Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Cinderfella, Sleeping Prince: Less-known versions of popular folktales (Feminist Folktales, special edition)

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

Today's post is a special edition: I have collected variants of well known folktales where the gender of the hero is different from what we are used to (not saying "opposite" because gender is not a binary, people). My goal was to show off how - while people tend to bash/praise folktales for promoting "traditional gender roles" - oral folklore around the world is a lot more flexible than we tend to give credit for. 
(Links in the titles.)



Cinderella is often brought up when people discuss gender roles in fairy tales (see "if Cinderella were a guy" by the creators of - the otherwise amazing - Rebel Girls). And yet, a whole lot of Cinderfellas exist in folktales around the world. There is a Hungarian folktale called Prince Cinderella (although, despite the title, the cinder-boy walks a whole different journey), and the folktale type of The princess on the Glass Mountain (ATU 530) also often revolves around an abused youngest brother showing up in disguise three times to win a princess. 
The Cameroon folktale of The unhappy stepson follows the Cinderella plot to a letter. A boy is left at home by his stepmother to sort beans, while the princess is having a ball to pick a husband. The boy is dressed for the ball by the spirit of his mother. In the end, he even leaves his shoe behind, and the princess uses it to find him. 


Sleepig beauties are not always women - in many tales, it is a sleeping prince who needs to be awakened. In the Turkish fairy tale of The dragon prince and the stepmother, the female hero wakes and rescues a prince enchanted by peris. There is a similar Greek folktale, as well as an entire folktale type (ATU 425g), where the female hero has to sit vigil over a prince for many days and nights until the curse is broken. Often she is replaced in the last minute by a false bride - but I also know at least one variant where the women become friends instead.


Boudin-Boudine is a French folktale, where the role of Little Red Riding Hood is taken up by the boy. Also, in the end the wolf is chased away by a broom-wielding grandma.


The Swedish folktale that Andersen based his Princess and the Pea on is actually much more fun than his version. It is essentially a Puss in Boots tale, except the hero is a clever girl, and she is helped by a clever dog. And she is not bothered by the pea at all.


There is a folktale type (ATU 725) about a hero who sees a prophetic dream of wealth and fortune, but either refuses to tell his parents about it, or tells them and they are angered by his inpertinence (see Joseph and his brothers). In the end, of course, the dream comes true. Well, in the Greek folktale of The Wild Man's daughter, it's a girl who sees herself as a powerful queen in a dream, and her father chases her away. She is adopted by a wild man in the woods, who takes good care of her, and makes sure her dream comes true.
(This is also a lovely adoption story.)


The story of the Clever Maid is internationally well known: this is the tale where a girl has to visit a king "walking and not walking, dressed but not dressed," etc. In at least one version I know, from Finland, this tale is told with a clever male hero. 


In another well known folktale motif, a man usually spies on fairy women who take off their bird / swan / feather dresses while they bathe. He steals the dress/skin of the most beautiful girl, so she can't escape from him (sometimes, this backfires). Creepy, right? In the Armenian tale of The magic box, it is a girl who spies on bird men, and steals a feather cloak. In her defense, it is her stolen husband she is trying to find again.


We get used to princes in folktales setting out to seek beautiful princesses. In the Greek tale of Fair as the Sun, however, it is a princess that takes on the journey to find a legendarily beautiful prince, and make him her husband (even though he already has a lover... but that's beside the point).


There are many variants of the Silent princess folktale, where a hero has to make a princess speak three times through various means - usually with telling some very clever dilemma tales. In a Georgian folktale, however, it is a king who has to break the enchantment on a silent prince, and he is helped by a talking golden apple.


You know the folktale motif where a mortal woman marries a mysterious supernatural husband, who only visits her at night, and refuses to show his true (beautiful) face? Well, in a Lithuanian folktale it is a mortal man who marries a mysterious woman, and when he spies on her, she tosses him out the window.
(They do reunite in the end, though.)


