Monday, March 12, 2018

Troubles with creation (Following folktales around the world 62. - Bulgaria)

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!

Bulgarian Folktales
Assen Nicoloff
Cleveland, 1979.

The volume contains (as stated by the introduction) exactly 82 stories - 12 animal tales, 19 wonder tales, 23 legends, and 28 anecdotes. They were all selected from various 19th century collections, and translated by the editor - the language occasionally feels a little surprising to a reader of folktales, being peppered with terms like "buddy," "oldster," and "okay." I wasn't sure if that was a thing of translation, or based on the original casual language of the stories.
The introduction paints a detailed picture of the Bulgarian oral tradition, and the history of folklore collections in the country. At the end of the book we find copious end notes for each tale (including sources and tale types), a glossary, a bibliography, and an index. It is a well edited, well-selected collection.


Dobri the Kind Woodcutter was an endearing tale on account of its kind, gentle protagonist. The woddcutter was nice to all animals, and gained magic powers as a result; he was able to make a suffering kingdom thrive again. He never used his powers for evil, but did use them to punish an evil queen - by turning her into a screech owl.
The Flying Horse is a colorful, exciting variant of the famous Ebony Horse of the 1001 Nights (I included that story in my own book as well). In this story, a young boy creates the magic wooden horse to prove that he is better than his master - then immediately attempts to destroy it so that it can't get into evil hands. The second half of the story reminded me of another favorite of mine, the Jewish tale of the Rebel Princess, where a girl becomes a king, and uses her power to teach a lesson to people who treated her badly during her journeys.
Dragons in love in Varna
The tale of Uncle Trak and the Last Dragon made me kind of sad. It told about the age of great dragon warriors who were brave in battle and gallant with mortal women (and even moved their scaly tails so that the girls could sit next to them). The appearance of gunpowder ended their time, and the last of their kind was unceremoniously cooked in a pot by the sly Uncle Trak. I have never seen such a depressing variant of the "poor man and the ogre" before...
I found several delightful stories among the legends. In How the world was created, God competed against a devil named Anastasius; the latter poked holes in people while they were still freshly made of clay, and thus the soul kept leaking out of them. There was also a legend about Why the sky is high, which resembled many tales from Oceania (You're Welcome!). I was especially amused by When and how people were created. In it, God created the first few humans from clay by his own hand, with great attention to detail; but then he discovered that he could create them faster with the use of molds, and switched to mass production - except the molded people were not quite perfect anymore. I also learned Why the Sun does not get married - apparently, people convinced him that marriage sucks, in order to avoid having a bunch of baby suns in the sky, burning up the earth. In another tale, Hedgehog crashed the celestial wedding party, and the Sun gave him spines for self-defense, since all other animals were angry about missing the event.
Among the historical legends, the most interesting was that of Rumena Voivoda, a 19th century woman who left her son and husband at home to go and lead a band of robbers in rsistance against the Turks. The enemy feared her, the Bulgarians loved her, and she was called the Queen of the Mountains. (They made a movie about her last year!)


One of the local tricksters, like in the Ukraine, is a female fox called Kuma Lisa; she spends most of her time tricking Wolf. There were other familiar animal tales as well - that of the Brementown musicians (Animals' flight to the forest), where old Ox built a house and all the others begged to be let in, or that of the Mouse and the Mole, where Mouse wanted to marry her daughter to the strongest being in the world (which turned out to be the Mole). Next to Kuma Lisa, there was also a human trickster in the book, named Sly Peter.
Three Brothers and the Golden Apple was the familiar tale of apples being stolen every night. This time, the culprit was a dragon, stealing apples for his daughters; the youngest prince followed it into the underworld. Since only two apples had been stolen, the third girl was playing with a golden rat instead... Unlike other tales of this time, in this one the hero descended one level even deeper, and defeated another dragon, before returning to our world. Dragons also featured into The Dragon and the Tsar's Daughter, a unique variant of the shoes that were danced to pieces. In it, the princess went out every night to... play ball with a dragon.
The Shepherd and the Fox was a variant of Puss in Boots; interestingly, the (female) fox was actually a friend of the Lamia-monster that they evicted from the castle in the end. There were also other familiar fairy tale types, such as Godfather Death, and the story of Why old people are not killed anymore. There were actually several related stories about respect for elders, and also quite a few tales about clever girls and women.

Upcoming Bulgarian cartoon series based on folklore!
Where to next?

1 comment:

  1. I think I read the Bremen Town Msicians Variant wth the Ox before.
    Definitely sounds like a fun collection!