Thursday, February 1, 2018

NEW BOOK! Dancing on Blades: Rare and Exquisite Folktales from the Carpathian Mountains

This Folklore Thursday's theme is "Your favorite folk and fairy tales" - and I am in the very lucky position that I have many of mine in one place. On a related note: My new folktale collection is out!

Dancing on Blades
Rare and Exquisite Folktales from the Carpathian Mountains
Csenge Virág Zalka
Parkhurst Brothers Publishers, 2018.
Find it on Amazon, find it on Bookdepository

This book contains 30 folktales from my favorite traditional storyteller, Anna Pályuk (nicknamed Anica, 1858-1951?). She was a Rusyn woman who married into a Hungarian family, and told her tales in Hungarian. In her stories, the magical world of the Carpathians mingles with her own boundless creativity, and eye for natural beauty. I have been telling these stories from ten years, and I am absolutely in love with them.

Here are my five favorite folklorific details about the book:

The subtitle
I was having trouble trying to encompass the "ethnic identity" of these tales. They are included in the Hungarian folktale catalog, but Anica herself was Rusyn. At the time of the collecting, the village where she lived belonged to 5 different countries within the span of 20 years, so it would have been hard to assign just one country of origin. The historic region, Transcarpathia, is too obscure to be written on a cover... In the end, I stuck with what describes the tales best: The mountains of Anica's childhood, and the backdrop of many of her tales, the Carpathians.

The cover art
The image for the cover was created by Katalin Jámbor. She hid some symbols in the skirt and the backdrop that directly relate to stories in the book.

The archives
Out of the 100 folktales recorded from Anica, only about 35 have ever been published before (and none in English). I went digging in the archives of the Hungarian Museum of Ethnography for the thick folder of hand-typed papers that contained the rest. Half of the stories in this book have never appeared in print before, either in Hungarian or in any other language. Which baffles me, because some of my favorites are among them.

The fan favorites 
I put "rare and exquisite" in the title, and I mean it. Among many others, you'll find in this book...
... a variant of Rumpelstiltskin (The Cheerful Prince) that features a compassionate female helper, a gentle and loving prince, and a smart, strong, kind mother-in-law.
... a variant of the Dancing Princesses tale type (The Shoe-shredding Princesses) which contains a slowly budding love story between the youngest princess and the shepherd boy.
... a variant of the False Bride tale type where the false bride is respected and loved (The Maiden with the Red-Gold Hair)
... a love story between a jaded mortal man, and a Fairy Queen who keeps forgetting about things (The Dream of the Fairy Queen)
... a tale about a princess who can't walk, but becomes Queen of the Cloud Kingdom in the end (The Daughter of the Táltos King), and a corresponding story about The Boy Who Wanted to Walk on the Clouds.

The permissions
I really want to see these tales known and appreciated by more people. I want them to travel and take new shapes and be a part of the international storytelling tradition. So, the book contains a blanket permission for the telling of these tales (while the publisher still holds the rights for recording or printing). My secret dream is that eventually, one day, I'll run into someone telling one of them at an event.


  1. Congrats! You're doing a great job, keeping these tales going for future generations. What would happen to them otherwise?

  2. Congratulations on your new book! These tales sound wonderful and my copy has already arrived at home, can't wait to read it! Especially The Cheerful Prince...It's so great to see more women's writing being made available and appreciated again.

  3. Thanks for this delicious book, and for your generous and clear permissions - I'll be telling one of the tales from it ('Jancsi goes to the Glass Mountain') at a festival in the UK this weekend, Green Earth Awakening, from our travelling storytelling theatre - Hedgespoken - (along with a Scottish Traveller story, a Welsh Romani story, a Lithuanian tale, and several others :) )

    1. That's lovely! I am glad the tales are traveling! Have a wonderful time at the festival!