Friday, April 1, 2016

A is for Adoption (and Stepmothers)

Welcome to the very first day of the A to Z Challenge! My theme this year is Representation and Diversity in Traditional Stories. I am looking for rare and interesting motifs in folktales, fairy tales, and legends that add variety to the well-known canon.

We are starting with a big one: It is a frequent complaint that alternative family models are not represented in a positive light in most traditional tales.
Stepmothers are almost always evil (even according to top folklore experts like Maria Tatar!), and adoption either happens with no biological family in sight (e.g. children just miraculously appear), or it is part of the happy ending that the child returns to his/her "real" family and fulfills his "true" destiny. While these motifs also have their symbolic meanings, they don't exactly sit well with adoptive- and step-parents who want to build a storytelling relationship with their children (or the other way around).

So, here are some stories with positive portrayals of adoption and stepmothers:

Hilde, the Good Stepmother
An Icelandic fairy tale about a princess who is cursed by her mother at birth - she is destined to get pregnant out of wedlock, kill a man, and burn her father's castle. After her mother's death, the king intends to marry again; Hilde, his new bride, befriends her stepdaughter, and helps her fulfill each point of the curse while avoiding disaster.
(You can read this story in All the world's reward here)

The Lion's Whiskers
An Ethiopian/Amhara tale. A mother hopes to win her stepson's love by asking a wise man for a potion. While gathering the ingredients for the potion - the whiskers of a ferocious lion -, she learns a valuable lesson about patience and persistence, and figures out how to gain her stepson's trust without any magic at all.
(You can read a re-telling of this story here, or read it in this book, or this one)

The Fishwife and the Changeling
A gorgeous Scottish folktale about a woman whose child is replaced by a changeling. When she figures out the swap, she forces the Fairy Woman to give her own baby back - but also keeps the changeling, and raises the two boys together! When the fae boy grows up he has to make a decision whether he goes back to the fairies, or stays with his mortal family. He chooses the people who raised him. One of my ever favorite tales, and also the only positive changeling story I know.
(You can find it in Folk tales from moor and mountain)

Taliesin
One of the most famous Welsh legends, the bard Taliesin's story begins with being fished out of a river and adopted by a chief's clumsy son and heir, Elphin. When he grows up, he saves his adoptive father's life and his mother's reputation.
(Actually the story begins way earlier than that, but it would be too long to summarize)
(Read the story here)

The Serpent Mother
A folktale from India about a poor girl who marries into a rich family, but has no relatives of her own. When it is time to celebrate her first pregnancy, she makes friends with the Snake Mother and her people, and they accept her as one of their own, and shield her from her in-laws' bullying.
(Read the tale in Folktales from India)

Kate Crackernuts
This Scottish fairy tale will also come up later - it features a mean stepmother, but also a kind stepsister who loves her sibling despite her mother's jealousy.
(Read about it here)

Bikkhu Sok
Cambodian folktale. A boy's entire family is massacred out of prejudice, and he only survives because a kind-hearted man hides him and a merchant adopts him. He grows up to be a famous scholar.
(Read the story in this selection from the Gatiloke)

N'oun Doaré
This gorgeous fairy tale from Brittany tells about a five-year-old boy found and adopted by a kind chief, and named "I don't know" (N'oun Doaré) because nothing is known about his origins. He grows up to be a hero, with a rusted sword and an unlikely mare for companions, rescues a princess, and marries his horse. (No, really.) (Okay, so the horse turns into a princess first. SPOILERS.)
At the end of the story, he is offered the truth about his birth parents - but he refuses, claiming that his adoptive family is the real one for him.
(Read it in Celtic myths and legends)

In addition, there are also several positive legendary and mythical adoptions one can think of: King Arthur being raised by Sir Ector; Persian hero Zal being raised and protected by his bird-mother the Simurgh; Fionn Mac Cool being raised by two women (and he turned out mighty fine); Aslög, Brünhilde and Sigurd's daughter, being saved and raised by her foster-father. I also found several adoption stories in this amazing collection of Thai folktales.

Rachel Hedman in the ETSU Storytelling program wrote her thesis on adoption folktales. You can check it out here!

