Monday, June 18, 2018

The Hodja in the refugee camp (Following folktales around the world 70. - Bosnia and Herzegovina)

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!

It was near impossible to find a collection of Bosnian tales in any of the languages I read, so I decided to highlight a great book project instead.

Menekülő Mesék / Price-izbjeglice / Fugitive Tales
MASZK Egyesület, Szeged, 1996.

This book is a trilingual (Hungarian - Bosnian - English) edition of 24 folktales collected from Bosnian refugees at the Temporary Shelter in Nagyatád, in 1995. The Bosnian families fled to Hungary from the war, and were waiting in limo, when the editors of the book collected the stories from them. They noted that "people can only tell stories when life is not keeping them down;" war, genocide, and migration can break the oral tradition, and many tales are lost this way forever. Luckily, the collectors managed to gather some great stories here. The illustrations are all drawings by Hungarian and Bosnian children; the names of the storytellers are listed in the front of the book. They used the money from book sales to support the refugee families.


The book is full of Nasruddin tales, which I absolutely loved. For example, Nasruddin hodja's mission told about the time when Timur Lenk stationed a battle elephant in the hodja's village. People sent a committee to complain about the chaos the elephant was causing, but one by one, the committee bailed, until only the hodja arrived to court. To take revenge for being set up, he requested a second elephant for the village from Timur Lenk. In Nasruddin and the qadi, the judge wanted to lure the hodja to be his guest by having him slapped by a servant. The hodja did show up to make a complaint, and while the servant was sent "for money to pay his fine," the qadi bored and bored Nasruddin with his company... until the hodja slapped him across the face, and told him he can keep the fine.
Among the fairy tales, one of the best was The nine candlesticks, and Aladdin-like tale about a poor boy who worked hard to get ahead, and found a magic item that the emperor tried to cheat him out of.
There were to great tales about prejudice and acceptance. The Red Beard was about a boy who was advised by his father never to trust a red-bearded man; of course he forgot, and was cheated out of his inheritance. However, another red-bearded man helped him get the money back, proving that the rule was not always right. In The two millers on the Sava, a Christian and a Muslim miller hid their money in the same place before the war, and returned at the same time after - discovering that they had gone through the same thing, they became lifelong friends.
Bread on the grave was a little darker in tone: A man left bread on a grave, symbolically inviting the dead to his feast at the end of Ramadan. The ghost did come, and invited him back, taking him on a visit to Paradise. When the man returned the next morning, he discovered that he had been away for decades...


There were many tales in the book that sounded familiar. Nasruddin and the Frenchman, for example, was a variant of the "debate in sign language" (and the Frenchman did covert to Islam at the end). The man and his wife was a neat telling of "husband and wife swap jobs", and no one even died at the end, other than the man's pride, and some chickens. The vizier and his son was similarly a very neat version of Fortunatus, with three magic items (including Pants of Invisibility), and cherries that make horns sprout from the princess' head. There was also a Cinderfella tale, about Three brothers that had to jump over a ditch to win the princess (I have seen this ditch-jumping test in many Balkan tales, replacing the glass mountain climbing version).
I have encountered the tale type of the Greedy and the kind-hearted brother last week in Montenegro. The father's advice was another variant of "why they don't kill old people anymore", combined with a clever boy instead of a clever maid, who did have to go to the emperor "dressed and not dressed".
The most interesting parallel in the book was Why there is no justice anymore - the only other version I have seen is from Burma (!). The tale explains how a divine polygraph can be cheated...

Where to next?

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?