Saturday, November 28, 2015

Story Saturday: What makes you pick up a folktale collection?

A while ago I announced that I want to turn my 2016 A to Z Challenge into a promotion for reading more folktales. I read a lot of amazing collections with amazing stories in them, but for me, it comes with the job - I really wish more people would pick the up for fun, and to learn about other cultures.

(You can read my full reasoning and announcement here)

I have been asking people to suggest some recently published (post-2010) folktale collections that I could review. In addition, I also created a poll on Goodreads, asking questions about what is most likely to make people pick up a collection of folktales.
The poll just concluded, and the results are in.

41 people answered the poll.
Out of these, almost half (18) said that the theme of the collection is most likely to make them pick up the book.
The second most popular feature (9) was the culture the stories came from.
Cover art and illustrations got 8 votes (who doesn't love a gorgeously illustrated book of fairy tales?)
Supernatural creatures got 2 votes.
The rest of the categories (number of stories included, name of the collector/author, titles of the tales included, having read tales from the same culture before) all got 1 vote each.

What this tells me:
I am going to be focusing on folktale collections with themes, as much as I can.
I will be selecting books from various cultures around the world, to make my A to Z as diverse as possible. I will be making a special effort to include collections from less well known traditions.
In my posts, I will be noting whether or not the book is illustrated (and if it is, I will try to post samples)

I am still looking for suggestions - if you have any books in mind that would fit (collection of folktales, published after 2010), let me know!

Also, since so many people were interested in themes and different cultures, I am also curious - what are some cultures that you have never read stories from before, but you would like to?

Here are some that I am considering so far:
Isle of Man
Siberian indigenous

I'll add to the list as I go along. I appreciate all input!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Folklore Thursday: Little Jesus solves bullying with candy

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.

Today I continue the theme of the Peasant Bible, a collective term for Hungarian folktales based on biblical topics. This story comes from the popular tradition of tales about Jesus' missing childhood years. It is one of my favorites Peasant Bible folktales to tell (and, incidentally, the only one that ever got me into trouble with religious parents).

Toys and candies

The workshop of Joseph the carpenter was at the edge of the village. One day, little Jesus decided he was old enough to help his mother Mary in any small way he could, and volunteered to take Joseph's lunch to the workshop by himself. Carrying the pot very carefully, he met a group of older boys who immediately decided to beat him up. Little Jesus could not outrun them with the pot, and was not willing to fight - so, as a last resort, he leaned down, picked up a handful of dirt, and threw it at them. The dirt turned into candies and toys; the boys stopped to pick them up, and little Jesus got safely away.

This story is as adorable as it is short, and it resonates really well with children. Parents have complained before that it is not in the biblical canon (they probably missed the "folktale" part of the intro), but the way I see it, the messages of this short little tale are actually pretty applicable:

1. If little Jesus himself can get bullied, that means you don't have to do anything wrong for people to pick on you. 

2. Little Jesus could probably have called down fire and brimstone on all bullies - but he didn't.

3. It is okay to run, and it is okay to tell your parents. Also, smarts win over force.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Timeless Tales collected from Syrian refugees (book review)

I first heard about this book at the Federation for European Storytelling conference in Greece this summer, from Jack Lynch, the Irish storyteller who revised the English translation. It immediately grabbed my attention - we spent a lot of time at the conference talking about the refugee situation.

Timeless Tales is the result of a joint project between the Swedish Cultural Heritage without Borders, Fabula Storytelling, and members of the the Hakaya network (Arab Education Forum, Al Barad theatre, Arab Resource Collective for Popular Arts - Al Jana). In 2014, Syrian researchers gathered more than 250 folktales from displaced people in refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon. They selected and transcribed 21 of them, and published them in January 2015 in a high quality, English-Arabic bilingual book.
This was the book that showed up in my mailbox two weeks ago, courtesy of Peter Hagberg from Fabula Storytelling. I was going to save it for my A to Z Challenge theme in April, but recent events made it very timely, so I decided to talk about it today.

In addition to being a very important project for the preservation of intangible cultural heritage, this book is also a very enjoyable read. It is shorter than it looks - the English half amounts to about 95 pages, with illustrations in-between - but it is very well organized. Each story is marked with the name, age, city of origin and current residence of its teller, often with footnotes explaining where the city is, and what kind of a region it belongs to. Additional notes explain names and cultural terms. The translators and editors even noted where the tales have been altered from their original format (this is how you know the book was created by professional storytellers).