Are there any stories you can think of that I didn't mention? Let me know! :)


(picture by Lucas Gama on Deviantart)

81 comments:

  1. There's also the story of Lord Krishna being raised by humble cowherds Nanda (stepfather) and Yashoda (stepmother) after his extraordinary escape from prison to avoid his murderous uncle Kamsa. Even after Krishna returns home to kill Kamsa and free his birth parents from prison, he reassures Nanda and Yashoda he still considers them his true parents and loves them just as much as he always did.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! I think I'll collect the suggestions for each post and I'll add them, so the series becomes a resource after A to Z is over :)

      Delete
  2. Loved this post! So many stories that sound fantastic.
    And personally, I think this demostrates that step-relationships in folktales are not as negative as we normally think. Maybe we think this becuase the most famous ones are negative?
    Thanks so much for sharing.

    @JazzFeathers
    The Old Shelter - Jazz Age Jazz

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A lot of people don't look further than Cinderella and Snow White. Granted, Snow White was originally persecuted by her birth mother, but the Grimms changed it later...

      Delete
    2. True. And there's also the subject of interpretation. I've said before that I've considered the Dwarfs in Snow White to be an adoptive family of sorts.

      Delete
  3. Interesting how we came to think of stepmothers as evil, but of course it isn't always true. Great examples!

    Pioneer Women in Aviation A-Z

    ReplyDelete
  4. I too thought of Krishna, whose relationship with his stepfamily remains loving and close till the end, his biological mother doesn't much feature in the songs and legends, they're all about Yashoda and Nandalal (which itself means dear to Nanda).

    Your post also reminded me of Neil Gaiman's retelling of the Snow White story from the stepmother's POV.

    Best wishes,
    Nilanjana.
    Madly-in-Verse

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love that Gaiman story! It is dark, but also a very imaginative take on Snow White :)

      Delete
  5. I am so glad there are good stepmothers and stepsiblings out there in these tales, I would never have been able to think of any if you hadn't pointed them out. I especially like the positive changeling story.
    Tasha
    Tasha's Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's probably my favorite. I first heard it from storyteller Mary Gay Ducey, and she tells it absolutely wonderfully.

      Delete
  6. Wow! This was fantastic. I'll have to send a link through to my aunt. She's been quite vocal about how step-mothers are depicted through history. xx Rowena

    ReplyDelete
  7. So true! Stories have traditionally been unfair to stepmothers. Great to read alternate examples above.

    ReplyDelete
  8. In the lion's den... great posts as always.

    Welcome in the letter "A"... thank you!
    Jeremy [Retro]
    AtoZ Challenge Co-Host [2016]

    Stop over and find a free "SIX STRINGS: BLOGGING AtoZ CHALLENGE" Here: http://www.jmhdigital.com/

    HOLLYWOOD NUTS!
    You know you want to know if me or Hollywood... is Nuts?

    ReplyDelete
  9. Excellent post. It's nice to learn about new fairy tales and folklore. https://mhsusannematthews.wordpress.com/

    ReplyDelete
  10. My wife has a wonderful stepmother - she's such a lovely lady. Certainly destroys that stereotype!
    Open Minded Mormon A-Z

    ReplyDelete
  11. Those are some excellent story suggestions. I've had a fairly good relationship for twenty years with my stepmother. Not all of them are evil. :)
    Discarded Darlings

    ReplyDelete
  12. I didn't realize there were so many 'good stepmother' stories out there! I wonder if maybe the reason for the evil stepmother trope is because it's often seen in fairy tales, which are directed at children, and for many children the idea of another woman replacing their mother is terrifying.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think evil stepmothers still outweigh good ones, if you look at the numbers. But I like to point out that #NotAllStepmothers :D In case people are looking for tales to tell a different story.

      Delete
  13. Step mothers do get the negative press don't they? Great idea to shed some light on the positive. Hope its a great April.
    Im A to Zing from Fill the Cracks and Moondustwriter

    ReplyDelete
  14. As an adopted child with a wonderful stepmother, I am glad to see that there are good ones in the stories, and not only the evil ones that we all know. Great post!

    @CintaEscribe de
    El Rincón de Cinta

    ReplyDelete
  15. Hilde sounds like the kind of mum anyone would want, step or otherwise, and I love the sound of the Fishwife story. I'll have to go look it up.
    Sophie
    Sophie's Thoughts & Fumbles | Wittegen Press | FB3X

    ReplyDelete
  16. As a step-mother and an adoptive mother, I wish I'd known about some of these stories when the kids were little.