The Love of Three Oranges (ATU 408) is a folktale type where a man sets out, obtains three magical fruits, and cuts them open to summon beautiful women. The first two usually die or disappear, but the third eventually becomes his wife.  
Well, in one tale from the Dominican Republic, it is a girl who sets out to pick grapefruit, and by burning them she summons three princes. However, she can't talk to any of them, so all three disappear. Later on, when her life is in danger, they return to help her.


You might be familiar with the motif from many "animal bride" folktales where three brothers shoot arrows in three directions, and follow the arrows to find a bride. In the Turkish tale of Rose Beauty, the archery trick is done by three princesses, who then set out to seek husbands.


This is what they call the folktale type where two brothers accidentally eat the heart / liver / head etc. of a magic bird, and gain superpowers from them. After they get separated and go through many adventures, their powers bring them good fortune and they eventually find each other again (ATU 567A). 
In the Azeri version of the story, the siblings are a boy and a girl, Lala and Nergiz, and it is the girl who has the most exciting adventures - among others, she defeats a dragon, a giant, and a sea monster too! 

Árgilus

Hungarian, Russian, Middle Eastern, and Caucasian folktales often contain the motif of a tree of golden apples being robbed every night, until the youngest of three princes manages to stay awake to spy on the mysterious thief. I recently found a Hungarian folktale variant, where a king's silk meadow is grazed every night. He sets his three daughters to guard it, but only the youngest princess manages to stay awake, with the help of a little mouse. At the end of the story, the mouse turns into a prince.

Jill and the Beanstalk

The well known tale of Jack and the Beanstalk belongs to folktale type ATU 328, Treasures of the Giant. It is a very interesting type, because it exists both with male and female heroes. The version with the female hero is especially well known in the Hungarian tradition. I translated one text here.
There are also other tales around the world where women climb up into the sky on a beanstalk. I read one from Nauru, and another one from Latvia.

"But the traditional gender roles in folktales..."
Sure.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Ivans and Vasilisas everywhere (Following folktales around the world 169. - Russia)

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!

A tűzmadár
Orosz varázsmesék
Alekszandr Nyikolajevics Afanaszjev
Magvető, 2006.

This book is a Hungarian selection of Afanasyev's classic 19th century Russian folktale collection (see an English version here). It contains 75 wonder tales (according to the collector, these were the most important group of folktales), and seven chapbook tales from the 18th and 19th centuries. The book didn't come with any notes, but the tale types were numbered, and the Afterword gives details about Afanasyev's life, and the history of the collection. The latter was especially interesting. Afanasyev only collected a few tales first hand, the rest he found in the archives of the Russian Geographical Society (geographers also collected folklore materials on the side). In addition, he used Vladimir Dal's folktale collection; Dal collected stories via a network of mailing partners, researching the Russian language and its dialects.
The book is a fun read, it contains many of the "great classics" of Russian folklore, and it's illustrated by the amazing pictures of Ivan Bilibin (although, sadly, in black and white). I also have the English volume I linked above, and there is a lot of overlap.

