Monday, July 16, 2018

A large assortment of magical helpers (Following folktales around the world 74. - Slovakia)

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 in the series here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Az aranyagancsos szarvas
Szlovák népmesék
Pavol Dobšinský
Móra, 1976.

This book contains thirty elaborate fairy tales from the 19th century collections of author and folklorist Pavol Dobšinský. He published more than a hundred Slovak folktales over the course of the 19th century - and also edited them to fit better for young audiences, even though they were originally meant to be told to adults. This editing definitely shows on some of the texts: A prince "talks at" a sleeping princess, who becomes pregnant from it; a grateful dead companion "brandishes his sword" to scare the devil out of a princess, instead of cutting her in half. The language of the tales is also quite literary and elaborate, resembling Andersen more than a folklore collection. With that said, the stories were still very much enjoyable.
If you want to read some of Dobšinský's collection in English, try this book.


My favorite tale in the book was that of The black haired prince. It takes place in a kingdom where everyone and everything has black hair, except for the prince whose locks are raven black. The king tries all kinds of cures and treatments on him, but they don't work. The story is an Unfaithful Servant type, with betrayal and suffering and such, but of course all is well in the end, and the prince's hair turns red. After this my second favorite story was that of the Most beautiful couple, in which a witch, a male witch, the devil, a soldier, and two complete kingdoms worked on getting two beautiful people together.
One of the most beautiful stories in the book is The King of Time. It resembles the Twelve Month Brothers greatly, except here after the poor man is rewarded and the rich punished, the King of Time keeps helping the poor man (along with the Kings of Water, Fire, and Wind), until he rescues his stolen wife. The prince born from an egg was another pretty fairy tale in which the hero defeated the Iron-nosed Witch with the help of his courage and his animal friends. And while on the topic of helpers: In Beauty of the World, the hero was assisted by the Moon, who sacrificed himself multiple times, and had to be brought back from the dead.
Jankó and Mackó was probably one of the best variants of the gold-spitting prince story I have ever found. Two brothers eat from the forbidden flesh of a magic bird, and gain magical powers. I liked that one of them, Jankó, became an artist, and fell in love with a princess while teaching her music and painting. I also liked that when they sent him to be devoured by a dragon, he made friends with it instead.
Probably the most unexpected tale was that of the Ragged Prince, who accidentally wandered into the Castle of Destiny, and witnessed first hand how people's fates are decided. He even got a useful tip about changing his own...


Kay Nielsen: The two borthers
Most of the stories in the book were of familiar types, but they all had something unique and unexpected in them. In The enchanted forest, the lions, bears, and wolves helping the twin heroes turned out to be princes themselves. In the Aladdin-variant of The snake, the cat, and the dog, the dog and the cat had to go ring-hunting with a hook tied to the cat's tail. In another variant, The magic lamp loved its owner so much that it left clues behind so that he could find the evil wizard who stole the lamp. The three enchanted princes that helped another hero along turned out to be under a unique enchantment: They lived as beasts under the waning moon, and humans under the waxing moon (I like to imagine they changed shape in phases). The cat princess could be rescued from her own curse by listening to flute music until she cried three times. The golden-haired gardener in this case was a Heroic kitchen servant - with the extremely badass ability of being able to summon the armies of the King of Darkness to help him in battle.
The story of Little Friday and the Warrior of the Plains is probably the best variant of the Grateful Dead tale type I have ever seen. It tells of the friendship of an orphan boy and a veteran soldier who comes back to life to help him. Other extraordinary helper tales included The cursed princess (very much like Longshanks, Girth, and Keen from Czechia), and The proud maiden and the dragon, in which three brothers with special powers rescued an "annoyingly screaming" princess.
The "best story title" prize was won by Vratko and the Ferryman Dry All the Tears of the World (I can already see the indie movie poster). It was a kinder version of the Devil's three golden hairs. King Thrushbeard was King Redbeard here, and the Clever Maid was a Clever Wife. For the first time in the Slavic countries, I found a Fern Flower legend, too.

Where to next?

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