Monday, June 11, 2018

Luring down the stars and scheduling the rain (69. - Montenegro)

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 under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

A kilenc pávalány és az aranyalmafa
Népmesék Vuk Stefanović Karadžić gyűjtéséből 
Európa Könyvkiadó, 1987.

This book is yet another volume of our Tales of Nations series, and once again a selection from the folktale collections of Vuk Stefanović Karadžić. In terms of publications, it is impossible to separate the folklore of Serbia and Montenegro, so I was really happy to see that this book listed the actual source and location for each folktale - this way, I found six of them that were from the region of modern day Montenegro. Vuk himself descended from an old Montenegrin family, and according to some sources collected almost half of his folktales from there. The book, by the way, contains twenty-nine "female" (wonder) tales, and twenty-three "male" (humorous) tales. In the afterword we can read the detailed and fascinating true story of Karadžić's life and work. All storytellers should familiarize themselves with it.


The tale titled Real Steel from last week's Serbian collection turned out to be one of the tales from Montenegro. In this book, it is titled The Wily Bas-Chelic, and it is still awesome with its giant-slaying, princess-rescuing, dragon-army-mobilizing glory.
Tales were collected around the
Bay of Kotor
Also from Montenegro is one of the most beautiful, most symbolic stories in the book, The Magic Knife, in which a man has to bring three special horses to a Tzar to win his daughter's hand. The daughter helps the hero in secret, giving him a magic knife and telling him how to find the Field of Pearls, and gain treasures from a bush that has roots of honey and flowers of gold. Karadžić also collected a similarly beautiful tale from his home village, in which a princess demanded Three rings from her suitor - one of the sun, one of the moon, and one of the stars. An old woman helped the hero by undoing her hair, and using it to lure the three rings down from the sky.
There was also a Montengrin tale of Truth and Falsehood, in which two princes argued over which one leads to success (the former won, obviously, because this is a folktale), and another one titled The priest and the congregation, which was both poignant and hilarious. In it, a priest was accused of his prayers for rain being useless, so he asked the members of his congregation when they would like to schedule the rain for. They all began to fight, and eventually concluded that there is no right time for rain...
Among the non-Montengerin tales I especially liked the story of How Solomon the Wise was cursed by his mother. The wise ruler could not die until he had seen the deepest bottom of the ocean, and the highest peak of the mountains of the world. He had to resort to trickery to accomplish both.


This book contains Hungarian translations of several stories that I read last week in English; it has The Golden Apple Tree and Nine Peahens, Son of the Bear, Snake Husband, Hovering Castle, Bird Maiden, and the Tzar with goat's ears (it took me this long to realize his name is Trajan). Interestingly enough, the Hungarian translation of The Golden-fleeced Ram says the hero needs to build a palace from "fairy teeth", rather than ivory. I wonder if it was a translation mistake, since all other variants have ivory...
There was also a version of You can't please everyone (with father, son, and donkey), and a fun legend about Saint Sava and the devil which fell into a classic international trickster tale type. Saint and devil planted crops together, and by asking "do you want the top part of the bottom part?" the saint kept tricking the devil. Eventually the poor devil at least got back at him by inventing liquor...
There was once again a tale with Ossetian nart parallels - The father's oath listed all kinds of wonders from the underworld that a wise person had to explain to the hero.

Where to next?
Bosnia and Herzegovina!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Of Vilas and Dragons (Following folktales around the world 68. - Serbia)

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 under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Serbian Fairy Tales
Jelena Curcic
Flying Fish Publications, 2013.

Once again the name of Vuk Stefanović Karadžić pops up: He collected tales all over the Balkans in the 19th century, and the author of this book selected these 20 stories from his collection. Karadžić's collection in its own time was remarkable and much appreciated; even the Grimm brothers followed it with interest, and Karadžić added a letter of gratitude to its publication (a letter which is translated to English in this book). It is also important to note that Jelena Curcic is not only an author and translator, but also a practicing storyteller, which made her selections and language dear to my heart (you can follow her on Twitter). Karadžić divided tales into two types: "Female tales" were fairy tales, wonder tales, and anything mythical, while "male tales" were legends, anecdotes, and funny stories. This book, true to its title and its author, contains 20 "female tales." Each story comes with great notes and comments, there is a detailed introduction, and even the Serbian alphabet in the back. The book's publishing was supported by Art Council England and the Serbian Council of Great Britain, in order to promote Serbian oral tradition in the UK, and allow second- and third generation immigrants to connect with, and share, their culture.


The first story in the book is also the best: The maiden who was faster than a horse is reminiscent of all kinds of race-running tales... except here the girl actually wins! She runs on foot, racing her suitors on horseback, creates all kinds of obstacles, and only stops at the end to be "captured" to disappear the next moment. The girl was created from summer snow by the Vilas, iconic female figures of Serbian mythology (they might be familiar from Harry Potter). The Vilas appeared in several other tales as well, among them Vila's Mountain, where a mortal man went to live with them.
Apart from Vilas, we are also introduced to the two kinds of dragons of Serbian tradition: The Azdaja, which is serpent-like and usually evil, and the more human-like, strong and powerful Zmaj. The former was usually fought and killed in tales, but there was also one (The Magic Ring) in which a female (!) Azdaja was rescued by the hero from the stag trapped in her throat, and in exchange gave him a magic ring.
The strangest, most unique tale was The Bear's Son. It began like other Bearson-tales (except here the mortal mother ran away, leaving the cub to be raised with his bear-father), but then turned into a strange adventure full of giants and over-the-top visuals. Interestingly enough, this second part has its clear parallels among the Caucasian Nart sagas. I wonder how that happened.

The tale of Real Steel was a very nice combination of tale types. It begins with Water of Life, with nighttime giant-slaying adventures and a visit to the sleeping princess. Except while in most variants the hero gets the sleeping princess pregnant (ew), in this one he kills a snake that is trying to bite her. I like this a lot better. The second half of the story is that of Koschei the Deathless, with the kidnapped wife and the magic horse race. This second type also appeared in the Golden Apple Tree and Nine Peahens, where it followed the tale type of the golden apples stolen by fairy maidens.
The volume concludes with a strange and ominous short tale, where a king takes his army to the Dark Realm, and some soldiers pick up pebbles in the dark - only to discover in the light that they are diamonds.


