Thursday, October 8, 2015

Folklore Thursday: 12 things you didn't know about German dwarfs

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 is both my Folklore Thursday and my Dietrich Cycle post this week, because I am taking PhD prelim exams and this is all I have energy for. So.

I am reading a PhD dissertation from 1976, written by George Hans Heide, titled Dwarfs in German Folk Legend: An Inquiry into the Human Quality of these Creatures. It is a well done study; the author marked and labeled all the German dwarf legends he could find (in English and in German), and summarized all he found out about Dwarf society thematically (Appearance; Habitation; Society; Possessions; Skills and Occupations; Amusements; etc.) I am about halfway through the book, and I have found some very exciting little tidbits that I wanted to share:

1. In some occasions dwarfs might dress up in clothes that imitate the colors of songbirds. (How awesome an image is that?!)

2. Dwarfs can have a variety of skin colors, from snow white to black (take that, Tolkien fandom).

3. Dwarfs pee. (It's documented)

4. Female dwarfs ("dwarfesses," according to Heide) are pregnant for 9 days. (Good for them?...)

5. Dwarfs in German legend are a lot smaller than you think: Most often they stand about 3 spans (27 inches = app. 69 cm) or 2'4" tall - although some stories make them somewhat taller, the height of a child. They can also be a lot smaller, the size of a fir cone. Newborn baby dwarfs are the size of a human thumb.

6. There is at least one documented legend about a human nobleman cheating on his wife with a beautiful dwarfess.

7. Dwarfs can have queens!!! (This is important to me for the Dietrich research)

8. Dwarf children ("dwarflings") can play with human children, and sometimes they contract lice.

9. Dwarfs like to eat peas, grapes and raisins.

10. Female dwarf musicians play cheerful music; male dwarf musicians play solemn music.

11. Dwarfs enjoy nine-pin bowling.

12. Dwarfs enjoy storytelling. (I knew I liked them for a reason)

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Folklore Thursday: Jesus creates puli dogs

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.

Continuing the theme of the Peasant Bible, Hungarian folk legends about how various things came to be. On today's menu: Puli dogs.
Puli dogs are a "hungarikum," which is the word we use for typically Hungarian things. For more of those, you can visit my other blog... incidentally named MopDog.
Now, on to the story.

Jesus creates the puli dog
(Originally published in this book in Hungarian - folktales from Bács-Kiskun, Heves and Pest counties)

Jesus always loved shepherds; they were the first one to greet him when he came into the world, and they brought him a lamb and cheese and other gifts. In the days when he walked the earth he liked to stop and converse with them; of course they usually didn't know who they were talking to.
One day Jesus stopped to ask for a drink of water from a shepherd. The sheep were running all over the place, the man was chasing after them, and his water skin was empty; and yet he dropped everything and hurried to bring some fresh water for the weary traveler. When Jesus drank his fill and thanked him, the shepherd was ready to lunge after his wandering sheep again... but Jesus stopped him.
"Pick up that bone" he pointed, and the shepherd picked up a leg bone from the ground.
"There you go" he tried to hand it over to the stranger and go after the sheep who were quickly getting away, but Jesus stopped him again.
"Now throw it" he ordered, and the shepherd threw the bone away. The moment it hit the ground it bounced up and turned into a small dog, all fur and all bark, and the dog scampered after the sheep, herding them together in no time at all.
Jesus loved shepherds so much that he created the puli to do the herding for them.

In case you want visual proof, here is a video:

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

25 reasons why Ever After beats the new Cinderella movie

I watched Ever After and Live-Action Cinderella back to back. I wasn't planning on doing it that way; it just kind of happened. But the difference between Danielle and Ella, as well as their two respective movies, was so stunning that I just had to write a list about it.

So, here are all the things I think Ever After did them better:

Danielle has a name.
Ella ends the film with "I am Cinderella."
(You are not Iron Man, sweetheart.)

Danielle reads books.
Ella talks to mice.

Ever After is situated in a consistently Renaissance-esque setting.
Cinderella is situated in some fake Barbie-like 17th-19th century.

This looks
Danielle recognizes the prince when she sees him, and has the appropriate frantic commoner reaction (falls to her knees and apologizes for throwing apples at him)
Ella doesn't recognize the prince, and when she finds out that her mysterious "apprentice" friend (with the entourage and the fancy clothes, duh) is a prince... has absolutely no reaction.

Danielle risks her freedom and spends her money to rescue a servant and reunite him with his family.
We are repeatedly told by various characters Ella is brave and kind.

Danielle protects and spends time with the servants.
Ella waves sadly after them as they leave.

In Ever After, the stepsisters have their own personalities and stories. Even the "evil" one is fairly complex.
In Cinderella, the stepsisters are identical, and a comic relief.

