Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Turnip Princess is here and it's great

So, remember that one Guardian article from 2012 that some people still post on your Facebook wall every other week? It's titled "Five hundred new fairy tales discovered in Germany!" Well, good news: the much-awaited English translation is finally here!
Well, actually, a bilingual German-English volume has been out since last year, but the new book, titled The Turnip Princess, adds another batch of sixty-something tales now available in English. Yay!
I have probably waited the publication of this book with more excitement than most people wait for the new Star Wars movie. My boyfriend ordered it for me as a late birthday present (because for some reason not all folktale collections are published on my birthday, which is a crying shame). I devoured the entire volume in two days, and my copy now looks like this:

In which green slips stand for stories I want to tell (14), orange slips stand for stories that are also included in the other volume (7), and pink slips stand for notable moments. I have been busy.
The edition itself is very well done. Stellar intro from Maria Tatar (Hungarian pride!), extensive and thought-provoking notes on each tale, and an appendix with archive numbers, folktale types, and places of collection. Everything a storyteller can wish for.

And now, for some of the highlights!

1. Even though Tatar claims it's "not part of the European canon," the story of King Goldenlocks is actually a version of The Golden-haired gardener, a Hungarian folktale I just told two months ago at the Tenerife storytelling festival. I have never known another version of it, so I was delighted to find one in here!
2. Similarly, The Flying Trunk proved to be another variation of a Hungarian folktale that I included in my own book (The Winged Prince), and never found another version of. It is also a Cinderfella story where a prince loses a boot...
3. I was most excited about the Dung Beetle Prince tale that was teased in some of the articles, and it turned out to be the most adorable little story. I won't spoil it, but it's great.
4. There is a great number of tales in the volume that feature wood sprites, wood nymphs, gnomes, mermaids, and other mythical creatures, and most of them seem to be on amicable terms with humans. The darker steak is reserved for the mermaids who destroy mortals by loving them; but the woodland creatures are generally helpful and friendly, and revel a less known side of German folklore.
5. There is a version of the Pied Piper in this book (The Mousecatcher, or the Boy and the Beetle) that picks up where the children disappear inside the mountain. Think about that for a moment.
6. This volume (and the other one as well) features a tale that is a full-blown prequel to the popular "Tall, Wide and Sharpsight" folktale type, explaining how the magical helpers in these stories originally received their abilities. Yup. It's a superhero origin story, and it's titled Sir Wind and His Wife.
7. There is a tale of mortal girls marrying ice giants and living happily ever after.
8. At the end of a "Valiant Little Tailor" type story the princess refuses to be given as a prize and makes plans to murder the hero she is forced to marry.
9. There is a magical procedure described for turning a dragon back into a princess. (People get turned into some weird things in this book - among others weasels, tortoises, beetles, and little fish.)
10. There are several recognizable elements of pagan mythology, such as a folktale version of Freya's necklace.
11. More than one story deals with why people should not torture animals or vandalize trees. The tree one (The Singing Tree) gets especially creative in driving the point home.

Definitely a recommended read for storytellers.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The best time-travel TV show you are probably not watching this season

Eat your heart out, Ichabod Crane.

Following the resounding success of Spain's high-profile, three-season historical TV show Isabel (also available on Hulu now), Spanish TV has once again gone and done it: This week sees the premiere of a brand new series that ambitiously encompasses the entirety of Spanish history through time travel. And damn do they do it right.

El Ministerio del Tiempo (Ministry of Time) is the story of a secret government agency that oversees the "doors of time" that lead to various points and places in Spanish history. The agents, recruited from many different eras, are responsible for keeping the country's history on track in the face of unforeseen complications, such as rival (French) time travelers trying to change the course of past events. The three main characters are Julián, a 21st century paramedic, Amelia, a 19th century early feminist and university student, and Alonso, a dashing 16th century soldier. They are all picked for their unique qualities and struggle with their own problems in their own eras, but come together as a team for missions to save the past and present of Spain. "Without them, the future is history."

The show is remarkable for a number of reasons:
(Mild spoilers)

1. It gives its audiences the benefit of the doubt. Instead of trying to spell out everything repeatedly ad nauseam, they allow the viewers the courtesy of assuming they all graduated a high school history class. The writers throw themselves with obvious enjoyment into their own country's culture, and drop names and references like they are hot; all needed explanations are made by the three protagonists, who often have to explain things to each other as well (and it's not always the 21st century guy that knows the answer).