    I am going to try my signature Finding Eliza

    ReplyDelete
  17. I enjoyed reading this Csenge. I started out thinking 'well, there won't be too many happy adoptive stories' but was so pleasantly surprised. I was also so glad to see an Indian story in your list. I'm looking forward to more. :)
    Happy A to Z!
    @freya3377 from Life as Freya

    ReplyDelete
  18. As a stepmother, I appreciate this post greatly! I wish I'd known about all these when my stepdaughters were growing up. My youngest stepdaughter still calls me (with great affection) her "wicked" stepmother, and I call her (with equal affection) my "wicked" stepdaughter. :) BTW, I heard somewhere that a lot of the Evils were originally wicked MOTHERS, but the Grimms didn't want to offend their own beloved mother and changed as many as they could to stepmothers. True? False? Wishful thinking on my part? lol

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Some were - Snow White's is probably the most famous one that got changed. I don't know about others, but it is entirely possible, at least according to people who believe fairy tales speak on a symbolic level, so "older female" can take on many forms...

      Delete
  19. Wow. You know your folklore. Going to be all new to me! Good luck in the challenge.

    ReplyDelete
  20. The N'oun Doaré story is wonderful! Our true family are those that love us no matter what, regardless of genetic links. Love it! - Lucy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Right?! I just read that one for this challenge, and I fell in love with it :)

      Delete
  21. As a stepmother myself, I appreciate that there are tales of good step parents out there. Disney has gone out of their way to only represent 'bad' non-traditional families.
    Susan Says


    ReplyDelete
  22. So many wonderful sounding stories that I'm unfamiliar with. I'm going to share this list with a cherished friend who is an adoptive mother!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Feel free to share! I am doing this to be a resource :)

      Delete
  23. I love this post! Yes, it is unfair that step-parents are mostly written or viewed as the foe in stories. I am glad that you gave examples of stories where a step or adoptive family is loving.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Your A to Z posts are always interesting! Really looking forward to this one too!

    --
    Tim Brannan, The Other Side Blog
    2015 A to Z of Adventure!
    http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/

    ReplyDelete
  25. very interesting! I always think of Cindrella when I think step mother!

    Shubhangi @ The Little Princess

    ReplyDelete
  26. You've posted so many stories that I've never heard about. This was fascinating.

    http://writegame.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  27. Love your stories, some are very new to me. What about Cinderella and her stepmother? When we will have post with M would you write about mother-in-law stories?
    Evalina, This and that...
    and Random Act of Stitching Kindness

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Huh! That would be a hard one... I'll have to look into that! :D

      Delete
  28. I had never given a second thought of how combined families are portrayed in the stories from long ago. I'm glad that you have found additional stories to show them in a positive light.

    Mary
    Twitter: @KnottyMarie
    Literary Gold
    Jingle Jangle Jungle

    ReplyDelete
  29. Wow, that's an incredible list. Good for you for providing it.

    I'd never given it much thought before, but the persistent tales of evil stepmothers must make it hard to be a step-parent.

    Now I feel guilty for having an evil stepfather in my book! :)

    ReplyDelete
  30. By the way, did you know that a thousand years ago it was not 'step' but 'steop', and it meant 'bereaved'. So there were steop-children but no steop-mothers in the sense we know now.

    ReplyDelete
  31. you always have the most awesome posts!

    i will be checking these stories out.

    good stepmothers in stories. who knew!

    ReplyDelete
  32. Great post with fab comments. #A-Z @CazsBooks http://cazgreenham.blogspot.com welcome aboard Greenham's yacht

    ReplyDelete
  33. I now want to read all (most) of those!! This so cruel of you, April is not the time for reading! 😉 (yeah, it's never stopped me lol)
    Seriously, great collection! I've a srepmum who I love and really, feel sorry for looking back. I was a very disobedient child!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The collection will still be here after April ;)

      Delete
  34. Interesting read, thank you for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Ps shared to http://Pinterest.com/cazgreenham A-Z Challenge

    ReplyDelete
  36. Wonderful selection of tales. Looking forward to more through the month.
    @SorchiaDuBois from
    Sorchia’s Universe

    ReplyDelete
  37. I started reading Grimm's fairy tales a few years ago. Boy, they really got hung up on evil stepmother. As a former stepmother, I was very conscious of how I acted. I'll have to check out some of your stories.

