Tuesday, September 29, 2015

25 reasons why Ever After beats the new Cinderella movie

I watched Ever After and Live-Action Cinderella back to back. I wasn't planning on doing it that way; it just kind of happened. But the difference between Danielle and Ella, as well as their two respective movies, was so stunning that I just had to write a list about it.

So, here are all the things I think Ever After did them better:

1.
Danielle has a name.
Ella ends the film with "I am Cinderella."
(You are not Iron Man, sweetheart.)

2,
Danielle reads books.
Ella talks to mice.

3,
Ever After is situated in a consistently Renaissance-esque setting.
Cinderella is situated in some fake Barbie-like 17th-19th century.

This looks
uncomfortable
4.
Danielle recognizes the prince when she sees him, and has the appropriate frantic commoner reaction (falls to her knees and apologizes for throwing apples at him)
Ella doesn't recognize the prince, and when she finds out that her mysterious "apprentice" friend (with the entourage and the fancy clothes, duh) is a prince... has absolutely no reaction.

5.
Danielle risks her freedom and spends her money to rescue a servant and reunite him with his family.
We are repeatedly told by various characters Ella is brave and kind.

6.
Danielle protects and spends time with the servants.
Ella waves sadly after them as they leave.

7.
In Ever After, the stepsisters have their own personalities and stories. Even the "evil" one is fairly complex.
In Cinderella, the stepsisters are identical, and a comic relief.

8.
Danielle has friends who actively help her in her journey because they like her.
Ella has a one-trick fairy godmother, and a girl she giggles with over the ball invitation (this girl never appears again).

9.
Danielle and the prince talk about their opinions on the world, go to the library (!!!) together, and get into an adventure.
Ella and the prince talk about deer for two minutes, and then swing in the garden for another two.

10.
Danielle stands up to her stepmother and sisters when they abuse her. She even punches one of them.
Ella mopes around and feels sorry for herself.

11.
Danielle gets out her mother's old dress and works hard to fake being nobility.
Ella gets magic help upgrading her mother's old dress, and blends in with nobility with no effort whatsoever.

12.
Danielle has embroidered slippers.
Ella has six-inch glass pumps.

13.
Danielle gets her ball costume made by Leonardo Da Vinci.
Ella gets her costume made by Fairy Godmother CGI. Including digitally thinned waistline.

14.
Danielle has to choose between the slipper and a book, and she picks the book.
Ella never has any other choice but the slipper.

15.
Ever After deals with the fact that Danielle is a commoner and she lies about it, losing the prince's trust.
Cinderella does not care about any of that.

16.
In Ever After the prince is called Henry.
In Cinderella, the prince is called Prince. Also goes by Kit.

17.
Danielle has plans for what she will do as a queen, which mostly involve social and educational reform. She ends up building a free university.
Ella kind of stares into space and sings.

18.
Ever After deals with the consequences of the prince turning down his intended bride.
Cinderella glides over the reason why the prince had to get married in the first place (because his tiny country is surrounded by enemies) - so it is kind of implied that the day after marrying a commoner, his kingdom was probably burned to the ground.
(What would you expect from Robb Stark?)

19.
Danielle saves herself with her sword skills (or an epic bluff check).
Ella gets saved by a hesitant fat mouse.

20.
In Ever After Danielle asks her stepmother if she ever loved her, and gets a firm no, "how could I."
In Cinderella, the stepmother breaks down and accuses Ella of being "too good and pure."

21.
Ever After gives character and backstory to the stepmother, and shows her vulnerable when she loses her support with her husband.
Cinderella has the stepmother say "I'll tell you my story..." and then has her tell us everything we already know.

22.
The long-dead mother is present in Danielle's life through her legacy, and so is her father through her book.
Ella's connection is focused on her father, and it is done once he is dead.

23.
Ever After uses motifs from other folktales (e.g. the Clever Girl carrying the prince on her shoulder)
Cinderella uses motifs that are never used or explained again (Ella doing "magic" as a baby, the twig her father sends home, etc.)

24.
Danielle shows emotions like anger, desperation, frustration, embarrassment, excitement, and joy.
Ella shows sadness and joy.

25.
Ever After is a creative film adaptation of the motifs of a folktale.
Cinderella follows a cartoon based on a folktale word for word.

PLUS ONE
Anjelica Houston is a goddess and a perfect stepmother.
Cate Blachett is a goddess and a perfect stepmother.