Of course the book contained several familiar types and motifs that are known all over Europe, and the Balkans. Multiple tales had the motif of the villain's life being hidden outside of his body (The young tzarevich and the Azdaja). There was a clever maiden (The maiden who outsmarted the Tzar), and a Hovering Castle, which was the same as the underworld adventure of the "three kidnapped princesses" type, except here the hero ha to climb up, not down. The popularity of the Vilas is shown in the tale where instead of a golden goose, the princess was brought to laughter by people stuck to The Vila's Carriage.
I was happy to find yet another variant of my favorite tale, the Extraordinary Helpers, in Tzar's Son-in-Law and the Winged Old Woman. I especially liked that it was attached to the motif of a boy imprisoned for a dream - and that he bore a hole in the wall to visit the princess who was imprisoned in the next room over. Helpers with superpowers also appeared in Seven Little Vlachs, where they argued over who gets to marry the rescued princess, and they eventually all rose into the sky, and turned into the Pleiades (I read this variant in the Greek book too). Another favorite type of mine, Son of the Hunter, also made an appearance as The Golden-fleeced Ram, also with some clear Greek parallels; in this version the hero had to build an entire ivory city, not just a palace. And talking about the Greeks, let's not forget Tzar Trojan's Goat Ears. You can guess which myth that reminded me of.

Where to next?

Monday, May 28, 2018

The Battle of Kosovo (Following folktales around the world 67. - Kosovo)

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 under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Kosovo is a partially recognized state; those who do not recognize it claim it is a part of Serbia. Either way, it was hard to find folktales specifically from Kosovo, so I decided to look at some epic poetry instead.

The Battle of Kosovo
Serbian epic poems
John Matthias and Vladeta Vuckovic
Swallow Press/Ohio University Press Athens 1987.

This volume contains English transations of Serbian epic poems about the Battle of Kosovo (1389) against the Ottoman empire. Charles Simic notes in the Preface that it is unique in this epic cycle that it celebrates defeat, rather than victory. The poems are from the collections of Vuk Karadzic (we'll talk more about him later), who gathered them at the beginning of the 1800s from blind old women and old men who recited them as poems, instead of from the original tale-singers. The authors of the book tried to reflect the rhythm and language of the poems, and the Preface claims that they succeeded very well in capturing their authentic tone. The book comes with a long introduction, footnotes, and translation notes.

Fénypontok és kapcsolatok helyett:

The epic poems do have a unique tone and visual world. Supper in Krushevatz, for example, mirrors almost perfectly the Last Supper; the Tsar announces that someone will betray him on the battlefield the next day. He is seated at the table with his best warriors on his left and right; this fragment also serves as the enumeration of the epic cycle, listing all the famous heroes and their best features. On the other side, the Turkish army's overwhelming numbers are described very well in Captain Milosh and Ivan Kosanchich: "If all the Serbs were changed to grains of salt / We could not even salt their wretched dinners!" And yet, the superior numbers do not discourage the Serbian heroes. Both Sultan and Tsar died in the battle that day, but still, the Serbian army and kingdom were sorely defeated. It is a very touching moment in the ballad of Musich Stefan when the knight on his way to the battle encounters a peasant girl, who is carrying a Serbian helmet that she fished out of the river flooding with blood. The knight sees the helmet and weeps, but goes on to fight in the losing battle. The same girl also appears in another text as the Maiden of Kosovo: She goes around on the field after the battle, bathing the wounded and giving the bread and wine as communion. She is searching for the hero she was promised to marry. Similarly touching is the song of Tsar Lazar and Tsaritsa Militsa - the wife begs her husband to leave at least one of her nine brothers at home, so that he can ride to the battlefield and bring news later. The tsar agrees, but she is refused in turn by all nine of her brothers, and left home with a servant. Two ravens later bring news from the battlefield about the defeat. In fact, in several texts the battle is told through someone bringing news, rather than directly. In The Death of the Mother of the Yugovichi, the mother of the nine warriors grows wings herself and flies to the field to bring the bodies of her sons home, and then dies of heartbreak.
These poems really are heroic and somber in their tome. No wonder their collection became popular in the early 1800s, when Serbians began to revolt against Turkish rule. I would have loved to read more epic poems of this king. For those who are interested, I recomment Albert Lord's classic book "The Singer of Tales."

Where to next?

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Snow White was originally rescued by her father (and other surprises from the 1810 Grimm manuscript)

(Disclaimer: In the case of folktales, there is no such thing as an "original" version. We can speak of "earliest known" or "earliest collected" instead, but those are usually preceded by centuries of oral tradition)

People have been pointing out that the 1812 first edition of the Grimm fairy tales is drastically different from the stories we know from later versions. This very first, "uncensored" collection has recently been given a shiny new full English translation by Jack Zipes. It is the book where Rapunzel still gets pregnant, where Snow White is still persecuted by her biological mother, and so are Hansel and Gretel.

The 1812 first edition, however, is still not the earliest version we have for the Grimm tales.

In 1810, while working on collecting stories, the brothers were asked by their friend, Clemens Brentano, who also had an interest in folklore, to send him the manuscript of the 50 stories they already had. And then, in true friend fashion, he forgot to give them back. Ever.
The manuscript, full of neatly hand-written pages by Jacob and Wilhelm, was re-discovered in the library of a monastery in the early 1920s. A hundred years later, in the form of a Kickstarter project, Oliver Loo created a full English translation for it. It is available on Amazon Kindle for about $2. and it is well worth the read.

Even at this point, between the first hand-written notes in 1810, and the 1812 print edition, several changes can be observed in the tales. Oliver Loo makes sure to point all of them out, along with translation mistakes and inconsistencies later English editions were likely to make. His translation is painstakingly true to the German original (to the point of leaving the German word order intact), and it re-translates both the 1810 and the 1812 versions of every story, side by side. It is a marvelous resource, and it helped me make a few shocking discoveries about the Grimm collection.

Here are some of my favorites:

1. The 1810 version Snow White is a trip. She is blonde, with "eyes black as ebony." The evil queen is her biological mother, who takes the girl into the woods to pick roses, and abandons her there (drives away in her carriage). Snow White, after eating the poison apple, is rescued and revived by her father (!), returning from a trip abroad. No prince.
(Also, the queen's question is "Who's  the fairest one in England?")
Also, there are other texts the Grimms used for the tale, including one where Snow White is abandoned in a dwarf cave (makes a lot more sense than a quaint little cottage), and one where Mirror is the name of her dog. In many of them Snow White comes back to life because a servant grows tired of caring for her dead body, and hits her, making her spit out the apple. Romantic.

2. The girl in Rumpelstiltskin can actually spin gold (!!). No one appreciates it, though, until the little demon helps her find a royal husband who knows what gold is worth. Is it just me, or this this a whole different story?!

3. Hansel and Gretel had no names in 1810. They were listed as Brüderchen und Schwesterchen (Little Brother and Little Sister). Originally, Jacob named them Hansel and Gretchen, and Wilhelm changed to to Gretel so it would rhyme better.

4. The birth of Sleeping Beauty is prophesied by a randomly appearing crayfish. Also, the fairy's prophecy is fulfilled on her 15th birthday (the last day of her 15th year), which often gets mistranslated as her 16th.

