Monday, March 18, 2019

The Great and Powerful A to Z Challenge Theme Reveal!

Today is the day! The day when all the bloggers participating in the A to Z Challenge reveal their planned themes for this year. I have been participating in A to Z since 2012, and I have been doing themes since 2013. They are always "Mythology and Folklore" related (duh). In the past years, my themes have been:

Weird Princesses (2013)
Tales with Colors (2014)
Epics A to Z (2015)
Diversity A to Z (2016)
WTF - Weird Things in Folktales (2017)
WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales (2018)

This year, once again, I am doing a folktale-related theme. Drumroll, please! The theme for the 2019 A to Z Challenge on this blog is


Folktales, legends, and myths about fruit, from A to Z. I have been thinking about this theme for years, because I love eating fruit, and I am fascinated by all the traditional stories around the world that feature them. And since I already have all my posts locked and loaded, I can tell you that there will be some unexpected contestants on the list! Get ready for redcurrants, persimmons, Indian almonds, and whatever the heck a kundong koong is.
See you in April!

(Don't forget to visit the A to Z Challenge main blog today for the list of all the other Theme Reveals!)

Jackals, hyenas, dogs (Following folktales around the world 103. - Chad)

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!

Chad is another one of those countries where I could not find a folktale collection (or rather, I did, but in French). So, I gathered what I found on the Internet (more specifically, here).

The sheep, the goat, and the dog
I have heard this story before from a Peruvian storyteller, but with a llama instead of a goat. The three animals go hitchhiking. The sheep pays the exact amount of money for the ride, the dog pays more, and the goat doesn't pay at all.When they arrive, the goat runs away, and the driver keeps the dog's change in revenge. This is why dogs chase cars, goats run away from them, and sheep do nothing.

The hyena, the goat, and the peace
Wild and domesticated animals decide to sign a peace treaty so that no one can hunt and kill the other anymore. They all gather for the signing, and to celebrate, they have a party. The party gets wild, and eventually the hyena attacks the goat. Peace is broken, party turns into a free-for all. The story ends with a moral: You can't create peace with words and paper, only with action.

The jackal and the dog
Jackal and dog used to be friends, living together in the bush. One night, dog decided to get fire from the humans, to warm themselves. Humans were friendly to him, and threw him bones, so the dog never returned to his friend. This is why jackals howl at night, and dogs bark back.

Hyena, monkey, and hare
A classic tale, where monkey rescues hyena from a well, and it wants to eat him in return. They go to the hare for justice, and he suggests they should recreate the scene - and they leave the hyena in the well.

Orphan Nidjema
Interesting half-story. The orphan girl is abused by everyone, and she has to work day and night. She runs away into the wilderness to end her life. She asks a series of monsters to kill her, but they all refuse. Eventually she meets Death, who tells her it is not her time yet, and she should go home and endure, waiting for her life to turn for the better. That's it.

Where to next?

Sunday, March 17, 2019

From Homer to Assassin's Creed - Epics, games, and digital storytelling

This week I attended a conference organized by the Haus der Märchen und Geschichten of Aachen, and the University of Cologne with the support of FEST. The conference was on the contemporary adaptations and associations of Homer's Odyssey. I was invited to present a lecture on my dissertation topic (soon to be published as a book with a hot half-naked gladiator on the cover), forum-based role-playing games as a form of digital storytelling.
Incidentally, this was also my first time ever visiting Germany.

I arrived in Cologne on a Wednesday, and since I was greeted by icy winds and rain (later turning into a hailstorm and a nearby tornado), I spent the time before my AirBnB became available inside the cathedral. It is a gorgeous Gothic  building that one can spend a lot of time inside. Among many interesting things, I got to see the reliquary of the Magi, of which I have fond memories from university lectures taught by Dr. Németh György (apparently, the reason why Balthasar is usually portrayed as a black man can be traced back to a Roman gemma used to decorate this reliquary). I cheerfully wandered around the cathedral for a few hours, grateful for all the things to see - since the nearby Roman-Germanic Museum proved to be stubbornly closed to visitors.

