Monday, May 8, 2017

We are all weird sometimes (A to Z Challenge reflections)

This was by far my most successful A to Z Challenge yet! My blog hit an all-time high in visits (more than 8,000 hits over any other month before), and people left over 500 comments on my posts! I also gained new followers, both on the blog and on the Following folktales around the world Facebook page. My three most popular posts were Lobsters Mistaken for Norwegians (this one won by a huge margin), Person transformed into anthill, and Poisonous white hair in eyebrow. In terms of blog traffic, this month was definitely a win.
(Find all 26 posts here)

This was the first year we did the Challenge without a list. As a co-host, I found this very comfortable. I liked posting my link every day, and writing witty (heh) one-liners to lure people in. I also enjoyed others doing the same, and it was good to know that if someone posted a link, their blog was definitely active. It seemed like the new system inspired people to not only link, but also promote and "pitch" their daily posts, which in turn made me want to go and read more of them.

As for the theme itself: I really enjoyed working my way through the Motif Index. I think every storyteller should do it at least once. Apart from the motifs I chose for my posts, and the runner-ups, I also ended up looking up various other stories, and expanding my storytelling repertoire.
Here are some things I learned:

1. The Motif Index is far from perfect. I found various mistakes in references, as well as misinterpretations of motifs, and even the occasional mistranslation or two. Thompson tended to look at stories through a particular lens, and sometimes the names he gave to motifs do not reflect the meaning of the story at all. Which takes me to my second realization:

2. Things that sound weird out of context actually make sense within the story. It is easy to read a motif title and go "Whaaaaaat the...?!" - but that is mostly due to Thompson's whimsical titles. Once you go and read the actual tale, more often than not the WTF element makes perfect sense, and reveals its actual meaning. Which leads to:

3. The same motif can mean very different things in different cultures. This is one of the big limitations of Thompson's index: He tends to put things under the same number, even if (like in the mouse story) they have very different meanings or messages in context. Which also reveals another problem:

4. The motif index needs to be expanded to include cultures Thompson did not explore. While the sources of the original index are very diverse, they by no means include all cultures or all stories in the world. When folklorists publish indexes (such as this one), they often have to expand on Thompson's numbers, since some of them are too vague, and some are too specific, to be universal.
(A good update on the index, for practicing storytellers, is Margaret Read MacDonald's Storyteller's Sourcebook.)

And finally, but most importantly:

5. The folktales of the world are a lot more diverse, varied, colorful, and rich, than most people would ever imagine. It is time that we acknowledged that, and looked beyond making blanket statements such as "folktale princesses are always damsels in distress!" or "there are no pregnant woman heroes in folklore" (heard the latter one from a storyteller). Or maybe we should stop re-adapting the same 5 fairy tales over and over and over again?...
There is a story for pretty much everything and anything out there. Of course the oral tradition is an ever changing, ever expanding, living thing, so if there is no story for one particular situation - wait a few generations, and there will be!

I never intended this series to say "Folktales are weird." My goal, which I hope I accomplished, was to say "Folktales are gloriously strange and intriguing and creative, and we should all be more familiar with them!" Our ancestors had wisdom, but they also had a great sense of humor, and they knew how to make a (sometimes sarcastic) point about the world and the human condition - messages that cross temporal and cultural boundaries. Quoting Kevin Kling, one of my favorite American storytellers: "Kindly rely on the strangeness of others!"

And talking about the strangeness of others: 
Here are some of my favorite themes from this year!

Here is a princess on a turtle,
because why not :)
Sara C. Snider's Magical and Medicinal Herbs (I learned a lot from this one!)
Sophie Duncan's Dragon Diaries (I absolutely adored all of her dragon stories!)
Deborah Weber's Pronoia theme (I learned a lot of new, lovely words and concepts)
C. D. Gallant-King's Weird Canadian Facts and History (See, Canadians can be weird too!)
Emily Bloomquist's Life in Ecuador (Ecuadorians can be weird too)
Pamela and Ken's Highland Days of Fun (and the Scottish too)
Sharon Himsl's Female Scientists Before Our Time (which I adored!)

Sarah Zama's Film Noir theme (which I learned a lot from!)
Anna Tan's whimsical Princess Stories (which made me giggle a lot)

There were, of course, many, many others. If you want to go back and read them, you can do so by visiting the comments sections of the posts on the main blog.

Thank you all for making A to Z such a great experience this year! And yes, I already have a theme in mind for 2018... See you all next April!


  1. Excellent reflection. It was fun co-hosting with you!

  2. I enjoyed your posts. You chose such a fascinating theme.

  3. Actually, I'm following this blog already, and Sharon's, so this time of year just means more fascinating stuff to read, only daily. I love all those folk tales from around the world! Amazing how many of them are familiar in theme, wherever you live. Keep up the good work!

  4. I loved your theme and posts. It is always a pleasure to read your blog. And the message of your reflections - folktales are diverse and not only about damsels in distress - is powerful and important.

    Best wishes,

  5. a lot of the tales you presented were weird but lot of them makes so much sense and they are certainly unique in that they aren't like the fairytales I know which I really don't know all that many tales to compare with. I do like the tales with humor because it's better with humor & who doesn't enjoy a story with humor?

    sadly, I didn't do a theme or rather I really couldn't stick to one. perhaps I should try it for next year.

    congrats on finishing and also, thank you for hosting.

    have a lovely day.

  6. You had a great theme and it was fun reading the weird tales you found.

    I'm not quite sold on the no linky list. I did like how it made people pitch their themes, but it was also more time consuming and I didn't always have the energy to go through it. Won't stop me from participating, but I'm mixed on if I like it or not.

  7. Loved reading all those definitely different tales. Certainly an eye opener for sure.

    Thanks for visiting my blog.

    And if you haven't seen it yet then I highly recommend Granblue Fantasy as your next anime. Video game based but it sooooooo beautiful.

  8. Sounds like a really fun theme - I like anything a bit weird

  9. I loved your theme and enjoyed your posts. Looks like we also had a lot of overlap in the other A-Z blogs we've enjoyed - not too surprising, I guess.
    A-Z of Printmakers

  10. I always love your folk tales and I'm particularly fascinated by how you took this opportunity to do some academic work and study the function of the index. You sneaky fox! Maybe there's a story about you in there somewhere... "Storyteller Entertains While Doing Academic Research." What index number would that fit under?

  11. The tales that you chose were great, sometimes bizarre tales that I thoroughly enjoyed, Zalka! Thank you so much for your kind mention - yes, things here in Ecuador can be very weird :) I'm glad that you linked to some of the others because I had not read all of them so you've provided me with a reading list.

    Congratulations on a successful challenge both as a participant and co-host!

    Emily | My Life In Ecuador | A to Z Reflections 2017

  12. I enjoyed your entries quite a bit this year. This was my second year following your blog's A to Z posts. I've been reading your blog regularly since last year's A to Z.

  13. I loved your series and think you were absolutely successful in proving folktales are gloriously strange, fabulously intriguing, and most definitely worth becoming familiar with. I don't know why I was so delightfully surprised that there was such a thing as a motif index (duh!) but somehow knowing such things exist make the world seem both like a more orderly place and a more fantastical one.

    And BTW, thanks for the mention. How kind!

  14. Wondering what you will suprise me with for a theme next year!
    Finding Eliza

  15. Your theme was brilliant. Diverse is definitely the word for all the folktales out there!

  16. I loved your theme... but then I always do ;-)

    Folktales aren't weird, they are far more complex than we normally think, but often we need a context to put them in in order to understand them that we don't have.
    That's why I love folktales: I know there is much more in them than we might imagine on the surface. I want to learn a lot mor eabotu them.

    Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge. It was fascinating.
    And thanks for mentioning my blog. Very kind of you ^_^

  17. I didn't read all your posts, but I really enjoyed some of them. This was my first challenge, and I think the comments section worked well (even with the deleted comments and the broken links!).

    Commenting and answering the comments was part of the fun. I only wish there were more time to visit all those interesting blogs and posts I missed...

    And about your theme and posts, I must say that most of the titles were intriguing enough to attract us readers here!

    Thanks for your posts, and co-hosting the challenge!
    Eva - Mail Adventures

  18. Great follow up to the A to Z challenge! I will be posting my thoughts soon. I too liked Sara Snider's posts. I was happy to see more visual artists in the challenge this year. I will mention a few other thoughts I have. Thanks for being a co-host. Looking forward to next April already.

  19. Loved your blog and I still have moments where I remember one of the folk tales and smile, with my favourite being the vomiting dog as I can so see that happening. Thanks for co hosting the challenge and look forward to reading more fascinating facts in your posts of the future.

  20. Did you use the AaTh index for your project or the ATU one? I heard Uther rectified some of the mistakes in AaTh index, but the ATU index is really hard to come by.

    Overall I think the Index is good for what it tries to achieve. It's a motif index, nothing more and nothing less. As long as the users are aware of this it can be very useful. I'd even argue that presenting the motifs out of context is a feature, not a bug, as it showcases how a small difference can change a narrative completely.

    Also I agree that the cultural diversity is lackluster at best, but Thompson never claimed it was complete. Today it's hard to judge how much of the eurocentricity was Thompson's doing and how much the availabilty of sources influenced the outcome. Probably a bit if column A and a bit of column B. It's a good starting point, but I'm looking forward to it being expanded.

    1. The AaTh and the ATU are folktale type indexes. The Thompson motif index is a whole separate thing.

  21. Your blog titles were awesome. I enjoyed reading about all the folktales you found.

    I thought the daily posting worked great too. Congratulations on another successful A to Z!

  22. I really enjoyed your stories. You always share such interesting tales.

  23. Thank you for your collection of weird Zalka. And also for the list of blogs above. I shall visit the ones I missed out.
    Reflection Post

  24. Your theme was so much fun. You're right about folktales being so varied. Thankfully, we have you to share the stories we otherwise probably would never have heard of. Congrats on completing the challenge, and thanks for the shout out! :)

  25. I wasn't a fan of the comments. Instead of clicking through the list and finding new bloggers I'd never followed before, I found myself only clicking on blog topics that were of interest to me since there was no real way of being able to tell which blogs I had already read or not without being meticulous and perhaps, for example, writing out each person's blog name after visiting. Frustrating to say the least.

    I also didn't like that A-Zers were all like "personal promotion is a thing you should be doing anyway". There is personal promotion and then there is a blog challenge. 1) I don't know how to share my blogger posts before they go live, so I couldn't prep in any way. 2) Don't you think bloggers have enough to do writing in responses to every letter, promoting on their own social media (let alone the official A-Z social media and blog), and commenting on, for example in my case, 10 or so blogs a day? And not just slapped together comments. I'm talking REAL comments?

    Anyway, thank you for all of your hard work co hosting this challenge. And congrats on all of your successes throughout the challenge! 8000 more blog reads in a month is amazing! And 500 comments? Wow!

  26. Your theme was popular with a lot of readers. It was indeed unusual!

    Thanks for all that you put into the Challenge once again. We'll have more to discuss later on the Team blog.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

  27. Well done for making it through the challenge and co-hosting!

    Cait @ Click's Clan