Highlights

One of my favorite Russian folktales is featured in this book: Elena the Wise flies in a chariot drawn by dragons, and teaches magic to girls who sneak away from home at night. The hero wins her hand by hiding from her sharp sight. The tale of The Sun's sister and the witch is a lovely variant of the "prince seeking immortality" tale type - especially because the hero didn't use his magic objects to save himself, but rather to help others who needed them (e.g. the brush that turns into a forest, for a woodcutter). In the end, the people he helped saved him from the witch (his own sister). I also love the Future dream, a variant of the tale where the hero refuses to tell his dream to anyone; here the dream foretold that he was going to help his best friend win the hand of a princess.
I was amused by the tale about How the soldier cured the tsar's daughter, by outwitting various devils (and he didn't even marry her in the end). I also liked the tale about The blind and the legless soldier, where the true hero was a prince's magical helper, Uncle Katoma. He defended the naive prince from the intrigues of an evil princess, and when she cut off his legs in revenge, Uncle Katoma teamed up with a blind old soldier, and together they managed to set things right.
The Bear Tsar was a fascinating story, included in more than one version. Two children, promised to an evil bear, tried to escape with the help of various animals unsuccessfully, until a young bull managed to rescue them. I also enjoyed the long and intricate tale of "Go I-don't-know-where and bring me I-don't-know-what", where the hero eventually managed to complete the vague mission by finding a mysterious invisible helper named Sense. Another symbolic figure in the stories was Sorrow, who attached itself to a poor man and made him drink away all his fortune, until he found a clever way of getting rid of the mean spirit. Sorrow then attached itself to a rich man, but, surprisingly, this victim also managed to outwit it.
There are many classic Russian tales in this book that might already be familiar to international readers. For example, the tale of Morozko, Father Frost, who rewards the kind girl but freezes her unkind stepsister. Or the legendary Vasilisa the Beautiful, who sets out deep into the woods to bring fire from Baba Yaga. Or Maria Morevna, the warrior maiden, and her arch-enemy Koschei the Deathless, who hides his life inside an egg. Or the Frog Princess, who brings valuable items to her prince and dances a dance of creation; or Ivan and the Grey Wolf, setting out to find the legendary Firebird; or Finist the Radiant Falcon, a well-known Russian variant of the hurt-and-rescued bird prince tale type.
Obviously, many tales feature Baba Yaga, the terrifying witch who flies in a mortar, lives in a house with chicken legs, and often eats people. My favorite was a little tale about a cat, a sparrow, and a "nimble youth" (possibly a gnome) living together; whenever the cat and the bird left, Baba Yaga came into their house to count their spoons... Eventually, the nimble youth managed to get rid of her.

Connections

Texts in this book were arranged in a way that similar tales followed each other, sometimes in more than one version. There were many familiar stories: Kind and unkind girls (The girl and her stepsister, where a mouse helped the kind girl get away from a bear), three kidnapped princesses (Copper Kingdom, Silver Kingdom, Gold Kingdom, where Baba Yaga's bird flew the hero back to the surface; also Dawn, Evening, and Midnight, where the older boys pulled their younger brother back up instead of betraying him), extraordinary helpers (The flying ship; The Seven Simeons - the latter also featured a magical Siberian cat, and a lad whose power was to submerge ships and then bring them back to the surface, á la Pirates of the Caribbean), twin princes (The Two Ivans, who were sadly hunted down by the dragon's sister after the happy end), animal brothers-in-law (or, in the case of Fyodor Tugarin, Wind, Hail, and Thunder), princess on the glass mountain (Sivko-Burko, Silly Ivan), Aladdin (The magic ring), Fortunatus (Horns), gold-spitting princes (The duck and the golden eggs), Snow White (The magic mirror), magic flight (The sea tsar and Vasilisa the Wise), gemstone mountain (or, in this case, Gold Mountain), magician's apprentice (The secret knowledge), Bearskins (Unwashed soldier, who was basically the thesis work of a little devil), golden-haired gardener (I don't know), and the devil's three golden hairs (Marko the Rich and Unhappy Vasily).
The kind and unkind girls type was especially interesting in the case of The swans; here a girl's brother was kidnapped by birds, and she set out to rescue him. She was both kind and unkind: on the way there she refused to help the trees and animals, but on the way back she changed her mind.
I once again encountered the trope where a hero only strikes a villain once.

Where to next?
Kazakhstan!

Saturday, September 19, 2020

StorySpotting: People marrying trees (As seen on the news)

StorySpotting is a weekly or kinda-weekly series about folktales, tropes, references, and story motifs that pop up in popular media, from TV shows to video games. Topics are random, depending on what I have watched/played/read recently. Also, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. Be warned!