The conference itself took place in one of the lecture halls of the University of Cologne. Most of the presentations were in German, which I could more or less follow in the morning, but by the afternoon, my brain was beginning to lose track of things. Still, I was proud of catching the gist. There were presentations on the narrative structure of Homer's Odyssey (Dr. Katharina Kostopoulos), the adaptations of the epic into film and comics (Dr. Michael Kleu), Assassin's Creed Odyssey and its historical and narrative elements, and Odyssey motifs in Tad Williams' novels (Dr. Simon Lentzsch). I myself talked about forum-based role-playing games, their similarities to certain mechanics of oral tradition, and how they adapt mythical characters and stories into text-based gaming. Participants were eager and interested, and we had some good Q&A after the lecture.
The treat of the day was, obviously, the storytelling. Daniel Morden and Hugh Lupton were invited to tell us their two-hour rendering of the Odyssey, in English. Both of them are masterful storytellers, and hearing the epic told by them, coming alive in spoken word, gave me chills all over. The organizers made sure we had hot tea, cookies, and chocolate, so that we could appropriately immerse ourselves in the listening experience. It was a lovely way to spend the morning.
In the evening, we closed the conference with a free and lively discussion, and invited the remaining participants to join us for delicious dinner at a small café. It was a great company of researchers, Classicists, storytellers, gamers, and other fun people.

Since my flight was scheduled for the evening of the next day, I had another half a day to explore Cologne. Getting off the tram at Neumarkt I ran straight into the March 15th #FridaysforFuture march, and got to witness thousands of children and teenagers protesting for climate action. It was an incredible experience that restored a lot of my faith in humanity. The kids are here to save us all.
Since it was also raining pretty hard by then, I decided to underground, and visit the Roman Praetorium. It is a great archaeological site that no one else seemed to be interested in at the time, so I got to wander around alone in the Roman sewer system and the covered ruins area. (The sewers also figure into a fun legend about the building of the cathedral, in which they allegedly were dug out by the devil.)

It was a short trip, but a lot of fun. Cologne is a nice city, and the conference was great - not just because of the storytelling, but because I got to see so many researchers from different fields come together to share our enthusiasm for old stories and new adaptations. I hope FEST will support other events like this in the future. Game on, people! :)

Monday, March 11, 2019

Bedtime lions (Following folktales around the world 102. - Sudan)

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!

Dinka Folktales
African stories from the Sudan
Francis Mading Deng
Africana Publishing Company, 1984.

The book contains 21 stories from the Dinka tradition. The Dinka are the largest ethnic group in Sudan; at the time when this book was written, they lived in twenty-five separate tribal groups. Dr. Deng collected the stories with the help of a recording device that was sometimes left in the care of the people for the night, so that bedtime stories could be recorded as they naturally occurred. The book comes with a densely worded foreword about the role of stories in Dinka society, an introduction from the collector, and an afterword about Dinka culture and society to provide context for the tales. The introduction reveals some fascinating tidbits such as bedtime stories are generally known as "lions" (lions are feared and respected), or that the word the Dinka use for storytelling, paar, literally translates into an "attempt to reconstruct as much of the truth as possible from the scanty information available." Dinka tales are usually told in the evening, when everyone goes to bed, and storytellers pass the word around until everyone falls asleep. Calling them "lion" is very appropriate - I only found two stories in the book that did not feature lions.


One of my favorite stories in the book was Ayak and the Lost Bridegroom. A lioness kidnapped the groom from his wedding, so the bride set out to rescue him; she even wrestled the lioness to win him back. In another, friendlier story (Achol and her adoptive lioness-mother) two abandoned children were adopted by a lioness. The boy ran away, but the girl stayed, and was raised by the lioness, who eventually helped her find her family. This was also the only story where the lion was not killed in the end, but accepted into the human family.
In the story of Diirawic, the heroine's brother wanted to marry her, so she ran away into the wilderness with all the girls in her village. They built a fortress, and lived there for five years; they tamed a lion whom they adopted as a brother. Eventually, they returned home, and a girl found herself a husband. She gave birth to twelve human children, and a lion cub...
In the tale of Aluel and her loving father, an active and caring father figure appeared next to the wicked stepmother. He did his best to keep the stepmother from hurting Aluel. When she ran away anyway, the girl was adopted by the Sun and his two wives (since they could not have children of their own, more than one sun would have been risky for the earth). She was raised in the Sun's house, and eventually returned to her father. In the story of Deng and his vicious stepmother, it was the half-brother that helped the hero: both boys were named Deng, but one had a mortal woman for a mother, and the other a lioness. When the lioness went feral, Lion-Deng saved his brother repeatedly. They even rescued two children from lions. In the story of Achol and her wild mother, the mother sold herself piece by piece to a lion (to help her family) until she turned into a feral lion herself. Her children had to campture her, beat her, and tame her, to turn her human again.


