Monday, October 15, 2018

Blame it on Reynard (Following folktales around the world 87. - Belgium)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Folk tales of Flanders
Jean de Bosschère
Dodd, Mead & Co., 1918.

The book contains twenty-four Flemish folktales, and several beautiful, colorful, occasionally grotesque illustrations. In some cases, the tales had been re-written to fit the sensibilities of the era and an audience of children - in one of the stories, a wife was hiding her "nephew" from her husband, instead of a lover, and in some cases severe punishments were also omitted (although they did unceremoniously hang the Fox). It is a book for children, so it contains no notes or sources, but most of the tale types are easily recognizable, and the author re-told them in an enjoyable, entertaining style.


My favorite tale in the book was that of The peasant and the Satyrs. It is rare to find Satyrs in tales outside of Greece, so I was excited for them; in this case, they took the Devil's place in a known tale type (or maybe the other way around?). A poor man got lost in the woods in the winter, and found a little cottage where a Satyr family lived. They invited him in, but when they saw him blowing on his hands to get them warm, and blowing on his soup to make it cool, they concluded he must be a powerful being, for being able to blow both hot and cold...

How the goldfinch got its colors was a lovely tale about how the angel tasked with painting the birds forgot about the finch, and had to paint it with colors taken from other species. This was not the only bird legend in the book; the usual "who can fly higher?" contest here happened between Eagle and Goldcrest. The latter became King of the Birds, but only after they tried to imprison it, and Owl let it escape.

The Goldcrest also led the winged creatures' army in the Battle of Birds and Beasts, which was won by the winged ones - a wasp stung Reynard the Fox, who was holding his tail up as a standard, and the beast thought they had been defeated.
Probably the most famous story included in the book was The Trial of Reynard the Fox. Reynard was called to King Lion's court to answer for his many tricks and crimes. Bruin the Bear, and Tybert the Cat failed to fetch him (he outsmarted both), but eventually Blaireau the Badger managed to get him to court. Reynard, being the quintessential trickster, managed to turn his confession into an accusation against other animals, offered the King some fake treasure, got away, and even had time to kill Hare and send his head back to the King. At the end, he was caught and hanged in some other kingdom. Reynard tales are usually very dark for a trickster...


Sponsken (Little Sponge) and the Giant reminded me of an American Jack tale; our hero outsmarts a giant, and then teams up with it to defeat a bear, a boar, and a unicorn (!) and win a princess. However,the princess did not want to marry him, so the king found him another, willing bride. Go figure.
The Musicians of Bremen in this case were known as The choristers of St. Gudule - they set out to start a singing career in their old age. Another similar gang started out fleeing from The end of the world, but ended up finding a king's lost ring, and making a lot of money together.
Hansel and Gretel - in this case, Jan and Jeanette - found a Sugar-candy House in the woods, owned by an old lame wolf. The wolf chased them until they crossed a rived, helped by some ducks. When the wolf asked the ducks to ferry him across too, they dumped him into the river.
I was reminded of a Nasreddin tale by The peasant and his ass, in which a foolish man was tricked into believing he was dead, and that his donkey had turned into the captain of the guard.
Ups and downs, in which Fox got Goat to go down into a well, was familiar from the tales of Uncle Remus. Trickster, as we have already seen, was always Fox, specifically a fox named Reynard. He fulfilled the role of Puss in Boots for Poor Peter, and he rescued the knight who saved an ungrateful dragon, by tricking the dragon into going back into the trap. He also tricked Wolf in a "fake baptism" tale type (where he repeatedly sneaked out to steal lard from their shared pantry), and convinced Bear to use his long tail for ice fishing (which is why bears have stumpy tails now).

Where to next?
The Netherlands!

Monday, October 8, 2018

The mysterious Mélusine (Following folktales around the world 86. - Luxembourg)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

I once again ran into the problem of not finding any folktale collections from Luxembourg in any of the languages I read. Which, in this case, was especially frustrating, because there is even a beautiful stamp series of Luxembourg fairy tales - except, I could not locate most of the stories depicted in them. So, here are seven tales that I did manage to scavenge up:
The bag, the pipe, and the hat
(From here)
It is a short, simple version of the Fortunatus tale type. A young man receives three magic items, but a princess wins them from him playing cards. Eventually, he is helped by an old woman and some magic, horn-growing apples in getting the items back.

Michel Michelkleiner's good luck
(L. Bødker, C. Hole, G. D'Aronco: European Folk Tales)
A young man is robbed in the woods and trapped inside a barrel, but with the (unwitting) help of a fox he manages to break free, and he even scares the bandits that robbed him enough that they take off, leaving all their gold behind.

Master Sly
(L. Bødker, C. Hole, G. D'Aronco: European Folk Tales)
Seven rich farmers want to get rid of a poor man, but he repeatedly outwits all of them. He makes fortune out of them killing his mother, destroying his oven, and trying to drown him in a pond - and in the end, in true trickster fashion, he even gets them to jump into the pond themselves.

The beautiful Melusina
(From this great website)
Luxembourg's most famous legend, and one of the best known around medieval Europe; the origin story of the House of Luxembourg. Count Siegfried encounters Melusina, a water-fairy, and falls in love with her; she promises to marry him if he builds a castle by her pool, and does not look at her on Saturdays. After sven children and many years of marriage, the husband does take a peek, and sees Melusina in the bath with her fish tail. She leaves him, and has been haunting the Luxembourg castle ever since, waiting for someone to set her free.

Melusina (soldier's legend)
(Also from here)
Melusina appears to a soldier who is on guard at night, and tells him how he can break the curse on her. He would have to take a key out of the mouth of a fiery serpent - but he is too scared in the last minute, and Melusina remains lost.

The mysterious Mélusine
(Also from here)
In this version Mélusine's day off is the first Wednesday of every month. After her husband's betrayal she moves to the Alzette river, or to caves under the castle. She spends her time knitting, but she only does one stitch every seven years - which is just as well, because if she finishes her work, Luxembourg will crumble.

The wolf of Doncols
(From here and here)
The only tale from the stamp series that I found. It is a local legend about a famous figure, a wandering peddler who told wild tales about how he managed to single-handedly fight and kill many a dangerous wolf (proving it by wearing a wolf pelt on his head).

Where to next?

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Down the research mole rat hole

Every year, various organizations in Hungary announce natural treasures of the year, to raise awareness of the country's flora and fauna, and gather resources for conservation. We have Bird of the Year, Mammal of the Year, Wildflower of the Year, etc. Since it is by now a very popular tradition, I decided that this year I'd make a storytelling program that contained stories for all these natural treasures; I named the idea Wonders of the Year, and got right down to research.

Just to show you what I was trying to find stories for:

Bird: Peregrine falcon
Tree: Mountain ash
Wildflower: Marsh gentian
Mineral: Fluorite
Fish: Asp
Insect: Emperor dragonfly
Mammal: Mole rat
Reptile: Viviparous lizard
Herb: Lavender
Fungus: Lion's mane

The idea was to find one story for each, and then take the whole show to educational settings. Since I had a fairly busy year, the program did not really come together until the end of September, when we have the national Night of Research: Research institutions, universities and museums are open all night, and have all kinds of exciting science-related programs. A friend of mine, Dr. Beáta Oborny, biologist and storyteller, suggested that we should take the show to the university's own Natural History Museum; she'd provide the exciting factual information for each natural treasure, and I'd tell the stories. So we did.