5. King Thrushbeard is a whole different story, put together from two separate tales. In one, the king in disguise takes the princess home, and then reveals himself and apologizes (!) for scaring her. In the other, she goes to steal food by her own volition, not because her husband tells her to. Both tales feel more like the princess was taught a lesson for despising poverty, rather than for being picky about a husband.

6. In the Three Ravens, the Glass Mountain (Glasberg) is actually a Glass Castle (Glasburg), which the girl lock-picks with a chicken bone. Makes a lot more sense than using the bone to climb the mountain...

7. In Thumbling's Travels, the famous line "Too many potatoes, too little meat" was not a part of the folktale at all. Wilhelm heard it from a kitchen maid, and he thought it would be funny to put into the story.

8. In Three Feathers, the two wives trying to copy the magical feats of the Frog Princess end up horribly dying. Wilhelm took this out by the 1812 print edition. (Also, in another early version of the same tale, there is no bride at all, magic items just literally fall from a tree into a hero's lap).

9. The name on Foundling Bird in the 1810 version is Karl.

10. In Allerlei-Rauh (All-Kinds-of-Fur), it is the stepmother who chases the girl away from home. The girl had been engaged to a prince, and it is to his castle she flees in disguise (not to some random royal household).

11. In The Golden Duck, the girl who can cry pearls and roses accidentally dies, and then her stepmother decides to replace her with a false bride. The prince immediately notices the exchange. This tale also has an unexpected ending: The prince falls in with bad company, and is stabbed to death in a knife fight. The girl lives happily with her brother ever after.
(This one was delegated to a footnote in the 1815 print edition)

12. There is a tale called Murmeltier (Marmot) that was also delegated to a footnote in the 1812 book. It is basically Frau Holle on steroids. Or LSD. It involves a girl that is locked in a snow globe, fights a bear, has a trusty beaver, and meets a miller married to a male earth spirit. Among other things. Apparently it is originally a French fairy tale that someone told Jacob in a scrambled version. Nonetheless, it is delightful.

I highly recommend reading this collection. You will never think of the "Grimm" tales the same way again.

Monday, May 21, 2018

God and taxes (Following folktales around the world 66. - Macedonia)

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 under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

19th century Macedonian Folktales
Marko Cepenkov
Macquarie University, 1991.

This book (which you can find online) contains 66 tales from the 19th century collection of Marko Cepenkov. Interestingly enough, even though Cepenkov gathered more than 800 folktales in his life (as well as legends and other folk texts), he was not really a folklorist or researcher. Rather, he listened to the stories, then mulled about them until they were "ready", and then wrote them down with his own words. In that way, he is another link in the chain of oral tradition that formed the stories, rather than an academic.
There are not many classic "fairy tales" in this collection. Most of the stories are legendary tales, funny anecdotes, and realistic tales. In exchange, they really are an excellent lineup of stories: The jokes are amusing, the legends are clever, and many stories mirror directly some issues and social situations that exist even to this very day (you'll see). The translation is also entertaining, although I wished there had been some notes accompanying the tales.


I was sad that the Bulgarian volume did not contain the tale of Silyan the Stork... and lo and behold, I found it in this one! The book says it is one of Cepenkov's most famous tales. Not sure if the Bulgarians would agree with that statement, but it is a great story anyway. Silyan the good-for-nothing husband and father goes out into the world, and gets shipwrecked on the Island of Storks. The storks of the world are people, who live as humans for half a year, and as birds the other half. Silyan also learns the secret of transformation, and flies home with them... but then gets stuck in bird form, and can only watch his family from afar. Eventually, the tale does have a happy ending, and we also learn a lot about storks along the way. The people's love for animals (and storks especially) also showed through in other tales. One had a poignant moral: If you help a wicked man, you help the devil. In this, a kind man saved a snake and a stork, and they both helped him in return; then he saved a wicked man, and almost got executed because of his shenanigans. The story concluded: "You don't have to harm wicked people, but you should not help them either." Words to live by...
I also loved the moral of the tale of The rich man who bought a liver for a poor man. A rich man bought a liver as a gift to a poor man, and then asked him to carry his own shopping home "as a thank you." On the way, the rich man boasted to everyone what a great charity he had done, then made the poor man do some more chores "as a thank you," while basking in his own charity. Finally, the poor man decided one liver was not worth the humiliation, and left. I want to use this tale for teaching about privilege... Similarly, the one titled The poor man who lost a thousand eggs on the way to Istambul. In this one, the poor man had to give his eggs away little by little to corrupt customs officers. Eventually, he decided to set up a toll booth at the cemetery, and grew rich from taking a "burial tax." Only at the end of his life did the Emperor discover the trick, and with it, the corruption in his kingdom. (Fun fact: This story still goes around on the Internet as an urban legend!).
I had a feeling of déja vu reading the tale of The man who had the emperor's permission to murder. A man made a bet that the judges of the city were so corrupt that he could get away with killing someone on the marketplace in broad daylight, if he paid them off. He did prove his point, and won the bet, by presenting a "licence" made of money to the judge. Hmmm.
Some of the animal tales were also delightful. That of The Wolf told about a hungry wolf that tried to devour various animals, but they all tricked him in various ways. Even better was The fox who had a hundred ideas, and the badger who only had two: The fox kept taking advantage of the badger and stealing his ideas, until he outsmarted her in the end.
There were several religious legends in the book where humor and moral went hand in hand. My favorite was that of St. Peter and the poor man. The saint took pity on a freezing beggar, and asked God to make it so that it would be summer all year round. But he soon found out that eternal summer came with consequences: Amphibians and reptiles began to proliferate, grow, and become sentient. Eventually, when King Toad asked for Peter's daughter in marriage, he had to admit the whole thing was a bad idea... I was also amused by The poor man and St. Nikola, in which the protagonist bought two icons, that of the Virgin and that of St. Nikola, to guard his house from thieves. When the house was robbed anyway (obviously), he threatened Nikola until the saint made sure the goods were returned. I loved it that the poor man decided to let the Virgin off easy, because "she was probably changing diapers at the time."
The tale of Truth and Falsehood was similar to the popular "Truth and Story" tale, except here the truth was dressed up in lies, and felt very embarrassed about it. Finally, there was a very clever story about A man who kept a written record of all the female wiles. He collected all the tricks that women used to cheat on their husbands with him (!!!), and then tried to control his own wife by consulting the list. Of course, the wife, who was actually faithful, still managed to prove that she could have tricked him if he wanted to.


