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.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Q is for Questionable Godparents (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.

There are several folktales an folktale types that include godparents that are... out of this world. Think Cinderella's Fairy Godmother, or Godfather Death from the Grimm collection. Sometimes they give superhuman abilities or powers to their godchildren, and sometimes they are less than beneficial. Hungarian folktales are no exception.

János Carnation-hair (Szegfűhajú János)
In this story, a magical woman from under the sea helps a poor widow deliver a baby boy, and then volunteers to be his godmother. Taking the baby to her underwater palace, she promptly chops János up, and leaves him in a bathtub for three days, before putting him back together and reviving him again. This repeats a couple of times, and each time János revives he becomes older and stronger. He eventually acquires the ability to read people's thoughts.
I included this tale in my book about superpowers in folktales.

(Last weekend I conducted a two-day retreat where storytellers got together to delve deep into this tale. There was a lot of discussion about motherhood, and whether the godmother was helping the boy, or not. Fascinating stuff.)

The Virgin Mary
In this tale, the Virgin Mary volunteers to be godmother to a poor man's daughter. She takes the girl home when she is twelve, and gives her keys to twelve rooms, but forbids her from looking into the thirteenth. Of course she does anyway, sees God himself, and her face turns golden. She refuses to tell Mary what happened - so the Virgin curses her mute, puts her in a box and abandons her in the woods. The girl is found by a prince, they get married, have children... but the children keep disappearing. Eventually the prince orders the girl to be burned at the stake for killing her own babies. Just when the pyre is lit, the Virgin Mary appears, and questions her again. This time the girl confesses that she'd seen God, and she is pardoned.

There is also a tale about a girl whose godfather was Death himself... but more about her tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

P is for the Pelican King (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.

In the folktale titled The Pelican King, a princess insists that she will only marry a person who brings her the feathers... of the Pelican King. Our hero (who is incidentally called Peter) sets out to complete the impossible task. On his way he encounters various kings who have their own problems, and ask Peter to convey their questions to the all-knowing Pelican King, and beg for solutions.

When Peter finally arrives to the house of the Pelican King, he only finds the wife at home. The old woman promises to help, and hides Peter. When the King comes home, she lays him down to preen his feathers, and "accidentally" plucks three of them. The feathers shine with a brilliant diamond light. The old woman also manages to sneakily ask the questions Peter hand, and sends the hero on his way with the feathers and the answers.

I have two comments to add to this:

1. In folktales, having someone lie on your lap and "preening them" ("looking into their head", "checking them for lice", etc.) is symbolic for having sex. Yup. Re-think all those medieval illustrations.

2. The pelican in the middle ages was a symbolic bird, because people believed that it fed its young with its own blood. The church usually treated this as a symbol for Jesus, and people often referred to it as a symbol for motherhood. So, in this case, the Pelican King is some kind of a wise and radiant higher being, who knows all the answers to everything.

Basically, God is a pelican.

(I'm sure some of my SCA friends will be happy with this)

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

O is for the One-eyed Old Woman and the Death Horse (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.

Remember the prince with the castle built on a single straw? The same guy who visited the Kingdom  of Mice?
Well, that story still has some elements worth mentioning.

The tale kicks off with a prince exiled from his kingdom - for losing his sisters. He asks his father, the king, to allow them to take a walk, and the moment the princesses set foot outside, the Sun, the Moon, and the Wind pick them up and spirit them away. The king takes his anger out on his son, and the prince has to make his own way in the world.
On his journey, the prince arrives to the mouth of a cave. He walks in, and keeps walking inside the cave for twelve days, until he finds a stone house, and in the stone house twelve candles. In the light of the candles he sees an old woman, who has only one eye and a lush beard.


She first tries to eat the prince, but he begs her not to. She then also convinces her twelve sons (who are bandits) not to hurt the guest. The next day, after some breakfast, she gives the prince directions: Since they recently ate the king's gardener (ahem), the prince should go and apply for the job. In order to get out of the underground kingdom faster, the one-eyed bearded lady gives the prince a Death Horse and a Wind Lamp. He rides the horse to the exit, and then sends it back home with the lamp around its neck.

We never find out what a Death Horse is, or what the Wind Lamp is for. Your guess is as good as mine. I do like the cyclops lady a lot, though.

Monday, April 16, 2018

N is for Noses (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.

There is a thing about witches and their noses in Hungarian folktales.