The story of Acienggaakdit és Acienggaakthii fit the tale type of the kind and the unkind girls, although not perfectly. The older, mean half-sister sent her kind little sister away; the little sister had broken her favorite gourd, and the mean girl insisted it should be repaired with lion hair. Luckily, the little half-sister's full-sister was married to a lion, so she turned to them for help. Following her loving sister's advice, she managed to make friends with the lion, and get away with a handful of hair. Her mean half-sister, seeing proof of her bravery, grew jealous, and decided to go on the same quest... but, of course, being rude and brash, she never returned.

Where to next?

Thursday, March 7, 2019

The Badass Grandmas of Hungarian Folktales (a #FolkloreThursday special)

Tomorrow is International Women's Day. I have been working on a Feminist Hungarian Folktales collection, and the deeper I dug into out folklore archives, the more often I encountered old women who were smart, active, and all-around badass. I decided that I would like to highlight them in this year's post. So, without further ado:


The ex-princess

In a folktale by a traditional teller from Rozsály, a young Scythian king makes a name for himself by rescuing a cursed princess. Her father had punished her because she fell in love with the wrong person; when the Scythian prince sets her free, she promises to repay his kindness one day. Time flies, the king has sons, the sons grow up, and set out to seek their fortune. On the way, an old woman joins them, not-so-subtly helping them along. She rescues them from bandits, and packs the bandit chief's head away in her purse. Later on, when a king promises his daughter to whoever can rid the woods of bandits, Granny pulls out the severed head, and demands the princess for one of the lads. The king is not too enthusiastic about the match, and orders his servants to toss the prince out of the highest tower at night... but luckily, the prince falls right into the arms of the old woman, who has been waiting around below the tower, with her back to the wall. To catch him. As the story progresses, she blinds an entire army, secures the match for one brother, and finds another princess for the other, until all is well in the end. Once a double wedding is celebrated, the cursed-princess-turned-badass-grandma turns into a dove, and flies away.

The salty witch

You know that story, right? "I love you like people love salt"? Well, in a Hungarian Roma variant the princess, exiled by her narcissistic father, ends up in the woods, and is found by an old woman everyone in the area is scared of. Granny states that the king is a real piece of work, and adopts the princess. Eventually, a young man joins them as a servant. One day, Granny decides it is time to teach the king a lesson, and takes the princess home to the palace, where they cook an unsalted feast together. The king, of course, learns his lesson about the importance of seasoning - and to drive the point home, Granny starts shaking salt out of a magic bag, filling up the room, yelling "Is that enough salt yet? Is that enough?" When the king begs for forgiveness, the old lady nods: "Good. And don't ever make me save your daughter from you again."

The dragon slayer

In another Roma folktale, an old man is imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit, and his wife is left alone. The old woman sets out to rescue her husband, walking through a forest everyone warns her not to enter - it belongs to a dragon. On the way, the old woman meets the dragon (it has 28 heads!). She offers it some milk, and manages to lull and hum and pet it to sleep. While the dragon is sleeping, she cuts off her long hair, and ties the beast up so thoroughly that when it wakes and struggles, it strangles itself. Once people in town hear what she's done, they let her husband go free.

The smart mother-in-law

This Transcarpathian story (included in my book) is a variant of Rumpelstiltskin that is much kinder, and all-around nicer, than the Grimm version. More importantly, it features a dowager queen, the king's mother, who is on her daughter-in-law's side from the first moment. To cover up the lie about spinning gold, day after day she stands in the door of the girl's room, spinning stories about why the gold is not ready. No one dares question her word, so she keeps winning time until the whole situation is resolved.

The demon hunter

Hungarian folklore features a type of demonic being known as a lidérc. Most often it appears as an ugly chicken with magical properties: It can bring you whatever you want, in great quantities, and it will make you rich - but the moment it gets bored, it takes your soul to hell. Owners of lidérc chicken have to continuously keep them busy, because their soul is on the line. In one story, a widow finds such a creature, but soon discovers that it is impossible to coexist with - when it is not piling things into the house, it keeps chirping "What? What? WHAT?" until it is given another task. Eventually, the wise old neighbor woman comes up with a solution for how to get rid of the demon (you have to give it an impossible task). Following the sage advice, the widow frees herself, and splits the spoils with her neighbor.