It is not all that surprising that there is a Macedonian version of King Midas - except instead of donkey ears, here The king had a horn in the middle of his forehead. The lucky boy's story was very similar to that of the Devil's three golden hairs, except here the boy's lucky fate was decided by The Three Fates (and written down), and it was the daughter herself who changed the letters to be able to marry him. Also, I loved the variant of the Blacksmith and the devil in which the protagonist showed up in Heaven with twelve devils in the end (his card-playing buddies), and insisted that if he had to treat all the twelve apostles when Jesus visited him, then he was entitled to bring his friends in too. St. Peter couldn't argue.
There was also another variant of 'why old people are not killed anymore' - in this one, The old folks were taken up to the mountain to die. Interestingly, in this one the king gave young people impossible tasks on purpose, to make the realize they needed their elders' wisdom. There was also another tale where a child helped serve justice to thieves (and his name just happened to be Solomon).
After Greece, I once again found a tale about a man who would his Fountain of Luck... and tried to broaden the tap with a stick, but the stick broke, and blocked his luck. He eventually died from an accidental self-inflicted cannonball wound.
I grew up hearing the story of the stubborn donkey and the chili pepper from my grandfather. Here, there was yet another version after Nasruddin, but with Six donkeys.

Where to next?

Friday, May 18, 2018

Are millennials killing the fairy tale?

Alright people, gather up, because I'm only willing to do this once.

Millennials have a reputation in the news for being notoriously murderous, but to be honest, I don't usually pay much attention to the kill list du jour. This week, however, several iterations of an article popped up on my feed that all talked about my generation's latest victim: The fairy tale.

Things just got personal.

First up, the articles. The original "poll" of 2000 parents was published on the MusicMagpie blog, with the title "Are fairytales outdated and offensive?". This was soon picked up by a very telling (heh) assortment of news outlets with titles such as "Snowflake parents are censoring fairytale storylines to make them more PC" and "Outdated and offensive?" and "Millions of parents 'CHANGE the endings of classic fairytales because they are politically incorrect'". The poll and the implications came in handy for several sources that like to conflate the natural evolution of the oral tradition with panic about "political correctness."

So. Let's set a few things straight.

1. Folktales and fairy tales are NOT the same thing.
Folktale means a story comes from the oral tradition (as in, told by teh folk). Fairy tale is a type of tale that features magical elements. Some fairy tales are folktales, and some are literary tales (as in, they have an author). The line between the two is not always clear, but that's the general idea.

Why is this important?
Well, because

2. Folktales have VARIANTS.
That means, they have been told, and are being told, in many places by many people in many, vastly different ways. Claiming that one story is "right" or "wrong" just shows that the person critiquing has never really read or heard any other version.

Why is this important?
Well, because

3. Folktales have ALWAYS CHANGED.
They have been changing for centuries. They change with every telling. They have changed so much between each edition of the Grimm collection that you'd barely recognize the first version (Did you know that there are TWO wolves in Little Red Riding Hood? Or that Rapunzel gets pregnant and left in the tower? Or that Snow White is persecuted by her own mother?). What a story looks and sounds like depends on how far back you want to go. Like, shall we go all the way back to when the Dancing Princesses were wine-crazed followers of Bacchus who had to be exorcised by a priest?

Why is this important?
Well, because

4. You are free to CHANGE the tale, or PICK a version you like.
Because oral tradition works like that.
For example: If you have problems with non-consensual kissing in Sleeping Beauty (or, going back further, the fact that the prince gets the sleeping Talia pregnant, and then leaves her until she wakes up while giving birth) - you can just pick a motif that works better for you.
Folktale motifs are like LEGO blocks for stories. You can mix and match them. For example, there are several Sleeping Beauty variants where the princess is woken up when a prince (in some cases, another princess) pulls the magic splinter from her hand. Or there are tales from a related type (Water of Life) in which the sleeping princess is about to be attacked by a snake, so the prince kills the snake, and that breaks the curse.
There is no one single right way to tell it. There are several.  

Why is this important?
Well, because

5. Some story motifs (or entire stories) DO GET OUTDATED.
The big mistake of the article (and the poll) is that it does not make a distinction between necessary (and natural) changes for social values, and changes that result from people misunderstanding how folktales work.
Take the Lazy Cat, for example. It is a traditional Hungarian folktale that used to be wildly popular. It is about how a man teaches his wife to be a good, hard-working woman by repeatedly beating her bloody with a whip. Eventually, she learns. The end.
Traditional? Yes. Should we tell it to kids?

But this is only half of the issue.
The other half is that

6. Our understanding of violence CHANGES as we grow up.
When kids hear Little Red Riding Hood, they don't imagine a scene from Game of Thrones. It is clear from the story that Red gets to be swallowed in one cartoonish gulp, since she is rescued in one piece later. As a practicing storyteller for more than 10 years, I can tell you this: The only complaint I have ever received from kids about folktale violence is that it should have been bloodier. Death in fairy tale symbolism means absolute closure. The wolf needs to die, or the kid will have nightmares, not from the belly-cutting, but from the fear that it might come back.

But this is still only part of the issue.

If we really are focusing on parents telling bedtime stories, here is the big solution: TALK TO YOUR KIDS. Ask them what they think. Listen to what they say. If they tell you they are scared of the wolf, then tell something else. Or even better, ask them why they are scared. Talk about wolves. Look at pictures. Draw pictures. Discuss. Bedtime stories are not supposed to do the heavy lifting.


Okay, now, just for funsies, let's look at the "worst offenders" in that poll.

"36% are concerned by the Pied Piper of Hamlin tricking children into following him."

You know who else is very concerned about that? The parents who didn't pay the piper.
(There is a moral to this story, you see)
Also, this is neither folktale, nor fairy tale. This is a local historical legend.

"Almost one in four disagree with Cinderella doing all the cleaning and chores."

You know who else disagrees with this? THE AUDIENCE. That is why they love the part of the story where she doesn't have to do that anymore. You know, the ending?

"27% think Robin Hood is a terrible role model, despite giving back to the poor."

People need to learn the magical phrase of "you know, back in those days..." and read up on feudalism.

"A quarter think The Ugly Duckling could encourage body-shaming and discrimination." 

Again, not a folktale, and also not a particularly great story. But I'll play. Here is your reading comprehension test: What does the ending of this tale say about bullying ugly ducklings?

"One in four think Sleeping Beauty is problematic due to Prince Charming not asking for consent before kissing the princess." 

See No. 4 above.

"3 in 10 dislike Hansel and Gretel as children are left alone in the forest." 

You know who else dislikes that? Hansel and Gretel. Oh, and THE AUDIENCE.

"Little Red Riding Hood , for example, ends with a little girl being eaten by a wolf then cut out of said wolf’s stomach by a hunter with an axe."

Little Red is kind of a crap story. That is probably why I have been halfway around the world, read a couple of thousand folktales, I found no variants of it. For other concerns, see Numbers 6 and 7.

Oh, and as for millennials: We just grew up on Disney movies. It's not like we made them.