StorySpotting is usually for film, comics, TV shows, and other popular media, but every once in a while, I see something on the news that is also worth including. Like, in this case, where a true story reminds me of a few folktales...

Where was the story spotted?

A bunch of articles came out last week about "a woman married to a tree", who is celebrating her first wedding anniversary. Just google "Kate Cunningham" and "tree."

What happens?

Her maiden name is Kate Cunningham, and her married name is Kate Elder, since her tree-spouse is an elder (she also has a human boyfriend and two children). She is an environmental activist who married the elder tree in Rimrose Valley Park last year, in an attempt to stop a road being built through the park. She got the idea from Mexican activists who do the same to halt illegal logging. It is basically a very dedicated (and newsworthy) form of tree-hugging for environmental conservation. It even has its own Wikipedia page

What's the story?

Marrying trees is not exactly unheard of in world folklore. Sometimes it goes well and sometimes it doesn't, but either way, it makes for a good story. 

In a Sangu folktale from Tanzania a woman marries a tree while her sisters take animal husbands. She later discovers that her tree-husband sheds its bark at night in the form of a pangolin, and turns into a handsome human man. At dawn, the pangolin returns, and the man becomes a tree again. The marriage goes on like this until the woman eventually kills the pangolin (poor pangolin!), and the husband remains human.
There is a Makka legend from Paraguay about a woman who marries a lignum vitae tree. She falls in love with the beautiful tree and scratches it gently every day, until the tree bleeds, and visits her at night, becoming her husband. It brings abundance to the crops of the village, and has a child with the woman, but when she cheats on it, the lignum vitae ascends to the sky. But even then, it makes sure child and family never go hungry. 
In a Tlingit legend, a girl dreams about a man visiting her multiple times, and then gives birth to a boy. No one knows who the father is, and no man takes responsibility, so the girl's father invites all the "people of the trees". When they arrive, the boy crawls straight to the old man by the door, who turns out to be the spirit of an old spruce tree. The mother marries him.
In an Indonesian folktale from Sumatra, a brave princess named Kemang falls in love with a beautiful mango tree who turns out to be an enchanted prince. She manages to find a way to break the enchantment, and transform the entire forest into a kingdom.
In the heartbreaking Japanese tale of the Willow Wife, a young man saves a willow tree from being cut down for timber. Soon, a mysterious woman appears in his life, and turns out to be the spirit of the willow tree he loved so much. Sadly, people eventually cut the tree down anyway, and the willow wife disappears in the same instant. 
The Indian folktale of The Flowering Tree features a girl who has the power to transform herself into a tree filled with beautiful flowers. Eventually some jealous women trap her in her half-transformed stage and tear her branches and flowers, and she has to go through a lot of pain and suffering until her husband's love restores her.
In a Jamaican folktale, a lonely hunter sees a pretty tree, and wishes it was a woman, because I would love to marry her. Lo and behold, the tree transforms into a woman, and she marries the man. Later on another man kidnaps her, but her husband goes to the rescue.
Some tales are even darker than that. A storyteller named Emily Dean, of mixed Fox Indian and Black heritage, told a tale in the 19th century about a hunter who married a pretty but mysterious girl by the forest. At night, he felt like he was touching bark and branches, and during the day the girl disappeared, until he eventually figured out he is married to a tree spirit, and managed to reveal her as an old hag that turned into a hollow log. The Jewish tale of The demon in the tree is very similar to the story known (thanks to Tim Burton) as The Corpse Bride. Here, a young man practicing his wedding vows puts a ring on a tree branch, just to find himself married to a tree demon. The demon kills all his brides, until he marries a woman sensible enough to strike a deal with her. The double marriage is resolved by negotiation in the end.

Conclusion

I guess one could do worse than a tree for a spouse.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

MythOff Aquincum: Back to the Classics

We have not had a MythOff since February, due to the coronavirus crisis. Hence, when the Aquincum Museum invited us to bring MythOff to the museum's open archaeological park, we were more than happy to oblige. Last weekend was their Roman Festival, and we didn't only prepare with Greek and Roman mythology - but we even dressed for the occasion!

