Rome is. This time around, after 7 years, I returned with a whole list of tales I wanted to encounter in their physical traces. I got most of them from Rachel Harriette Busk's Roman legends, as well as three volumes of the Newton Compton series of Roman legends and traditions (in Italian). Here are some of the folkloric highlights of the recent trip, in no particular order:

The Sword of Roland
Close to the extremely crowded Pantheon there is an alley that almost no one wanders into. It is called Vicolo della Spada d'Orlando, the Alley of Roland's Sword. It sports the meager remains of the temple of Matidia, Hadrian's mother-in-law. One of these rocks, jutting out of the wall of a building, has a deep gash in it - local legend says it was cut by the sword of Roland, Charlemagne's famous knight, as he was attacked by bandits on his visit to Rome. Another story claims that this is the rock he tried to break his legendary sword Durendal on as he lay dying, and it has been magically transported to Rome from the battlefield of Roncesvalles.

The prisons of the Castel Sant'Angelo
The Angel Fortress is worth visiting for multiple reasons - the tomb of Hadrian, the fortress of the Popes, the site of the magical appearance of the Archangel Michael ending a plague, and magnificent views to the Vatican and the Tiber. For me personally, however, it was the site of one of my favorite Roman legends: the imprisonment of Pietro Bailliardo, a medieval magician known for his affinity for fire. According to legend, he was locked in the Castel's prison with other never-do-wells for starting a fight. Once he got bored of sitting around, he drew a ship on the wall with chalk, and used some magic to blast it into existence. The prisoners merrily sailed away from the Castel on the ship, and dispersed into the city, only leaving an old man behind who had been asleep the whole time.
(The cells themselves are not open to visitors, but I took a photo at the entrance of the prison)

Visiting Padre Filippo
As a child who grew up watching State buoni se potete every Christmas (an Italian classic), I always liked Saint Philip Neri a lot. There are countless stories about him in the Roman tradition, as people liked him a lot, and he spent most of his life among the poor in the area of the Campo dei Fiori. Busk lists multiple Padre Filippo (as he is lovingly called) tales from the folklore of the city, and they are both amusing and endearing. In one of them, Padre Filippo offers to take on the labor pains of a young first-time mother, and soon regrets it (duh). I visited San Filippo at his lavish grave in the Chiesa Nuova (there is a whole legend about how they saved his body from being chopped up for relics). It is all gold and incense and marble, and I think he would chuckle and shake his head if he saw it.
(There is an entire walking route for Saint Philip, that leads you to all the important sites of his life)

St. Sylvester and the Dragon
There is a lot to see on the Forum Romanum. Like, a lot. While some part or another is always being excavated, there are also constantly new sites opened - this time around, for example, I could finally walk into the house of the Vestal Virgins. According to legend, it was somewhere around that corner of the Forum that once a great venomous dragon lived in an underground cave. The Romans had to call on Pope Sylvester to exorcise it, and get rid of the terrible stink that permeated the Forum and killed people by the hundreds. Sylvester accomplished the deed, and managed to convert many people to Christianity.
(I'm just gonna note that the Cloaca Maxima, the Roman sewer system, had an entrance in this part of the Forum that is still visible...)

Originally one of Rome's "talking statues," Pasquino is so well known that it got a place in one of the walking routes for Rome's Jubilee Year of Mercy. It is a broken statue, probably from Domitian's stadium, portraying Menelaos - but in the imagination of the people of Rome, the figure was known as Pasquino, a local tailor. They have been using the statue since the middle ages to post scathing critiques of the Pope, the government, and whatever else they are angry at; these witty notes are known as pasquinades. Busk lists several stories about people tricking the guards who tried to keep them from posting things on the statue. One Pope even proposed to throw it into the Tiber. The papers are now posted on a plastic slab instead of the statue itself - but there is still a steady flow of them!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Rome Underground - The best places for time travel!