Danielle has friends who actively help her in her journey because they like her.
Ella has a one-trick fairy godmother, and a girl she giggles with over the ball invitation (this girl never appears again).

Danielle and the prince talk about their opinions on the world, go to the library (!!!) together, and get into an adventure.
Ella and the prince talk about deer for two minutes, and then swing in the garden for another two.

Danielle stands up to her stepmother and sisters when they abuse her. She even punches one of them.
Ella mopes around and feels sorry for herself.

Danielle gets out her mother's old dress and works hard to fake being nobility.
Ella gets magic help upgrading her mother's old dress, and blends in with nobility with no effort whatsoever.

Danielle has embroidered slippers.
Ella has six-inch glass pumps.

Danielle gets her ball costume made by Leonardo Da Vinci.
Ella gets her costume made by Fairy Godmother CGI. Including digitally thinned waistline.

Danielle has to choose between the slipper and a book, and she picks the book.
Ella never has any other choice but the slipper.

Ever After deals with the fact that Danielle is a commoner and she lies about it, losing the prince's trust.
Cinderella does not care about any of that.

In Ever After the prince is called Henry.
In Cinderella, the prince is called Prince. Also goes by Kit.

Danielle has plans for what she will do as a queen, which mostly involve social and educational reform. She ends up building a free university.
Ella kind of stares into space and sings.

Ever After deals with the consequences of the prince turning down his intended bride.
Cinderella glides over the reason why the prince had to get married in the first place (because his tiny country is surrounded by enemies) - so it is kind of implied that the day after marrying a commoner, his kingdom was probably burned to the ground.
(What would you expect from Robb Stark?)

Danielle saves herself with her sword skills (or an epic bluff check).
Ella gets saved by a hesitant fat mouse.

In Ever After Danielle asks her stepmother if she ever loved her, and gets a firm no, "how could I."
In Cinderella, the stepmother breaks down and accuses Ella of being "too good and pure."

Ever After gives character and backstory to the stepmother, and shows her vulnerable when she loses her support with her husband.
Cinderella has the stepmother say "I'll tell you my story..." and then has her tell us everything we already know.

The long-dead mother is present in Danielle's life through her legacy, and so is her father through her book.
Ella's connection is focused on her father, and it is done once he is dead.

Ever After uses motifs from other folktales (e.g. the Clever Girl carrying the prince on her shoulder)
Cinderella uses motifs that are never used or explained again (Ella doing "magic" as a baby, the twig her father sends home, etc.)

Danielle shows emotions like anger, desperation, frustration, embarrassment, excitement, and joy.
Ella shows sadness and joy.

Ever After is a creative film adaptation of the motifs of a folktale.
Cinderella follows a cartoon based on a folktale word for word.

Anjelica Houston is a goddess and a perfect stepmother.
Cate Blachett is a goddess and a perfect stepmother.

All in all, I found Live-Action Cinderella cheesy, kitschy, and all-around boring and predictable.

To the crowds screaming "BUT IT'S A FAIRY TALE!!!": I know. I am a storyteller, believe me, I know. But what is great and well in a fairy tale told does not necessarily translate onto the big screen without looking like a lazy cliché. It still matters how it is told. 

To the crowds screaming "BUT IT'S A LIVE ACTION ADAPTATION OF THE DISNEY CARTOON!!!": I know. I don't like the Disney cartoon either.

I am sure an opposite list could also be assembled. Go ahead and have fun with it. :)

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Story Saturday: 5 Masculine Heroes Who Dressed Up As Women

Today we interrupt our regularly scheduled program of the Dietrich Cycle, to bring you the latest season of Mythology Drag Race.

One of the most fun stories to tell to any age group, the Þrymskviða tells the story of Thor's hammer Mjöllnir being stolen by the giant Thrym. He asks for the goddess Freya in exchange for the weapon, and she (dis)respectfully declines. Thor decides to take her place and dress up as a bride, with Loki as his maid, and they manage to fool the giant through the entire wedding, until the hammer is returned. Thor almost manages to give himself away by eating too much, and glaring at the giants, but Loki seems to be enjoying himself. 
(Of course it was Loki's idea.)

At some point in his career, Herc also got a taste of women's clothing, although not exactly by his own free will. Serving as a slave to Queen (or, according to some other sources, Goddess) Omphale, he spent a year switching roles with the lady - Omphale wore Hercules' lion skin, and the hero wore a woman's dress, doing women's chores around the house. While not voluntary, apparently the change did not leave a scar on his pride - once freed from the one-year contract, he ended up marrying Omphale, and fathering some legendary children.

