Monday, June 25, 2018

The soldier in the Kingdom of Monkeys (Following folktales around the world 71. - Croatia)

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!

Croatia was once again a challenging country to find a folktale collection for. But I did find this:

Katona a majmok országában
Frankovics György
Napkút kiadó, 2011.

This book is a collection of 112 Croatian and Roma folktales from small villages along the Hungarian-Croatian border river, the Drava. While the villages are technically on the Hungarian side, the tales themselves are mostly Croatian, or have been strongly influenced by the Croatian oral tradition. They have been collected by Frankovics György, a Croatian-Hungarian writer and folklorist, who spent most of his life gathering oral tradition along the border. Sadly, the book has no introduction or notes, other than labeling each tale with the name of the storyteller, and the place and year of collection. It contains a variety of different stories, from long fairy tales to folk beliefs and historical legends; the latter were very similar to the Serbian folk epics.
(You can find some Croatian folktales in English here)


The title story tells about a soldier who steals some seven-league boots, and accidentally teleports himself into the Kingdom of Monkeys. Initially he does not like the place, and does not speak the language, but eventually it turns out that the Monkey princess can read and write seven languages, so they manage to communicate (and, after getting married, they break the monkey-curse as well).
There was a lovely, symbolic tale titled Marvelous Beauty, in which a king wanted to get rid of the hero to marry his beautiful and magical wife, so he ordered the man to go somewhere and bring him something. After a long quest, aided by some old women and a magic frog, the hero acquired the friendship of Intellect, an invisible being who could fulfill all his wishes.
Similarly lovely was the tale of The miller and the devil, in which the devil tried to get rid of a kind.hearted miller by spreading lies about him, blaming him for the draught. Still, his village community persisted, and when the miller exiled himself, they went after him to bring him home.

The book contained several interesting legends an beliefs. One of them told about how the Vedovnjak (shamans) stole acorns from the Vilas, to make sure the acorn crop in the woods would be plentiful that year. Both beings appeared in several stories; the most famous vedovnjak, Petrisa, had his very own little story collection, with all kinds of shamanistic elements. Among nature stories, the funniest one was about the Winds, in which the North and the South wind took turns pranking each other.
One a more thrilling note, I found a great version of the devil-lover tale type, titled Moonlight like Sunlight. Instead of a mysterious suitor from hell, in this tale a young woman used magic to revive her dead husband, then got scared, and had to get rid of him with the help of an old witch. The old woman smashed the corpse chasing the girl over the head with a hammer, repeatedly.
Last but not least, the winner of the category "this is not what it looks like" was The loyal soldier, who protected his king on his wedding night from a nine-headed dragon. He knew from the talk of birds that the young queen would perish if someone did not lick the dragon's blood off her face... so after the dragon was slain and gone, the king got to wake up to his soldier licking his wife's face. Of course this led to no good, but in the fashion of other "loyal servant" tales, all was well in the end.


After Serbia and Montenegro, I once again encountered Real Steel, Son of the Bear, and the Nine peacock girls and the golden tree. But even beyond these close connections, the book contained several familiar tale types with some unexpected twists.
The ninth daughter was another sex-change type folktale about a heroic girl turning into a man. Destiny was yet another tale of a man seeking his fortune, and taking other questions along the way; at the end of this one, however, he found out that he had no destined fortune, however, he could raise a foster daughter, who would bring good fortune with her. less fortunate was the ending of the tale of Two brothers, in which one twin did manage to save the other, but when the brother found out that his twin had shared a bed (unwillingly) with his wife, he killed him, and became a hermit.
The girl in the wooden dress was a variant of Catskins / All kinds of fur, except here the dying mother herself advised her daughter on how to get away from her father, which was a touching moment. Similarly pretty was the part in The prince and the frog princess in which the hero had to set out to find his frog-wife again because she asked him to prove his love that way (after she proved hers by saving him).
There was Fox and Hunter instead of Puss in Boots, and Martinkovics Márton instead of Rumpelstiltskin. There were tales about The wisdom of old people (and why they shouldn't be killed), the Rooster and his diamond (or coin), the Clever Maid, a sad princess who was brought to laughter by a bug and a crayfish dancing, and Why men need wives (the tale about husband and wife swapping jobs for a day). Talking about marriage, sadly there were several wife-beating tales in the collection, although to be fair, a husband also got beaten once, for being lazy, by his wife who dressed up as a soldier.
The blacksmith's three wishes was similar to the Tía Miseria / Blacksmith and the Devil tales, except here Death came to get him first, and then the Devil, and finally the Fairies. The blacksmith trapped all of them, and lived happily until angels came to take him to the Moon, where he still works today.
The girl who cried pearls was a variant of the princess who could see everything (and the boy who hid from her by turning into a rose in her very own garden). How the shepherd got himself three kingdoms was a version of Princess on the Glass Mountain, which a funny addition: The princess, knowing that she wanted the handsome shepherd to win the jumping contest, talked to him in secret and urged him to teach his sheep to jump, so that he could win... The shephred had magic horses, in secret, but he played along anyway, training a ram every day in the art of jumping, to show the princess he wanted to win her.
There was a little legend about how the hidden children of Adam and Eve became fairies (familiar from Iceland), and some classic trickster-tales, Sharing Crops among them. In the latter, God shared crops with the Devil, and tricked him into getting the useless top/bottom parts.

