Monday, October 22, 2018

Diversity in the Netherlands (Following folktales around the world 88. - Netherlands)

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!

The Flying Dutchman
And other folktales from the Netherlands
Theo Meder
Libraries Unlimited, 2007.

The book contains 126 Dutch tales, legends, and other stories, carefully selected by the author not only to reflect the diversity of narrative genres from fairy tale to urban legend, but also to showcase the cultural diversity of the Netherlands. The introduction tells us about the history and culture of the country, including traditions, foodways, and mentality. We learn important things like how Dutch tradition has few heroes, the Flying Dutchman was actually originally an English literary story, and tulips came from Turkey. The tales, on the other hand, are definitely typical of the country, as they are selected and translated from the Dutch Folktale Database. I was especially impressed that the book naturally includes urban legends as part of folklore. Each story came with notes, including sources and storyteller names, tale type numbers, and comments.


I liked the story of The king and the soldier, which reminded me of the famous anecdote about Hadrian. The soldier met the disguised king on his way to the royal court, planning on demanding his payment or beating the ruler's face in with a rock. They became friends, went through some adventures, and all was well in the end.
The Lady of Stavoren
Among the legends I especially liked the White Women of the Hill of Lochem - they were helpful and terrifying at the same time, and a young man had to face them in order to win the hand of her beloved (who helped him escape death). of course a version of the Flying Dutchman was still included in the book (as per the title), and so was the most famous actual Dutch legend, the Lady of Stavoren. She ordered a captain to bring her the most precious thing in the world, but when he delivered wheat, she ordered it to be thrown overboard - and soon was punished for her pride. Among the mythical creatures, the Basilisk of Utrecht was the most interesting; as usual, someone defeated it with a mirror.
The best stories were found among the urban legends and anecdotes. For example, one explained why February has fewer days (because he lost some on cards to January and March), and another How people learned to eat potatoes (by a lord putting up a "to be consumed by the king only" sign, prompting people to steal the exotic plant). I also liked the one about Two witches in the wine cellar, in which two young witches said the incantations wrong, got trapped in a cellar, and got terribly drunk. The story did not end well for them, but it was very entertaining. So was another witch story, that of an Enchanted ship that was stolen by the captain's wife every night, so that she could make a magical journey to China.


Another kind of
Flying Dutchman
Hansel and Gretel found a Chocolate house - after they had been sent to gather firewood by their widowed mother, and got lost in the woods. There were other familiar tale types as well, such as the Magic Flight, Beauty and the Beast, Mother killed me father ate me, and even a fun mix of Frau Holle and Snow White, in which a stepdaughter named Bertha first took refuge in the house of seven monkeys, and then the monkeys blessed her with a prince for a husband. I was intrigued to find a variant of Snow White and Rose Red, which is a rare tale type (in this case, the bear-prince was hunted by fifty evil Dwarves).
Similar to other Northern traditions, there was a legend about Why the sea is salt (in this case, a giant salt ship sunk in it), and even some tales similar to Irish traditions, such as a Changeling story, and the classic Hunchback and the Little People.
A significant part of the book was taken up by urban legends and anecdotes - some famous ones among them, including the Vanishing Hitchhiker. It was an added bonus that I read the tale of the Circus Bear the same day when I also heard it told live by a Transylvanian storyteller, who heard it from a Georgian teller...
Among the trickster tales there were some classics too, such as Why Bear has a short tail (blame it on Fox), the Fake Baptism (also Fox), and even an Anansi story out of the blue - apparently Anansi made the trip from the colonies to the Netherlands. I also encountered human tricksters, such as a clever man named Jan, along with big names such as Tijl Uilenspiegel and Nasreddin.

Where to next?

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