(Because who wouldn't want to see Brad Pitt in drag?)
In a famous prequel to the whole Troy shebang, Achilles lived disguised as a girl for a while. Since the prophecy said he would die young, his mother tried to keep him away from fighting by dressing him as a girl, and sending him to live with the daughters of the king of Skyros, a tiny island. Achilles lived under the name of Pyrrha (Redhead), until Odysseus found out where he was hiding, and came to recruit him for the war effort. He brought jewelry and gifts for all the girls, and some weapons; then he pretended the island was under attack, and at the sound of the horns Achilles grabbed up a sword and thus gave himself away.
Story also says that while there, he fathered two sons with one of the actual daughters of the king. I am sure the girls didn't mind the dress.

I already wrote about this in my post on love stories from the Dietrich Cycle. Hugdieterich, emperor of Constantinople, not only dressed himself as a princess to get close to the love of his life, but even learned womanly arts like embroidery, in order to impress her father. She spent some time at court teaching the girls womanly arts, before giving away who he was (and fathering some heroic sons). Story doesn't tell if he kept his hobby of embroidery later on.

The leader of the legendary Pandava brothers of Indian mythology, the great and mighty hero Arjuna also spent a year in women's clothing (cursed into an eunuch by a woman whose advances he turned down). He took on the name Brihannala, and taught dancing and singing to a princess. He was later (after changing back) offered the hand of the princess, but declined, saying that he saw her as a student and a daughter. Princess ended up marrying his son instead.

Case in point: Wearing feminine clothing does not tarnish your chances at manly immortality.

One question remains: Who wore it best?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Folklore Thursday: Things we can blame on Adam and Eve

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.

Continuing my weekly theme:
Even among the amusing multitude of tales from the Peasant Bible, Adam and Eve stories by far are my favorites. They carry seeds from older beliefs, and fun explanations of how things came to be the way they are. And since Adam and Eve are the archetypal Man and Woman, a lot of these stories have to do with the human body.
Let's take a look:

Boy parts and girl parts
One of my favorite tales from the Peasant Bible deals with genitalia (go figure). The story goes that originally Adam and Eve didn't eat with their mouths; there was an opening on their stomach for putting the food in, and after digesting it they could go down to the stream, turn their stomach inside out, and rinse it (yumm). Eventually they got bored with all the hassle, and wanted to eat and poop like the animals do. God gave them some money each, and sent them to the shop (yes you read that right) to buy some thread and needles, and stitch up the opening.
As it happens, on the way to the shop they passed by a pub (yes you read that right too) and while Adam walked on by, Eve decided she could get something to drink, and buy thread with the rest of her money.
Adam stitched up the opening on his stomach with neat little stitches (masculinity, yo), and he had ample thread left over dangling down between his legs, so he tied a knot on it. Eve, on the other hand, did not have enough thread to sew everything up, and ended up with an opening between her legs that didn't get properly sewn in.
Anyhow, they soon found a fun new use for their equipment, so I guess it all worked out just fine.

Body hair
There are several versions of a story in which people are originally hairless, until God, for whatever reason, decides to give them a way to be hairy. In some versions of this tale, Adam asks for body hair to be more "manly" and earn Eve's respect. Whatever the reason, Adam goes down to the stream as God appointed, takes some water in his cupped hands, and rubs it all over his face, chest, head, armpits, and all other parts. Eve, seeing Adam in all his glorious body hair, wants some for herself as well (or just wants to be as intimidating as he is, depending on who is telling the story) and goes down to the same stream, takes the handful of water... and then a pesky little insect, a mosquito or a bee, decides to sting her right between the legs. She slaps the insect away, and all the water goes between her legs.
Ta-da, eons of suffering with bikini wax.

Body temperature
According to a laconically short note, Adam and Even first boinked on the ice of a frozen lake, which is why women's butts are always cold, and men's knees are always cold.
Test any part of this story at your own risk.
(I want to know the longer story behind this)

(Fun fact: If you type "Adam and Eve" into Google, the first hit is an adult store)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Back to the gardens