Child masquerading as an iron-nosed
witch, from a cartoon
The most common way we refer to a hag or a witch is "Vasorrú Bába", which translates into "Iron-Nosed Witch." This is as common as saying "prince charming", or any other stock fairy tale character. The whole iron nose thing comes from old shamanistic traditions (wooden spirit-dolls had a metal plate on the face so they could be smeared with offerings without rotting), and also exists in Russian tales. There are other theories about where the idea might come from; in some parts of Hungary, since "bába" also means midwife, it is used to refer to midwives who performed (illegal) abortions. In fairy tales, however, the figure transformed into an evil, supernatural witch-creature with an actual, pointy iron nose. And then in modern folklore it turned into a joke (as in, "I'll headbutt you like the iron-nosed witch headbutts a magnetic table").
I wrote about this figure in detail in my new book, in relation to our strange Rapunzel variant titled The Daughter of the Iron-Nosed Witch.

The other nosy witch I wanted to mention comes from Gaal György's collection, from a story titled The Pelican King (more about him later; see yesterday's post about the collection). In this story, the hero has to cross over the sea to reach his destination. On the beach he encounters an old woman with an eight feet long iron nose. She ferries people over on her nose, swimming, but apparently is tired of doing so, and wants to know how much longer she has to do it. The hero brings her the answer on his way back: She has already drowned ninety-nine people, she will have to drown one more. And because the hero is clever, he only tells her this after she ferried him back.
Not your usual marine transportation.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

M is for Mouseworld (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 have a soft spot for folktales with mouse helpers, and especially tales where animals get their own kingdoms. But by far the most creative, most colorful version of this is from a story I found recently (while looking for something else entirely).

Gaal György's folktale collection was the very first that had been published in Hungarian (sometime in the 1840s); he recorded long and elaborate fairy tales from the Hungarian hussars stationed in Vienna. Among them in a tale called The Straw King.

This is concept art for Moana, but close enough (from here)

The story itself is very similar to the Aladdin type: With the help of a spirit that lives in a magic object, a prince achieves happiness with a wife and a magic castle... until the object is stolen, along with the castle and the wife, and he has to set out to find them. On his journey he encounters his brothers-in-law: The Sun, the Moon, and the Wind. The latter gives him a flying horse to carry him across the ocean, and a golden want that opens everything it touches.

On the 75th island of the ocean (specifically), the prince finds a rock so high he can't see the top, wrapped in strings of diamonds. He touches the surface with the wand, and a passage opens. It leads to the 30th World, the Country of Mice (take that, Nine Realms). The royal castle in the middle of the kingdom is entirely built of bacon and pig feet, and the doorknob is a piece of sausage. The prince wants to go inside, but accidentally breaks the sausage off. The mice guards run panicked to the Mouse King, who eventually emerges. In exchange for five years' worth of grain, he helps he hero retrieve the magic object.

I just really like the idea that somewhere on an island, inside a diamond-studded rock, there is a Mouse World where palaces are made of bacon and sausages. Sounds like a happy place. :D

Friday, April 13, 2018

L is for the Lead Monk (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.

The Lead Monk* (lead, as in the metal) is another one of those weird folktale characters that keep popping up in different stories. It is referred to as the Lead Monk, Lead-head Monk, or (my personal favorite) Snotty Lead Monk. (The snot is never explained).

*In Hungarian, we use the same word for "friend" and "monk." In this case, in context, "friend" would not make much sense, so I went with the other translation.

Trees encased in ice
The Lead Monk Who Covered the Forest in Lead, and the Old Hag
In this tale, collected from Ámi Lajos, the Lead Monk has the ability to cover everything in lead just by blowing/breathing on them. He covers forests and makes tree branches break off; covers corn fields and the corn cobs all fall down. Eventually he runs into a powerful old hag who (after flashing him her lady parts) tricks him into telling her where he keeps his power. She then proceeds to destroy the monk and scatter him on the field as fertilizer (storyteller even comments that this is how artificial fertilizers were invented). The rest of the story tells about the sons of the Lead Monk who set out to revive their father.
(I sense a winter/frost analogy here somehow)

The King and the Forster-Son
In this story, collected by Ipolyi Arnold, a prince and his friend set out to rescue a princess. On the way home the Lead Monk shows up, claiming that she was his fiance, and revealing things that will threaten the heroes - but also warns the foster brother than if he tells anyone, he will turn to stone (not lead, duh). One of the threats is Flame-headed Men jumping the couple on their wedding night... Of course the foster brother saves the princes and the princess, and then turns to stone, and then is rescued, as usual.

The Lead Monk
In this folktale, a hero named Kiss Miklós sets out to bring back the Sun and the Moon that had been stolen. On the way he is chased by the Mother of Dragons, whose terrible jaws stretch from heaven to earth (not as sexy as in Game of Thrones, huh). The hero flees into the house of the Lead Monk, who happens to have several gallons of boiling lead, which they pour down the dragon's throat, killing her. Right after, the Monk also demands to fight the hero. He has  superhuman strength, and turns out to also have the Sun and the Moon... which he is only willing to give back if the hero brings him the Green Princess. Once delivered, the princess finds out the secret of where the Monk keeps his strength (in a wasp inside an egg inside a rabbit), and helps the hero defeat him.