The tales themselves are delightful, and run a wide range of genres. There are tricksters, wise fools, tragic lovers, man-eating ogres (which seems to be the generic term the translators used for ghouls), wise women, just kings, and camels that lay golden eggs (and then marry princesses). Some of the stories will ring familiar - there is a version of Love Like Salt, two different versions of the Animal Husband (one with a camel and one with a horse's head - this latter takes the cake in the category of "unlikely"). There is even a variation of the Three Little Pigs (without pigs, but with the addition of a ghoul). All the tales carry nuggets of wisdom and good advice - one of them is a very well-known inspirational story that has been making the rounds on the Internet, but the rest read like classic folklore.
I especially liked the stories that involved women in difficult family situations - one getting away from an abusive home by wit and luck, one saving her daughters from the jaws of a ghoul, and one giving advice to her husband on how to become wealthy. There is even a story in here about how a husband's own distrust and meanness turns his wives to erratic behavior (which he blames them for, until his own fault is pointed out). While not all the tales are kind to women, they have clearly been selected with a professional storyteller's eye to what would appeal to wider, contemporary audiences.

In the end, I was kind of sad that out of the 250 collected stories, only 21 made it into the collection - I hope to hear or read more of them in the future.

The illustrations are pretty and fun, and the entire layout of the book is clear, professional, and visually pleasing. All in all, the volume does justice to the tales, and to the people who tell them. I would like to quote the closing thoughts of its preface:

"Stories are what we are made of, and if we lose our stories we risk losing touch with our humanity and our identity. We strongly believe that through the enhancement of this thousand-year-old heritage of storytelling the Hakawati project has a potential to bridge ethnic, political and religious divides and hopefully build better understanding between people."

Strongly recommended read for all storytellers, story-loving people, and people following the news on the refugee debate.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Folklore Thursday: Archangels have problems with bureaucracy

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 folktales based on biblical themes. I think this week's selection says a lot about the Hungarian mentality concerning authority, rules, and commands...
(The most often used phrase is "we'll solve this smartly" which usually means bending the rules, going outside the rules, under the counter, through family connections, etc. This seems to be the principle Adam and Eve operate on, since they were clearly Hungarian. Duh.)
This story probably also has roots in the relationships between tenants and their landlords in the last century.

The Three Archangels

Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, and God was furious. He commanded that they shall be exiled from the Garden of Eden forever. He summoned Archangel Gabriel, handed him a flaming stick, and ordered him to remove the couple from the premises.
Adam saw the archangel approaching, and panicked.

"The judgment of God is upon us! We will be exiled from the Garden!"

Eve looked up too.

"Don't fret, my love. He's Hungarian. We'll solve this smartly."

Eve quickly set about making lunch, and by the time Gabriel descended, he was greeted with a table loaded with delicacies. Eve offered him the best seat, fed him, poured him drinks, petted his hair, treated him like a beloved guest.
The archangel grew uncomfortable.

"This is not why I came" he protested "The Lord ordered me to exile you from Paradise immediately, for breaking his commandment."

"Come on now" Eve purred "Do you really have such a callous heart? We greeted you, we fed you we treated you well. Look at how content we are. Would you really ruin this perfect happiness?"

She talked and she talked, and finally Gabriel returned to Heaven without completing his mission.

"Is it done?" asked God.

"Oh, please Lord, don't punish me!" Gabriel pleaded "Those two are so happy and content together! They were like a pair of doves. I didn't have the heart to exile them."

God sighed.

"I see. I shall send somebody else."

He summoned a Romanian archangel, Peter, and ordered him to go and exile Adam and Eve from Paradise.
Adam saw Peter descending, and panicked again.

"The Lord is sending another archangel! What shall we do?!"

"Don't fret" Eve waved "I know exactly what to do."

Peter landed in the middle of the Garden, and Eve hurried to meet him.

"Good day, good day, Archangel Peter. What can we do for you today?"

"God commands that you leave the Garden immediately" he archangel told her "You have broken your promise, and you have no place in his Paradise anymore. He sent me to see you out."

Eve planted a hand on her hip.

"It that so? And where is the paper?"

"What paper?"

"Are you telling me you came here without a written order? How do I know you are telling the truth? We are not going anywhere until you bring written proof of God's will!"