All in all, I found Live-Action Cinderella cheesy, kitschy, and all-around boring and predictable.

To the crowds screaming "BUT IT'S A FAIRY TALE!!!": I know. I am a storyteller, believe me, I know. But what is great and well in a fairy tale told does not necessarily translate onto the big screen without looking like a lazy cliché. It still matters how it is told. 

To the crowds screaming "BUT IT'S A LIVE ACTION ADAPTATION OF THE DISNEY CARTOON!!!": I know. I don't like the Disney cartoon either.

I am sure an opposite list could also be assembled. Go ahead and have fun with it. :)


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Story Saturday: 5 Masculine Heroes Who Dressed Up As Women

Today we interrupt our regularly scheduled program of the Dietrich Cycle, to bring you the latest season of Mythology Drag Race.


Thor
One of the most fun stories to tell to any age group, the Þrymskviða tells the story of Thor's hammer Mjöllnir being stolen by the giant Thrym. He asks for the goddess Freya in exchange for the weapon, and she (dis)respectfully declines. Thor decides to take her place and dress up as a bride, with Loki as his maid, and they manage to fool the giant through the entire wedding, until the hammer is returned. Thor almost manages to give himself away by eating too much, and glaring at the giants, but Loki seems to be enjoying himself. 
(Of course it was Loki's idea.)

Hercules
At some point in his career, Herc also got a taste of women's clothing, although not exactly by his own free will. Serving as a slave to Queen (or, according to some other sources, Goddess) Omphale, he spent a year switching roles with the lady - Omphale wore Hercules' lion skin, and the hero wore a woman's dress, doing women's chores around the house. While not voluntary, apparently the change did not leave a scar on his pride - once freed from the one-year contract, he ended up marrying Omphale, and fathering some legendary children.

Achilles
(Because who wouldn't want to see Brad Pitt in drag?)
In a famous prequel to the whole Troy shebang, Achilles lived disguised as a girl for a while. Since the prophecy said he would die young, his mother tried to keep him away from fighting by dressing him as a girl, and sending him to live with the daughters of the king of Skyros, a tiny island. Achilles lived under the name of Pyrrha (Redhead), until Odysseus found out where he was hiding, and came to recruit him for the war effort. He brought jewelry and gifts for all the girls, and some weapons; then he pretended the island was under attack, and at the sound of the horns Achilles grabbed up a sword and thus gave himself away.
Story also says that while there, he fathered two sons with one of the actual daughters of the king. I am sure the girls didn't mind the dress.

Hugdieterich
I already wrote about this in my post on love stories from the Dietrich Cycle. Hugdieterich, emperor of Constantinople, not only dressed himself as a princess to get close to the love of his life, but even learned womanly arts like embroidery, in order to impress her father. She spent some time at court teaching the girls womanly arts, before giving away who he was (and fathering some heroic sons). Story doesn't tell if he kept his hobby of embroidery later on.

Arjuna
The leader of the legendary Pandava brothers of Indian mythology, the great and mighty hero Arjuna also spent a year in women's clothing (cursed into an eunuch by a woman whose advances he turned down). He took on the name Brihannala, and taught dancing and singing to a princess. He was later (after changing back) offered the hand of the princess, but declined, saying that he saw her as a student and a daughter. Princess ended up marrying his son instead.

Case in point: Wearing feminine clothing does not tarnish your chances at manly immortality.

One question remains: Who wore it best?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Folklore Thursday: Things we can blame on Adam and Eve

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 my weekly theme:
Even among the amusing multitude of tales from the Peasant Bible, Adam and Eve stories by far are my favorites. They carry seeds from older beliefs, and fun explanations of how things came to be the way they are. And since Adam and Eve are the archetypal Man and Woman, a lot of these stories have to do with the human body.
Let's take a look:

Boy parts and girl parts
One of my favorite tales from the Peasant Bible deals with genitalia (go figure). The story goes that originally Adam and Eve didn't eat with their mouths; there was an opening on their stomach for putting the food in, and after digesting it they could go down to the stream, turn their stomach inside out, and rinse it (yumm). Eventually they got bored with all the hassle, and wanted to eat and poop like the animals do. God gave them some money each, and sent them to the shop (yes you read that right) to buy some thread and needles, and stitch up the opening.
As it happens, on the way to the shop they passed by a pub (yes you read that right too) and while Adam walked on by, Eve decided she could get something to drink, and buy thread with the rest of her money.
Adam stitched up the opening on his stomach with neat little stitches (masculinity, yo), and he had ample thread left over dangling down between his legs, so he tied a knot on it. Eve, on the other hand, did not have enough thread to sew everything up, and ended up with an opening between her legs that didn't get properly sewn in.
Anyhow, they soon found a fun new use for their equipment, so I guess it all worked out just fine.