I did my second round of seed-and-flower storytelling at the school today. I only had two classes: 3rd grade and 2nd grade, although several other kids attempted to drag me into their classrooms as well.
I told the Pumpkin Girl in 3rd grade, because I was curious to see if it would work with a younger audience, or if the 6th grade was just particularly enthusiastic about it. Turns out that kids are very easily entertained with the thought of a talking pumpkin, and they giggled all the way through. While it is definitely a fun story to tell, it also brought up some questions from the kids that I need to consider before the next telling (if "being loved just as she was" turned the pumpkin back into a girl when why did her mother's love not break the spell? - thank you, Frozen!). I also told the Jasmine Princess again, because I was in the mood for monkeying around with the kids, and they definitely got a kick out of it. The giant's character is also a lot of fun to do.
(Background: It took me a while as a storyteller to dare to do funny voices and sounds. I don't do them a lot, but sometimes they are definitely fun)
Second grade remembered me as "the storyteller with the superhero stories," and wished to continue the conversation where we had left off last year (now there's a compliment). I told Jasmine Princess again (I am really starting to love this story, and the kids react to it really well). I also told the Magic Garden, and for some strange reason, it hit the right spot for 2nd grade. Some of them told me this was the best story they ever heard, and they seemed enchanted by the idea of birds, and seeds, and gardens, and the whole thing. When I told them that such gardens really exist, they got really excited. Also, one of the boys wanted to know what birds are made of. I passed the question off to their teacher.
All in all, the flowers and gardens theme was tons of fun to do, and I got some great new stories out of it. I wonder what the next request will be!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Sunflowers, seeds, storytelling

School's back in session, the semester has begun, and I am doing the grad student thing of papers and exams and whatnot. But even now I need regular storytelling to re-charge my batteries; so I have returned to my designated practice school. I contacted them early in September to ask what they were up to. The unexpected answer:

"Do you happen to have any stories about sunflowers?"

(Catholic school; their theme for the year is "Planting the seeds of virtues")
Have I mentioned that I am a sucker for thematic challenges? I gave my standard answer: Nope, but give me three weeks.
It has been an immensely fun three weeks too. I dug into folklore and mythology, looking for tellable stories involving sunflowers. I soon made some discoveries:

1. When you search for sunflower stories, 80% of what you find will be the Greek myth of Clytie. Which is a mistranslation. It's about the heliotrope. The Greeks didn't have sunflowers, because...
2. Sunflowers are indigenous to the Americas. Which means myths involving their creation are Native American myths, and I do not tell those (for various cultural / ethical reasons). Which led me to... 
3. Finding folktales and other stories that mention sunflowers. Sadly, several of them had the sunflower added in a literary version, or a picture book. Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters, for example, added sunflowers where there were originally none. While that is all good and well, I kept digging.

Eventually, I came up with a story from Peru (it was noted as a "legend" in some sources, but I did find an original author for it); a folktale from India; and two tales that mention sunflowers marginally. To this I added ten other tales that feature gardens, flowers, flower seeds, and the occasional fruit. It took me about three weeks to sift through a lot of folklore, and order books through Inter-Library Loan. I narrowed the stories down to fourteen from forty or so. 
But it was worth it.

Today, I went to the school and told in 6 classrooms (half an hour each). It was tons of fun.

In the kindergarten (garden, hah) I told "Why snow is white" from the new Bavarian folktale collection. It is a tiny story, but it works like a charm with the little ones. They loved imagining what show would be like if it was different colors, and they found sunflower-colored "yellow snow" the funniest thing in the world (don't eat yellow snow, kids). After the storytelling, they all wanted to hug me, and I toppled over against the bookshelves.
Another story that worked great with the younglings (K and 1st) was the Jasmine Princess. While some of the boys initially made faces about a "princess story," the giant and the monkeys soon won them over. It is a great story to tell, especially when you get two dozen six-year-olds making monkey noises.
For the older grades (7th and 8th) I told the legend of Stavoren the Sunken City. Not only is it a great environmental tale full of important messages, it is also very timely, since it talks about feeding the poor. Similarly, the Kazakh folktale of the Magic Garden (one of my favorites) worked well with the discussion about urban gardening.
One of my favorite new stories is Watermelon Island, a Vietnamese folktale about the discovery of watermelons. It is a very popular story, and I found many versions of it. It is not a magical tale - all very practical instead, but kids did get a kick out of discussing how great and tasty watermelons are. It did not help that I was very thirsty at the time. I might have drooled a little.
Of course I told the Empty Pot a couple of times, as the shortest story in my flower-and-garden repertoire. It is a very clever little tale. But the big winner of the day (in 6th grade, which is my favorite bunch at the school) was the Pumpkin Girl, a Persian folktale where a baby girl turns into, and lives, as a pumpkin. The class found it absolutely hilarious, and tried to puzzle out the details of how the magic worked. My favorite part: "You can't really shop for clothes for a pumpkin, right?" Boy: "You have to go to the Halloween store and buy a pumpkin costume." Me: "You can't just dress up a pumpkin as a pumpkin!" This story, by the way, showed Cinderella in a new light to me: In this case, there is a ring that has to fit the mysterious bride perfectly. However, the prince (groom) has to send the ring house to house, not because he wouldn't recognize her, but because he can't enter houses to meet girls face to face. So he sends a ring with a female servant. LOGIC.

I am going back for another round on Wednesday.
And now if you'll excuse me I'll go buy a watermelon.