Saturday, August 1, 2015

Story Saturday: Ant-Man and other Small Things

Ant-Man is out, and it's cashing in at the box office. As the latest installment of the Marvel franchise, it is a fairly entertaining movie which can be placed in the overlap between The Borrowers and MacGyver (if you belong to my generation, that is pretty much childhood squared). It is also PG-13 (PG-12 in Hungary, because obviously Hungarian children are more mature), and I have seen a large number of very excited children watching it in the movie theater.
In the spirit of combining pop culture with traditional tales, here is how storytellers can make the most of the new craze for ants. Because let's face it, the ants are the true heroes of this story.

There is a Chinese folktale in which a student walking to the state exam sees an anthill about to be washed away by a stream. He stops to make a bridge of sticks and helps the ants walk to safety. Later, as he is handing in his written exam, he notices that he made a mistake - one of the signs he wrote is incorrect. He is about to panic, when he sees a couple of tiny ants march onto the paper and take on the shape of the correct sign. A good deed deserves another. Also, apparently ants are great for Spellcheck.

There is also another Chinese tale that portrays white ants as tiny warriors, with their own king and kingdom. They reward human kindness in a similar way.

The 7th book of Ovid's Metamorphoses tells the myth of King Aeacus of Aegina, who populated his land by asking Zeus to change ants into people. Thus the Myrmidons were born, and became fabled warriors - among them, Achilles, Aeacus' grandson.

There are also legends of giant ants from Herodotus, in case you are looking for something more terrifying. This one is more of a handbook than a story, but it is easy to turn it into one.

Ants also feature into the Grimm tale known as the Queen Bee, as the helpers of the hero. (The motif in which ants help someone gather scattered pearls or seeds is marked in the Thompson motif index as H1091.1, and it shows up in many tales around the world).

A hero being able to change himself into an ant appears in the Norwegian story of Boots and the Beasts (I included my telling of this one in my book too, under Shape-shifting) (Honestly, I am not doing this on purpose, I just did a lot of my storytelling research for that book...)

I am not mentioning the Ants and the Grasshopper on purpose - I never liked it as a child. On the other hand, Aesop's fable of the Ant and a Dove is a very neat little story.

There is a site for Native American ant myths and legends that has some very beautiful stories on it.

There is also a West African folktale that combines a Cinderella story type with a helpful ant queen. You can find the picture book here. I have not read it, but it got some really nice reviews.

Ants are awesome. Have fun, storytellers! :)


  1. I wouldn't have connected Ant-Man so much with ant tales as I would have with tales of diminutive heroes like Thumbling, Tom Thumb, Thumbelina and Issun-Boshi.

    1. Yup, that too :) The ant stories were my personal preference.