Bonus: The Virgin Mary

There is a Transylvanian folktale that is very similar to Bluebeard, but has a better ending. In this one, the heroine helps her sisters escape from the murderer's castle, and finds a new life for herself as well. However, her evil ex-husband eventually catches up to her, kidnaps her, and drags her back home by the hair. On the way, the scene is noticed by the Virgin Mary, who stops the man, and demands to know what is going on. When the man claims that he has the right to punish his runaway wife, the Virgin says "No, you don't. You are a devil, and you have no claim on any woman." And with that, she turns the man into stone, and escorts the woman back home.

Happy International Women's Day to all real life badass grandmas, aunties, godmothers, and other legendary elders!

Monday, March 4, 2019

Land of Life and Death (Following folktales around the world 101. - Egypt)

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!

Folktales of Egypt
Hasan M. El-Shamy
University of Chicago Press, 1982.

A classic collection from a great series. Egyptian folklorist Hasan El-Shamy has done incredible work for the collection and preservation of Egyptian andArab folktales. At the start of his research in the 1960s, mere dozens of tales had been collected; he started a campaign to record and archive oral tradition all over Egypt, including Copt, Nubian, and Berber communities. This book contains 70 of the more than 2000 tales that have been preserved. There is a long foreword about Egyptian storytelling from American folklorist Richard M. Dorson, and a shorter introduction from the editor. From the latter, we learn a lot about Egyptian oral tradition, and the role of storytelling in everyday life (such as, "wonder tales" were almost always told by women, and that by the 1960s there were no professional tellers working in Cairo). Before each story, we learn about the storyteller, and get a short note with information about the cultural elements of the tale. At the end of the book there are ample notes and references for each tale; and even the thematic chapters come with their own introductions. This book really contains all the information the reader could ever need about a folktale. It is a great example of folklore publication.


Bishari youth
Among many stories of wisdom, my favorite was The liver of the wise and the liver of the foolish. A king wanted to eat the livers of a wise and a foolish man (this was the only cure for his illness). For a fool, he caught a Bishari tribesman, and for a wise man, he caught a judge. Except the Bishari soon proved that he himself was very wise, and the judge only had mindless book knowledge (and then got two other victims for the king - the vizier and a poet). I also liked the story of Sultan Hasan, who had been exiled from his realm, and got married to a divorced woman. It was supposed to be a legal loophole marriage, but they fell in love, and refused to get divorced again.
Among the religious legends, I really liked the stories about Azrael, the Angel of Death. In one, he talked a man out of suicide, but later, when the man tried to cheat his way out of death, Azrael tricked him anyway. From another legend we also learned that Azrael does cry, laugh, and feel fear sometimes.
There was also a story where injustice prevailed. A judge and a baker stole a roasted duck; later, when the duck's owner took the baker to court (with all the other people the baker had wronged), the judge decided every case in the baker's favor, until the last man decided not to complain at all, too afraid to get fined. A very realistic ending to a tale.
Another story told about Reasons to beat your wife - or rather, reasons not to. In it, a man with a great wife was constantly told by his friend that he should beat her anyway, just for good measure, and that he should manufacture a reason to do so. The clever wife, however, avoided the beating, until her husband reconsidered his friend's foolish advice.