(***Do NOT get me started on how Eurocentirc this whole debate is***)

Monday, May 14, 2018

Sun, Moon, and Nasruddin (Following folktales around the world 65. - Albania)

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 under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

A Föld Szépe - Albán népmesék
Európa Kiadó, 1957.

This book is among the earliest in our Tales of Nations series. It's a translation of a 1954 volume that was published by the Albanian Science Institute, as a representative sample from their huge collection of folktales. It contains 44 stories, but no additional information; there are some footnotes, and a short Afterword. Translator claims the sample is pretty well-rounded in representing Albanian folktales, with the exception of stories about rebirth.
For reading Albanian folktales in English, I highly recommend this collection.


Albanian sun and moon symbols
I really loved the tale of Sun and Moon visiting - Sun wanted to bring a dress for Moon, but could not make it to measure because Moon constantly changes. Therefore Sun offered up its light instead, for Moon to dress in. Similarly pretty was the tale of Ahmet the Generous. In this one, a princess locked up by her overly protective father fell in love with Ahmet without ever meeting him. Eventually she set out to find him on her own; Ahmet's aunt helped her win his love.
I laughed a lot at the tale of Her brother took her. A girl is kidnapped by a wolf, and rescued by her brother. When the wolf comes home and asks objects where she'd gone, only a broken cup tattles on her - but it has such a lips that the wolf can't understand what it is trying to say...
I was reminded of a Greek folktale by the tale of The three brothers and Beauty of the World (Beauty of the World is the generic magical bride who shows up in many of these tales). A hero called Saber made friends with Star and Sea. They helped him when he was in danger, and in exchange he helped Star get a wife, and helped Sea become king. In another Beauty of the World tale a swarm of bees helped the hero pick out the real bride from among women who looked the same (similarly to Grimm's Queen Bee). This tale had a similar structure to my favorite Greek story The Son of the Hunter - and so did another one in the book, Letter to the Afterlife. In this one, instead of building a castle from ivory, the hero had to build one from gemstones. Beauty helped him by crying a lot; her tears turned stones into gems.
The tale of The young woman and the Four-Eyed Woman was similar to Hansel and Gretel - but without a Hansel. The young woman rescued herself from a mysterious cannibalistic woman who had two extra eyes on the back of her head.
The story of Samakadi began with a princess falling in love with a colt, and insisting of marrying it. Eventually, of course, the colt turned out to be a prince... but he was kidnapped by a dragon, and then the girl (!) had to set out to rescue him. The story turned into a Magic Flight type tale, except in this case it was the husband who was helping his wife complete impossible tasks.
How the devil was killed had the common motif of the hidden death (like Koschei the Deathless, or the Crystal Ball), but in this case, the hero himself was a shapeshifter. He received his powers from the Parcae, the three matrons of destiny: He could turn into an ant, a hawk, or... a winged man with superhuman strength. Definitely an upgrade compared to other variants.


Once again I encountered a variant of one of my favorite tales, known from the Pentamerone as The Flea. A princess doesn't want to marry so she sets an impossible task - but the devil solves it, and takes her. Seven Brothers set out to rescue her, each with his own special superpower. I especially liked it that at the end of this version, she got to pick which one she wanted to marry. A similar "superhero team" appeared in the tale of Bilmeni, and I was especially excited about it because it contained a hero whose power was to cause earthquakes. I have never seen one in any variant other than the one from Greece.
There was a trickster hero in a Treasures of the Ogre type tale - except here instead of an ogre or dragon, the enemy was a cyclops. At the end of the story they blinded him the same way Odysseus blinded the other one (we are close to Greece here). The tale of The Mermaid, on the other hand, was reminiscent of northern Selkie stories. It was a cruel variant, where two brothers trapped a mermaid and forced her into human marriage; they even threatened the life of her child to make her talk. Eventually, she fled back to the waters.
The tale of Fenichka was an interesting mix of the Frog Princess and Daughter of the Sun. Beauty of the World here appeared as a snake and married the youngest brother; then she did all kinds of magical things, tricking her sisters-in-law to try to copy her (e.g. she cut her own breasts off and cooked them, but they grew back). This (very Mediterranean) motif also showed up in Daughter of Sun and Moon. A woman went to Sun and Moon to ask for a soul for a girl she made of clay (and did the whole "series of questions" thing along the way). The girl got a soul, and also magic powers, which she used to trick the brides of her true love into trying to copy her.
There were tales of a princess turning into a prince (The magic mare), a princess disguised as a prince (Silent One), a Clever Girl, and even one about a Glass Mountain, which turned out to be very similar to the Gemstone Mountain tale of the Greeks.
The local trickster is Nasruddin (Nastardin) hodja. I was excited to find a tale about him that I only knew from the Nart sagas so far (Nastardin's cow and the end of the world).

Where to next?

Monday, May 7, 2018

We are all a little weird (A to Z Reflections)

Once again, the Challenge came and went in the blink of an eye (along with the month of April. Has anyone seen where it's gone?...). My theme this year was WTF - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales. You can find all the posts here. I really enjoyed the research for this one, as well as the hilarious reactions some of the posts got from the visitors. You all are the best! Your comments really made my month enjoyable :)

As for some statistics: Since I got rid of the spam bots, my daily visits in April were around a steady 300 per day. The top three most popular posts were:
F for Flowerbeard
I for Ilona the Forgetful and Occasionally Murderous
G for Goat boy

Since several of the stories came from my new book Dancing on Blades: Rare and Exquisite Folktales from the Carpathian Mountains, the book sales have also seen an uptick in April. Thank you! I hope you will enjoy the stories!

I did not have as much time to visit this year as I would have liked (since I was pantsing the posts), but I did follow some really great blogs and themes. I was especially happy that many of them rocked Mythology and Folklore themes. If you are doing the post-challenge blog rounds, I recommend checking out:

Story Crossroads - This international storytelling festival's blog posted a folktale about kindness each day, all from different cultures!

Kelsey Ketch - This author's blog theme was the mythology and culture of ancient Egypt. Each post was concise and interesting and also well sourced!

The Mad Grad Student - This blog is one of my favorites. This year, the theme was mythical and folklore figures in video games, and as a fan of both, I really enjoyed the posts!

Writing Dragons - This blog did not only post amazing dragon art each day, but also highlighted the artists behind each picture, with information and interesting tidbits. This is how you promote independent artists!

Tasha's Thinkings - An A to Z veteran, Tasha brought us a theme of movie monsters this year. Some were classics, and some were just hilarious, with a genius rating system.

Our Literary Journey - This blog also had a folklore and mythology theme, and brought up some well-known and less well-known figures in well-written posts!

Thank you all for participating, posting, visiting, and commenting! You make the Challenge an incredible experience. See you all next year!

The land of talking winds (Following folktales around the world 64. - Malta)

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 under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Máltai népmesék
Boda Magdolna
Szeged, 2016.

