Monday, July 9, 2018

Fairies, giants, flaming chickens and green pigs (Following folktales around the world 73. - Hungary)

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!

Welcome to my home country! It was not easy to pick just one book to represent it...

A tengeri kisasszony
Ipolyi Arnold kéziratos folklórgyűjteménye egész Magyarországról 1846–1858 
Ipolyi Arnold
Balassi Kiadó, 2006.

The collection of Ipolyi Arnold from the 19th century is one of the first, and largest, collections in the history of Hungarian folklore. Ipolyi's aim was to gather information from folktales, legends, beliefs and customs, and reconstruct out lost pre-Christian mythology. He published his massive work, Hungarian Mythology, based on these folk texts, but since the reception of it was mixed, he never actually published any of the hundreds of tales and legends he collected.
Of course the 756 (!!) texts in this book were not all recorded by Ipolyi personally. He had a large network of collectors that wrote down and mailed him the stories from all corners of the country. The manuscript was finally edited and published in 2006, in a volume of more than 1000 pages. It is everything a storyteller or a folklorist could wish for. It has a long introduction, a bibliography, an index, a tale type index, plus each story comes with sources, notes, and the relevant paragraphs from Hungarian Mythology. It is not only an entertaining read, but also a rich mine of information on Hungarian storytelling and folklore.
(For Hungarian folktales published in English, see this list, or my own latest book.)


The book contains some rare and beautiful fairy tales (or rather, "fairy legends") that read almost like literary stories. One of them is the tale of Huba and Tünde; Tünde is the daughter of a river fairy and a mortal fisherman, who makes fiends with a boy named Huba after her parents return to the kingdom under the river. The two friends grow up and fall in love, and eventually escape from Tünde's stepmother together. Similarly detailed and exquisite are the stories about Kampó táltos (táltos is our word for shaman), the wise and powerful helper of King Matthias. I included one of these in my book about superpowers in folktales. The other one is a long and elaborate fairy tale that involves Kampó looking for the Moon-horse of the king, stolen by a Turkish shapeshifter. On his way he encounters fairies, witches, and helpful constellations. Fun fact: Kampó was originally a Spanish mercenary captain, maestro de campo, in the Turkish wars...
Also among fairy legends was the Fairy of the River Tisza, which did not only tell of an epic war between fairies and giants, but also about how a fairy helped a mortal woman save her husband. Said epic battles appeared in other tales as well, such as the one about Kóbor Jancsi (Jancsi the Wanderer). In one, the Flame-Red Fairy King used his own powers of fire to rescue his daughters from mortals.
There were multiple legends about the desert Mirage (Délibáb), a fairy maiden who was loved by the Sun and the Wind, and occasionally a mortal shepherd (whom she took to her realm along with his sheep, which is why you can sometimes see people and sheep in the mirage).
I liked the folktale of The old beggar and the kind boy, in which the hero was given the power of shapeshifting, and worked as messenger to a king (and eventually married a widow queen). In terms of the WTF factor, the most interesting tale was definitely the Louse-skin Coat, in which a boy escaped his abusive mother and made friends in the woods. His mother had louse as big as rats growing on her; when a king had a coat made from their skin, the boy was the only one who could correctly guess what the coat was made of, and thus win the princess (symbolism, people).
The story of János, who was looking for the land of immortality, had an unusual ending. He was chased by the Yellow Death, but his fairy wife summoned up the Green Death, which killed the Yellow Death, and thus János got to live. This was not the only tale where Death died, either; in another one, titled Why we can't see Death anymore, he simply fell into a river and drowned. Yup.
I enjoyed the story of the Tailor's Apprentice, who was helped and eventually rescued by a large, shaggy dog he feed from being chained up somewhere.
The book contained a lot of folk beliefs and legends about witches, táltos, garabonciás wizards, and other beings and creatures. I really liked lidérc legends; lidérc is an evil spirit, usually in the form of a flaming chicken, that can bring its owner anything, but has to be constantly kept busy, or it takes your soul to hell... There was a great garabonciás story too, about a strange old man taming the dragons of a lake. Among the legends, the best one was about János the Faithful, where a goatherd was trapped in a cursed underground castle, while his daughter was helped by her stepfather (!) to marry the man she loved (with help of the gold sent by her trapped father from the castle). 


Mazsola the green pig, protagonist
of a popular Hungarian puppet show
The book has a lot of tales that belong to familiar folktale types; the nearly 800 texts nicely outline which stories were the most popular at the time of their collection. Classics such as the Twin princes, the Golden-haired children, Son of the White Horse, Stolen golden apples, Golden-haired gardener, Princess in the shroud, Dancing Princesses, etc. were all very common. Some were more unusual than others - Beauty and the Beast usually featured a Green Pig (as the Beast, obviously), and Snow White was not only hosted by Twelve robber giants, but she also eventually married one of them, after they revived her.
There were countless versions of the Three Oranges tale. Some fairy maidens were born from reeds, eggs, apples, or oranges, while others came from cantaloupes or even griffin eggs. Of course there was a Hungarian staple, the Bacon Castle, as introduction to the tale type of the Three Kidnapped Princesses; one of these tales ended with the hero being flown up from the Underworld by an ostrich.
Another popular type was the Treasures of the Giant, where brothers or sisters set out, survived an encounter with something evil, and then kept sending the youngest girl/boy back to steal more things. In one case, it was about one hundred sisters... I also found some variants of the Koschei the Deathless tale; the best one was titled The Black Eagle King.
The story of the Clever master was familiar from the 1001 Nights; it's the tale where someone dies accidentally, and someone makes money from passing the body around town, tricking people into thinking they killed it. The story simply titled Fairy legend, on the other hand, was a Queen Fairy Ilona variant of northern Selkie stories (with a fairy dress instead of a seal skin).

Where to next?

1 comment:

  1. Hi Tarkabarka. I'm back visiting from the A to Z Road trip. Your blog was one of my favorites this past April, and it still makes me smile. A louse coat. I'm so thankful for regular cowhide. Have a great week!
    Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker