Monday, March 5, 2018

Flowers and gemstones (Following folktales around the world 61. - Romania)

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!

Szegény ember okos leánya
Román népmesék
Kovács Ágnes (szerk.)
Európa Könyvkiadó, 1974.

Yet another volume of our wonderful Tales of Nations series, and once again a very valuable collection. It contains fourteen beautiful, elaborate Romanian fairy tales selected from 19th century sources. In the afterword, folklorist Ortutay Gyula explains that while Hungarian storytellers for example tend to focus on action and dialogue, Romanian tellers took pleasure in detailed, exquisite descriptions. This definitely shows in the tales, and I loved every minute of it. Of course the book contains notes for each story, complete with sources, tale types, and comparable Hungarian variants.


Since most of the tales belonged to well-known types, the highlights mostly came from small details and elaborations within the stories. For example, in the story of Calin the Fool, the hero fell in love with the middle (!) sister - out of princesses of copper, silver, and gold, he chose silver. In The Man Turned to Stone, the magical helper of the heroes was the Spring Breeze. His mother hid the heroes (under the wings of an emerald-eyed and diamond-beaked magic bird) when he came home. Spring Breeze was a youth with golden hair and silver wings, carrying a staff covered in flowers and vines, smelling like roses and rosemary. He drank doe milk and violet water for dinner. In the same story, the heroes rode a fairy carriage to the princess' palace, a palace of sapphire with a door made of cypress wood.
As a whole, I think my favorite tale was that of Tugulea, Son of Old Man and Old Woman. It began with a dragon queen stealing the boy's sinews at birth, because she was afraid he'd kill her when he grew up. The crippled hero could not walk, but he learned how to shapeshift, turned into a bird, and eventually got his sinews back (and killed the dragon queen). The story from here turned into that of the Extraordinary Helpers - Tugulea had companions who could eat and drink a lot, withstand freezing cold, and do magic. The latter came in handy when one of the tasks posed to the hero was that he had to make fifty barren women have babies in one night (hello, Hercules). The magician did the trick "with the power of his magic wand."
At the end of the volume there was also a more "modern" fairy tale, in which The Fairy of the Waters did not only help the hero succeed, but they also ended feudalism in the process...


Georges Rochegrosse:
Le Chevalier aux Fleurs
The title story, The Poor Man's Clever Daughter, was that of the common tale type - a long and elaborate version. Youth without old age and life without death was a lovely and complex variant of the prince seeking immortality - in this case, he had to fight several witches on the way, including one named Scorpion. Fairy Ilona was a similarly long and beautifully detailed variant of the princess who turns into a prince.
After the Ukraine and Moldova, I once again encountered the story of the sister who is kidnapped by a dragon while bringing food to her brothers to the fields where they work. She is rescued by her late-born little brother and his friend (in this case, Peter Peppercorn and Florea of the Flowers). I especially liked the figure of the Knight of Flowers who became a close friend to the hero.

Where to next?


  1. Sounds like you've been doing some enjoyable reading!

  2. Hello! Your review of this Hungarian set of tales was delightful and the colors/unusual description of scenes and characters with various backgrounds, some troubling but seek other means out of the predicament of fate or fairy touch. Thanks ATK