The book contains forty-two folktales, divided into chapters by their genre (wonder tales, animal tales, romantic tales, etc.). Three quarters of the book are taken up by wonder tales, which were also the most exciting. The author selected and translated the stories from various English-language Maltese folktale collections (among them this one and this one). The translation left some things to be desired, and also had the occasional typo or two, but all in all, the language of the stories was very enjoyable. She also noted that she tweaked the language in translation occasionally. I hope she didn't tweak the plots, because I enjoyed the hell out of the special flavor of Maltese tales.


Winds of Malta by direction
There were several familiar stories that I loved for their unusual and colorful details. In the Aladdin-type tale of The four winds, the wizard, and the magic lamp, the hero seeking his stolen wife and castle was helped by the various Winds, all with their own name and personality. He even ran a rave with one of them. Similarly, the Winds appeared as active participants in the tale of Cosolina, which was one of my favorites in the book. In it, a spoiled rich boy only realized he loves the girl he was meant to marry once she gets kidnapped by a wizard. He is helped by the Winds first, and then, when he botches his first encounter with the girl (he spies on her by candlelight, like a reverse Cupid and Psyche), she tells him he won't see her again until he wears out seven pairs of iron shoes. The guy then gets magic boots of speed, and puts on seven iron shoes on top of each other - by running at a supernatural speed, the iron shoes wear out in a couple of minutes (work smarter, not harder, people). I also loved the moment when the helpful lion gave him a hair, the eagle a feather, and the ant said "What should I give? if I give an antenna I'll be half blind, if I give a leg I'll be lame!" I've always had this problem with ant helpers in fairy tales... There was another instance, in the tale of I don't know, in which the hero hid the helpers' items (hair, ant's wing, fish bone) under his own skin, through a wound he cut into his neck. Ouch.
The kind of cave the princess is held in
I also enjoyed the tale of Pietru Lagrimanti (Peter of the Tears). It was a variant of the story I knew from the Pentamerone as The Flea, masterfully combined with another tale type. A princess was kidnapped by a wizard and held behind seven iron doors; she was rescued by seven brothers with magical skills... except they failed. The prophecy (that she managed to send in a secret message to her father) said she could only be rescued by the eighth brother, to be born from his mother's tears. Being a very practical man, the kind immediately made the mother drink her own tears, and thus the hero was produced.
All in all, there was a lot of practical thinking displayed in the stories. In The giant and the talking hand, a variant of Bluebeard, a girl had to pretend to eat a corpse's hand to avoid being punished by her infernal husband. She did not only manage to get away with hiding it under her apron ("at her belly"), but also pretended to pass it on the toilet (and eventually she rescued herself). Kaukama and Kaukam was the popular tale type of the Clever Girl - except in this case it was about a clever man (aided by his old father). It was the first male-hero variant of this story that I've seen where the man also had to go to the king "half dressed and half naked" like the female heroes do. Also, it was combined with Why old people are not killed anymore. Maltese tales have some very neat type combinations.
There were also types and stories that were new to me, of course. The golden corpse was interesting: A girl found the way to the Underworld, to the City of the Dead - and decided to move in, with her mom and her sisters, and get rich (the place was a little...dead). Three giants starred in a story that sounded a lot like a folktale description of a volcanic eruption. First they made thunderous noises, then they smoked a lot, and then they sent a tidal flood across the land. The tale of Son of the Seed, Daughter of the Peel was full of magical symbolism; in it, the hero found out that his talking mare was actually his enchanted twin sister, and had to go through a series of rituals to turn her into a human being. The story also implied that he loved her a little more than a sibling... and when she got married, he never picked a wife for himself. And talking about unusual relationships in folktales, I was a little surprised that The Letter was included under "romantic tales." In it, a man was rescued from a female (!) Bluebeard by sending a secret coded message that only his "trusted servant" could decipher. I can see some very cool possibilities in telling this tale.
I was very fond of the tale titled Brother Dragon. One, it was about a Cinderella girl who raised a dragon that became her brother and guardian. Two, when she was replaced with an ugly fake bride by her evil stepmother, the prince took one look at the fake bride and went "That's not the same person. Get out." This is the firs time I have seen a folktale prince do that (not recognizing their own bride always bugged me).
Among the legends at the end of the book, my favorites were about Is-settisibella, the wise and powerful sister of King Solomon, a Sibylla figure in Maltese folklore. In one story she burned her precious books of medicine the same way the Cumean Sibylla did with Tarquinius. In another one, she ran a school of magic for girls (A SCHOOL OF MAGIC FOR GIRLS), and the Virgin Mary was among her pupils.


The lemons are watching you
Since Malta lies at the crossroads of many Mediterranean trading routes, it is no wonder that it is full of familiar tales and tale types. Like in many other Mediterranean traditions, there was a Basil Maiden in the book, for example. After the Greek collection I once again found a story where the hero approached the hidden princess while inside a Golden lion (the old wooden horse trick still works), and also a variant of the Son of the Hunter, one of my favorite Greek tales, here called Son of the Wise Woman (with the addition of a giant man-eating bird). Also form the Extraordinary Helpers tale type came the Wizard of the Seven Diamonds, except the hero here made friends with thee giants who helped him complete all the challenges.
There were also classic tales, such as the Farmer and the plow (usually told as a Nasreddin tale about the man his son and their donkey), teaching people that you can't please everyone. The Twelve Months in this case gave their gift to a poor man, and punished a rich man. In this story, it was especially fun that the stick that beat the rich man on command did not hurt anyone else. Less fortunate was the Seven lemons story, in which the prince managed to kill not two, but six lemon fairy girls before he learned that he needed to give them food and water to live... This one also had a practical moment, however, when the "false bride" claimed that she grew dark-skinned from the hear of the sun - to which the prince responded with "How?! I only left for an hour..."
The most unexpected story was that of the Tortoise and the birds - I have only known this one from American indigenous traditions (usually as Turtle Flies South). On the other hand, the tale of the Proud Bee was already familiar from Aesop's fables, where it was told with Jupiter instead of God.

Where to next?

Monday, April 30, 2018

Z is for a Zoo (WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales)

Welcome to this year's A to Z Challenge titled WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales! You can find all other participating blogs on the A to Z Challenge main blog.

If they ask you if you know a folktale that features a zoo, now you can say yes.

The tale is titled the Frog Brother-in-Law, and it starts out very much like a Frog Prince story. A princess encounters the frog who tells her he is a prince. She insists on marrying him, but her father the king orders them to go live in a pig sty. The frog of course soon turns out to be an enchanted being, capable of all kinds of magic.