    ReplyDelete
  38. You found quite a few!
    Not sure why step-mothers are always evil in stories. Not when most real life ones are actually good step-mothers.

    ReplyDelete
  39. As a step-mom I say THANK YOU FOR NOTICING! Steps are painted in the most horrible light and more positives need to be made main stream. Thanks for the story list@

    ReplyDelete
  40. This reminds me of the time I first met my cousins' new step-father. I thought he was going to be evil and horrible because of all the stories of step-mothers I'd heard - I think I was about 6 or 7 at the time. He's actually one of the nicest and most patient men I know, but it took me a few visits to warm up to him!

    Ros
    Fangirl Stitches
    Travel like a Geek

    ReplyDelete
  41. Wonderful post! I'm checking out all these stories. I'm a stepmom and I've always been very sensitive to the title. When my "son" got married, I spoke at his wedding, told him how much I loved him and how insecure step-parents often feel. Even though I've been in his life ever since he was about two, I feel like my declaration brought us closer; I've sensed a difference. "Step" anything seems like such an awful word to connect to family. :(

    Thanks for visiting my blog.
    http://jessicafergusonwriter.com/blog

    ReplyDelete
  42. Awesome! Can't wait to check out some of these stories.

    ReplyDelete
  43. Love fairytales! Thanks for sharing some that aren't as well known!

    @dSavannahCreate from
    dSavannahRambles
    #AtoZChallenge2016 theme: dSavannah Defects

    ReplyDelete
  44. Thanks for this writing. It's given me lots of new sources of tales to work on.

    ReplyDelete
  45. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  46. Not sure why so many mothers die in Disney movies. Weird. No wonder there are so many adoptions.

    I’m exploring different types of dreams and their meanings during the #AtoZChallenge at Stephen Tremp’s Breakthrough Blogs 

    ReplyDelete
  47. This was a fascinating read. Thank you!
    Daryl
    www.darylconner.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  48. Do you count Biblical stories as fairy tales? If so, you left out baby Moses being set afloat on the Nile in his basket and being rescued by the Pharaoh's daughter, who adopts him and raises him as her own. (Sorry if another commenter already mentioned Moses. I didn't have time to scroll all the way up and look!)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was thinking about including that, but I wanted to focus on stories where the adopted child doesn't go back to his "real" family.

      Delete
  49. Quite a set of stories there. Indeed step parents are demonized in many stories.

    ReplyDelete
  50. Interesting, as expected, thanks! :)

    ReplyDelete
  51. You have certainly created a lengthy list to choose from. Terrific.

    ReplyDelete
  52. What a great collection of stories. Stories are so powerful when we can see ourselves reflected. Very valuable to children and adults. www.lorihenriksen.com

    ReplyDelete
  53. I hadn't heard of any of these, thank you.

    Pauleen from Family History Across the Seas
    Http://cassmob.wordpress.com

    ReplyDelete
  54. Interesting set of stories and great post! All the best! The Truck Traveller

    ReplyDelete
  55. What an awesome post! But I almost wish I hadn't found your blog; just got lost in your links for the better part of an hour. Fascinating.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hah! That was my sinister plan all along :D

      Delete
  56. Nice to see some positive stories about stepmothers and adoptive parents. These were all new to me.

    ReplyDelete
  57. Wow, a lot of thought went into this post. I'm very impressed. And thanks for stopping by my blog.

    ReplyDelete
  58. Wow! I am so glad to see all the positive stories, definitely different than I was expecting. I was expecting the typical bad stepmother stories, unexpected and interesting! Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  59. SO interesting. Can't wait to read the rest of the letters!

    ReplyDelete
  60. As an adoptive mother I really appreciate this post. You have discovered some amazing stories and I look forward to following you through the alphabet.

    ReplyDelete
  61. As an adoptive mother I really appreciate this post. You have discovered some amazing stories and I look forward to following you through the alphabet.

    ReplyDelete
  62. I love your idea of positive role models as step-mothers and adoption. Good for you!

    ReplyDelete
  63. Well... I know of a book that you didn't mention I don't think, and it's called, "Little Women", but you have done such a wonderful job. Thanks for sharing & have a great weekend. I’m following your social networks I can find & if you stop by me I hope you will do the same & follow me too. Hugs & have a great weekend. Nice to meet you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know about that book, but my theme is about folktales specifically :)

      Delete