Where to next?

Sunday, June 24, 2018

MythOff Steampunk: Full steam ahead!

It's summer, and that means it was high time for another MythOff in Hungary! On June 21st, the day of the summer solstice, we gathered once again to share some myths with the people of Budapest.

Once again, we had a new venue: A stemapunk pub named Krak'n Town. We reserved their large basement space, but unforeseen circumstances in the last minute pushed us into a smaller room. We made the most of the changes: Almost seventy people crammed into the bar, cheerfully making space for each other to listen to stories together!
Since the venue was a steampunk bar, we decided to give a nod to the theme in our event. I emceed the evening in a steampunk outfit I assembled years ago, and was happy to dust off again. After each round of storytelling, the audience got a question to vote on, and they could do so by dropping mechanical parts into two jars labeled with the myths. The questions were created by our special guest, Cathryn Fairlee. The teller of the winning myth each round received a small steampunk dragon; I created those myself, using polymer clay and the parts of three old Soviet alarm clocks. It had been quite an adventure, picking those apart, by the way. It took an entire afternoon, and some of the bastards were still ticking when I had them totally gutted.

And now, for the lineup:

Round one: Time travel! People, objects, changing of eras

The evening opened with Varga-Fogarasi Szilvia telling a myth from the Solomon Islands, about how the appearance of white people, and their missionary work, angered the ocean gods, and caused the 1932 earthquake and tsunami. She even brought the anthropology book that contained a picture of the original storyteller, and his drawings of other similar myths.

I also told in this round. I decided to bring the Revolt of the Utensils from the Moche culture - a story that has been reconstructed from vase paintings, murals, and contemporary local folklore. The story tells about how people treated their utensils and domestic animals badly, and therefore they revolted with the help of the Earth Mother at the time of an eclipse, and slaughtered people until the Sun ended the rebellion. It is a really fun story, and I loved working on piecing it together from various articles.
Voting question: What would be the more fitting punishment for humanity's sins? An eternal solar eclipse, or an eternal earthquake?
The audience's decision: They decided solar eclipse would be much worse.

Round two: Blacksmiths! 

This round featured two storytellers who usually perform together; both of them brought myths about blacksmiths and metal-workers. Hajós Erika told the Irish legend of how Cú Chulainn got his name, and his weapons, after slaughtering the giant guard-hound of the blacksmith Chulainn, and taking its place.

Gergus László brought us the Norse myth of Loki cutting Sif's golden hair, and then making the Dwarves replace it, along with other famous treasures of the gods (including Thor's hammer Mjöllnir).
Voting question: If you had to face down Cú Chulainn in his war frenzy, or Thor when he is pissed off, which one of them would you rather fight?
The audience's decision: Most people wanted to fight Thor

After the second round we had our special quest, my dear epic-telling mentor Cathryn Fairlee from the USA. She told us the story of how the Norse goddess Freya got her famous necklace, the Brisingamen. She told the myth in first person, with lots of humor and great body language; even though she told in English, the entire audience was with her all the way, laughing and cheering. We could not have wished for a better welcome for our guest!

Round three: The beginning and the end 

Not necessarily in that order. Stenszky Cecília opened the round with the epic of Gilgamesh - or rather, the part of it where Gilgamesh descends into the Underworld to find immortality. She told the story wrapped in animal skins and with her hair loose; she told us about gemstone forests, underworld boat rides, and Siduri, goddess of beer and tavern-keeper of the afterlife.

The evening concluded with Nagy Enikő, who brought us not one, but four Cambodian creation myths - among them, the one about churning the Milk Ocean to receive the drink of immortality. She even made sure to give nods to all six of the previous myths in her telling!
Voting question: Where would you rather go to make friends? The Underworld, or the Milk-Ocean-churning party?
The audience's decision: This one was almost a draw! We had to ask a volunteer to close his eyes, and tell us which voting jar was heavier. With a slight difference, the winner was Cambodia.

At the end of the evening, we drew names from the audience, and handed out the remaining two steampunk dragons. They deserved it: Once again, we had the best, most enthusiastic audience a storyteller could even wish for. We are looking forward to the next event!

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?