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?

No comments:

Post a Comment