Monday, December 17, 2018

Islands made of flowers (Following folktales around the world 96. - Portugal)

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!

Portugal is our last stop in Europe. The series will take a short winter break, and we'll continue in February with Africa!

Islands of Magic
Legends, folk and fairy tales from the Azores
Elsie Spicer Eells
Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1922.

I have been looking forward to reading this collection for a long time. The 34 stories were collected in 1920-21 by Elsie Spicer Eells to prove that folktales were still alive in the oral tradition on the Azores. She re-worded the stories "for American children" and published them with pretty illustrations. Because the islands were uninhabited before the Portuguese colonization (or so we assume), the stories mostly come from the Portuguese and larger European tradition. Since this is a book for children, it did not contain any sources or notes, but it was still an interesting read.


The most interesting stories in the book were the islands' own legends. Princess Bluegreen, for example, told about how a princess taken by the fairies, and an impatient king, brought destruction to Atlantis, which sank in the place where the Azores are now. Another legend claimed the islands were born from flowers dropped by an angel who was exiled from Heaven, and wanted to bring their favorite flowers with them. There were other marine legends as well, such as the Island of Seven Cities (a medieval classic), or the Island of St. Brendan that appears and disappears at times. The latter had a beautiful love story attached. about a knight that fell in love with a girl, and fled to the legendary island from an earthquake to live on together. Another pretty local legend what that of the Pearl necklace, in which a handsome fisherman was abducted by a mermaid, but his mother won him back by magic. Later, when he married a mortal woman, he found a necklace of pearls on the beach, but did not remember who it was from...
Among the fairy tales, my favorite was about The princess who lost her rings - mostly because she was helped by two old storyteller women. I also enjoyed St. Anthony's godchild, who dressed up as a boy and stole things from a Moorish king. I have encountered this tale type both with male and female heroes, but this was the first one with a female hero disguised as a boy. I also loved The daughter of the King of Naples, in which a prince set out to marry the princess of Naples - without actually knowing whether Naples had a princess or not. In the end, it did, and she accidentally ran away with the wrong man, and it took some time to find her again.


After Oceania and America I once again encountered a story that explains Why dogs sniff each other. In this case, they do it because one of them left a party to get some pepper, and never came back, so they have to look for the smell of spices on everyone. I also found a parallel of an Italian folktale here, in which a girl was asked if she wanted to be unlucky while young or while old; she picked a former, and had to work through a flood of misfortune before she could settle down. Saint Peter's mother appeared once again, and once again did not make it into Heaven - hence the Portuguese saying "Standing in the door like Saint Peter's mother."
There were several familiar fairy tale types, such as Three kidnapped princesses, Magician's apprentice, Tom Thumb (Manoel Littlebean), and Snow White (a dark and gory version, but at least the dwarves turned into princes in the end). The Portuguese version of Catskins, Linda Branca, was especially interesting because the girl did not run away from her father, but rather set out disguised as an ugly servant because she was tired of being too beautiful and getting too much attentin. Of course she changed her mind in the end.
As for tricksters, there was Peter-of-the-pigs, who tricked others, but was ultimately tricked to death himself. There was also a classic "top of the crop, bottom of the crop" trickster story in the book.

Where to next?
We will reach Africa at Morocco!

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