Tuesday, April 12, 2016

J is for Jovial in-laws

Welcome to 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.

I was having a bit of a problem with J, until someone in the comments under "A" asked me about kind mother-in-laws. I was not planning on touching on that topic, but I couldn't resist the challenge.
In the midst of age-old stereotypes of horrible mother-in-laws, are there any in tradition that are portrayed in a more favorable light?

Why yes, there are.

Lakshmi and the doll
A folktale from India, in which a young woman lives alone with her mother-in-law, whom she loves very much, in the absence of her husband. When the mother-in-law passes away, she makes sure to leave young Lakshmi with a doll that takes on her role of encouragement and advice.
(Read the story in this book)

Khas Shasthi
In this Hindu story a mother-in-law goes out of her way to trick a lazy daughter-in-law into observing a holiday in the proper manner - but she does it with caring and work, instead of scolding or bullying.
(Read about it in this book)

The farting girl
In this hilarious Japanese folktale, a girl marries into a family in a distant village, and she is so scared she'd be judged that she holds her fart for weeks (have you ever tried to hold a fart at your in-laws' house?). When her mother-in-law notices that she is getting sick, she coaxes the truth out of her, and then encourages her to fart away. "We are all family now." The husband is not so kind, and she tries to return the wife to her family, even though the mother-in-law begs him not to. But all is well in the end.
(Read the story here)

The linen sheet
Petrus Alfonsi' medieval collection of anecdotes includes a story about a mother-in-law who helps her daughter-in-law get away with having a lover - when the husband comes home unexpectedly, the two women spread out a large sheet to "show him," while the lover escapes behind it...
(Read the story in this book; read an article about these stories here)

The cheerful prince
This Hungarian folktale collected from Pályuk Anna is essentially a version of Rumpelstiltskin, but one that involves a much kinder prince, as well as a kind mother-in-law. When someone claims a girl can spin straw into gold, the entire royal family bands together to help her succeed at her task.

(Once again, there is no English text - or Hungarian, I found this one in the archives. But! It will be included in my upcoming folktale collection ;) )

Any other mother-in-law stories I should include on this list? Let me know!


  1. I had trouble with J too. Who knew it would be such a difficult letter?

    That Farting Girl folktale is guaranteed to forever be a hit with children.

  2. Another lovely post. I'm learning that we have actually quite a few stereotypes in mind when we talk about folktales :-)

    The Old Shelter - Jazz Age Jazz

  3. I had much more trouble with I than J :) I like your solution top your J issue. Inlaws get a bad rep usually, it's nice to see not all are the stereotype. My mother-in-law is lovely :)
    Tasha's Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

  4. You lost me to laughter at the farting girl. What a hilarious way to bring favorable light to in laws.

  5. These are all such wonderful stories! I'm sure I can think of a mother-in-law tale eventueally but none comes to mind at the moment.

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    #AtoZchallenge http://www.kathleenvalentineblog.com/

  6. I'm reading the Farting Girl story to my kids tonight.

  7. Great stories on an always dicey topic. Why is that? I too had trouble with J. & why is that? Loving your site & the A to Z challenge.

  8. I first heard that Japanese folktale told by Motoko at her concert with Eshu Bumpus in Farmington, Maine a year or so ago. Needless to say, it was a wonderful rendition & enjoyed by all!

    1. I know Motoko tells this story, but I never heard her tell it :) I bet it's hilarious!

  9. In-laws, as well as step-sisters, step-mothers, etc. sure get a bad rep in fairy tales. Congratulations for finding examples of the opposite.

  10. What wonderful stories, and a very clever use of J.

  11. What a variety of kind mother-in-law stories!

  12. These are all such wonderful stories. It's nice to see the non-typical for a change!

  13. That farting one is hilarious. What an awful husband! Advice giving doll and kind Rumpelstiltskin tale? What a day this is!

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  15. those were great! the farting girl and the mother-in-law that helps to get the lover away! awesome!

  16. It's nice to find stories of in-laws who get along well. I left my so-called "fiancé" in part because I couldn't stand his family, particularly his mother, to the point where I felt extremely unsafe and uncomfortable around them.