So, common elements of the Lead Monk:
1. Superhuman Strength
2. Strength/life placed outside the body
3. Ability to freeze/petrify things and people
4. A strong connection to lead.

I feel like this is a D&D villain in the making.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

High School Mythical

We were asked by a friend if we could take MythOff to a high school, as a gift to a mythologically inclined seventh grade class. We said yes.

MythOff is a series of live storytelling events that was invented bring mythology, told live, back to modern audiences. It is generally an adult event; we do it in pubs, and coffee houses, and other similar venues. We have never had one in a school setting before - but when we were asked, some of us could not say no.

I love telling to teenagers. They make an amazing audience. In addition, when I was their age, I was a complete mythology dork: I made lists of gods, and read Graves and Kerényi, and collected magazine articles in a binder. And that was pre-Percy Jackson. I tried to imagine how I would have reacted if real storytellers came to my school to do real mythology.

So, we went.

Round One: Tricksters and creation

All three of us picked a mythology. For round one, all three of us brought stories that involved creation, or birth, or origins... and also, completely by accident, tricksters. Varga-Fogarasi Szilvia brought the birth of Maui; Nagy Enikő the story of Sif's golden hair and Loki's bet for the forging of Mjölnir; and I brought Momus, and his critique of Greek creation. I especially had fun with the Greeks when I asked the kids how many gods live on Mount Olympus (they knew). Then I asked if someone could list them... and a girl, very proudly and confidently, listed all twelve, with some enthusiastic support from her classmates. Be still, my heart.

The voting question: We never really had a MythOff with an odd number of tellers before - but we came up with a genius solution.
First, I asked the class if they knew how the Trojan War started. A guy said that someone kidnapped someone's wife; a girl added that the wife had been given to Paris by Aphrodite. Someone else added that it was in exchange for the golden apple; and yet another person pointed out that the apple had been thrown by Eris into a wedding. After the class assembled the entire story, I produced a golden apple (I painted it gold the night before, along with half the kitchen), and the voting question: If you had to pick a roommate when you go to college, which one of the three tricksters would you want as your roommate?
Szilvi brought three cups and a box of glass pebbles. Each cup represented a mythology. Each student got one pebble, which they places in the cup of their choice, under the supervision of the two guys in the front row, who enthusiastically commented on the proceedings, and monitored the fairness of the vote. Loki won by considerable majority (with Momus second and Maui last). If they wake up one day in college with their hair cut off, I take no responsibility.

Round Two: The wrath of the gods

This round involved myths where someone pissed off a deity in some way. Szilvi brought Maui back, and told about how he stole fire from the volcano goddess Mahuika (you're welcome). Enikő brought Thor, and told the story of how he was dressed up as a bride to take Mjölnir back from the giants (and then killed them all). On my part, I told the myth of King Erysichthon, and how Demeter punished him with deadly hunger when he chopped her sacred grove down.
The voting question: If you had to give the golden apple (I made two) to a god, knowing that the other two will be angry at you, which god would you want to piss of the least?
This time, the vote was overwhelming: Demeter won it by a landslide. To be fair, we were just before lunch break, so the kids were probably really feeling the hunger...

Once again it has been proven that mythology works like a charm in high school. And that high schoolers make an awesome audience. They were attentive, appreciative, creative, they made comments and asked questions, and took the vote very, very seriously (I loved hearing them discuss their decisions in line).

Bring more storytelling to high schools!

K is for Kalamona (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 mentioned Kalamona earlier this week, and now I'm circling back to him. Her. It. (The Hungarian language doesn't have gendered pronouns)
Honestly, no one is even sure what Kalamona is.

Szélkötő Kalamona (Wind-binding Kalamona) is the villain of one of our famous fairy tales, to which it gave its title. Story begins with the King of All Kings, who is visited by a terrifying monster with a mouth large enough to swallow a cart. Kalamona demands the King's daughter; locked out of the castle, it comes down the chimney, and threatens to destroy the kingdom if it does not get the princess. The King still refuses. Kalamona then goes off and shackles all the winds, except for the North Wind. The crops don't grow, rain doesn't fall, the people of the kingdom begin to starve, and then to freeze.

So, obviously, a hero has to set out to free the winds.

After many adventures, our hero, Rontó arrives on his magic horse with his magic sword to fight Kalamona and release the winds. Kalamona lives in a diamond palace on a mountain; it kidnaps a princess every year, and when it is bored of her, it sends her to another palace, made of ice. The ice palace is full of old princesses, and they have to blow on the castle constantly to keep it nice and cool.
We also find out that Kalamona keeps its incredible strength in the string of its pants. Talk about symbolism. The great part in this tale is that when Rontó defeats Kalamona, he throws it to the princesses that have been living in captivity for years... and the princesses tear the villain apart.

