Monday, October 15, 2018

Blame it on Reynard (Following folktales around the world 87. - Belgium)

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 here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Folk tales of Flanders
Jean de Bosschère
Dodd, Mead & Co., 1918.

The book contains twenty-four Flemish folktales, and several beautiful, colorful, occasionally grotesque illustrations. In some cases, the tales had been re-written to fit the sensibilities of the era and an audience of children - in one of the stories, a wife was hiding her "nephew" from her husband, instead of a lover, and in some cases severe punishments were also omitted (although they did unceremoniously hang the Fox). It is a book for children, so it contains no notes or sources, but most of the tale types are easily recognizable, and the author re-told them in an enjoyable, entertaining style.


My favorite tale in the book was that of The peasant and the Satyrs. It is rare to find Satyrs in tales outside of Greece, so I was excited for them; in this case, they took the Devil's place in a known tale type (or maybe the other way around?). A poor man got lost in the woods in the winter, and found a little cottage where a Satyr family lived. They invited him in, but when they saw him blowing on his hands to get them warm, and blowing on his soup to make it cool, they concluded he must be a powerful being, for being able to blow both hot and cold...

How the goldfinch got its colors was a lovely tale about how the angel tasked with painting the birds forgot about the finch, and had to paint it with colors taken from other species. This was not the only bird legend in the book; the usual "who can fly higher?" contest here happened between Eagle and Goldcrest. The latter became King of the Birds, but only after they tried to imprison it, and Owl let it escape.

The Goldcrest also led the winged creatures' army in the Battle of Birds and Beasts, which was won by the winged ones - a wasp stung Reynard the Fox, who was holding his tail up as a standard, and the beast thought they had been defeated.
Probably the most famous story included in the book was The Trial of Reynard the Fox. Reynard was called to King Lion's court to answer for his many tricks and crimes. Bruin the Bear, and Tybert the Cat failed to fetch him (he outsmarted both), but eventually Blaireau the Badger managed to get him to court. Reynard, being the quintessential trickster, managed to turn his confession into an accusation against other animals, offered the King some fake treasure, got away, and even had time to kill Hare and send his head back to the King. At the end, he was caught and hanged in some other kingdom. Reynard tales are usually very dark for a trickster...


Sponsken (Little Sponge) and the Giant reminded me of an American Jack tale; our hero outsmarts a giant, and then teams up with it to defeat a bear, a boar, and a unicorn (!) and win a princess. However,the princess did not want to marry him, so the king found him another, willing bride. Go figure.
The Musicians of Bremen in this case were known as The choristers of St. Gudule - they set out to start a singing career in their old age. Another similar gang started out fleeing from The end of the world, but ended up finding a king's lost ring, and making a lot of money together.
Hansel and Gretel - in this case, Jan and Jeanette - found a Sugar-candy House in the woods, owned by an old lame wolf. The wolf chased them until they crossed a rived, helped by some ducks. When the wolf asked the ducks to ferry him across too, they dumped him into the river.
I was reminded of a Nasreddin tale by The peasant and his ass, in which a foolish man was tricked into believing he was dead, and that his donkey had turned into the captain of the guard.
Ups and downs, in which Fox got Goat to go down into a well, was familiar from the tales of Uncle Remus. Trickster, as we have already seen, was always Fox, specifically a fox named Reynard. He fulfilled the role of Puss in Boots for Poor Peter, and he rescued the knight who saved an ungrateful dragon, by tricking the dragon into going back into the trap. He also tricked Wolf in a "fake baptism" tale type (where he repeatedly sneaked out to steal lard from their shared pantry), and convinced Bear to use his long tail for ice fishing (which is why bears have stumpy tails now).

Where to next?
The Netherlands!

1 comment:

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