MythOff took place in the afternoon (following right after the gladiator combat). Since it was very hot outside, we abandoned the open air theater and set up under a large tree so that our audience could sit in the share. It turned out to be a great idea: it created a lovely atmosphere, and about 50-60 people stuck around to listen to myths for two hours. Voting was done by dropping pieces of pottery into urns, and the prizes were antefix replicas provided by the museum.

Here is how things went down: 


Round one: Life and death
The lineup opened with Hajós Erika. She told the myth of King Erysichthon, who disrespected the goddess Demeter, and was punished by eternal hunger. The other myth was that of Aeneas' journey into the Underworld, told by Gregus László.
Voting question: Which one would you rather take on: eternal hunger, or a trip into the Underworld?
Winner: Aeneas. People would rather go to the Underworld than go hungry.


Round two: Love
This was my round, and I got to tell a brand new myth from my repertoire: that of Dea Muta, the silent goddess, who saved a nymph from being raped by Jupiter, and then became the secret lover of Mercury. Nagy Enikő told the lovely story of Philemon and Baucis wishing to leave the world in their old age together.
Voting question: Which love would you rather choose, one that is rich but has to be kept a secret, or one that is poor but you don't have to hide?
Winner: Philemon and Baucis. People would rather not hide their love. 


Round three: Troy
Stenszky Cecília told the myth of Philoktetes, the unlucky archer whose story kicks of the fall of Troy. Dala Dániel joined her with the prequel to the prequel: the death of Heracles (a story which is depicted in a mosaic in Aquincum). 
Voting question: Who would you rather have as an archery master?
Winner: Heracles. More people would rather have an angry master than a stinky one.


It was amazing to tell ancient myths among the ancient ruins. We hope to do it again sometime soon!

Monday, September 14, 2020

Heroes in the wilderness (Following folktales around the world 168. - Georgia)

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!

Georgian Folk Tales

Marjory Wardrop
David Nutt, 1894.

The book contains 38 folktales, grouped into three chapters: 15 Georgian tales, 8 Mingrelian tales, and 14 Gurian tales (the latter two are smaller ethnic groups in the western part of Georgia). It was one of the first English translations of the Georgian oral tradition. The author selected the tales from collections published in the Georgian language, and listed the sources in the introduction. The archaic language makes them hard to read occasionally, but the cultural references and more obscure phrases are explained in the footnotes.

Highlights

My favorite story in the book was the one about The prince and the fox. A prince, running away from his abusive father, found shelter in the woods, where he befriended a fox, a wolf, a bear, and an eagle. At first he was afraid of the animals, but they soon proved they could take care of him. With the fox's leadership they built a palace, carved furniture, planted a garden, and even brought a princess from the city. The princess' father, however, sent a wily old woman who stole her back. The animals got her again, at which point the king sent an army against them. In a great battle the animals defeated the army. The prince could have lived happily with his bride... except he became ungrateful and mistreated the animals. The fox cursed him, and he died soon without an heir. From that day, the story concludes, the animals ruled the forest again...