In the end, the research process was not at all what I'd expected. Falcons show up in lots of stories, but none mentioned a peregrine specifically (in Hungarian, "falcon" used to refer to this particular species to begin with, other falcons had other names), and of course I had to give up on the "viviparous" part of the lizard very early on. Mole rats rarely ever come to the surface, so the folklore on them was pretty scant as well. But on the other hand, delving deeper into nature stories did bring up some unexpected, delightful surprises.

I tracked down some Bulgarian folk songs in which a girl is forced to marry a dragon, only to find out that her husband has no power over gentian flowers, and she uses them to escape; bonus in the story was the way the dragon's marriage entourage arrived at her house, and the dragon women re-braided her hair "in their fashion, like a dragon." Fluorite seemed like a lost cause from the get-go, but then I learned about the famous Blue John mines in England, which just happen to have a fabulous dragon legend attached to them (courtesy of Ruth Tongue, from Forgotten Folktales).
In the cases where I could not find the exact species, I did my best to improvise. For example, lizards appear in many stories; I almost fell for one where Lizard helps find the stolen Sun, but then I found out that this particular species is known for living in colder climates and habitats, and is the northernmost reptile known in Europe. In the end, I tracked down a Hungarian folktale (a variant of the Frog Princess) where a girl, turned into a lizard, lived at the edge of the world, and ventured into underground kingdoms to help a prince acquire magical items. Similarly, I went all the way to Japan to find some worthwhile mentions of the lion's mane mushroom. There it is associated with the yamabushi monks, and it just so happens that there is a well known Japanese comedy that features such a monk trying to pray an infestation of demon mushrooms away.

The hardest challenge, in the end, was the mole rat. It has been chosen as Mammal of the Year because building the wall on our southern border (*cough*useless*cough*) cut its habitat in half, and now it is severely endangered. Because it rarely ever comes above ground, there is not much folklore attached to it, and the one that exists is pretty bad. In some parts of Hungary it was believed that killing one with your left hand gave you healing powers (not for the poor creature, obviously). Other than that, I found some beliefs that children born from sibling incest live as mole rats for 7 years (weremolerats, hey!), although the word they use for mole rat could also just be a word for a mythical creature. In the end, I found a newspaper clipping from 1927 in which a mole rat was found on the road by someone, captured, lost, found again, and eventually made it into town from where the local doctor sent it on to London. Using all these small moving parts, I made up a story from the mole rat's perspective, and spiced it up with interesting details about these fascinating creatures.

I am proud to report that in the end I managed to find stories for all ten things on the list; most of them traditional folktales and legends, with some creative additions. It was tons of work, and I didn't even get to tell all of them in one show, but I had great fun with working on it. I still have three months to take it to other venues... and I can't wait to find out what treasures we'll have on the list for next year!

Monday, October 1, 2018

Fairy godmothers all over the place (Following folktales around the world 85. - France)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Folktales of France
Geneviève Massignon
University of Chicago Press, 1968.

This great collection contains 70 French folktales, organized by the major regions of France. I especially liked it because it does not contain the well-known 18th and 19th century literary French fairy tales, but rather, real folk stories gathered from the people by folklorists. As such, the stories are sometimes a little unruly, often humorous, occasionally cruel, and several of them contain comments from the original storyteller. The book opens with a long Foreword, detailing the history of folklore collections in French (as well as the bitter feud between collectors), and a shorter Introduction about the tales included. The end of the volume has extensive notes for each story, a bibliography, a motif list and a tale type index.


The story of La Ramée was both shocking and amusing. It is a classic "make the princess laugh" story, except here the mouse, the beetle, and the cricket all joined the poor boy on their own volition, and did not only help him win the princess, but also rescued him from being devoured by an elephant (yup), and managed to give the other contestant violent diarrhea...
All through the collection, magical godmothers kept making an appearance. Many of them were fairies, but the Virgin Mary also frequently featured into tales. I especially liked Golden Hair, a version of the Frog Bride, in which we got to find out how the girl became a frog in the first place. Apparently, she used to be a goddaughter of the Virgin, but ran a way with a prince. The prince remained faithful to his frog bride, and completed his father's tasks with the help of the Virgin to get to marry her in the end.
I also loved the Three deserters, a very elaborate and exciting version of Fortunatus, from the Pyrenees. Three brothers, on the run from the army, won three magic items from a haunted castle, then won the same princess three times with their items, except she kept taking the items and kicking out the suitors. Eventually she got her comeuppance, the items were recovered, and the youngest brother married the lady of the haunted castle.
Fanfinette and the prince was a particularly gruesome version of the Basil Girl. At first, the prince tried to sleep with her, but she managed to get away; then he tired to kill her multiple times, but she always survived. She even managed to convince the court that the prince gave birth, so that he would have to take care of the babies of women he'd slept with. In the end, Fanfinette was forced to marry him, but managed to trick him one last time. The story does end in "happily ever after," which I did not like, but the rest was both horrible and intriguing.
A much lovelier tale was that of the Four friends (Little Goose, Tiny Black Kitten, Curly Lamb, and Heifer-ready-to-deliver) who all set out together to find various things (a cure for a headache, for example), and ended up stumbling upon a lonely old woman in a cottage. They moved in, cheered her up, and lived happily ever after.
The last tale in the book was that of A boy promised to the Devil - who, once he found out what promise his parents had made, instead of resorting to the usual trickery, straight up dueled the Devil and beat him.


There were several familiar tale types in the book. I really liked the hero who defeated a Seven-headed monster with a white stick, while wearing a coat of thirty-six colors. I also encountered Magic Flights (more than one), Beauty and the Beast, stolen golden apples (in this case, oranges), a boy who saw a dream (and became a bishop), Tom Thumb, The devil's golden hairs, Puss in Boots (who married not one, but two daughters of the king), a cursed princess in a shroud (Jean of Bordeaux), Rumpelstiltskin (here called Mimi Pinson), and Prince Thrushbeard (who had no reason to mess with the princess since she agreed to marry him right away, but whatever).
This being a collection of French tales, there was also a Red Riding Hood variant (Boudin-Boudine),with a boy instead of a girl, and with Grandma chasing the wolf out of town with a broom instead of being devoured. One of the best versions of the Rooster's Diamond I have seen so far, Half Chicken, told about a poor little hen who was bullied by the other hens, so she set out, made friends (Wolf, River, and Fire), and won herself a kingdom. The girl and the thief was another one of those stories where a bandit terrorized a girl for years until she managed to get rid of him (I mentioned this one from Italy). The wolf scalded by hot water was up against a married couple this time, who helped each other multiple times. A hiding-from-the-princess story, Princess Elisa, was solved by a hero who turned into an ant, and hid in the princess' garters.
As far as tricksters go, here God himself tricked the Devil to pick the tops of the bottoms of the crop. There was also a classic Fox vs Wolf story, with Fox secretly eating all the butter, and getting Wolf to try to fish with his tail in an ice hole.