One day, the two brothers-in-law (the husbands of the two elder princesses) go out hunting, as a contest against their frog brother-in-law. When they are gone, the frog turns into a diamond prince, and conjures up a zoo full of all kinds of animals. Since the two princes can't hunt anything all day, they decide to stop by at the zoo on the way home, and buy some prey. The diamond prince sells them some rabbits, in exchange for permission to brand the princes with his signet ring. Eventually, it turns out that the frog is a diamond prince, and the two brothers-in-law are useless hunters. Happy end.

Let's be honest: We all know the kind of person that would shop for hunting trophies at a zoo...

Bonus: This folktale was collected from the same woman who brought us The Diamond Prince in the Rubber Suit at the beginning of the month.

THANK YOU all for following all the Hungarian folktale weirdness this month! Your comments were delightful :) For those of you participating, congratulations on reaching the end of A to Z! See you on May 7th for Reflections!

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Y is for the Yellow Death (WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales)

Welcome to this year's A to Z Challenge titled WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales! You can find all other participating blogs on the A to Z Challenge main blog.

Yet another cheerful little folktale for the end of this series...

A man has three daughters, one spinning, one sewing, and one plucking feathers. He asks them to warm water and wash his feet. The first two refuse, but the youngest sets out to get fire from the neighbor (who is a witch). She encounters four knights in a row: A white one (death), a red one (red flame), a blue one (blue flame), and a black one (the devil). They tell her to go or to stay; eventually she makes up her own mind to go, and gets the fire from the witch.
When she gets home, she warms water, and starts washing her father's feet. She notices that they are yellow.

"Father, what yellow feet you have!"
"I have walked in many graveyards with them."

"Father, what yellow hands you have!"
"I have buried many people with them."

"Father, what yellow teeth you have!"
"The better you eat you with!"

And then the yellow death eats the girl.

Nope, I don't know what this is all about either, but Little Red Riding Hood has never been creepier.

Friday, April 27, 2018

X is for Xtreme Pig Herding (WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales)

Welcome to this year's A to Z Challenge titled WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales! You can find all other participating blogs on the A to Z Challenge main blog.

All the 30 folktales that I translated for Dancing on Blades are stories that I love, and tell a lot. But even among them, The Little Swineherd is one of my ever favorites. When I tour abroad, I tell it often, and it works like a charm with all kinds of audiences.

In this story, three brothers set out, one after another, to make their way in the world. The first two fail, because they fail to offer kindness to the animals (an ant and a lizard) they encounter, but the third one succeeds because of his kind heart. This youngest boy climbs a sky-high tree on the king's order, to guard the king's vineyard from invisible enemies (yes, the vineyard is on top of the tree). After completing this task, he is re-hired as a swineherd, to watch over the king's pigs for the 3 days of the harvest.

On the first day, the pigs run out to the field and burrow into the ground. The swineherd gets them back with the help of the ants.

On the second day, the pigs jump into the river and sink. The boy gets them back with the lizard's help.

On the third day, the pigs fly up into the sky like balloons. A friendly falcon helps herd them back home.

On the last day, the pigs turn out to be the king's enchanted daughters.

I have to admit, that last day was my own addition to the tale. Many of the texts collected from the original storyteller were fragmented, with pieces missing. The first two boys got animals, but the last one didn't. The first two days had difficulties, the last one didn't. We had the elements of earth and water, but no air. Based on many other tales of the same type, I decided that there had to be a third piece missing to round out the story. So this is the way I tell it, and it works. Kids especially love the flying pigs.

People who read the book and want to tell the story can make up their own mind about it. That is the beauty of storytelling.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

W is for Watermelon Divination (WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales)

Welcome to this year's A to Z Challenge titled WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales! You can find all other participating blogs on the A to Z Challenge main blog.

This fun moment is a part of a longer folktale, titled The Tale of Peter, collected from Sâncraiu de Mureș (Marosszentkirály), Romania.

This tale begins with the son of a shoemaker (Péter), and the youngest daughter of a king (Anka) going to school together. They fall in love as they grow up together, and Anka decides that she wants to marry Péter and no one else. So, she goes to her two sisters, and tells them she wants to get married. Eventually, she convinces them to go to the king, and tell him that they are all old enough to find husbands.
The king, however, is not quite on board with the idea of giving away his daughters so soon (they grow up so fast!). So, he gives all three a coin, and tells them to go buy a watermelon. When the girls come home with their watermelons, the king cuts each watermelon open, to see how ripe it is. The first watermelon is overripe. "You should have married three years ago!" The second is overripe too. "You should have married last year!" The third one, Anka's, is just ripe enough. "You should get married this year!"

Of course, the king does not want his daughter to marry the son of the shoemaker, so Péter has to go off first, have all kinds of adventures, and become a king, before he can come back and elope with Anka. All is well in the end, of course.

Bonus info: According to Hungarian belief, watermelons are really only good until September 5th, the feast of St. Lawrence. That is why we say that "St. Lawrence pees in the watermelons." And spoils them.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

V is for Villain turned into a puli dog (WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales)

Welcome to this year's A to Z Challenge titled WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales! You can find all other participating blogs on the A to Z Challenge main blog.

This tale, titled The Puli Dog, was collected in 1956 from Kis Miklós in Tyukod.

Our Lord Jesus and Saint Peter are traveling the world, and they are welcomed into a rich man's house for the night. In exchange for the hospitality, they decide in the morning to give the man a son, a boy whose every wish will come true. They are overheard by a servant, János. When the baby is born, János steals it, and frames the mother by sprinkling chicken blood on her bed.

The rich man thinks she ate her own baby, and orders her to be buried alive.

Meanwhile, János flees abroad with the baby. The moment the boy is old enough to speak, János tells him what to wish for - a palace, riches, etc., - and they soon grow rich. János marries a princess. One day, she asks him what the source of his wealth is, and János tells the whole story. The boy overhears it, and grows angry. He turns János into a puli dog, and sets out to find his parents.

On the way home, every time he stops for the night, he orders food for himself, and burning embers for the puli. Everyone says "I have never seen such a pretty dog fed on embers before!" to which he always responds "Have you ever seen a woman buried alive?" Eventually, someone says yes, and the boy finds his father. Going to the cemetery, he wishes his mother to revive. The truth comes out, the family is reunited. János is turned back into a man, and is sent home to his princess. A surprisingly light ending to a surprisingly dark tale.

This story was also turned into a children's cartoon, you can watch it here.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

U is for Unusual Conception (WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales)

Welcome to this year's A to Z Challenge titled WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales! You can find all other participating blogs on the A to Z Challenge main blog.

Unusual conception in folktales is really not all that unusual. We have already seen people get pregnant from smelling tulips, eating roses, swallowing peppercorn, and a million other things. But there is one folktale, collected from storyteller Karácsony József in Chibed, Transylvania, that definitely takes the cake. The title of the tale is Miklós, Son of the Mare (Kancafia Miklós), and this is how it starts:

Once upon a time there was a rich man whose crops kept getting stolen. He went to a wise woman, who gave him some peas, and told him to sow them along with the wheat. Whoever tasted the crops would have a pea grow on their nose.