Connections

There were quite a few familiar tale types in the book: Magician's apprentice (Master and pupil), frog bride (Frog skin, in which the hero also took a trip into the Underworld), twin princes who turned to stone (Ghvthisavari), magic flight (The prince), Cinderella (Conkiajgharuna, once again with a clever old woman), Two thieves, hidden strength (Kazha-ndii), princess who saw everything (The prince who befriended the beasts - his final helper was a giant jackal that burrowed under the palace), and princess on the glass mountain (The priest's youngest son). 
I once again encountered the tale type where a girl bringing food to her brothers is kidnapped by a monster, and eventually all the siblings are rescued by their newly born younger brother (Aspurtzela). Here, the tale was combined with the "three princesses in the underworld" type. In the end, the hero asked whether it was the princesses' or his brothers' fault that he had been left in the underworld, and the princesses declared that they had been forced to comply, therefore they can't be blamed (this tale type often blames the kidnapped women too). In another "hidden strength" tale (Geria, the poor man's son) the hero was killed, and his bride kidnapped by the villain. She gave him an ultimatum: either fight her in single combat, or let her grieve for six months. The villain was too scared to fight the feisty princess. In a "golden haired twins" type tale (The three girls and the stepmother), the girls tossed into a well were rescued by the youngest sister, whose hands turned into a shovel and pickaxe, and she dug her way out. The story of The king and the apple was an interesting variant of the "silent princess" type - here, a sleeping prince had to be awakened with the help of witty dilemma stories told by a magical apple. 
We had a guest appearance by a trickster: Nasreddin Hodja showed up to tell Shah Ali a story that made the king say "that is impossible!", thus winning a bet. Among other witty stories there was the one about a scholar who judges a sailor for not knowing how to read - only to find out soon that the himself doesn't know how to swim. And also the one where a wise man wonders why pumpkins don't grow on trees... until one falls on his head. 

Where to next?
Russia!

Monday, September 7, 2020

Roses, dervishes, warrior women (Following folktales around the world 167. - Azerbaijan)

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!

Százegy azerbajdzsáni népmese I-III.
Abdullájeva Szvetlána
Magyar-Azerbajdzsán Baráti Társaság, 2014.

An amazing and unique book even on an international level (I was having a hard time locating an Azerbaijani collection in English). It contains 101 folktales translated from a five-volume publication from 2005 (the tales were originally collected at the beginning of the 20th century). The introduction talks about how the book came to be, and how selections were made - with an eye to parallels in Hungarian folklore. Regardless of this, however, I found many of the tales unique, and many variants fun and unexpected; it is a true journey into Azerbaijani culture and tradition, and a great read. Stories come with footnotes that explain cultural elements, and there is a glossary at the end of each volume. The book has gorgeous illustrations, and cover art by Arif Huseynov (see some of his work below). There seem to be an English series with some of the tales and the same illustrations: try here.

Highlights

I especially liked this collection because it had so many tales about brave, clever, independent women. My favorite was the tale of Lady Nardan - I blogged about that one in detail here. In the story of Lala and Nergiz twins, a boy and a girl ran away from their stepmother and were separated. The girl, Nergiz, killed a giant, a dragon, and a sea monster before she was reunited with her brother and found happiness. In the legend of Ibrahim, son of Adjem, the hero's mother, Lady Dostu put on armor and protected her daughter-in-law from an invading army. She killed a lot of soldiers before she was defeated with a trick. She did survive, however, and got to live happily with her family. In the story of the Apple of Seven Mountains a princess named Perinous chose her own husband, a gardener, and through various clever tricks managed to convince her father to let them get married (among other things, the young man had to bring an enchanted apple, and burning mummies from the Nile, to prove his worthiness). Lady Gülnar fought giants and read spells in forty different languages to save a kidnapped prince. In the story of Gara Hasan a padisah wanted to kill all women because one had been unfaithful, but the hero convinced him with a story that there are just as many heroic and honest women in the world.
The most complex and intriguing story in the book was that of the hero Tapdig, who, however, was kind of a side character in his own adventure. The main story revolved around a cosmic family feud between the Sun and her daughter. The Sun fell in love with the King of the Underworld, but her daughter disapproved of the match, and the two women fought tooth and nail, involving bystanders like a djinn prince, a kidnapped princess, and Tapdig himself. At the end of the story heroes and anti-heroes all got to live, and the sun princess had to accept that her mother was happy with her underworld lover.
 Another adventurous story was that of Semi, about a traveling prince who first became a pastry maker and then fell in love with a princess who loved his pastries. His boss, however, wanted the girl for himself, and the prince had to weather many challenges with the help of a friendly shepherd before he could get married.
The qadi of Shirvan
was a tale of a young and innocent padisah who was taken advantage of by criminals (pretending to be family). Eventually he set out into the world, and having learned from his mistakes he helped uncover conspiracies and rescue kidnapped maidens. Similarly, the tale of Dasdemir was a full on multi-generational murder mystery, where the hero uncovered corruption inside the padisah's court.
I liked reading about Logman, the famous doctor and historical person who performed all kinds of tricky healing procedures (even brain surgery). On the other hand, I was also greatly amused by the simple little story of Jirtan, a small boy who rescued his friends from giants with a trick known to many parents the world over: he refused to go to sleep...
There were interesting smaller moments and motifs in some of the tales. For example, I learned from The snake and the girl how long it takes for a snake to evolve into a dragon, and from the dragon into an evil human being. The tale of Ohaj and Ahmed was a magician's apprentice story, where the palace of the evil magician was literally built from the pain and suffering of his victims; it was described in amazing detail. In the second half of the story the magician's daughter, who helped the hero escape, gave him a quest of her own to see "how far you'd go for my sake."