No one is entirely sure what Kalamona is. The most popular theory is that Kalamona is a dragon, one of those part-beast part-wizard storm-related dragon archetypes we have in many Hungarian folktales. It binds the winds and creates devastation, and a hero has to fight it to set nature right again (much like all the stories where celestial bodies have to be released).

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

J is for János and Rózsa (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 of the adventures of two extraordinary brothers comes from a book of Transylvanian Roma folktales, collected by Nagy Olga. The storyteller was a 52 year old man named Dávid Gyula. I included half of the story, the adventures of the younger brother János, in my book of Tales of Superhuman Powers, under Superhuman Strength; but that is not the only remarkable part of that story. Here are some others:

1. Rózsa (Rose, yes, but here it's a man's name) sets out to work as a swineherd to support his old father. He trains the king's (talking) pigs to march in order, and give reports in the morning before they head out to the fields to exercise. Military training for pigs.

2. Rózsa also rides the talking magic pig when he goes off on his adventures. The pig is secretly a wizard.

3. When János sets out on his own adventure, he ends up at the Red King's Tavern. There he orders light breakfast: A two year old cow, and approximately 1500 gallons of wine. And some sides.

4. János soon makes friends at the tavern: The Iron Knight, the Son of the Wind, Son of the Sun, and the Son of the Golden King. At this point, the story is beginning to sound like the opening of a D&D campaign.

5. In true D&D fashion, soon enemies show up at the tavern: Three devils, and also the Bone Knight, the Mold Knight, and the Wooden Knight. The kill the devils first with one slap each (apparently the devils are the Redshirts in this story), and then all the heroes except János.

6. In the middle of all this, János goes out back to pee, and pees enough to threaten the whole town with a flood. Just because.

7. Eventually János grows tired of the antics of the bad guys. He creates a steel dome over the tavern (so that they can't escape), and commences to beat them up. They eventually are forced to revive everyone (even the devils), and then János tosses them all the way back home to their mothers.

8. When János visits the Golden King, the king tries to get his two daughters to seduce the hero. However, János pulls up the same steel dome around his bedroom, and the princesses can't get in. Steel dome means no.

9. János rescues a princess his friend, the Son of the Golden King, is in love with. She also has superhuman strength, and he has to defeat her first, before she lest him rescue her from a witch.

The story goes on for a long time, and it is full of fascinating details. Eventually, both János and Rózsa marry enchanted bird (duck)-princesses, and live happily ever after.

Some folktales are more complex than others.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

I is for Ilona the Forgetful and Occasionally Murderous (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 have blogged about Tündér Ilona, Queen of the Fairies before. I am circling back to her because I want to talk about how different her portrayals can be, depending on what folktale you read, and who is telling that tale. So, I have two stories for you today.

Exhibit A: Palkó Lily-of-the-Valley
This story has been told and re-told as a Hungarian folktale, but in fact folklorists can find no proof that it existed anywhere before collector and author Benedek Elek put it in his book sometime in the 19th century. It does not fit any known tale type, so many suspect that Benedek made it up. Whatever the case, it is a very pretty story. I wrote about it in detail here.
This tale portrays Ilona the Fairy Queen as a jealous, evil woman who wants to destroy a Dwarf princess just because she is prettier. She is more witch that fairy, and she pursues the fleeing lovers on a seven-legged horse, until the Sun breaks her power. She is not a very likable character at all.

Exhibit B: The Dream of the Fairy Queen
This tale, included in my new book, was collected from a female storyteller named Pályuk Anna. In fact, this was the first folktale I read that was collected from her, and this was also the story that made me fall in love with her tales. Ten years later, many of them are a part of my repertoire... but this one is still my favorite.
In this story, a young man runs away from home because his parents gave him a horribly embarrassing name (Anna does say what the name is, but I'm not gonna tell you). He flees into the woods, where he encounters Ilona and her court, out to pick some lilies-of-the-valley (sensing a pattern here). The young man accompanies them, but when he enters the clearing of flowers, he is cursed along with a bunch of the fairy maidens, and turns into an old man, trapped. Ilona wows to rescue him, runs home to ask for help, and... kinda sorta accidentally forgets about the whole thing. For years. (Ever had that feeling when you walk into a room and you suddenly forget why you came in? Apparently fairies have that too.) Eventually she sees the young man in a dream, and remembers she meant to rescue him. She then goes on to fight the Spirit of the Forest, break the curse, give a new name to the poor guy, and eventually marry him.
I love this story because this Ilona is so weird in it - she is the Fairy Queen, with great power, but she is also easily distracted, and a little forgetful. She likes the guy, but doesn't like the name; and when he takes her home, she goes exploring in a church, and accidentally turns herself human. Oops.
Pályuk Anna's take on her is much more likable than any other I have ever heard.

