Friday, April 1, 2011

Paul Bunyan visits Hungary

I have been planning on telling Paul Bunyan stories ever since I first met Babe the Blue Ox in the Fables comics (where, by the way, he totally steals the spotlight). This was entirely new for me, the whole giant lumberjack thing, so I looked up the tales on the Internet, and I enjoyed reading them immensely. I decided that I should tell them, sooner or later; sooner didn't quite work out, because I was busy with other things, but later finally came along, and I decided to give it a try.
Of course, I asked many American tellers about Paul Bunyan stories and how to tell them; I received tons of good advice, and many tales, and encouragement. I prepared by reading a lot, planning on telling the tales that stuck.
My audience consisted of two classes of second graders; they were lively, and cheerful, and very curious. I traveled from Budapest to a small town called Perkáta, in the bright spring sunshine, watching magpies and hawks fly along with the bus.
I was curious how Hungarian kids will receive Paul Bunyan. I had no clue if they would be interested, or if they would get the joke. But I found that they did not only get it, but they also loved it, and they cheered and laughed all through the whole telling. It was an unbelievable success.
I drew a few conclusions:

1. Telling tall tales is fun. I haven't really tried that before, I though it wasn't really my style, but once I started telling it felt good and I went a little crazy, with funny faces, big gestures and all. I also managed to be fairly serious when I wanted them to believe something. Hungarian kids are kind of used to tall tales; they are very popular in Hungary.
2. I started with a short introduction in the first person, telling them how I traveled to the USA and how everyone knows Paul Bunyan there, and not knowing him would be just like not knowing who King Mátyás is. They laughed. They understood what I meant.
3. They believed every word I said. I told them it was a long time ago and far far away, but other than that, I did not discuss with them what was real and what was not. At the end of the telling, one little girl raised her hand. "The only thing that sounded strange to me was, I mean, why five storks?..."
(The only thing that sounded strange. Go figure XD)
4. There were really no elements in the tales that needed explanation. Hungarian kids are pretty well trained in country life (both from our own folktales, and some experience), so such things as cutting wood, making dairy products or farm life in general didn't need to be explained, they just went with the story. And the giant mosquitoes were familiar, we have stories like that in Hungary, we even have a song ("I caught a mosquito, bigger than a horse..."). Maybe next time I'll put the song into the story...

All in all, it was great fun :)