In the Introduction I encountered a tale about a sultan who was turned into a woman, then back - a story type I have only encountered so far (apart from Tiresias) in Scotland. The same type repeated twice in the story of The grateful fish.
Among better known tales, there was a Clever Maiden (Sesame seed; here she was the wife's sister, giving advice to her brother-in-law on how to fulfill the sultan's impossible wishes); a Magic Flight, combined with Rapunzel (Louliyya, Morgan's daughter); Magician's Apprentice (The Maghrabi's Apprentice); and another Silent Princess tricked into speaking by dilemma tales and some jealousy (The royal candlestick). After Greece, I once again found the story of the man who tried to fix the dripping fountain of his luck, but accidentally managed to stop it up for good. I also found one of those stories where three men do some excellent detective work finding a one-eyed camel - in this case, they also had to figure out which Mohamed should inherit after their father.
After Serbia, I once again encountered the story of the Land of Darkness - it is a part of the Alexander (Al-Iskander) epic where Alexander the great sets out the Fountain of Immortality. In the end, it is his counselor el-Khidr who accidentally finds it and bathes in it, and becomes an immortal (who shows up whenever stories are told about him). The legendary Arab hero Antar ibn Shaddad also made a brief appearance from beyond the grave in one of the legends. And to add to the lineup of famous men, Saint George (Mari Girgis) figured into several Coptic tales, including the famous dragon-slaying one, which is tied to Nile fertility rites.
I found out that Egyptians also have the concept of changelings - here, it is the djinn who change the babies for their own.
Abu Nawwas
Among the trickster tales, there was a classic "top and bottom of the crops" story, between a lion and the mouse, resolved with another classic, the race between animals. Among famous human tricksters we had Goha and Abu-Nawwas (a court poet of Harun Al Rasheed). The latter won a contest in laziness by not even entering. About Goha, there were multiple stories; in one, he faked his own death to prove a point to his wife; in another, he was really dying, but trying to trick Azrael out of taking him. There was also the classic tale about applying pepper to a donkey's ass - a story I first learned from my grandfather, who swore up and down it happened in our own village.
There was even a collection of jokes at the end of the book (jokes are a folk genre too). I liked the one where the police found out about the origins of an ancient Egyptian statue - because they made it confess everything. In another one, a recently deceased man decided to take a trip from heave to hell on a tourist visa, and enjoyed it very much; but when he went back on an immigrant visa, he was thrown into the pit with the rest of them. Think about it.

Where to next?

Monday, February 25, 2019

Brains over ghouls (Following folktales around the world 100. - Libya)

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!

One hundred countries! What an adventure :)

Since I could not find a full folktale collection from Libya, I hinted down the following seven stories from various sources:

The iron pestle and the girl with a donkey's head
(Arab Folktales)
Magic Flight of two lovers from a ghoul, except here the girl doesn't forget about her lover, but rather goes a donkey head on the way home. Brownie points to the ghoul, he eventually regrets his curse, and sends the girl a gift that changes her back.

Si'Djeha's miracles
(Arab Folktales)
Classic trickster tale with evergreen motifs such as getting out of a bag by switching places with a dupe, or getting away with stealing a bunch of sheep. Si'Djeha is a popular North African trickster figure.

God will provide
(Arab Folktales)
A poor man believes that God will provide for him even if he stays in bed all day - and he is right, because through a series of accidental events he does end up with a whole pile of gold, without ever leaving his house.

Fatoom, the daughter of beggars
(The Bird)
Puss in Boots crossed with a murder mystery. A beggar girl runs away from her abusive mother, and marries the king, lying about her parentage. The mother follows her, and keeps reminding her she is a beggar, until she pushes her out the window. The dead mother turns into a tree that keeps repeating the accusations, until the girl tells the king that her father has a greater palace than his. The king immediately wants to see the palace. Luckily, a helpful turtle comes along, finds a palace, and the girl's lie is never revealed. Neither is her crime, by the way.

Sabe'a sabaya
(Tripoli Post)
Ali Baba type tale. A poor man with a clever wife manages to rob a palace that belongs to ghawal (ghoul?) monsters. His brother becomes jealous and wants to to the same, but he doesn't follow the detailed advice, and ends up being consumed by the monsters. They return his head to his wife, though.

The sons of Sultan Bey
(Fairy Tales)
A really great story about three princes who set out to seek their fortune. The two older brothers settle for gold, but the youngest wants to find a princess to marry. A djinn helps him set out in the right direction, but he gets shipwrecked on the way, and rescued by the Bride of the Sea. The mermaid turns him into a girl so he can go into the king's harem and make friends with the princess. She turns out to be a horrible person, so the prince goes back into the sea, and marries the mermaid instead. This is how the Little Mermaid should have ended...

Libyan Jewish women in traditional garb
The pupil who bested the master
(World Folklore for Storytellers)
Libyan Jewish folktale. A poor boy sets out to learn a trade, so that he can marry the governor's daughter. He finds work in the devil's palace, and learns magic. When he discovers that the devil kills all his pupils, he flees. There is a shape-shifting chase scene (during which at one point the girl hides him in the form of a ring), and he eventually defeats the devil, and marries the governor's daughter.

Where to next?