The archangel, not sure how to argue with this request, returned to Heaven.

"Is it done?" asked God.

"No" admitted the angel "They won't leave without an order in writing. I didn't know what to do."

"That's enough" God rumbled "I will have to send Michael."

Archangel Michael, German by nationality, appeared immediately, and took the flaming stick from God's hand.

"Go and make sure Adam and Eve leave the Garden!"

Michael descended from the Heavens. Adam and Eve saw him coming. Eve immediately set about preparing a feast for him; when Michael arrived, she offered him the best seat, a choice of the best dishes, made sure his cup was always full. They spend a friendly dinner together, and Eve made sure she did everything in her power to bribe Michael into favoring them.
Once the dinner was over, Michael stood up from the table.

"Thank you for the meal. And now, please leave."

"Do we really have to?" Eve purred.

"Yes. The rules are rules. Vacate the premises immediately."

No matter what Adam and Eve offered to pay him off, Michael stayed adamant, and escorted the couple all the way to the gates of Eden.

Obviously, this folktale is not very PC. The original text makes fun of the angels' nationalities. But ever since the first time I read it, I always thought it was much better suited for making a point about Adam and Eve trying to wiggle out of God's orders, and trying to "solve things smartly," which was the national pastime of Hungarians in the Socialist era. So I left Eve's trickery in, and toned down the stereotypes. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Guest Blog: "New Trad" Storytelling (by Danielle Bellone)

Today, for the first time in Multicolored history, we have a guest blogger!

My dear friend and former comrade in the Storytelling program, Danielle Bellone (I wrote about her fabulous Finest Hour performance on the blog), is working in the new field of "new trad" storytelling. Since it is a fascinating topic, I asked for her take on it, explaining what "new trad" is, and why it is important. 
Read it in her own lovely words!

* * *

It’s a Tuesday night. I am feverishly sorting through stacks and stacks of collections of folk and fairy tales. Calvino, Andersen, Carter, Beckwith, Ragan. I even have The Russian Secret Tales and Pissin’ in the Snow, two collections of naughty stories from Russia and the Ozarks, respectively, not meant for innocent ears.  Surely in these risqué collections I will find something close to what I’m looking for. But no! There is nothing! Not in the Gumbo Ya-Ya, not in Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry. I slam closed another book, and wail my despair up to the gods of storytelling,


My journey to new trad storytelling started when my friends Jenny and Marisa asked me to tell a story at their wedding, I searched and searched through tomes of folktales. I nearly settled on a Russian folktale called “The Magic Ring” for its ring imagery and happy ending, but I realized that in order for me to tell it comfortably, I felt the need to do a feminist rendering of the story, and it became more about politics than love. The more I searched for love stories among folk tales, the more politicized I felt, until every story I touched felt more about confronting the patriarchy than the joyous celebration of a union. And every love story I found with two same-sex characters seemed to end in suicide, gender-swap, or one of the lovers being turned into a constellation. If I wanted a lesbian love story that didn’t end in tragedy, I was going to have to make it myself. And once I did, I realized how hungrily I had been waiting for a story of women, and only women, loving and creating.

Inadvertently, I had stumbled upon the world of new trad. The term “new trad” has been in circulation in the realms of poetry and architecture for a while. It’s short for “new traditional” and refers to the practice of using traditional pieces in new ways. It’s the same in storytelling: new or original stories that are made of traditional pieces. They do not reinterpret classic or traditional tales. However, they do contain elements of traditional tales: there may be heroes, crones, dragons, enchantments, dark nights of the soul, and other familiar tropes, but it’s not just Cinderella with a cell phone.

By giving us the distancing mechanisms of folk tales, new trad allows us to storytalk about things that most folk tales don’t quite reach, either because they were culturally taboo or because they just didn’t exist yet. With new trad stories, a teller can address topics like interfaith relationships, social media, miscarriage, and massive student debt…topics that traditional folk tales usually don’t have a handle on. Or, as in my case with the lesbian wedding, we can tailor a story to an exact situation for greater relevance and authenticity. And we can do so without trampling on other cultures by wantonly changing their stories’ themes to suit our own motives.

So now, if you have the entire world of topics free for the crafting-into-stories, what would you tell? What stories have you been hungering for? 