Body hair
There are several versions of a story in which people are originally hairless, until God, for whatever reason, decides to give them a way to be hairy. In some versions of this tale, Adam asks for body hair to be more "manly" and earn Eve's respect. Whatever the reason, Adam goes down to the stream as God appointed, takes some water in his cupped hands, and rubs it all over his face, chest, head, armpits, and all other parts. Eve, seeing Adam in all his glorious body hair, wants some for herself as well (or just wants to be as intimidating as he is, depending on who is telling the story) and goes down to the same stream, takes the handful of water... and then a pesky little insect, a mosquito or a bee, decides to sting her right between the legs. She slaps the insect away, and all the water goes between her legs.
Ta-da, eons of suffering with bikini wax.

Body temperature
According to a laconically short note, Adam and Even first boinked on the ice of a frozen lake, which is why women's butts are always cold, and men's knees are always cold.
Test any part of this story at your own risk.
(I want to know the longer story behind this)

(Fun fact: If you type "Adam and Eve" into Google, the first hit is an adult store)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Back to the gardens

I did my second round of seed-and-flower storytelling at the school today. I only had two classes: 3rd grade and 2nd grade, although several other kids attempted to drag me into their classrooms as well.
I told the Pumpkin Girl in 3rd grade, because I was curious to see if it would work with a younger audience, or if the 6th grade was just particularly enthusiastic about it. Turns out that kids are very easily entertained with the thought of a talking pumpkin, and they giggled all the way through. While it is definitely a fun story to tell, it also brought up some questions from the kids that I need to consider before the next telling (if "being loved just as she was" turned the pumpkin back into a girl when why did her mother's love not break the spell? - thank you, Frozen!). I also told the Jasmine Princess again, because I was in the mood for monkeying around with the kids, and they definitely got a kick out of it. The giant's character is also a lot of fun to do.
(Background: It took me a while as a storyteller to dare to do funny voices and sounds. I don't do them a lot, but sometimes they are definitely fun)
Second grade remembered me as "the storyteller with the superhero stories," and wished to continue the conversation where we had left off last year (now there's a compliment). I told Jasmine Princess again (I am really starting to love this story, and the kids react to it really well). I also told the Magic Garden, and for some strange reason, it hit the right spot for 2nd grade. Some of them told me this was the best story they ever heard, and they seemed enchanted by the idea of birds, and seeds, and gardens, and the whole thing. When I told them that such gardens really exist, they got really excited. Also, one of the boys wanted to know what birds are made of. I passed the question off to their teacher.
All in all, the flowers and gardens theme was tons of fun to do, and I got some great new stories out of it. I wonder what the next request will be!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Sunflowers, seeds, storytelling

School's back in session, the semester has begun, and I am doing the grad student thing of papers and exams and whatnot. But even now I need regular storytelling to re-charge my batteries; so I have returned to my designated practice school. I contacted them early in September to ask what they were up to. The unexpected answer:

"Do you happen to have any stories about sunflowers?"

(Catholic school; their theme for the year is "Planting the seeds of virtues")
Have I mentioned that I am a sucker for thematic challenges? I gave my standard answer: Nope, but give me three weeks.
It has been an immensely fun three weeks too. I dug into folklore and mythology, looking for tellable stories involving sunflowers. I soon made some discoveries:

1. When you search for sunflower stories, 80% of what you find will be the Greek myth of Clytie. Which is a mistranslation. It's about the heliotrope. The Greeks didn't have sunflowers, because...
2. Sunflowers are indigenous to the Americas. Which means myths involving their creation are Native American myths, and I do not tell those (for various cultural / ethical reasons). Which led me to... 
3. Finding folktales and other stories that mention sunflowers. Sadly, several of them had the sunflower added in a literary version, or a picture book. Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters, for example, added sunflowers where there were originally none. While that is all good and well, I kept digging.

Eventually, I came up with a story from Peru (it was noted as a "legend" in some sources, but I did find an original author for it); a folktale from India; and two tales that mention sunflowers marginally. To this I added ten other tales that feature gardens, flowers, flower seeds, and the occasional fruit. It took me about three weeks to sift through a lot of folklore, and order books through Inter-Library Loan. I narrowed the stories down to fourteen from forty or so. 
But it was worth it.

Today, I went to the school and told in 6 classrooms (half an hour each). It was tons of fun.

In the kindergarten (garden, hah) I told "Why snow is white" from the new Bavarian folktale collection. It is a tiny story, but it works like a charm with the little ones. They loved imagining what show would be like if it was different colors, and they found sunflower-colored "yellow snow" the funniest thing in the world (don't eat yellow snow, kids). After the storytelling, they all wanted to hug me, and I toppled over against the bookshelves.
Another story that worked great with the younglings (K and 1st) was the Jasmine Princess. While some of the boys initially made faces about a "princess story," the giant and the monkeys soon won them over. It is a great story to tell, especially when you get two dozen six-year-olds making monkey noises.
For the older grades (7th and 8th) I told the legend of Stavoren the Sunken City. Not only is it a great environmental tale full of important messages, it is also very timely, since it talks about feeding the poor. Similarly, the Kazakh folktale of the Magic Garden (one of my favorites) worked well with the discussion about urban gardening.
One of my favorite new stories is Watermelon Island, a Vietnamese folktale about the discovery of watermelons. It is a very popular story, and I found many versions of it. It is not a magical tale - all very practical instead, but kids did get a kick out of discussing how great and tasty watermelons are. It did not help that I was very thirsty at the time. I might have drooled a little.
Of course I told the Empty Pot a couple of times, as the shortest story in my flower-and-garden repertoire. It is a very clever little tale. But the big winner of the day (in 6th grade, which is my favorite bunch at the school) was the Pumpkin Girl, a Persian folktale where a baby girl turns into, and lives, as a pumpkin. The class found it absolutely hilarious, and tried to puzzle out the details of how the magic worked. My favorite part: "You can't really shop for clothes for a pumpkin, right?" Boy: "You have to go to the Halloween store and buy a pumpkin costume." Me: "You can't just dress up a pumpkin as a pumpkin!" This story, by the way, showed Cinderella in a new light to me: In this case, there is a ring that has to fit the mysterious bride perfectly. However, the prince (groom) has to send the ring house to house, not because he wouldn't recognize her, but because he can't enter houses to meet girls face to face. So he sends a ring with a female servant. LOGIC.

I am going back for another round on Wednesday.
And now if you'll excuse me I'll go buy a watermelon.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Story Saturday: The king that breathes fire, and other badasses (Exploring the Dietrich cycle, V.)

Now that I have been all over Dwarves and mountains, it feels like it is time to introduce some of the human heroes of the Dietrich cycle - specifically, the ones that will make an appearance in the storytelling show.
There is quite a few of them, so for today, I am focusing on the first three in order of appearance:

King Dietrich of Bern

Since he is less well known than Arthur, here is the gist: Dietrich is described as a tall and strong man (naturally), with fair hair that falls to his shoulders in "heavy curls." He is not exceedingly handsome, but he does have the redeeming quality of being able to breathe fire when angry (who wouldn't want that in a man). His shield shows a golden lion in a read field, reaching up towards a golden crown. He has two excellent, Dwarf-made swords, the first one (which he gives away) is called Nagelring, the second one (which he wins in an epic blind fight) is called Eckesachs (Ekkisax). Dietrich is heroic, brave, just, boisterous, generous, and all those other things a king needs to be. Sometimes he makes mistakes.

Fun fact: At one point early in his adventures, Dietrich is thrown into a pit full of venomous snakes. By the time Hildebrand comes to rescue him, young Dietrich has already eaten some of the adders.
(Take that, Ragnar Lodbrok)

Hildebrand

If we are drawing comparisons, Hildebrand is Dietrich's Merlin - with no magic, and infinitely more badassery. Think Ser Barristan Selmy. He is a famous swordsman who is hired to be Dietrich's mentor when the boy is only five years old - so begins a life of friendship and shared adventures. From the very first quest of Dietrich (where they kill two giants), master and pupil fight side by side, and Hildebrand holds his own very well against multiple enemies, even when he is past his 100th birthday. Despite his prowess in battle (and literally being named "battle sword"), Hildebrand is the wiser and more level-headed of the two, often helping Dietrich with diplomatic advice, and jumping in front of him when he is about to do something stupid.
Hildebrand has a beloved and wise wife (the Lady Ute) and a brave son, Hadubrand. He is the lord of Castle Garden, and as such, his device is a white castle and golden flowers on a red field.

Fun fact: Hildebrand gets his own story (called the Hildebrandslied) in which he returns home from 32 years of exile, and has to fight his own son who doesn't recognize him. In earlier versions of the story, he ends up killing Hadubrand; in later versions, they recognize each other in time. People love a happy ending.

Sistram

Doubtless my favorite knight of the bunch, Sistram is really no one special - and yet endlessly entertaining. He makes a memorable entrance into the epic: Dietrich pulls him out of a dragon's mouth (Sistram keeps yelling instructions to the king while danging from the dragon's jaws). To commemorate the event, Sistram wears green armor adorned with a green and a brown dragon. He is described as tall and lean, fair, with light blond, curly hair and bright eyes. He enjoys play and games, drinking, eating, and other forms of merriment.

Essentially, he is the guy at the party that makes good use of the story that starts with "No shit, there I was, half swallowed by a dragon..."

Fun fact: Sistram doesn't actually appear in the legend of Virginal. There is another knight that gets fished out of a dragon's mouth, but since he is not nearly as interesting as Sistram, I merged the two episodes, and the two knights, into one.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Folklore Thursday: The Virgin Mary gets her period

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 from last week.
Jesus and Saint Peter are not the only biblical characters that get to create things, intentionally or accidentally. A lot of Hungarian tales and folk beliefs feature the Virgin Mary as well. We usually call her Szűzanya (Virgin Mother) or Boldogasszony (Happy Woman) - the latter is probably a remnant of a pre-Christian fertility goddess.
And talking about fertility, here are some nice little snippets about Her:

1. Seven skirts
The Virgin Mother sat down, and it was the time of her period. She was wearing seven skirts, but even the seventh one got soaked through. Women nowadays got as much as the last skirt; the Virgin Mary had seven times more, and never complained anyway. And yet women nowadays complain so much!

(We have all been there, huh.)

2. Flowers
The Virgin Mother sat down by the road, and it was her time of the month. Her blood dripped down, and stained the flowers. There are some flowers that are white with a red dot inside; and also leaves that have brown spots on them. That is all because the Virgin Mary sat on them when she had her period.

(Hygiene products are a blessing, sisters.)

3. Holy Family on the run
An angel appeared to Joseph, telling him that Herod had sent out his soldiers to kill all children under the age of two. Joseph woke his wife, they took the newborn, and ran. It was late at night, and a storm was raging outside; they ran in the wind and the rain until morning, and they were exhausted. The sun came out; Joseph looked around, and noticed a tall, lean apple tree.
"We will rest in the shade and eat some" he said; but when they walked to the tree, it was too tall to reach the apples. But as they were looking up, hungry and desperate, the tree leaned down, lowered itself like the arc of the rainbow, and offered its fruit to the Holy Family.
They rested under the tree. The Virgin Mary cried, for she was exhausted and afraid; her tears turned into the first lilies of the valley. When she went to sleep, she rested her head on a rock; some of her hair put roots down there, and by the morning it turned into feather grass.
They had a little water in a jar. They drank and washed; wherever the water spilled, the dry soil sprouted soft green grass, and a stream was born. The Virgin poured out the bathing water of Baby Jesus; that is how the first forget-me-nots were born.
The babe was washed, but also needed to be changed. The Virgin washed the diapers, and hung them on a dog-rose bush to dry. That is why the dog-rose has such an awful smell.
Both parent were exhausted; the Virgin tied a blue ribbon on her wedding ring, and gave it to the Baby Jesus to play with. The babe played and giggled; suddenly, a bird swooped down, and stole the ring and the ribbon. It dropped it somewhere far away; the ring was under the earth for fifteen hundred years, before someone found it.
But that's another story.

(I added some smaller bits of folklore to this story - the part with the diapers and the forget-me-nots were originally separate pieces. In some versions of the tale, the apple tree is a palm tree - which actually makes more sense)

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Story Saturday: Dwarf Love, Elf Love (Exploring the Dietrich Cycle, IV)

As I am working on the Dietrich cycle, a full storytelling show is slowly taking form, pieced together from different parts of the sagas. It has to do with King Dietrich and his court, and their relationship with the Dwarven realms under the mountains.
Some of these relationships are fairly personal.

I have gotten several messages and opinions about the question I posed last week. While most people are comfortable with the idea of a Dwarf queen, some of them expressed worries that she would not make a good love interest for a human (let alone a human king).
Here is the thing: The storytelling show, as it looks now, includes not one, but two inter-species relationships. One of each: Dwarf king - Human princess, Human king - Dwarf queen.

I am the storyteller, therefore I have to make some decisions of how I tell these stories. And I have the same responsibility of representation as any other form of media would.

Here are some things I do NOT want to do:
1. Have an Elf queen rule over the mountains because she is prettier than a Dwarf.
2. Abduction and rape. That trope is just not happening on my watch.
3. Make one of those couples OK, but not the other.
4. Twist the original legends completely out of shape.
5. Completely rely on the Tolkien/pop culture images of Dwarfs.

Female Dwarf concept art
for The Hobbit movie
Here are some things that I DO want to try:
1. Expand ideas of beauty. There seems to be a huge debate on the Internet (thank you, LotR fandom) about what Dwarf women look like, and whether they can be attractive to human men or not. I think most of the debate is fairly dumb, and it mostly hinges on beards.
2. Explore inter-cultural relationships. For me, neither relationship has their most potential in physical Dwarf-Human compatibility. Rather, they come from very different places, and very different cultures, and they have to navigate the transition from one to the other (a human princess living in a Dwarf kingdom, a Dwarf queen running a human court).
3. Explore the male-to-male and female-to-female connections of these two related families. Laurin and Dietrich talk quite a lot, king to king; but I also want to find connection points where the Dwarf Queen can talk with the human princess. Put the two ideas of femininity and royalty next to each other. Make the saga pass the Bechdel test.
4. Play off of pop culture why staying close to the original sagas.

Gender-bent Thorin,
because Rule 63
Here are some things I know:
1. Dwarf-and-Elf love has been done in pop culture, with ambiguous results.
2. A lot of people are still bothered by the idea of a shorter man having a relationship with a taller woman. (Look at all the Kiliel fan art, they keep hiding the height difference)
3. A lot of people are still bothered with a woman having a stockier body type than a willowy Elf.
4. NO ONE in folklore ever had a problem with fairy maidens marrying human men.
5. Dwarf women are treated as mostly nonexistent, both in pop culture and in folklore. (My favorite counter-example, of course, is Terry Pratchett's The Fifth Elephant.)

Also, I should be writing a take-home exam.
We'll see how this goes.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Folklore Thursday: Introducing the Peasant Bible, and the Origin of Mushrooms

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 have been looking for a coherent theme for Folklore Thursday for a while now, and I think I finally found one! It's called the Peasant Bible.

I am borrowing the term from the title of a book (Parasztbiblia), published in Hungarian in 1985. It's a folklore classic. Essentially, it is a collection of folk legends and tales that are based on stories from the Bible. People heard the stories in church, then went off and told and re-told them, and thanks to the oral tradition, some of them took on quite hilarious shapes. The book also includes folk beliefs about the creation of things (animals, plants, the male and the female body, etc.), bits of older lore that became Christianized, as well as a huge number of those "When Jesus and St. Peter walked the earth" type legends everybody loves.

I have mentioned this collection, and these types of stories, to several storytellers around the world, and they always expressed a lot of interest in them. Since there is no English version of most of these tales, I decided that I will post translations for some of them. If you like them, go and have fun!

(Note: Not all the stories will be selected from the book above. When not, I will note the sources. Also, while the stories are the same, the text will be my own re-telling in English, not a mirror translation.)

For starters, here is a short story I love:



The Origin of Mushrooms
(One version collected in 1912, found in online archive here)

Once, when Jesus Christ and St. Peter walked the earth, they came to a small village, and decided to rest there. Sitting under a walnut tree they noticed that one of the houses had the oven fired up; they were making flat bread. The Lord Jesus sent Peter to ask for a bite to eat. Peter asked politely, and took three pieces - one for Jesus, and two for himself, one of which he hid under his cloak.
Jesus and Peter both ate their piece of flat bread, and even though they were not full, they started on their journey again. Peter remained respectfully a step behind the Lord. Thinking that Jesus wouldn't notice, he started breaking pieces off the hidden bread, and eating them... but the moment Peter put a piece of bread into his mouth, Jesus spoke to him, without turning around:
- How long do you think we have to go before the next town, Peter?
Peter, scared that Jesus would hear he was chewing, quickly spat the bread out, and answered. They walked on a little ways, and Peter put another piece in his mouth.
- Peter, aren't we having just an especially warm day today?
Peter spat the bread out again, and answered. And so it went the entire way; every time Peter tried to eat a bite, Jesus asked a question, and he had to spit the mouthful out. Eventually, all the bread was gone, and none of it had made it into Peter's belly.
Then, Jesus turned around.
- Peter, how many pieces of bread did yo receive at the house?
- Two, my Lord.
- Don't lie to me, Peter.
St. Peter was ashamed of himself, and confessed what he had been doing.
- Now look - Jesus said with a smile, pointing at the side of the road - Even if you have been taught a lesson, the Lord doesn't allow food to go to waste.
Every mouthful of soft bread that Peter had spat out turned into mushrooms along the side of the road.
That is why we have mushrooms.

(Shrooms pre-masticated by a saint, anyone?)

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Story Saturday: Exploring the Dietrich cycle III. - DWARFS RULE

If you thought you got all your Dwarven Epicness needs fulfilled by The Hobbit - think again.
This is where Tolkien went to school.

"It should be known for what reason God created the great giants and the little dwarfs, and subsequently the heroes. First, he produced the dwarfs, because the mountains lay waste and useless, and valuable stores of silver and gold, with gems and pearls, were consealed in them. Therefore God made the dwarfs right wise and crafty, that they could distinguish good and bad, and to what use all things should be applied. They knew the use of gems - that some of gave strength to the wearer, others made them invisible, which they called fog-caps. Therefore God gave art and wisdom to them, that they built them hollow hills; he gave them nobility, so that they, as well as the heroes, were kings and lords; and he gave them great riches. And the reason why God created the giants, was that they should slay the wild beasts and worms (dragons, serpents) and thus enable the dwarfs to cultivate the mountains in safety. But after some time it happened that the giants became wicked and unfaithful, and did much harm to the dwarfs. Then God created the heroes, who were a middle rank between the dwarfs and giants. And it should be known that the heroes were worthy and faithful for many years, and that they were created to come to the assistance of the dwarfs, against the unfaithful giants, the beasts, and the worms... Among the dwarfs were many kings, who had giants for their servants; for they possessed rough countries, waste forests, and mountains near their dwellings."

This is a quote from one of the Heldenbücher, the Books of Heroes of German tradition (I got it from this source). And boy does it contain a lot to talk about.

There are a number of important Dwarf characters that play a part in the Dietrich Cycle. First and foremost, of course, is King Laurin, who rules over (or, rather, under) the mountains of Tyrol - more specifically, the group of the Dolomites in Northern Italy known as the Rose Garden. His realm is named after the garden his daughter planted on the mountains, in the open air (since roses don't grow in the Dwarfs' underground kingdom). The Rose Garden becomes the center (and the name) of one of Dietrich's most famous adventures.

Another Dwarven king we encounter is King Walberan, Laurin's uncle, who rules an immense realm ranging from the Caucasus to the Sinai. When Laurin is captured by Dietrich, and dragged to Bern (Verona), Walberan shows up with a Dwarf army to take revenge on Dietrich. The bloodshed is narrowly avoided by King Laurin's diplomatic skills, and the fact that he is in love with one of the knights' sisters, Künhilde. The story ends in reconciliation, and Dwarf-Human inter-species marital bliss.

The third person I want to mention is Queen Virginal. I know I have been all about her before, but I am circling back now. Here is the thing: She is not a Dwarf, but she should be. She is Queen of the Mountains, rules over Dwarves, wears a crown with a magic gemstone in it, and holds off an invasion of evil giants and DRAGONS. The stories call her an Elf maiden, but let's be real here, people: That's never gonna happen. Not on my watch.
So.
POLLING TIME! Cast your votes in an orderly fashion:
Would you rather hear a story about
1. An Elf maiden queen who rules over a mountain kingdom, and only manages to hold off the evil powers gathering against her by the power of the stone in her crown, until she is rescued by Dietrich, whom she marries, giving up her kingdom without a second thought, 
OR
2. A Dwarven queen who defends her lands with the unexpected last minute help of human knights, fights an epic battle, and ends up in an even more unexpected relationship with said human knight, eventually marrying him and maybe still ruling over her own kingdom?...

I am asking this for research purposes. Because one way or another, the Rose Garden and Virginal might end up being a full-hour show I work on.