Where to next?

Monday, September 24, 2018

Between the mountains and the sea (Following folktales around the world 84. - Monaco)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Once again, it was not easy to find a book for a tiny country, but I managed to scrape by...

The beauty spot of the Riviera
Thomas Henry Pickering
Kessinger Publishing, 2010.

This book was originally published in 1882, as a sort of guide for Victorian tourists. The author notes in the first chapter that people tend to think of Monaco as a casino and nothing else; but of course visitors can only be so wrong if they try to "do" Monaco in one day, and never leave the casino at all. I don't think much has changed since then. The author introduces the natural and cultural beauties of the small country, suggests trips and walks, describes the government and the economy, and, among other things, spends a chapter talking about the history and legends of Monaco. It was in this chapter that I found some stories to read.

The stories

Monaco's connection to Greek mythology is through Heracles: Legend says he stopped here on his way home with Geryon's cattle, and founded the port and the fortress. The author also claims that Phoenician traders worshiped Melkarth here (whom he identifies with Heracles). The most famous local legend is that of St. Devote, patron saint of Monaco, a martyr from Corsica whose remains were shipped to Monaco, and whose feast is still celebrated every year.
There was also a love story about Anna, a Christian captive, and Haroun, a Moorish leader; the girl eventually got her captor to convert, and they ran away together. The Moorish army, losing its leader, soon left the area. Another legend had a more somber tone: When the Duke of York, brother to George III, died in Monaco, and his death was announced by his ship flying the flag on half mast, a woman clad in white was seen throwing herself into the sea from the cliffs. According to the author, locals still remember her.
There was one more story, about the town of Roquebrune - it said that the town was originally on the summit of the mountain, but it started slipping one day, and only the prayers of a devout monk managed to stop it halfway down, before it would have crashed into the sea.

Where to next?

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Devil did it (Following folktales around the world 83. - The Vatican)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

I have been wondering what I could read for the Vatican. Eventually, since saints' legends have been featured multiple times before anyway, I decided to choose a classic that I've wanted to read for a long time.

Legenda Aurea
Jacobus de Voragine
Helikon, 1990.

The Golden Legend was one of the most popular bestsellers in Europe in the Middle Ages. More than 1000 of its manuscripts survived from between the 13th and the 15th century. The author, Jacobus de Voragine Dominican monk collected the popular legends of saints and their miracles, organized around the Catholic calendar, in order to provide a resource for sermons and readings at monasteries. The full manuscripts contain somewhere between 180 and 243 saints, depending on the edition; the one I read (in Hungarian) had 110 chapters, sometimes with multiple saints in one. The full edition would have also contained descriptions of the non-saint-related Christian holidays, but I was less interested in those anyway. (I was raised Catholic, I know the drill.)
Most of the stories revolve around martyrdom. It is noted in the Introduction that the Legenda contains 81 distinct torture methods, mixing and matching them in all kinds of creative (and gory) ways. It is not exactly a historical source (the dates of Roman emperors' rules are not even remotely correct), and it is less than kind to women, Jews, and pagans, but it does contain a whole lot of folklore motifs, tropes, and legends, that are a part of the larger European oral tradition. In that sense, it was both an entertaining read, and an intriguing comparison to the folktales I have read so far.


I liked the legend where a saint and the devil had a contest of questions and answers. It appeared twice, once featuring St. Andrew, and once St. Bartholomew, and the answers were sometimes surprisingly beautiful. When the devil asks what the greatest miracle is that God worked on a small thing, Andrew responds: "The variety and beauty of faces. On a small human face God placed all the feelings of an entire body." St. Bartholomew said "the place of the Cross," but he was corrected by the (female) devil: It is the human head, because as such a small thing, in contains worlds. To the question of what it is that is the most human in a person, Bartholomew answered "the ability to laugh." But the snappiest of all answers came from Andrew, who, when asked by a decadent bishop how far Heaven is from Earth, simply said: "Ask your friend, he probably measured it when he fell." Boom.
Pic from this great Twitter account
I enjoyed the legend of St. Juliana, who tackled the Devil, bound it, and beat it into submission with chains so badly, that later a glance was enough from her to send it running. I was also entertained by the story that claimed that Vespasian had wasps (hence the name) up his nose, until a man named Albanus cast them out in the name of Christ. I don't remember this from History class... neither the story where Nero swallowed a frog, thought he was pregnant, then threw it up, and thought he gave birth. Legend claims that's why the Lateran is named after (latuerat rana).
There was a lovely story about the tame lion of St. Jerome, who guarded the monastery's donkey, and was in distress when it went missing. My favorite animal appearance, however, was the "camel yelling in a human voice" that told people where to bury the bodies of St. Cosmas and Damian. Camel ex machina.
Of course, being the legend collection of the Middle Ages, the book contains some well known stories: St. Nicholas' gift (hence Santa), the legend of the Castel Sant'Angelo (where St. Michael appeared to signal the end of the Roman plague), St. George and the dragon, Attila the Hun meeting Pope Leo, St. Peter's "quo vadis" moment, St. Christopher the Giant, St. Martin and the beggar, and even Roland's last battle. At the same time, there are also some surprising omissions. St. Valentine's legend does not say anything about love, St. Patrick's is very short and devoid of all colorful Irish details, and St. Elizabeth of Hungary was missing the famous Miracle of the Roses. Too bad.


I have seen the tale type of the gold returned through cheating (in Burma, among other places). A man swears he returned money to its owner, while all he did was put the money inside a walking stick, and ask the owner to hold it for a second. In this case, St. Nicholas made sure the cheater was punished in the end. I have also encountered the legend in which a man entrusts his fortune to an image of St. Nicholas, and threatens the saint when he gets robbed, so that Nick has to bring the stolen goods back (see also: Macedonia). The legend of St. Felix contained the popular trope of spiders spinning webs to disguise the hiding place of the persecuted saint. I was reminded of an Appalachian folktale (about two foxes) by the story in which two monks in St. Agathon's monastery made an attempt to fight, but did not know how, and ended up being too nice to each other.
Dragon-slaying was a popular element of the collection. Next to St. George, dragons were also dispatched by St. Sylvester, St. Philip, St. Margaret, St. Martha, St. Donatus, and St. Matthew. Margaret allegedly was swallowed whole by the dragon, and burst forth from its stomach (the author says that is dubious), while Martha defeated the legendary Tarrasque of the River Rhône, a monster that "shot its excrement over an acre's span at its enemies."
The legend of St. Patrick included a nice, colorful walk through hell and back that would have made Dante proud.
The book does feature some elements of classical mythology, usually in the role of the enemy (the goddess Diana attacks saints with alarming regularity). In the legend of St. Anthony, however, a very helpful centaur and a satyr made an appearance, guiding the saint on the road to St. Paul. I was reminded of the legend of Oedipus by the story of the birth of Judas, and his marriage to his own mother.
Last, but not least: I always considered Monty Python's Life of Brian a genius piece of British humor - and here I found the original story of the ex-leper! St. Martin's legend contained the story of two beggars, one lame and one blind, fleeing from the saint's funeral procession, in fear of being cured and losing their livelihood. The saint cured them anyway. Bummer.

Where to next?

Monday, September 10, 2018

Great female heroes, unexpected plot twists (Following folktales around the world 82. - Italy)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Italian Folktales
Italo Calvino
Mariner Books, 1992.

This book is definitely a classic. Calvino was aiming to create an iconic Italian collection, in the vein of what the Grimms have done for Germany. The book contains 200 tales, most of them representing the best, prettiest versions of popular tale types, while some are typically Italian stories. Calvino, as per the Grimm tradition, did not only compile the tales, but also re-told them in great style, and with attention to detail. Each one comes with notes that list the original source, the tale type, and comments on what changes Calvino made (which, by the way, storytellers will thank you for). The author also paid attention to select stories from various parts of Italy, as well as Italian-speaking minorities abroad. Due to how the stories were supposed to represent Italian folklore collected over the centuries, some of them retain shocking details (such as rape, wife-beating, and other kinds of violence), but most of them are very beautiful, colorful, and definitely memorable. One of my favorite folktale collections.


There are many classic stories included in this book than I have been telling for a long time. One of them is the Canary Prince, in which a girl uses a magic book to rescue herself (!) from a tower, and also save the life of a prince. I also adore the Daughter of the Sun, a fiery princess who proves that no one else can do what she does better. I also highly recommend reading The Siren Wife (in which a woman is cast into the sea by her husband, and is taken in by Sirens), and Grattula-Beddattula, my all-time favorite Cinderella variant, in which a fierce Sicilian girl robs a prince blind, and then demands his hand in marriage.
Of course, there are several other extraordinary tales in the collection, many of them with memorable visuals. One of them was the Man Wreathed in Seaweed, in which a good-for-nothing sailor rescued a princess from a giant octopus (Calvino's invention, originally a sea dragon). More in the style of classic crime stories we had the Count's Beard, in which a town called home its smartest son to solve the mystery of a witch stealing cows. The story of the Dead man's arm was definitely screenworthy - our hero spent a night in a crypt, and received a corpse's arm as magic weapon, with which he proceeded to hunt and kill evil sorcerers. As a storyteller, I greatly appreciated the Parrot who told exciting tales to a girl left alone at home, to keep her from being seduced by a creepy king (and the parrot turned out to be a prince, obviously).
The collection is quite full of stories about clever and brave women. One of them was a lady married to a Man who came out only at night; he had been changed into a tortoise, and had to walk around the world to break the curse, while his wife was holding down the fort at home by tricking various lecherous men. The girl who was sold with the pears (also a great image) defeated a witch and won a prince. In The dragon and the enchanted filly, a princess was rescued by her best friend, a horse who did not only save her from the dragon and help her start a new life, but also turned out to be an enchanted princess herself (yay for female friendship!). Some tales had darker themes. In The one-handed murderer, a girl was chased half her life by an evil man, until he cornered her; when there was no one to come to her rescue, she ended up shooting the stalker herself. Misfortune, a girl who was hounded by bad luck, used another tactic: She befriended her own grumpy Fortune, and courted her until she changed for the better. On the other hand, I giggled a lot at A convent of nuns and a monastery of monks that were in a perpetual prank war, and the nuns always won.
Some of the tales came with some surprising morals. In one, a prince proved that Money can do anything. In another, a man only ever prayed to St. Joseph, neglecting all other prayers, so when he got to Heaven, St. Peter did not want to let him in. At that point out came St. Joseph, and threatened that if Peter does not let the man in, he would "take the wife and the kid," and move somewhere else. The wife and the kid being Mary and Jesus, of course.
Among the typically Italian tales was Nick Fish, or Cola Pesce, a legendary Sicilian hero and talented diver, who was lost under the sea when he ventured to discover how deep the water went under Sicily. Another unique and awesome story was the Gift of St. Anthony, who stole fire for the people from Hell, using a very rowdy piglet as a diversion. I could have done this latter one under Connections too, since it resembles so many fire-stealing trickster tales...


It would be too long to list all types in the book, since the entire point was to collect Italian examples of the most popular folktales. However, I was happy to see some less common favorites of mine, such as: Girl who rescues her sisters (two versions! Silver Nose and Chicory Gatherers), Basil Maiden (here with Marjoram), a man who spoke the language of animals (and did not beat his wife in the end!), Little Red (who threw a pastry full of nails to the wolf), the Country of Immortality, Shepherd of Rabbits (who won a princess by providing her with so many figs that she could not eat all), Three Dogs (who helped and rescued their owner), Snow White (who was called Giricoccola, and found refuge in the house of the Moon), Polyphemos (and the Florentine), The Two Hunchbacks, the wizard school of Salamanca, Frau Holle (except she was a cat), the Magical Brothers-in-Law (here the kings of Pigs, Birds, and Death), the Gold-spitting prince (here a Crab with golden eggs), the Robber and his sons (here three merchants telling creepy tales in a contest), and Puss in Boots (one was a Bean Fairy, and one was a female fox). I also encountered a fern flower legend.
Some tales were familiar from other Italian collections, such as the Pentamerone - I once again encountered Sun, Moon, and Talia (aka. Sleeping Beauty Wakes Up Pregnant), and the Handmade King (created by a creative princess from dough and brought to life). There was an almost complete folktale re-telling of the Perseus myth, called The sorcerer's head. Some stories were also familiar from Greek tales I read recently: The Wildwood King (where a wild man raises a princess and helps her find a husband), First Sword and Last Broom (in which two kings make a bet on whose child gets the French crown first, the eldest son or the youngest daughter - daughter wins, obviously), and the Dove Girl (which contained Gemstone Mountain, one of my favorite tale types). Liombruno, the hero helped by the Winds to rescue a princess was familiar from Malta, and I already knew the legend of St. Peter's mother from San Marino.
Trickster in residence, of course, is Giufá, fool and mischief-maker, who had a lot in common with both Jack and Nasreddin.

Where to next?
The Vatican!

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Research for storytellers is not an option, it's a responsibility

At the 2018 FEST (Federation for European Storytelling) conference in Ljubljana, Heidi Dahlsveen presented the results of a survey that FEST commissioned to lay the groundwork for the EU grant project titled Professional training and development of storytellers on a European scale. Basically, FEST created a survey asking questions about how storytellers work, how they learn, how they are trained, and what skills they think would be most important to incorporate in a "European storytelling curriculum." A little over 300 storytellers filled out the survey. While there were many fascinating, intriguing, and occasionally baffling results in Heidi Dahlsveen's presentation, there was one that particularly caught my attention:

On the list of professional and artistic skills that storytellers think are important to their work, "research" was almost at the bottom.

Now if you follow my blog you probably know that I am passionate about storytelling research (I teach workshops, and even guest edited an issue of the Storytelling Magazine on the topic), so I feel like I want to add a few things to this theoretical discussion.

***Since I am not a member of the FEST Executive Committee anymore, all opinions voiced below are completely my own.***

The moment I saw how badly "Research" scored on the survey, I began wondering what happened. My most likely theory is this: The actual survey text said "academic research", which probably made a lot of people think of universities and numbers and charts and peer reviews. Not everyone enjoys academic research, and certainly not everyone needs to do it in order to be a good storyteller. Being trained in academic research methods, however, can have significant benefits to storytellers, such as:

1. Sourcing our stories
Yeah, yeah, a good story is a good story, even if you don't know where it comes from. That's how oral tradition works. But contemporary storytellers often represent (or claim to represent) other cultures through their stories - and then the sourcing issue gets tricky. Take this well known "Native American folktale," for example:

One does not exactly need to conduct academic research on where the story comes from - because someone has already done the legwork. It should come as no surprise that the story is neither "Native American" (not naming a specific nation is a giveaway), nor a folktale. Neither is, while we are on topic, the very popular Jumping Mouse story. Or the Blue Rose, which is, once again, neither Chinese, nor a folktale (if I had a penny for every time I saw some European dude's short story go around as a "Chinese folktale"...).
Academic research can help us source our stories correctly. Learning the basics of how to locate folktales through the Aarne-Thompson-Uther folktale type index (ATU), or track down motifs through the Thompson Motif Index can save us a lot of time and trouble, and the more we use them, the more we develop a keen "sense of smell" for noticing unusual stories that claim to be folktales. Which, in turn, helps us with...

2. Ethics
Ethics have been a part of the discussion around many academic research methodologies, and these discussions relate to storytelling directly. Researchers have been asking questions such as "who benefits from this research project?", "who owns the data gathered from indigenous / disadvantaged communities?", "how do we define knowledge?", or "who gets to speak for a community, and how should outsiders interact with gatekeepers?" This all falls under the ethics of research - and of storytelling. Cultural appropriation is a term that makes many storytellers bristle, and it is about as fun to talk about as swallowing a hedgehog - but IT. IS. IMPORTANT. Storytellers need to check their privilege like everybody else, and engage in these discussions with an open mind. Repeatedly. You know who has been doing this for a long time? Anthropologists. Folklorists. Researchers.

3. Recognition of storytelling
Storytelling is important. Storytelling is useful. Storytelling is unique and irreplaceable and should definitely be present in schools and communities. We know it, because we work as storytellers. But how do we prove it to the people that ask for proof? The good news is, the effects of storytelling on the development of children, on the formation of communities, and many other things can be measured and shown. But in order to have the charts and numbers we can hold up in order to push the art form forward... yes, you guessed it, we need some good old fashioned research.
(And unless you want people in other fields, such as linguists, to do it for us... *cough*, then we better get involved)

4. Deeper understanding of our stories
This should go without saying: The more you get involved with researching your stories, the deeper the understanding you can gain from them, until you start seeing narratives in a whole different light. Being educated about how folklorists collect stories, for example, can help you evaluate the folktale texts you come across, and find more authentic sources. Learning about linguistics (like we did in the ETSU Storytelling program) can teach you new things about how oral literature differs from the written - and you can even find different methods of transcribing spoken word narratives so that they retain more of the "oral" elements on paper. Dabbling in some qualitative research methods can help you with your community storytelling projects. And these are just some of the many examples.

All in all, "research" can be defined in various ways, and I am sure the people filling out the survey understood it in their own various ways as well. But if we keep talking about possibilities for teaching, guiding, or inspiring future storytellers - then we can't let it fall to the bottom of the list.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

An island on a sea of stories: Cape Clear Island International Storytelling Festival

It was almost exactly 10 years ago that I sat in a cafe in Jonesborough with Dovie Thomason, and she told me about Cape Clear for the first time. It sounded like a magical place, the kind storytellers would wish to find their way to, and I have been dreaming about going there ever since.
Well, dreams do come true sometimes.

This year I had the absolute privilege to be a featured teller of the Cape Clear Island International Storytelling Festival. I flew from Budapest to Dublin (a special thanks to the Hungarian Embassy in Dublin!), then took a road trip down to Cork, with my gracious host and friend Jack Lynch, and Lyn Ford, a lovely storyteller friend I already knew from Ohio. At the end of the road trip we just caught the 5 o'clock ferry from Baltimore to Cape Clear (we might or might not have stopped to hit some book shops on the way). By the time we were aboard, I could already catch my first glimpse of what awaited me for the weekend. Most passengers on the ferry were either storytellers, or audience, or both; the island only has about 100 inhabitants, but that number swells by the hundreds when the festival comes around. I quickly made friends with one of the other featured tellers, Daniel Morden from Wales, who braved the icy rain on top of the ferry with me, and helped me spot dolphins, seals, and birds (while we also discussed folktales and myths of all kinds). On the island we were greeted by our hosts and organizers, and set up in a cozy B&B, with delicious food cooked for us and tea ready. It was easy to tell that we were going to get horribly spoiled by the end of the week, but no one seemed to worry about that.
(Special thanks go out to Daphne Babington, Liz Weir, Maura Monagle, and Karen Edwards for making us all feel like we just arrived home)

The great thing about Cape Clear (apart from the warm hospitality) is that everyone who is there made a great effort to be there. We had audience members from as far as Canada and New Zealand, but even if they just came over from the mainland, or down the road, audience members were set, eager, and ready to come with us into every story we told. You could not wish for better listeners even if you tried. On top of all that, we also had a team of young volunteers that kept everything moving smoothly, and were there whenever we needed something - whether it was a lift to the top of the hill, or a song.

Each evening of the festival had a concert in a school building on a scenic spot of the island, and each day sported many other storytelling events at various locations. We opened the program with Hear All Tellers, where everyone had ten minutes to show off their stories and their style. Next to the four featured storytellers, we also had with us John Spillane, an amazing musician from Cork, who framed all the performances with beautiful songs in Irish and English. I brought Hungarian folktales and legends, and Lyn Ford brought Affrilachian stories; Joe Brennan, from Wexford via Donegal, told some wonderful Irish tales, while Daniel Morden told stories from all around the world with great humor and eloquence. On the first evening concert, he even ventured to tell a Hungarian folktale... I might have encouraged him to do so, because it is such a rare treat to hear a great storyteller from abroad tell a Hungarian tale. Daniel did it justice, and we had fun with him calling on me every time he had to pronounce "vasorrú bába" (iron-nosed witch) in the story. On my part, I told a legend about Attila the Hun; he came up earlier in a conversation, and I asked the audience if they have heard about him. Most people raised their hands; but when I asked how many of them heard good things, they all laughed and no hands went up. Therefore I told the tale of Attila and the comedians, and introduced them to another side of the Huns; the next evening, I went on to telling the legend of Attila's son, Prince Csaba, and the creation of the Milky Way (which we call the Road of the Warriors). For the rest of the weekend, I was mostly telling Hungarian folktales (among them many of my favorites from my new book), as well as the one Nart saga that I included in a moment of inspiration, since I only know it from two places, Ireland and Ossetia. Among the stories, I had the chance to tell my "feminist" re-telling of a Hungarian folktale called The Gossipy Women, a funny story that originally was told to prove that all women gossip - but in my version, it is told to prove that women share information and help each other in many secret ways.

The evening concerts were always a treat. They were framed by John's wonderful music (among them a song that I immediately fell in love with), and always closed with us singing popular Irish songs together with the audience. Con Ó Drisceoil also joined us for one day, and made us laugh with his songs until we were in tears. I'm not going to say that we exceeded seating limits on the Saturday night concert... I'm just going to point out that some people were standing on chairs, leaning in through the windows to hear us. It would take too long to list all the magical tales I heard over the course of the weekend, but there are many that I will remember fondly. I especially loved Lyn Ford's Cherokee story about Rabbit's heart song (funny and wise, as most trickster tales are), Joe Brennan's Irish version of the Hiding-from-the-Princess story (one of my favorite tale types), and Daniel Morden's telling of an Aesop's fable about love after loss.

I also had the chance to go on a walk across the island, led by Diarmuid Ó Drisceoil and Geoff Oliver. The sun came out for those two hours, and we listened to all kinds of tales about island life, folklore, and wildlife as we walked from North Harbor to the south. For the rest of the weekend, Cape Clear was wrapped in romantic Celtic fog, showing all kinds of picturesque faces of itself; one could walk around, admire the wildflowers, eat the blackberries, and watch the tide come in and go out in complete peace. It really is a magical place.

Sunday evening, after the last concert, we all walked down to the harbor, to say goodbye to the people who were leaving on the six o'clock ferry. In the tradition of the festival, we did so by waving long stripes of toilet paper in the air, singing "Go home, ya bums!" at the top of our lungs as the ferry moved away, carrying people who returned out heartfelt goodbyes with heartfelt gestures. In the evening, we had dinner in the pub with the organizers and the volunteers, told stories and jokes, sang songs, and laughed a lot. The next morning, we got on the ferry to return to the mainland, and, in a way, reality.

All those stories about magical islands in the sea seem a lot more realistic now. I know for sure I have been to one of them.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Children of San Marino (Following folktales around the world 81. - San Marino)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

The most famous collection of San Marino folktales was written by Walter Anderson at the beginning of the 20th century. Unfortunately I could not locate the full book, but managed to find a short selection of 10 tales online.

Novelline Popolari Sammarinesi
Walter Anderson
Republica di San Marino 2000.

This short collection, much like the original book, presents the tales both in the San Marino dialect and in standard Italian. The original book contained 118 tales, gathered by Anderson in the 1920s with the help of schoolteachers and their students. Each tale is marked with the name of the original teller - since this was a school project, most "sources" were between 8 and 13 years old, which makes the tales short, to the point, and occasionally surprising. I used a combination of my sporadic Italian, my more confident Spanish, my college Latin, and Google Translate to read the tales online.


The legend of Saint Peter's mother was all kinds of interesting. She was portrayed as a greedy and cold-hearted woman, who only gave one leaf of celery to the poor all her life, and even that only because she accidentally dropped it. Even so, Peter tried to talk God into letting her into Heaven, on account of that one gift - but when she began bragging how she deserved to go to Heaven because her son was a saint, and she was better than everyone else, she got sent back to Hell.
The ending of Madonna's House was much nicer. The tale began exactly like Hansel and Gretel, with children being sent to the woods, and not finding the clues they left to go home. But here the small cottage they found belonged to the Virgin Mary, and they grew up there safe and happy.
I was reminded of Vasilisa's doll a little by the story of the poor girl who bought a doll instead of bread. Her sisters scolded her, but the next morning, while changing the doll, she found gold pieces in its diaper.


The local trickster seemed to be the fox (a female one) - for example, I found a version of the "sick carrying the healthy" story with her and a wolf. There was also a variant of the Three Little Pigs, where after a straw house and an iron house, miraculously a glass house protected all three. The tale of the Seven-headed wizard was also familiar, with a boy exchanging sheep for dogs, and the dogs helping him defeat evil in the end. And I even found a Thumbling story, where the tiny hero named Fagiuolo decided to become a thief, and made good money from it.

Where to next?

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Research behind the scenes: Sibling tales from India

I like to show my work, so here is another behind-the-scene post about a fun project.
I was invited by the Hopp Ferenc Museum of Asian Art to tell stories at their Raksha Bandhan Siblings Day event. It sounded like an exciting theme, and I do love museum gigs, so I decided to bring a whole new bouquet of stories. Building the program was an adventure.

Here is what I had to go on: I needed stories from INDIA, about SIBLINGS. Of course, the usual criteria still applied:
1. I only tell stories that I enjoy and am excited about
2. I needed to prepare stories for various age groups, since at a family event you never know who is going to show up
3. I had to fill 30 minutes with stories, multiplied by possible age groups that meant I needed to prepare 6-8 stories
4. I have a habit of bringing at least one new story to every gig, just to keep my repertoire fresh
5. And, of course, I wanted to focus on stories where siblings love and help each other, or at least are not binary good/evil and murderous

I started building the program by looking at my existing repertoire. I do have some tales from India (I love folktales from South Asia), so I ran through my index cards, and fished out some that fit the sibling theme. I found three, but two went into the "maybe" pile, because one only really featured one of the siblings, and the other I needed permission for. I concluded that I will need a lot more than that, therefore I began my usual drill of finding new folktales for a theme.

Step One: Buy a lottery ticket
Sometimes it is easier to find stories than one would think, especially if someone else has already done the legwork. So I put folktales from India about siblings into Google Books, and waited for a lucky find. While the search did not bring up a full collection, it did show me a book about sibling relations in cultures in India, as well as a folktale collection that had a "brothers and sisters" chapter. Both had Preview options, so I flipped through them, and filed some possible stories away for later research.

Step Two: Open, Sesame
Then came the key phrase search in Google Books. I typed in phrases that might lead to a folktale text I wanted: "loved his sister", "helped her brother", "helps her brother", "rescues her sister", etc. All in all four he/she combinations, past and present tenses, etc. (because "" tells Google to look for the exact phrase only). I opened all likely results in new tabs.

Step Three: Sifting for gold
One by one, I looked at the Google Books results. Did the book have Preview? If not, was it available in a digital format? I use JSTOR, HathiTrust,, Gutenberg, Sacred Texts,and occasionally Kindle for these, and pray to get lucky, since here in Hungary I am cut off from free Inter-Library Loan (which is, frankly, painful). Wherever I could get a glimpse of parts of a story, I tried to guess if it would be worth investigating further; many common tale types are recognizable from a paragraph. I threw out tales where siblings killed or tortured each other - and also the ones where they... um, were a little too close.

Step Four: Back to the source
Because the book search only yielded limited results, it was time to get serious: Go and hit up the Thompson Motif Index. Luckily, it has a searchable version, where I could type in "brother" and "sister", and search for India in the results. Sisters got 301 hits, brothers got 346, but not all from India. I jotted down the numbers that sounded promising (H1151.18: Husband rescues wife's sister from box in an elephant's ear).

Step Five: Sources of sources
The Motif Index itself has the nasty habit of referencing other motif indexes. In the case of India, the source noted is usually the Thompson-Balys Indian Motif Index, which I was lucky enough to acquire while I was studying in the US. So, with the numbers I noted down, I turned to this other book, and looked up the motifs again, searching for the texts they cited. Once again I did the "is there a digital version?" rounds on the Internet. Wherever I got lucky, I finally had the chance to read the story itself, and see if I liked it.

[At this point, I have been researching for 6-7 hours, too bad they don't pay me by the hour for gigs]

Step Six: Story selection
Now that I havecombed through forty or fifty folktales, it was time to pick the ones that I liked best, and wanted to include in the program. There were some that I loved at first sight, some that were new and exciting versions of tale types I love (such as the Gold-spitting Prince), and some I selected because I loved the message of the story (portraying humans and animals as brothers). I even picked one that was probably too violent for kids, but I was intrigued by the dedicated friendship of two half-brothers, one human and one half-rakshasa, who killed monsters together. Slowly, the new story collection began to take shape. I felt like a pearl diver coming up from the deep with magical treasures.

Step Seven: Bringing the tales to life
Of course, this was only the beginning. In order to make a performance good, I had to learn, digest, embody, and color the stories for live telling. I researched all the cultural elements, strange words, flora and fauna in each tale, and read up on the regions they originated from. I was happy to notice that, without paying attention, I managed to pick tales from various different parts of India, showing wonderful cultural diversity. The rest was the fun part: Practice the stories, taste them, love them... and tell them.

Step Eight: The performance
As it usually happens, I prepared way more stories than I needed. In the end, I had time to tell two of them at the event, to a lovely, attentive audience of mostly adults and older children. It was raining that day, which is probably why we didn't get a lot of the smaller kids at the museum, but the storytelling worked out wonderfully. I told about a brother and a sister who set out to find Soma, a washerwoman with magical powers, to help break a curse on the girl, and crossed seven seas together, and then I told about two brothers, a human and a tiger, running a race to see who gets to live in cities. In this latter one, the strength and speed of the tiger was balanced out by the human's cleverness, and a little help for their third brother, who was a spirit. Both tales were fun to tell, and the audiences seemed to enjoy them.

All in a good day's work.

One of the tales had baby eagles

Monday, August 27, 2018

Alpine wonderland (Following folktales around the world 80. - Switzerland)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Legends of Switzerland
H. A. Guerber
Dodd, Mead & Co., 1909.

I chose this book because I really enjoyed the author's other collection, Legends of the Rhine, and I was curious what stories she collected from Switzerland. Heléne Adeline Guerber was a 19th century British historian, who had a knack for organizing stories; in this book, she arranges them by canton, and by the landscape they are connected to. The volume contains about 100 stories, ranging across the mountains as well as across several historical eras, presenting the most exciting tales, legends,and beliefs. The stories don't have any sources, sadly, but she does quote other books occasionally.


It should go without saying that William Tell, and the legends of Swiss independence, are featured in the book. We also catch a glimpse of Odin (Wotan), who tries to flood the canton of Vaud, but when his powers prove to be useless against Christianity, he retires to a mountain to hold witches' sabbaths. He is also credited as the leader of the Wild Hunt in Switzerland. And talking about typically Swiss things: There was a story about how a shepherd acquired the alpine horn from three mysterious visitors who offered him a choice between superhuman strength, wealth, and music.

The Castle of Vufflens had a very beautiful legend about a lord who wanted a son, and when his wife kept giving birth to daughters, he imprisoned all of them in the towers of the castle. Eventually, with the help of the faithful servant, the wife was reunited with her lost daughters, and the sisters lived happily.
One of my favorite tales from the book was that of the tailor from Conthey, who liked to call his wife a witch because she believed in ghosts and fairies. Then one night a dwarf showed up, and dragged the tailor along on a crazy ride across the mountains, showing him monsters, ghosts, dragons, dragon-maidens, the spirit of Nero, souls of lawyers condemned to be fishing in murky waters, fire-breathing boars, and other fun things, until the tailor got home in the morning and apologized to his wife for doubting her. I was also amused by the story where a naturalist used a box of live snakes to cure a customs officer's curiosity...

Picture from here
Of course there is no European mountain land without Dwarves, Fairies,and Giants - Switzerland has plenty of all three. Fairies usually inhabited caves, forests, or waters. For example, there was the legend of a fairy ship drawn by large swans on Lake Geneva; wherever the fairy woman stepped on shore from it, she brought prosperity, until steamboats chased the fairy skiff away from the lake. I also loved the fairy godmother that saved two doomed lovers by sternly scolding the angry father (and springing water from a rock). The legend of the Lake of Zug was a tad more eerie. A young man fell in love with a water fae, and went to live with her, but eventually he became homesick. As a solution, the fairy brought part of the city, along with all his friends, into the lake, so that they could all love together under the water forever... As for giants, most of them were helpful and benevolent. Among them the most famous was Gargantua, who rearranged the Swiss landscape in various ways.

It was fascinating how the famous image of Phyllis and Aristotle (in which the lady rides the philosopher like a horse) displayed in the priory of Romainmotier, gave birth to a whole other story, since locals did not know the original. In the local legend, the gatekeeper turned away a poor girl who wanted to pray for her sick mother. The girl died,and began to haunt the gatekeeper, forcing him to carry her on his back every night to pray at the chapel.
Other classics also made an appearance: The ghost of Pilate, for example, haunted Mount Pilatus, until a master of the Black Arts from Salamanca exorcised him into a small mountain lake. Mount Pilatus had other legends as well, some claiming that it was inhabited by gnomes, while another one telling about a cooper who accidentally got lost, and spent the winter living with two hibernating dragons. They got along great, except he got so used to dragon food that he could not digest normal food after that.
Another Master of the Black Arts appeared in the amusing legend of the Monster Sheep. A shepherd sprinkled holy water on a sheep to protect it, but it unexpectedly turned the animal into a monster that ravaged the area until a sorcerer managed to raise a white bull to fight it off.


Among the giant legends I found one of my favorites, the one about a giant's daughter taking a farmer home in her apron, just to be told by her father that people are not toys. There were also other familiar tale types such as Mare's Egg, Town of Fools (here, Merlingen), Sunken Cities, maiden rescued from dragon (by her father this time), etc. The story of Sintram and Beltram was reminiscent of a Dietrich-legend; here, two brothers set out to hunt a dragon, but one was immediately swallowed whole, and the other had to defeat the beast alone to rescue his sibling. I once again got to read the Ring of Fastrada - because, according to Swiss legend, the magic ring was presented to Charlemagne in Zürich. There were also knights sleeping under mountains (here, the leaders of Swiss independence), and an appearance from the Wandering Jew, who loved the Swiss landscape. I even found yet another mouse-army story - this time, the evil lords of Güttingen were devoured by the flood of rodents.
I was reminded of the Greek legend of Marathon by the story of the Battle of Murten, after which a Swiss soldier ran home with the good news - and barely said "Victory!" before he dropped dead from exhaustion. Other Greek parallels were brought up by the story of an eighty-year-old lady who managed to talk her rich grandson into granting as much tax-free land to the peasants as she could walk around in one day. The old, lame, and weak lady walked around no less than a thousand acres in one day, out of sheer love and determination.