Danielle Bellone is a storyteller, harpist, fabulist, poet, and native of Louisiana. She completed her Master’s in Storytelling at East Tennessee State University, and now makes her home in the strange hills of Austin, Texas. She was recently featured on the BYU Radio podcast "The Apple Seed," and was invited to perform at the National Storytelling Conference. Her work can be read in Indigo Ink's Modern Grimmoire, or heard in her storytelling album, Moon-Eyed Sister

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Story Saturday: What does YOUR Cinderella look like?

This is an intriguing little thing that has been rattling around in my head lately. Every time I open Facebook, there is a high chance I'll run into one of those "Disney princesses reimagined as..." memes.
In case you have missed this trend, here are some things Snow White & Co. have been re-drawn as lately:

Iconic horror movie villains
Real people
Famous people
Wearing historically accurate costumes
Having realistic hair
Characters from the Walking Dead
Tattoo pin-up girls
Different races/cultures
Fine arts portraits
Having short hair
Each other
Twisted creatures
Pop culture heroines
College students
And finally, the ultimate spoof of the trend:
Lukewarm bowls of water

The visual cues people most often associate with folk- and fairy tale characters tend to come from illustrations they see as children. This and the memes above (especially the ones that play around with the appearance of the princesses) made me wonder how much of our mental imagery is influenced by Disney. I am not one of those storytellers who scream about the death of imagination every time someone mentions the D word... but when I ask myself how I pictured these folk- and fairy tale characters before I saw the canon Disney imagery, I have some very interesting realizations.

My Little Mermaid has never been a redhead. I grew up with the Japanese cartoon instead of the Disney one (which I didn't see until college), so the Little Mermaid in my head has always been blonde (oh, and her name was Marina and she didn't wear a bra).

Talking about blondes: My Cinderella has always been a brunette. I don't remember where I got that idea; she just always sounded like a brunette to me. I also imagined her as very tiny. The dresses, however, I very clearly remember coming from a Hungarian picture book. There were three of them (duh), one pink, one blue, and one green and gold.
Some of my other iconic early fairy tale images came from the same book series. The princess of the Frog King was blonde, round-faced and curly-haired; the Nixie in the millpond was black-haired and rosy cheeked.

My Sleeping Beauty, on the other hand, was definitely a redhead (kind of a dark, coppery red) with freckles. I usually imagined her in a matching yellow dress. Since in Hungarian, her name is Csipkerózsika (Little Briar Rose), I always imagined her castle as tangled in thorny vines, but also covered in pale pink dog-rose flowers.

Snow White is pretty much a given, except in my head she has a long black braid, and doesn't wear yellow-and-blue.

Images definitely get more random once we get to stories that have never really been put to the iconic big screen. But now I am wondering: How many children get to make their own mental images of these classic characters before popular media teaches them what they should look like?

So here is the question:

Do you remember any folk- or fairy tale characters that lived in your head before you saw canonized pictures of them? What did they look like? Why did you like imagining them like that?

I would love to hear from you! :)

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Folklore Thursday: Why toddlers exist

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 am still polling people on what makes them pick up a folktale collection. You can vote here.

I am also still looking for suggestions for folktale collections that I should read and review for A to Z.

As you can see from the posts below, I had a very busy weekend telling epics, so I will keep this short(ish). Once again, I am posting a story from the Peasant Bible, a collection of Hungarian folktales based on biblical themes.

Why toddlers exist

When God was done creating all the animals plus Adam and Eve, he gathered them all at the center of Paradise for a Sunday meeting. He wanted to give them all the gift of independence - allowing their young to take care of themselves as soon as they were born.
Said God to the Mare:
"Let your colt go, let it run!"
And the colt immediately stood on shaky legs and ran to the pasture to graze.
Said God to the Hen:
"Let you chicks go, let them run!"
And the chicklets all followed the hen to scratch int he dirt and look for food.
Finally, God turned to Eve, who was nursing her child.
"Let your child go, let him run!"
But Eve did not like the idea.
"Let him go?! He'll fall and break his leg! He'll trip and hit his head on something. I'm not letting him go!"
God, being ever so polite, repeated the request. Eve shook her head stubbornly.
"Dear God, dear Lord, how could I let my baby go? His bones are so fragile, he is not ready to run yet!"
God finally lost his patience.
"Well, since you wouldn't let him go, then you'll have to carry him for en entire year - and even after that, it will take time for him to run!"
And so it happened. Ever since then, human babies need an entire year to stand and walk, and even then they are as wobbly as newborn colts.