How do you like your Fairy Queens? Good? Evil? Powerful? Forgetful? A little bit of all?

Monday, April 9, 2018

H is for Heroic Devils (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.

One of the strange characteristics of Hungarian folktales is the presence of devils. We have a bunch of them - when we say "ördög", it refers to demons, rather than the Devil himself. We even have versions of them, like "kisördög" (little devil) vagy "öregördög" (old devil). And they are not always evil, either... probably because they got tagged as 'demons' when our folklore got Christianized.

Here are some examples of nice devils:

The Three Devil Brothers
Folktale from Ung county (Transcarpathia), told by blind storyteller Diószeghy Mária. Three devil brothers compete for the inheritance of magic items left to them by their father. Usually at this point in a Hungarian folktale a hero would show up and cheat all three of them out of the items - but in this case, the youngest devil wins all, and then goes on to use the items to rescue a princess frozen inside a mountain of ice (with some help form his devil uncles and cousins). He marries the princess, and moves into an enchanted castle with her. They live happily (and, according to the storyteller, "devilishly") ever after.

The Bald Prince
This is a long and amazingly elaborate folktale featuring a young man who is bald, and therefore is kicked out by his father. Along his journey he becomes friends with a young bear, and also a young devil who has a kind heart (and was kicked out of hell). They defeat a monster together, rescue a princess, liberate a city, and besiege a castle. The devil turns into a human in the end, having done many good deeds to help people. 

Pinkó is the mischievous son of the old devil Pluto. When he steals food from a poor man, his father punishes him by ordering him to serve the poor man for three years. Pinkó uses his strength to help the poor man become wealthy, and then returns home much wiser. This tale was also turned into a lovely cartoon in our Hungarian Folktales series.

Kalamona Binds the Winds
This is a tale about an unlikely hero setting out to release the winds that have been bound by an evil force. On his journey he witnesses a bunch of devils having a race to elect a new king. He helps out a limping devil by giving him a ride on his horse (apparently cheating is okay in this race). In return, the new king of the devils helps the hero by gifting him a magic sword from his underwold treasury.

The Devil's Godfather
This is a tale from my new folktale collection. A priest makes an uncomfortable deal with the devil, and becomes the godfather to the devil's 97th baby. The little devil, in turn, makes friends with another, human godson of the priest, and the two boys set out together to kill two dragons, and open up the well they had been guarding. The little devil helps his friend by drinking up the water that bursts out, preventing a flood.

Having some sympathy for the devil yet? ;)

Saturday, April 7, 2018

G is for Goat Boy (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.

Sometimes your knight in shining armor is a goat.

This tale comes from the same storyteller who gave us the Diamond Prince in a Rubber Suit. She was clearly a woman of great imagination, and a taste for WTF.

The story begins with a goatherd boy who notices that one of his goats is pregnant, and decides to eat the kid (that sounds bad) when it is born. But when the kid is actually born, it immediately speaks, which makes the goatherd reconsider his plans.
Goat Boy proves to be very useful. First, he disguises himself as a human, crashes a wedding, and brings a bunch of food home. Then, when wolves attack the village, he gets a rusty sword, and kills them all. He similarly slays 12 bandits, and then, to the king's order, goes off to kill a giant and rescue the princess. And then he marries the princess.

The fun part: At no point in this story does the goat turn into a man. He is disguised as one, but he is still a goat. So. Supergoat wins the day. We don't find out what the princess had to say about it.

Friday, April 6, 2018

F is for Flowerbeard (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.

Today's folktale comes from a famous storyteller named Cifra János (1898-1983). He was of Hungarian Roma descent, and lived in Corunca, Transylvania, where his tales were collected by Nagy Olga in the 1970s. He was a storyteller of extraordinary imagination and talent.

My favorite tale of his is titled Nyeznyám, but I like to refer to it as Flowerbeard.

Pic from here
At the beginning of the story, a king is out hunting in the mountains when he finds a strange and very handsome man whose beard is made of spring flowers. The king takes this man home and locks him in a room (rude). He invites other kings to come and look at the curiosity... But while they are arriving, the little seven-year-old prince accidentally shoots an arrow inside the prison. Flowerbeard talks to him through the door, begging to be set free. The prince steals the key from his mother and releases Flowerbeard.
When the king finds out, he first thinks his wife cheated on him, and sentences the queen to death. Hearing this, the boy confesses, and takes on the death sentence. The king sends him out to the mountains with a servant who is supposed to kill him and bring back his heart, liver, and little finger. The boy manages to convince the servant to kill a dog instead, and offers his little finger to be cut off as proof.

From this point in the story, Flowerbeard takes care of the prince. As an invisible presence, he makes his finger grow out again, and then makes sure the boy is never cold, thirsty, or hungry as he wanders around the world. When the prince grows up, he goes on to kill dragons and defeat armies (all with the strength he got from Flowerbeard). Eventually he falls in love with a princess, and pretends to be a mute gardener to get close to her. He works as a gardener for the king until, after various challenges, he ends up marrying the princess.

At the wedding, Flowerbeard appears once more, thanking the prince for setting him free. He then takes off the beard of violets and other spring flowers, and places it on the prince's face. The prince becomes king, and lives happily ever after.

Pic from here
Obviously, there is tons of symbolism in this story. Masculinity, coming of age, changing of the seasons, man's relationship to Nature, you name it. Flowerbeard reminds me of all the Green Man legends I've read. And not only that - every time I run into this tale type, the magical captive is always some kind of a nature-related being; for example, in Estonia he is the Mushroom King.
Apparently, flowers in beards are a popular hipster accessory now. You can see a bunch of awesome photos here

Thursday, April 5, 2018

E is for Embers for Horses (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 very common figure in Hungarian folktales is the magic horse or táltos. It carries the hero or heroine to all kinds of adventures, can fly, talk, give advice, and occasionally fight. Táltos is also the same word we use for shamans, or people with shamanistic knowledge (see the Daughter of the Táltos King in my new folktale collection), so it is not a far reach to connect the figure of the horse-spirit to more ancient symbols.

And then, there is the fact that they eat embers.

Illustration by Jankovics Marcell
In many folktales, when the hero first encounters the táltos, it is a skinny, dirty, sick colt, the runt of the stables, occasionally lying in the garbage or on the dung heap. In order for the powers to kick in, the táltos needs a special diet: Live embers. Once it devours the burning embers, the skinny colt transforms into an amazing magical steed, ready for adventure.

(Do not try this at home.)

But... why would you feed fire to your horse?

Researchers have been arguing that the táltos horse is a metaphor for the shaman's drum that carries its owner to other worlds during a ceremony. One of the main arguments for this connection is that Central Asian shaman drums need to be held above fire to tighten the skin on them. "Feeding embers" to the horse is therefore symbolic for a shaman getting their drum ready for a spirit journey.

The more you know.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

MythOff London: Women Who Gave No F*cks

***Adult content***

It all started on Twitter. Clare Murphy shared some article about medieval women who Gave No Fucks, and we started talking about how fun a title that would be for an all-female MythOff event. We (Clare and I) had MythOffs in London, Hungary, and the USA before, but never on the same stage. It was high time to fix that.
Other storytellers immediately jumped on the idea; it didn't take long to assemble our little team of six scandalous women who were willing to give zero fucks in public. Since two of them also happened to be the hosts of Story Jam, we even found a venue at the Canada Water Theatre. Twitter dream became reality.
Since I was in the neighborhood (performing in Dublin for World Storytelling Day), I went out of my way to join in the fun.
Here is what went down.

Our evening was hosted by the marvelous Judith Faultless with great energy and enthusiasm. She did not only introduce us, but also came up with the prizes, and made sure the audience was all fired up and ready for the stories. She even brought a plastic lightsaber so that an audience member could act as a clap-o-meter: Each round was won by the story that received the loudest applause. The six tellers were split into two teams: the Burning Bushes (Clare, Debs, and Lucy), and the Mighty Muffs (Alys, Rachel, and me). Best two out of three won the evening.

Round one: Wrecking ball 

The first round featured two formidable goddesses pitted against each other. First, Clare Murphy invoked the Ugaritian goddess Anat, lover of Baal, who, once her lover had been devoured by the god of death, took it up on herself to kill, dismember, chop up, grind down, burn, and scatter Death. The story ended with the resurrection of Baal, and a very stormy sex scene. Clare carried the whole myth with such power that I did not even dare to use my camera...

From our side Rachel Rose Reid rose to the challenge. She brought the legend of Lilith from the Hebrew tradition. Lilith was Adam's first wife, created from earth like him, who invented pleasure and sex. When Adam wanted to treat her as submissive, she left him for an angel - so the whole creation had to be rebooted, and Adam got a new wife, Eve. At the end of the legend, Lilith managed to give some friendly advice to Eve as well. Rachel's telling was funny, lively, and spicy; she made fun with abandon about Adam's feeling of superiority (and the missionary position).
The prize: A plastic rabbit with a broken ear (symbol of fertility and also wrecked things)
The winner: Lilith

Round two: It's not what you have, it's how you use it

We did not plan it this way (we all picked our own myths), but the stories in round two fit together perfectly. First, Alys Torrance brought us a shift in the mood. She told us the heart-wrenching story of Demeter seeking Persephone, about grief and pain and the indifference and cruelty of the male gods, until Demeter gave up her will to go on. At this point, Baubo enters the scene. She is the strange little goddess of sexuality and dirt, with eyes for nipples and her vulva for a mouth, and she tells enough dirty jokes that Demeter finally laughs out loud. Alys' graceful and lovely telling brought us from a heavy heart all the way to storm-like laughter. There is deep wisdom in humor (and flashing people).