Time for the harvest came. A maid brought food to the harvesters, and found some fresh peas at the edge of the field; she picked them, ate them, and lo and behold - a pea grew on her nose! She ran home crying, and told the rich man what happened.

The rich man, feeling bad that the maid got cursed instead of an actual thief, went to the wise woman again. The wise woman told him that the girl can get rid of the pea by kissing someone. When told, the maid immediately ran out to the mountains, found an unsuspecting shepherd, made out with him... and passed on the pea.

The shepherd went to the same wise woman to ask for advice. She told him the same thing: Kiss someone, and pass on the pea. So, when the shepherd met the priest on the way home, the made out with the priest, and passed the pea to him.

The priest also went to the wise woman. She told him that he could get rid of the pea for good if he "rubbed up" against some animal. So he went to the stables, rubbed against a mare... and the pea disappeared. Some months later, the mare gave birth to a baby boy - Miklós, Son of the Mare.

Miklós then goes on to have all kinds of adventures, but really none of them are nearly as weird as his conception. Trust me.

Monday, April 23, 2018

T is for Tulip Soldiers (WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales)

Welcome to this year's A to Z Challenge titled WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales! You can find all other participating blogs on the A to Z Challenge main blog.

You have probably already guessed that tulips have a special place in Hungarian folklore.

This one is a historical legend featuring one of our great national heroes, Rákóczi Ferenc II, the leader of the 1703-1711 revolution against Habsburg rule (which we lost). He is a very common figure in folktales and folk legends, along with his mother, the legendary Zrínyi Ilona. There are "Rákóczi trees" all over the country, ancient trees people claim he either slept under, tied his horse to, or, in the case of the one in my home village, watched a battle from under it. And this is not his only connection to flora either.

According to a cute little story, Rákóczi as a child once had a dream that his mother's tulips were in danger. He crept out of his bed and took his blankets, covering the flowerbed and protecting it from a sudden frost. As he did so, an angel appeared, and handed him a golden horn.
Some time later the boy was playing in the courtyard when he heard the sound of an alarm: The enemy was attacking their castle. They had no soldiers to defend themselves. The boy blew into the magic horn, and suddenly all the tulips in the garden transformed into soldiers, and picked up their swords to defend the family.

I have a soft spot in my heart for this story. I found it while researching Transcarpathian folklore for my latest book; Pályuk Anna, the storyteller whose tales I translated, also had many stories about flowers transforming into people. Maybe it's a Transcarpathian thing.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

S is for a Soldier... (WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales)

Welcome to this year's A to Z Challenge titled WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales! You can find all other participating blogs on the A to Z Challenge main blog.

A soldier that peed for 77 years.

In the very first folktale collection ever published in Hungarian, in the early 1800s, there is a tale titled The Green Dragoon. We never actually find out why he is "green" (which is a pity, because I was excited for another Green Man variant).

At the beginning of the tale, a powerful queen (!) is taking her army to war. No one is allowed to break formation while they march, and if anyone falls out of like, they are executed. Which is  a problem for our green dragoon, because he really, really, really has to pee (or "relieve himself" - remember, these fairy tales were told by soldiers). So, he steps out of line, runs into the forest, and does what he needs to do.

The catch? The forest is enchanted. While the soldier thinks he only spend a few minutes in it, in reality he stands there peeing for seventy-seven years. When he is done, he comes out of the woods, and is surprised to discover that the army is long, long gone. The innkeeper in town doesn't even remember the war, and his money is not good anymore.

The rest of the story is more of a classic fairy tale: The Queen has been enchanted, so the soldier has to go through all kinds of tasks to rescue her - and then she is spirited away again, and he has to go traveling to find her and win her back. It is a colorful, fun, detailed story. With a very unusual beginning.

(Note: There is such a thing, historically, as a Green Dragoon. They were British loyalists in the American Revolution. Not sure if it had anything to do with the folktale, though.)

Friday, April 20, 2018

R is for Rosalia Lemonfarts, and Rosalia the Devilish (WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales)

Welcome to this year's A to Z Challenge titled WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales! You can find all other participating blogs on the A to Z Challenge main blog.

I was browsing the Hungarian Roma Storytellers' Folktale Catalog, when I came across an entry: "Rosalia Lemonfarts." Obviously, I needed to follow up on this name, so I went to the archives of the Museum of Ethnography, and dug up the neatly typed folktale manuscripts that have never been published (*shameless self-promotion* I did the same thing for my latest book).
And there it was.

Sadly, the lady wit the awesome name is not the hero of the story. The hero is a prince named Tulipán Péter (Tulip Peter). He gets his name from his miraculous conception: His father, the king, angry at not having an heir, leave his palace and orders his wife to produce a child by the time he gets home. She picks a tulip and smells it, and lo and behold, gets pregnant. BUT when the king gets home, he somehow still manages to be angry at her for having a bastard. So, after much commotion and obscenities, Peter is exiled from the kingdom.

The prince is put into a boat with his best friend (who lives in a hollowed-out watermelon, because why not), and eventually arrives to a kingdom where all offices are held by women. Except for the king. The king is in a bad mood, because every time he sits down to eat, two jackdaws show up and break his windows (King Phineus and the Harpies, anyone?). Péter helps him get rid of the birds, and in exchange he gets to marry the princess: Princess Rosalia Lemonfarts (Citromfingó Rozália). And just so that his buddy is not left a bachelor either, he gets to marry the princess' cousin, Rozsónia Lemonfarts.

That's pretty much it.

The "lemonfarts" part is never explained. My best guess is, it was a humorous way of saying that these are delicate, sophisticated noble ladies. Because, you know. They don't stink.


I promised yesterday to circle back to a girl with Death for a godfather. Her name is also Rosalia: Ördöngös Rozália. "Ördöngös" translates as "possessed" or "devilish", and is usually used for someone with abilities/powers/knowledge that are amazing and also a little scary...

We are all thinking it...
Just like the previous one, this is also a Hungarian Roma folktale. A poor man with a lot of children gets Death to be the godfather of his youngest daughter. When Rosalia is about twelve years old, she makes a bet one night to steal the boots off a hanged man. She does it (and when the corpse says "F*** you", she cheerfully says "F*** you too!"), and in addition steals a bunch of gold from twelve robbers. From this point on, most of the story is about her trying to get away from the angry robbers - usually with the help of Death, her godfather. My favorite part is when she hides in a hollow tree, and a robber stabs it with a sword to see if it comes out bloody. He does wound Rosalia in the chest, but Death appears and licks the sword clean before the robber pulls it out.