I spent five days in Rome last week. It wasn't my first time in the City - I have visited regularly over college, both for university excavations and for storytelling - but it was the first one in 7 years, and the thought itself made me tear up a little.
(A lot, actually)

There were many new things to discover after 7 years. Of course I visited my ever-favorite places - the Palatine hill in spring bloom, the Etruscan museum in the Villa Giulia, the Ostia Antica archaeological park - but I also got to wander into sites I have not seen before. I especially paid a lot of attention to underground spaces, many of which have been made available to tourists recently, as excavations progress.
I found a very handy little book in one of the museum shops (god, I love museum shops): It is called Subterranean Rome, and it is available in a large-hardcover-fancy edition, as well as a pocketbook format (I got the latter). It lists little known, mostly underground archaeological sites that can take you on a literal walk through different periods in Roman history.
At the end of the 5 days, I did a quick count of how many of these underground, hidden corners of the City I managed to visit (and am happy that I did). Here is the list:

The Roman insula under Santi Giovanni e Paolo
This is the church on the Caelian hill behind the Colosseum. While the church itself, built in the 4th century, is very much worth visiting, the best part can be found under it. A separate little side door leads to a tiny shop where one can buy tickets to see the Roman houses the church has been built over. There are several wall painting preserved, as well as a portion of a Roman street and a house (kind of eerie to walk on a street underground, in dead silence), and my favorite part: a medieval well that has been dug through all this, and now looks like a brick column in the middle of the underground houses. There is also a tiny, but very modern museum underground, with finds from the excavations.
Note: Most churches in Rome are closed between noon and 3pm, or 3:30.

The crypt of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere
We walked into this church kind of by accident, after we found the Aventine rose gardens closed, and we wandered across the bridge into the Trastevere. It is a 5th century church dedicated to the martyr Saint Cecilia. Incidentally we found out the crypts were open for tourists. We wanted to joint a guided tour, but the tiny nun running the church shop sternly told us "NO! CRYPTA!" and ushered us down the stairs on our own.
It was kind of eerie to be down there all alone, but also very beautiful. Next to the Roman era buildings and spaces, there is also the crypt itself, build in neo-byzantine style with fancy columns and mosaics, to worship the saints whose relics are kept in there.
There was also a small side-chamber with shards of Roman pottery from the excavations, and a small lararium with a relief of Minerva in it. It was lit by a separate lamp, and that produced a very nice effect of the goddess' form illuminated while everything else was in shadows.

The Roman temples under San Nicola in Carcere
This church has been built on the Forum Holitorium (the Roman era vegetable and fruit market), next to Marcellus' theater, incorporating three Republic era Roman temples into its walls. It looks fascinating both from the outside and the inside. You can see the Roman columns in the walls, and if you make your way into the underground spaces (after paying 3 Euros per person to a very loquacious information lady), you can see the foundations of the temples, and parts of the Roman walking surfaces. A small tour, but very much worth making.
(In the picture: Roman column in the church wall, and the models of the three temples that got incorporated into the building)

Crypta Balbi
While one of the buildings of the Roman National Museum, it is probably the least visited. Doesn't sport any famous statues or paintings - but it has something much better: Layers. The Crypta Balbi is a building that arches through several centuries, from the Republic all the way to the middle ages, and due to its unique structure, it shows all of them. In addition, the three-story exhibition shows the history of late antiquity and the early middle ages in Rome, illustrating how old buildings decayed and were re-used. It is one of my favorite Roman museums, and it deals with an era that doesn't get a lot of attention, even though it is utterly fascinating. The exhibition includes a lot of models, reconstructions, and illustrations, that make it enjoyable and comprehensive.