From the other team we had Lucy Lill, energetic and lovable, and very pregnant, telling the myth of Amaterasu, the Japanese sun-goddess. In this story, the goddess is offended by her little brother, and hides her light from the world. Ame-no-Uzume, goddess of mirth, amuses the gods by dancing a very saucy dance, showing off her boobs and butt and finally dancing around naked with a rooster in her hands, until Amaterasu peeks out to see what all the laughter is about. Lucy's telling of the story was appropriately lively, funny, and endearing, with some very groovy dance moves.
The prize: A plastic owl (because wisdom?... or maybe eyes large in surprise)
The winner: Ame-no-Uzume

Round three: When women become myth

The third and last round of the evening was the tiebreaker. First, Debs Newbold told the true story of Grace O'Malley, fearsome Irish pirate queen of the 16th century, from her wild childhood all the way to the point where, just after the birth of her son, she went on deck of her own ship, blood dripping down her leg, to help her men fight the English. The highlight of the story was the legendary meeting between Elizabeth I and Grace. Debs is a wild woman with wild hair and a wild voice, and she put all the power into the story that it required. She was fierce!

I told the last story of the evening. I spent a lot of time thinking what legend or myth I could bring from my part of the world that fit the criteria of women giving no fucks. Finally, I landed on the legend of Puskás Klári, a Transylvanian Székely woman from the 17th century. According to legend, when the Tatars attacked her village she defended the bridge across the mill stream alone, and used various household instruments to kill seven Tatar warriors (the chief among them) - before going home and giving birth to triplets. Because she did all the killing while heavily pregnant. It was great fun describing all the fight scenes with the various improvised weapons, and the banter between Klári and her opponents. Definitely a no-fucks-given story, and the audience loved it!
The prize: A Little Mix calendar (someone explained to me who they are)
The winner: Grace O'Malley

Since the Burning Bushes won two rounds out of three, they also received the team prize for the evening: A beautiful shiny red feather that promptly covered everything in glitter. But more importantly, by my count we had more than a hundred people in the audience! And a very lively, interactive, enthusiastic audience too. I'd like to thank all of them for making our evening epic.

We came, we saw, we won, we gave ZERO FUCKS. Until next time, ladies!

D is for the Diamond Prince in a Rubber Suit (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 came across this one while browsing through the Hungarian Folktale Catalog. It is the kind of title that makes you go "wait... what?", and of course I had to go look up the actual story.

The folktale comes from Chibed in Transylvania; it was collected from a Hungarian-speaking Roma storyteller lady named Ötvös Sára in the middle of the last century (see the book here). It starts out pretty conventionally, as per folktale tropes: An old woman finds a red flower that turns into a beautiful girl, whom she adopts as her own daughter.

And then, one day, the Rubber Man shows up to claim her as his wife.

Of course Marvel has a
diamond superhero (duh)
At first, the old woman's husband chases the Rubber Man away. However, he returns later, when only the girl is at home, and reveals himself to be a Diamond Prince, who only wears the rubber suit to protect himself from all the assassination attempts he had been dealing with since his childhood. This way, all knives, swords, and other weapons simply bounce off him.

The girl, of course, gladly marries the Diamond Prince. The rest of the story tells about how the Prince has to go to battle against his long-time enemies, and how he wins the fight by wearing his rubber suit that bounces off all swords, spears, and arrows. He becomes a hero and a king, and lives happily ever after.

I have two thoughts on this story:
1. What a beautiful metaphor for mental self-defense ("I am rubber, you are glue", anyone?)
2. This tale must have been born at a time when rubber was something new, exciting, and possibly half-magical.

Come on, we were all thinking it.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

C is for Castles of questionable stability (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.

Yesterday I already talked about the Bacon Castle - but that is by far not the only strange royal building in the Hungarian landscape. We also have...

Castle Spinning on a Duck Leg
Which is so much so the synonym of "fancy castle" in our folktales that we use the same term for any luxury home. It is exactly what it sounds like: A castle, on a gigantic duck leg, spinning around. Why? Umm... we are not sure. Some people theorize that it refers to Ursa Minor, turning around the North Star. Others claim it is a solar symbol, since some tales say the castle "always turned towards the sun." In many stories, the hero, on his way to fight dragons and rescue princesses, has to threaten the castle to get inside: "Stop spinning or I'll break your leg!"

Castle Built on a Straw
In the folktale of The Straw King, the hero - with the help of a magical servant who lives inside a gold pocket watch - builds a castle on top of a steep cliff, balanced on a single straw. He is challenged to do so by a king, who thinks it is impossible; when the castle appears, balancing on a straw, the king slaps the first three messengers that bring him the news, telling them not to lie (until he is convinced to look out the window, duh). The castle later gets stolen by an evil rival, and the hero has to set out to find and recover it. More about this later.