Where to next?
San Marino!

Monday, August 20, 2018

Tiny tales from a tiny country (Following folktales around the world 79. - Liechtenstein)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Mivel Liechtensteinből nem sikerült mesegyűjteményt szereznem, megelégszem azzal az öt népmesével, amik az ország hivatalos turisztikai weboldalán szerepelnek. 

The three sisters
Instead of going to church on the feast of Ascension, three sisters go go gather berries in the mountains. On the way home, they refuse to give any to an old woman - who turns out to be the Virgin herself, and turns the three ungrateful girls to stone.

The hound of Santamerta
A ghost tells a young man that at midnight a chest of gold will appear in the chapel of Santamerta, with a hound on top. If he can move the hound, he can get the gold. The man and  his two friends try their best, but the hound doesn't budge, and the gold eventually disappears. The ghost reveals that the next chance will come along in 1000 years.

The white horse of Lochgass
A notorious horse thief finds a beautiful white horse outside the church on Christmas Eve. He steals it, and tries to ride it home, but the horse rides with him all over the place, and eventually throws him and breaks his neck. The horse turns out to be the Devil, who haunts that road in Vaduz until people erect a cross to keep him away.

Golden Boos
Apparently the most well known tale in Liechtenstein. It's about a stout woman who carries a chest on hr back wherever she goes, and when she stays somewhere, she puts it in a separate room. Then, a small man climbs out of the chest, and robs the place. The end.

The Guschg herdsmen's doll
Herdsmen spend the summer up in the mountains, and they entertain themselves  with making a life-size doll out of rags. They do "many things" to the doll, until in the autumn she suddenly comes to life, and declares that one herdsman has to stay with her. The others go home, and when they look back up, they can see that the doll has skinned the herdsman, and put his skin on the roof of the cottage to dry. She is sitting next to it, laughing.
I did not expect this, Liechtenstein.

Where to next? 

Monday, August 13, 2018

Legends of the Rhine (Following folktales around the world 78. - Germany)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

I bet you thought Germany would be represented by the Grimms! But since I recently worked my way through the early Grimm tales, and also already blogged about the Schönwerth collection, I decided to read something else this time. 

Legends of the Rhine
Wilhelm Ruland
Hoursch & Bechstedt, 1906.

This book contains 94 legends. It proceeds geographically from the source of the Rhine in Switzerland all the way to the Netherlands, retelling tales and legends city by city, castle by castle. Because of the borders, the book contains some Swiss stories at the beginning, and some Dutch at the end, but it is still very much a collection of German lore. The language is poetic and romantic, which is occasionally very fitting, and other times annoying, but at least it represents an era of re-telling German legends that precedes WWII. Because it is a literary collection, there are no notes or sources for the stories, but it was still a very entertaining read - I encountered some old favorites, and found new ones as well. If you even decide to take a trip along the Rhine, don't go without this book.


Obviously the Niebelungenlied is featured in the book, in two parts: Siegfried's death and Kriemhilde's revenge are attached to the city of Worms, while Siegfried's childhood and the slaying of the dragon are told in Xanten. Other famous classics also made an appearance: I read about Lorelei (St. Goar), Roland (Rolandseck) - the knight here survived his last battle and returned to his German love, but she was already dead -,  Lohengrin (Cleve), and the infamous Lady of Stavoren.
Several legends along the Rhine feature Charlemagne. I especially liked Eginhard és Emma (Ingelheim), in which the king's favorite daughter fell in love with a young courtier, and when snow fell, she carried him on her back across the courtyard, so that the footprints would not give his visit away. Charlemagne did find out in the end, and exiled the lovers - but they lived happily together anyway. The legends of Aachen also featured the king. There was the story of the famous cathedral, in which people threw a wolf in first, so that the Devil waiting for his payment (for helping build the cathedral), a "living creature's soul", would kill the wolf and not the first person to walk in. Also, my personal favorite, the Ring of Fastrada: A magic ring that made Charlemagne fall madly in love with whoever was wearing it - including his wife's corpse, and his good friend Bishop Turpin.
As a collection of romantic legends, the book contains quite a few love stories, both of the tragic and the happy variety. Gerda és Helmbrecht (Rheinstein), for example, live happily ever after - after the girl is almost married to an evil old suitor, but her horse goes wild in the wedding procession, kicks the guy into a ravine, cripples the stern father, and throws the bride right into the arms of the true love. The Minstrel of Neuenahr was a beautiful, but tragic tale of a singer who went off to the Holy Land to earn the hand of the lady he loved - but returned too late, after she died of loneliness.
Of the less well known stories, I really liked the Knave of Bergen (Frankfort), a dashing stranger who danced with the empress all through a masquerade - until it was revealed that he was an executioner by trade. The story had a happy ending, in which the executioner convinced the emperor to knight him, to wash the "stain" of his profession off the empress. Smart guy. I also liked the Blind archer of Burg Sooneck, who was kept as a prisoner by an evil robber baron, until he was called on to show off his skills of shooting after sound - and, unsurprisingly, he shot the baron dead, after he clinked his glass.
German common sense featured into the legend of the Cathedral of Cologne. The building master made a bet with the Devil that the cathedral would be ready faster than the Devil could dig a canal to the city, with cheerful ducks swimming in it. The underground canal was done quickly, but the Devil could not really get the ducks to cheerfully swim in it... until he tricked the master into disclosing that the ducks needed air holes along the underground tunnel. Holes were made, the ducks moved in, the bet was lost, the master killed himself, and the cathedral was only finished by the 19th century.
As an archaeologist, I also enjoyed the legend of the Roman ghosts in Bonn. Roman martyrs Cassius, Florentius and Melusius helped a poor man out with some gold - but they only spoke Latin, which the man did not understand, so all that they could say together was "Vivat!"


Giants appeared in various stories. In one, a giantess picked up a farmer from the fields, and took him home as a toy - but her father told her to take it back where she found it (people are friends, not toys). In the story of the Seven Mountains, people paid the giants to cut a path for the river, and they did so - and surprisingly, no one got cheated or killed in the deal.
The legend of the Orloj in Prague was repeated about the cathedral clock in Strassbourg - the clockmaker was blinded so that he could never make another one (it was tough to be a clockmaker in the middle ages). The Polish legend of Popiel was repeated in the Mouse Tower of Bingen, where an evil archbishop was eaten by mice. There was also a virgin offered to a dragon (naturally), but this time she was rescued by her own faith, and the cross she was carrying (Drachenfels).
The story of Richmodis of Aducht from Cologne still goes around today as an urban legend - it's the one about the wife who is buried alive, and wakes up when grave robbers try to cut her rings off. Cologne also had a connection to the Grimm tales: legend says goblins used to live in its workshops, helping people with their crafts, until a tailor's wife left out peas on the floor to watch them trip and fall. Ever since then there have been no shoe-making elves in Cologne (or trade elves of any kind).

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