2. It does culture shock and does it well. While Sleepy Hollow was dubbed by some of my friends as "the 5 minute culture shock," MdT pays attention to detail. Characters awkwardly try to figure out whether they should kiss, shake hands, or bow. Alonso is endlessly mesmerized by cars, but in return Julián has to admit on the first mission he doesn't know how to ride a horse. The absolute winning moment for me, however, was when Amelia was taken into the 21st century, and her (female) boss started her training by introducing her to the miracles of tampons. Apparently feminine hygiene products are even exempt from the Ministry's "no objects allowed outside their own time" policy. Brownie points.

3. It has a sense of humor. There were several moments where I burst out giggling; MdT doesn't take itself too seriously, and that makes the whole show endearing. Good acting adds to moments of humor, and some throwaway lines make the Ministry all the more likable. Because who else would you want as a sketch artist to catch potential suspects if not Diego Velázquez?...

4. It combines entertainment with education. Since it is based on Spanish history, once again RTVE is using the power of entertainment to teach viewers more about their heritage. The website, just like Isabel's, is full of extra information, social media links, timelines, interviews, the works. There is clearly a lot of effort that went into linking the adventures on screen to what really happened. According to historians, obviously.

Long story short: Time (heh) to brush up on your high school Spanish and crack open some history tomes. I'll definitely be a regular viewer.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Announce your A to Z theme with us on March 23rd!

Announcing the Great and Powerful A to Z Theme Reveal Blogfest!

Sign-ups for the 2015 A to Z Blogging Challenge are already under way. If you have done it before, you know how much fun it is (good for you!) and if you have not, this is your chance to give it a try! You can sign up to participate here.

One of the most burning questions participants ask themselves every year is: "Should I have a theme?"
Themes are not mandatory, but definitely fun. They let your visitors know what to expect, and help you create posts that line neatly up from A to Z. They also have an added bonus: They let you participate in a whole separate blogfest!

Two years ago A to Z participant Mina Lobo started the Theme Reveal, and we thought it was such a great idea that we made it tradition. It is now our very own, grand and festive way of rolling out our themes together!

Here is how the Theme Reveal Blogfest works:

Sing up on the Linky list below, and on March 23rd (Monday) publish a post on your blog in which you reveal your theme, tell us why it is exciting, and give us a hint of what to expect from it. Then, once your post is up, use the Linky to visit all the other blogs announcing their themes. Enjoy!

This is a great opportunity for all of you to get a jump start on your A to Z experience. You can link up with fellow bloggers, scout out and bookmark themes that you look forward to, and set out delicious themed bait on your blog to lure in wandering participants! This way, by the time the frenzied posting begins on April 1st, you will already have an audience eagerly awaiting your posts.

Sign up below, ready your theme, and mark March 23rd in your calendar!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Storyteller's Review: Fairest by Marissa Meyer, and the nature of fairy tale images

Confession up front: I am a great fan of the Lunar Chronicles. Fandom, in general, does not need to be justified. However, as a scholar of popular culture and storytelling, I felt like writing about the latest installment in the series: Fairest.

Fairest is actually a prequel, but I wouldn't recommend reading it before the other volumes - it really lives within the context of the series, and you might not get all the information and hidden hints if you go into it blind. With that said, it is an absolutely gorgeous, fascinating piece and a full story on its own.
More importantly, it is a teachable example of how to handle fairy tales well.

Marissa Meyer goes above and beyond most fairy tale adaptations the market is flooded with. She doesn't only take a plot and some iconic images to go with it - a girl in a red hoodie jogging in a park, for example (*cough*Grimm*cough*) - but demonstrates a deeper, more subtle, and more graceful understanding on what stories are, and how they work. She conjures imagery that is both iconic to the sci-fi world she created, and at the same time evokes much older, almost indescribable dream-like memories we are all very familiar with from childhood. Sour apple candies. A pregnant seamstress with an embroidery frame in her hand. Blood on white sheets. Elaborate dresses for a ball.

The Lunar Chronicles series is an endless stream of Easter eggs for storytellers and story-lovers, without ever becoming too obvious or on-the-nose the way many adaptations are ("Get it? Get it? GET IT YET?! *cough*OnceUponATime*cough*), and even if you don't get any of them, it is still a great story on its own. It works with motifs, symbols and tropes, not entire pre-made folktale types. It plays with expectations, imagery, and plot in a way that walks the tightrope between familiar and intriguing expertly and with elegance.

Another thing I like about Meyer's writing: She, unlike many other YA authors, is not obsessed with the physical descriptions of her characters. No one is "gorgeous" and "chiseled" and we don't have to read doting repeat descriptions of the protagonists "golden eyes" (*cough*MortalInstruments*cough) - unless they are directly relevant to the story itself. She doesn't fawn over the looks of her characters - much like with the fairy tale elements, she gives you subtle hints, and allows you to dream up the rest. She works with more complex and open ideas of what beauty is, and presents a wide range of diverse looks in terms of hair, eyes, and skin coloring - and my favorite part: Her "Snow White" is not white at all.