Domus Aurea
Definitely the most amazing part of the trip, and a site I have never managed to see before - it is still very much an active archaeological dig, and they only let tourists in (in hard hats and with guides) on the weekends, to raise money for further work. But even the currently excavated portion of Nero's former place is absolutely stunning. It is cavernous in all senses of the word - the size itself is incredible, both in spaces and in the number of rooms already cleared (150+). It has been very well preserved, with many colorful wall paintings and all the structures intact. You can even see the holes in the ceiling where people in the 16th and 17th centuries dug in to take a look at the paintings in torchlight. The palace only stood for about 40 years before Traian had it filled in with soil and buried. It was a waste of a perfectly good palace.
Definitely worth the tickets, unforgettable experience.
Note: You have to reserve tickets in advance to get in; they only do tours on Saturdays and Sundays. I got my tickets here.

Domitian's stadium
The Piazza Navona is always crowded with tourists, but we barely saw any of them descend into the museum to see what the square has been built on - namely, Domitian's stadium for the Capitoline games. The museum is fairly new, and it's very well done; the audio guide is included in the ticket. The space is well-lit and easily walkable; it incorporates the main entrance of the former stadium, well below street level. There were 3 different exhibitions going on when we were there: The history of the stadium itself (with the guide), an exhibit of reconstructions of Roman and Greek helmets and other outfits (e.g. a chariot racer's), and a modern art exhibit using different colored pieces of marble. All of these blended really nicely together, and the museum had a really nice feel to it. I highly recommend it.

Honorable mentions: the San Paolo furi le mura is still one of my favorite Roman churches, and now it has a brand-new underground exhibit of the older structures of the basilica; the Castel Sant'Angelo is much worth visiting, since you can walk straight into Hadrian's tomb; and if you want the real, full, multi-level layer cake experience, don't miss the San Clemente basilica, complete with an underground mithraeum.

Happy travels!

Monday, May 9, 2016

A to Z Challenge Reflections


This has been by far the most challenging challenge I have done for A to Z. I was posting on two of my blogs, the MopDog (where my theme was Crazy Hungarian Cartoons), and this one, where I did Diversity and Representation in Traditional Stories. I started both blogs with one week's worth of posts scheduled (A-G), and tried to schedule a new one every day, but between writing the first chapter of my dissertation, wrapping up the semester, presenting at a conference, traveling home to Hungary, and preparing for launching my new book (this week!) I was barely pantsing it by the end.

On top of all this, I was a co-host once again this year. A million thanks to my amazing Minions of Might and Magic for helping me out!

In short, here is the summary of my A to Z experience:

The Good

1. I MADE IT! All the way, on both blogs. Yay!

2. I gained followers, my visit numbers jumped through the roof, and I got dozens of amazing comments every day.

3. I created a lasting resource of diverse and unusual folktales, fairy tales, and myths, that I hope storytellers will find useful in the future. I plan on updating these 25 posts regularly whenever I find a new story that fits one of the themes.

4. I discovered some really cool blogs, really cool themes, and amazing people. I am really happy to see that all of you are out there, busy typing away, and supporting each other!

The Bad

1. I did not have nearly as much time to visit as I would have wanted to. I made a point of re-visiting everyone who commented the day before, every day. Sometimes I did not have time to do more than that.

2. I did not get nearly as many re-visits as in previous years - people, somehow, seemed less engaged this year. By this I mean I got re-visits from people I already knew, but very few of the completely new blogs I worked my way through on the list ever returned. But this is just my personal experience.

3. Because of my limited time and energy, I did not have enough time to track down people who were not easy to re-visit. Many commenters didn't leave a signature, and clicking on their Google+ profile for the life of me I could not find their blog. Please, please, please, people, I would LOVE to return your visits, don't do this to me... 

The Future

As things are cooing down a little, I'll be going back to the blogs and themes I bookmarked, and reading the posts I missed. So if I didn't return your visits over the last week of the Challenge, I promise I will get back to you. It might take a while, but think of it as a late Christmas (Easter?...) present.

All in all, it was an extremely exhausting month, but I really enjoyed it, as usual. I was happy to see how many people found my theme useful, and all the interesting discussions it managed to spark. Thank you again, to all of you, and I'll see you on the road! :)