Monday, July 2, 2018

Snakes and magic kingdoms (Following folktales around the world 72. - Slovenia)

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 is kind of a neat coincidence that I got to Slovenia on the same weekend when we are having this year's European storytelling conference in Ljubljana...

A kígyómenyasszony
Gállos Orsolya
Móra Kiadó, 1987.

This book contains 54 Slovenian folktales. It is a children's book, which means it has no introduction or notes, just black and white illustrations. From the text on the back cover I learned that it contains both stories from Slovenia, and tales from the Slovenian minority in Hungary, but doesn't say which ones. Still, it is a great selection of stories. Next to beautiful fairy tales and classic types, it also contains beliefs and legends, and doesn't try to make them more child friendly than folktales usually are.
You can find Slovenian folktales in English here, here, here, and here.


If I had to pick a favorite tale from the book, it would be difficult to choose between The magic tree and Tale about a frog. The former features a hero that climbs a sky-high tree, and rescues no fewer than 18 princesses with the help of his friend the Wind. The latter is about a clever and kind countess, who promises a frog she'll be nurse to her children, not knowing that the frog is the Devil's wife. The young lady is spirited away to Hell, where she cares for the brood of little frogs lovingly until she is helped by their mother in her escape.

Slovenia is full of
amazing caves
All the best tales in the book featured journeys to magical realms. In The healing apples, princes had to bring an apple from an enchanted garden, but only the youngest could withstand the radiance and overwhelming scent of the garden. In The stepson and the South Wind, a boy was pushed into the Underworld by his stepmother, where he disenchanted a kingdom turned to stone, and married a princess. Eventually he got homesick and returned to the mortal world - only to find that decades had passed. Luckily, in this tale the South Wind helped the hero find his way home before his wife got married again. In another, very similar story titled The son of the fisherman, it was also the Wind that helped the boy find the magical underwater kingdom of Perdonkorten, and his snake-turned-princess wife. And while on the topic of underworld realms: The prize goes to the "underworld tavern turned to stone" where Marko the Shepherd lives, and also takes his princess wife (after testing that she can keep a secret).
The Sun's lover was a strange, surreal tale about a mortal girl whom the Sun abducted (with a golden swing), and when he failed to make her a good wife, he turned her into a swallow. On the other hand, the story of the Water spirit and the boy told about a mortal child who was saved from drowning by a water-man, who tried to make him happy with treasures, but soon learned that family was dearer to the boy than any gold. He then returned the child to his family, and set out to find a family of his own.
Among the humorous tales was Little Miska, who made friends with talking objects (an axe, a hoe, and a fountain), and with their help first tamed a giant, and then won a clever princess. Another small hero, Thumbling decided to make a career as a robber, and solved all tricky situations by yelling louder and louder...
Fairies of Fate (or Fates) appeared in several stories, and so did regular fairies. There were also many tales featuring snakes, snake kings, snake princesses, and snake fairies. Just... lots of snakes in general. I also liked the folk legend about how one can get a magic herb from a woodpecker, and sewing that herb into one's finger enables them to open any door, and become a master thief.
There was a Tale about death, in which we did not only learnt hat imprisoning death is wrong, but it also ended with the culprit being punished by never being able to die. Innocent love also closely resembled Godfather Death, but in this case a young man saved his lover's life by pouring some of the oil from his life-lamp into hers.


It seems like "why old people are not killed anymore" is a very popular type in the Balkans. I found yet another variant, in this one the old father taught his son that The most beautiful flower is wheat. The tale of The Golden Bird resembled Russian folktales, except here the hero was helped by a bear, instead of a wolf or a fox. The magic bag was a variant of Fortunatus, where the magic-object-stealing princess was not only taught a lesson, but also left alone at the end.
From other Balkan countries the tale of a girl stolen by a villain and rescued by her late-born little brother was also familiar. Here, the Water-man or water-spirit of the mill represented evil, instead of a dragon or a giant. I also found a Hungarian connection int he form of a legend about King Mátyás (Matthias), who appears as a legendary Sleeping King in Slovenian folklore.
Of course there were many common tale types too, such as the Clever Maid, Love like Salt, Frog Princess (here with a cat, who turns into a snake and then a princess), the devil's golden hairs (The hated son-in-law), Puss in Boots (the Grateful Rooster), and even Princess and the Pea, except here the Three peas were used to prove the nobility of the groom, not the bride.
The Six Wolves was the same tale as Grimm's Six Swans, with the added lovely moment that the mute queen's stolen children were rescued and returned by her own wolf-brothers in the end. The Magic Flight folktale type was represented by The white and the black king, in which the last, impossible task given to the hero was to make golden shoes out of pickles...

Where to next?


  1. 18 princesses? That guy's got quite the rescue resume! LOL

  2. I'm interested in the variation on Six Swans story as keep finding folk tale parallels while reading the Witcher series by the Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski, and in the games built on his world. A character called Freixenet is turned into a cormorant - when restored is left with a taste of fish.