Connections

It is not very surprising that the collection had a lot of familiar tale types, some of them in more than one version. An incomplete list would include: Silent princess (Melik Mehmed; Jagub and the Fish Padisah), three fastidious men (The three princes;The ruby), various Three Kidnapped Princesses tales, sometimes with stolen golden apples (Südemen; Melikmemmed; The little prince), ebony horse (Nazik Beden), cursed brothers (The seven brothers), clever girl and a king learning a trade (Sah Abbas the weaver), grumpy wife and fake fortune-teller (God save us from Hamperi), secret dream (The tailor's apprentice), puss in boots, or rather fox (Mr. Pear), a hero collecting stories from people (The tale of Hatem), various glass mountain princesses and animal in-laws (Kösa Three-Moustaches; The tale of Melik Jamil), all-kinds-of-fur (Hosgedem), girl rescuing her sisters from a murderous husband (The story of the three sisters), Gemstone Mountain (The tale of Telet története; also featuring a Simurgh bird), golden-haired gardener (The boy on the white horse), various Aladdin / magic ring tales (Janig; The magic ring), a firebird-type tale with a series of challenges (The white bird, named after the helper), trickster maiden (Haji's daughter), clever wife who seduces his own husband three times (Pour water on my hands!), ungrateful animal (Good for good), Magical helpers (The six companions), Fortunatus (Emir and the shah's daughter; The useless boy), three oranges (Pomegranate girl), the hunter's son (Hunter Pirim; Jusif and Senuber), princess who turned into a prince (The secret of Benidas), cannibal girl defeated by her own brother (Iron-tooth girl), and the tale about why elders are not executed anymore (The tyrant padisah). 
I was happy to read another version of the tale about the kind man who wanted to be a robbers' apprentice, but kept messing up the jobs with his kindness (Mehemmed). There was also a tale about the unjust king who hung the person who fit the noose best, not the actual criminals (Logman and his servant). Iskender Zülkarnejn was an Alexander-legend, combining the parts about the king with the horse's ears and the Land of Darkness where the king sought the Water of Life. I also once again encountered the motif of a king checking his daughter's readiness to marry by cutting open watermelons (Semsi Gemer).
I especially liked it when well-known tale types had unexpected twists. There was a creepy version of the "laughing fish" tale, by the way, where the hero was born because his mother ate a powdered mummy head (yup). He then revealed to the padisah his wife's unfaithfulness. At the end of the story he turned back into a mummy head and rolled away, looking for his next victim... The tale of Rejhan was a version of the "kidnapped princesses in the underworld" type, but here we got to find out where the little man with the long beard (a staple character in these tales) actually came from. In the story of The prince and the frog it was the princes who tossed golden apples to girls they wanted to marry (not the other way around). By the way this was a Frog Bride story, where the frog befriended a bunch of other animals, and in the end they summoned an animal army and defeated a tyrant.
However, my very favorite was a Cinderella variant (Beautiful Fatma) where a clever old woman helped the girl with sorting out mixed seeds: she brought her three bowls of new seeds, and tossed the mixed pile out to the chickens. Work smarter, not harder.

Where to next?
Georgia!

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Lady Nardan (Feminist Folktales 21.)

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

Origin: Azerbaijan

The story

A cruel padisah named Goguz has a dream that foretells that his reign will be ended by a 14 year old girl. He orders in secret that all girl children should be kidnapped and killed, all the while pretending to be furiously investigating the kidnappings. Meanwhile, his vizier buys a box from a mysterious stranger, and finds a pomegranate in it. Out of the pomegranate springs a 10 year old girl named Nardan. She had been transformed into a fruit by her father to keep her safe from another cruel padisah. News of the vizier's beautiful daughter eventually reach Goguz, who wants her as his wife. She refuses, and the padisah has the vizier killed in revenge. At this, Nardan disguises herself as a boy, and starts to investigate the disappearances in the city. She discovers details about the cruelty of the padisah, and eventually catches Goguz in the act of kidnapping a baby. She confronts him, but his guards capture her, and they burn the building that houses the kidnapped girls. Goguz announces that they caught the evil kidnapper, and publicly sentences Nardan to death. However, on the day of the execution a sand storm blows in, and Nardan escapes.
Dressed as a man, she ventures into another kingdom, where she meets a princess who's so far refused to marry anyone who isn't her choice. The princess falls in love with the mysterious stranger... and Nardan falls in love with the princess' gardener. She splits her time between the princess and the gardener, changing between male and female appearance. Eventually the princess' father sees her as a girl, and wants her as his wife. Nardan reject him, and when he tries to rape her she punches his face bloody. The padisah throws her and he gardener into prison, but with the help of the princess they escape. Nardan duels the padisah and kills him, then sets out to return to Goguz's kingdom. The princess and the gardener accompany her. Nardan defeats Goguz's soldiers, then duels the padisah and kills him too. From there, she travels back home to her birth family, and duels and kills the third evil padisah (the one because of whom she had been turned into fruit). After all that, she marries the gardener, and lives happily ever after.

What makes it a feminist story?

What doesn't? This story could be the textbook example of "strong female hero" anywhere. Nardan ends the reign of not one, but three cruel kings, as she is prophesied to do so (a favorite trope of YA novels). She is brave, clever, persistent, a good investigator and a great warrior. She faces many challenges, occasionally fails, and has to deal with loss and grief (when her foster father dies, or when she can't stop the killing of the girls), but she picks herself up again and again, and keeps fighting. I especially like that she is not simply fighting for herself, or for a romantic partner - she is fighting for her city and her people. She is a female hero who is trying to protect the girls of the next generation, and save people from tyranny. And all this while her origins are also not privileged: Her father, a shepherd, gave her to a childless padisah, hoping she'd be raised as a princess. Instead, the padisah wanted her as a wife by the time she was ten, which is why she was rescued by being turned into a pomegranate.

We should also talk about the cast of supporting characters. Zernigar, the princess who thinks Nardan is a man, is a lady who knows her own mind (and extracted a promise from her father that she can choose her own husband). When she finds out the truth, she doesn't only not get upset, but also faithfully accompanies Nardan on her quest. Another interesting character is an old man whose bride had been stolen by Goguz once upon a time; his legs don't work anymore, but he is raising two children, a boy and a girl, to take revenge for him one day. They both grow up to be formidable warriors. And the girl is the better wrestler.

Things to consider

I personally think that Nardan, the princess, and the gardener should have ended up as a throuple. Just sayin'. 

Sources

Százegy azerbajdzsáni népmese II. (Magyar-Azerbajdzsán Baráti Társaság, 2014.)

Notes

I can't find this tale in English anywhere online. If you have any leads, do share in the comments, so that English-speaking readers can find it too!