Five stars out of five, and go read the entire series!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Do you wanna build a snowman?... Or be a minion for the A to Z Challenge?

Sign-ups for the April A to Z Challenge have started (see below), and that means, the host team is getting busy! Since I am a co-host this year for the first time, it also means that I get to recruit my own minions volunteer helper team.

I'm super excited! I was a minion last year, and look at me now. Suddenly I have all of these new things I get to do.
A lot of new things.

Which is why I need minions helpers.

General tasks mostly include:
1. Promoting the Challenge on social media of your choice
2. Helping with keeping the sign-up list updated, checking links, visiting blogs.
3. Visiting blogs.
4. Visiting more blogs.
5. Participating in the challenge on your own blog, obviously.
6. Helping out with other occasional tasks, such as the Theme Reveal Blogfest, etc.

If you have done A to Z before and are ready to make the next step, signing up as a volunteer is a great way to do it! (I speak from experience.) Plus, you get a super secret Facebook group, a cool team name (TBD), and a secret handshake.
I know, right?!

If you are interested, you can contact me through the comments here, through Twitter (@TarkabarkaHolgy), or through the email on my website.


Monday, January 26, 2015

Join the 2015 A to Z Blogging Challenge!

It is that time of the year again! I have participated in the A to Z challenge for the past three years, and it is always tons of fun. This year, I am one of the co-hosts. If you blog (or always wanted to blog) join us!

Please read and follow the sign-up instructions outlined below so you sign onto the list correctly!

The brainchild of Arlee Bird, at Tossing it Out, the A to Z Challenge is posting every day in April except Sundays (we get those off for good behavior.) And since there are 26 days, that matches the 26 letters of the alphabet. On April 1, blog about something that begins with the letter “A.” April 2 is “B,” April 3 is “C,” and so on. You can use a theme for the month or go random – just as long as it matches the letter of the alphabet for the day.

The A to Z Challenge is a great way to get into the blogging habit and make new friends. For more details and its history, go HERE

We recommend short posts, turn off Word Verification, and visit five blogs (or more) a day beginning with the one after yours on the list.

Blogs must be on an open platform – no Tumblr, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. – and comments enabled.

To streamline legitimate blogs from advertisement blogs, the Co-Hosts will be visiting each blog on this list throughout the Challenge. Blogs on the list showing no activity once the Challenge starts or miss five days in a row will be removed.

Please note your blog name and number in all correspondences. Remember that as blogs are removed, your number will change.

There are categories for those looking for like-minded blogs. Select ONE category code and enter it after your blog’s title/name. The code applies to your blog, not your theme for the Challenge and is purely optional. See the first few blogs on the list for examples. However, if your blog has adult content, you MUST mark it (AC) or it will be removed from the list. Codes are as follows:


Be sure to grab the badge and display it in your sidebar so we know you are participating and link to the A to Z Challenge Blog.

For more information we recommend you follow the A to Z Challenge Blog and the hosts:

Arlee Bird @ Tossing it Out
Ninja Captain Alex J. Cavanaugh
Jeremy @ Hollywood Nuts
Nicole Ayers @ The Madlab Post
Author Stephen Tremp
Heather M. Gardner
AJ @ Naturally Sweet
Pam @ An Unconventional Librarian
Matthew MacNish @ The QQQE
Zalka Csenge Virág @ The Multicolored Diary
S. L. Hennessy @ Pensuasion
C. Lee McKenzie @ The Write Game
Joy Campbell @ The Character Depot
Susan Gourley @ Susan Says
John Holton @The Sound of One Hand Typing
Lisa Buie-Collard, Author

We also have a Facebook Page
Email address is
Twitter hashtag is #AtoZChallenge and Twitter id is @AprilA2Z

Sign up below and join us for a month of alphabet fun!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

2014 - The year in books

It's that magical time of the year again: Time to look at my Goodreads list and see what all I consumed over the course of 2014. The challenge I set for myself was 52 books (one per week) - not counting school readings and an industrial amount of comics, I still made it by this week. Here are some of the highlights:

Something old, something new
Cress, the next installment of the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, came out this year, and it was everything we wanted it to be. Lovable characters, both old and new, exciting action with the fate of the world in the balance, and delicious Easter eggs for folktale-savvy people. In addition, the free short story The Little Android was also posted by the author online, and this is the first and only incarnation of The Little Mermaid I actually liked.
My favorite discovery for the year was Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Stories series. I am currently on book seven. I am a sucker for quality historical fiction, and this series has everything going for it: A little known yet crucial part of English history, Vikings, Saxons, epic battle scenes ("SHIELD WALL!"), a likable and complex protagonist, and - going against the worn stereotypes of the "dark ages" - strong, independent, and likable female characters. It combines the epicness of history with characters you really care about, and none of the corny mushy romance that flooded the internet this year thanks to the Outlander craze. Also, it will soon be a BBC show!
Another good reading experience was some of the books by the Strugatsky brothers I discovered for myself this year. Monday Begins on Saturday is pretty much the Russian take on what would have happened if Terry Pratchett wrote Harry Potter. Delightfully sarcastic, and surprisingly applicable to modern-day bureaucracy (and, khm, academia), the book and its sequel, Tale of the Troika, was a very entertaining read for someone like me who likes folklore, magic, and sarcasm.
My end-of-the-year Christmas reading also brought a discovery: Lesley M. M. Blume's Modern Fairies, Dwarves, Goblins and Other Nasties was a treat. I don't usually like people writing fakelore, but this book captivated me for many reasons: One, the author obviously knows her fairy folklore really well, and applies it ingeniously to the setting of modern day New York City. The stories are enjoyable and whimsical, but they don't shy away from the dark corners, and the one with the mermaid especially delivered some emotional punch. It is exquisitely written, and proves that fairies do live on in the modern world.

Folktales and Legends
As a storyteller, it is part of my job to read a lot of these. Instead of an all-inclusive list, I'll just mention some of the highlights.
One of the topics I got into this year was the folktales of minority cultures in China (see my previous post for an example). There are not many collections specifically on the topic in English, but I managed to find some good ones; The Seven Sisters was my favorite, with a lot of exciting and surprising stories.
Another area that I dug into was Bavarian folktales, on the occasion of the "500 new fairy tales discovered" Schönwerth collection has been finally partially published in English. The Original Bavarian Folktales volume is a treat (and bilingual), and there is an upcoming book from the same selection titled The Turnip Princess that I can't wait to read.
The series of the year for me was the World Mythologies Series. The first volume, one I found by accident in a used book store was Fabled Cities, Princes & Jinn, the Arabian installment, and it was love at first sight. Lots of original materials, stunning illustrations, captivating stories. I put the rest of the series on my wish list, and I already received the Central American and the African volume. Yay!
Another reading and research craze of mine this year was Caucasian Nart sagas. Some of them have been published in English, while others I found in Hungarian translation at home over the summer. I now have a serious soft spot for Ossetian Nart sagas.

In Spanish
In order to prepare myself and my vocabulary for the Tenerife storytelling festival, I spent most of my year alternating between English/Hungarian and Spanish readings. I did not only improve my language skills, but I also discovered a great many new books, and got to dive into Spanish historical fiction, a genre they are clearly very fond of. Some of the best were Antonio Soler's Boabdil and Eduardo Mendoza's Pomponio Flato - the latter a very entertaining murder mystery involving a Roman philosopher and a snotty little brat called Jesus.
I also read a ton of Spanish language folktale collections, and all of them were enchanting. I dug into Basque folklore (Leyendas de Euskal Herria), myths of Costa Rica (Las semillas de nuestro rey), the legends of the Canary Islands (Cuentos antiguos de Gran Canaria), and Spanish historical legends (Leyendas españolas de todos los tiempos). I plan on reading more of all of those. I especially recommend the Gran Canaria collection (by my friend Ana Cristina Herreros and María Jesús Alvarado), because it was such a fascinating collection project.

I read a lot of them. Without going into much detail, here are some of the series I really enjoyed this year:
Fables - always and forever. Breaks my heart that it's ending, but it is going out with grace and good storytelling.
Fairest - see above
Hawkeye (or, rather, Hawkguy) - for artwork and for storytelling
Ms. Marvel - for cultural commentary, teenage antics, and adorable artwork (WINGED SLOTH!)
All-New X-Factor - for character design, colors, artwork, and classic X-men team banter
X-Force - solid story, dark places, and a team that involves both Domino and Doc Nemesis, what's not to love?

What I could have done without
Divergent and Maze Runner were both meh, and they both made better movies than books (although I gave up after the first volume in both). The new Bridget Jones was better than the previous two (it did good to Bridget to care for people other than herself sometimes), but still nowhere near as good as Adrian Mole was. R.I.P. Sue Townsend.

All in all, a year rich in discoveries and great reading adventures. I wish all of you the same for 2015!