Castle Built on a Flower
In the tale of the Seven-Legged Horse, a brave female hero sets out to recover the Sun, Moon, and Stars from an evil dragon. She works for an old woman who lives in a cave; in exchange for her work, the old woman tells her where to find the dragon. The directions point her to a silk meadow, in which stands a castle built on a single flower. That is the castle of the dragon.
(Honestly, evil celestial thief or not, it sounds like the dragon had great aesthetic...)

Would you move into any of these? I'm partial to the flower...

Monday, April 2, 2018

B is for BACON (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.

Bacon in Hungarian folktales is very immportant. And also versatile. You don't leave the house without bread, bacon, and onions in your bag. And then, there is...

The Bacon Tree
Which is exactly what it sounds like. According to the tale (also titled Bacon Tree), a king owns a magical tree that grows bacon - but never gets to enjoy the "fruit" (crop?) because someone keeps stealing. The culprit turns out to be an old man from the Underworld, whom the hero, the king's youngest son, has to find and fight. FOR TEH BACOOON!
(So... is tree bacon vegan?...)

The Bacon Castle
This story, under the same title, was included in the very first Hungarian folktale collection ever published (back in 1857). It begins with a king who is so wealthy, he builds a castle from bacon. Except, someone keeps nibbling on it every night. His three sons then have to go and guard the tree. Turns out the bacon thief is a giant dragon, which is why the two elder princes run away - but the youngest follows it, straight to the Underworld, and kills it in battle.
(Sensing a pattern yet?)

The Bacon and the King of Trees
Among Pályuk Anna's folktales (30 of which I recently published in English), there is a fun story titled The King of the Birchwood. The trees of the forest are trying to elect a king, but no one emerges from the crowd as a leader - that is, until a little birch tree convinces a forester to shine its white bark with bacon. The forester acquires large amounts of bacon in various ways, and polishes the tree until it becomes the Shiniest of All. Of course, by the end of the story, the newly elected King returns the man's favor. (No, not with bacon.)

Well, I know what I'm having for dinner today...

Sunday, April 1, 2018

A is for All the Apples (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.

Apples are not that weird, right? Okay, let's kick off this challenge with a list of the different types of apples you can find in Hungarian folktales.

Flesh Apples
In a tale titled Szelemen in the apple orchard, a young man is captured in war, and taken to Turkey as a slave to a rich man. He has to take care of a vast apple orchard, and can't eat a single apple. When he does (in secret), the apple tastes like raw flesh - and turns out to be an enchanted girl. Oops.

Tormented Apples
Another story from the same collection, Jancsi goes to the Glass Mountain, also features an enchanted orchard. The traveling hero is hired by a witch to care for it, but every time he tries to pick an apple, he hears a terrible scream, or the apple slaps him away. At night, Jancsi can hear the apple trees scratching at the door, begging the witch to be set free. Very Dante.

The Devil's Apples
Yet another tale from the same storyteller's repertoire features a supernatural courtroom drama. Humans break into the Garden of Eden, beat up the guardian angel, and steal the golden apples. Both sides - angels and humans - then hire lawyers and line up witnesses to win a case of Who owns the golden apples? In the end, conflict turns the apples tiny and sour, and the Devil gets away with the whole lot.

The three tales mentioned above are all featured - in English - in my brand new folktale collection! You can read more about the contents of the book here.

Smiling Apples
Part of a three-fruit set - talking grapes, smiling apples, ringing peaches. The tale itself is a variant of Beauty and the Beast, in which a princess wishes for the above mentioned fruits, and while searching for them, her father accidentally promises her to a pig. Luckily, pig turns out to be an enchanted prince, with a knack for magical gardening.

Compact Apples
In several tales of the ATU 301 type - Three Kidnapped Princesses - the girls, when being rescued from the Underworld, turn their (copper, silver, gold, diamond) castles into apples, so that they can be transported easier. When they need a new dress, they turn the apple into a castle, bring out the dress, and shrink the castle again. How is that for a Bag of Holding?

Matrimonial Apples
In the tale type of the Golden-haired Gardener, princesses choose their husbands by throwing a golden apple (sometimes a bouquet or a ball) down from the balcony at the man of their choice. The youngest princess launches hers with such passion that she almost clocks the hero on the forehead with it. That's true love, people.

Land Apples
In the tale of the Blind King, the helpful fox gives three apples to the traveling Prince, to help him cross the Red Sea. Throwing an apple into water turns it into a patch of land where the swimming prince can rest. The fox returns with batches of these apples twice in the story, helping the Prince make the trip there and back.

Is anyone hungry for apples yet? Wait until you see the theme for tomorrow!