Friday, January 25, 2019

MythOff Budapest: Myths from five continents

2019 is off to a great start: We just had the 8th MythOff in Hungary! We did not only have a new storyteller, but also a brand new, very nice and supportive venue. If everything goes well, we might have found a permanent home.

For this very first MythOff of the year, each storyteller drew a culture or region from a hat, and they had to pick their myth accordingly. Since we accidentally had tellers for five continents, we decided to make that the theme of the evening. Even though one of our seven tellers cancelled last minute due to illness (and thus we lost Africa), we still had a pretty great lineup.
This is how it went down:

Round one: Family and Conflict
This round featured two myths about conflict in the families of deities. Hajós Erika told the Japanese story of Izanagi and Izanami, the former's trip to the underworld to get his wife back - and his escape from being pursued by the armies of the dead. Gregus László told the Irish myth of Balor of the Evil Eye being defeated by his own divine grandson, Lugh.
Voting question: If you needed help protecting your loved ones and your home, whom would you rather ask for that help?
The winner: Most people thought Lugh would be the more powerful ally.

Round two: Life and Death
We did not only have two great stories in this round, but also a new storyteller! Szabad Boglárka joined us for the first time, and told the Mesopotamian myth of Nergal and Ereshkigal with passion and a great sense of humor. Stenszky Cecília brought another, more lyrical love story about how Savitri won her husband back from Yama, the Hindu god of death.
Voting question: If you had to get a loved one back from the Underworld, which deity do you think would be easier to convince?
The winner: Most people thought they would have an easier time convincing Ereshkigal.

Round three: Water and Eels
Originally, it was just gonna be Water, but then we discovered that both our stories featured eels, and we ran with it. My own choice was a Venezuelan story about how the electric eel rebelled against Napa, the Creator, and how the war of the animals led to the creation of humans. My partner, Nagy Enikő, told the Samoan legend of Sina and Tuna, and how the first coconuts were created from the head of a love struck eel.
Voting question: If you were a female eel, which eel would you rather choose as a mate?
The winner: The electric eel is sexier.

The winners of each round received a small stress ball, painted as the globe with all its countries. The fourth, remaining ball went to the youngest member of our audience (12 years old), because we thought it was super cool that he convinced his parents to bring him to an adult myth event. You can't start early enough.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

#FolkloreThursday: Badass folk versions of the classic fairy tales you're bored of

This post was born at an intersection of two issues that keep coming up when the media latches onto the topic of fairy tales. One of them is people making sweeping statements about folktales based on a very narrow canon, such as "women are always passive princesses in fairy tales" (I have blogged about this before). The other is the ever-present question of representation - what can we do if we don't like the kissy part of Snow White, or Sleeping Beauty? (I have blogged about this too). 
Since these questions keep circling around, and since I have a lot of data on my hands from Following folktales around the world, today I wanted to bring you a selection of lesser known, more badass folk variants of the stories we all love and are bored of.

Here we go.

Demon hunter Sleeping Beauty
Jan Knappert: Aicha's tasks on earth (The World and I, 2002.)

Contrary to popular belief, the central motif of Sleeping Beauty is not the kiss at all - it is the moment when something stabs her finger, and she falls under enchantment. While this enchantment is most often sleep, there are notable exceptions to the rule - Aicha among them. Aicha, the hero of an Algerian folktale, defeats and burns an evil ghoul, but a single splinter of bone remains, and it gets under her skin. With the injury comes the curse: Aicha cannot stay in one place, she has to travel the world. Taking advantage of her constant wandering (as well as her skills as a swordsman and a geomancer), she goes from city to city, killing demons, sea monsters, werewolves, and the like. She eventually gets rid of her own curse, and becomes a queen.

Cat burglar Cinderella
Jack Zipes: Catarina the Wise (University of Chicago Press, 2017.)

The Sicilian folktale of The Little Date Tree is by far my favorite version of the Cinderella story. Locked into the house with her two boring sisters, Ninetta decides to climb down the well after a stray thimble. She accidentally discovers a portal that leads straight into the king's gardens - and she decides this is a good opportunity to rob him blind. After days of coming and going, and stealing fruit, flowers, and decorations, she is eventually noticed by the prince - who announces a ball with the sole purpose of catching the pretty yet mysterious thief. Ninetta shows up repeatedly, makes fun of the prince, and eventually drives a hard bargain, getting the king to make her her father's heir before asking for the prince's hand in marriage.

Wolf hunter Riding Hood
Dékány Rafael: A pityke és a kökény (Argumentum, 2004.)

In this Hungarian folktale, a little girl lives in a cave in the forest all alone. She lives in comfort through the summer, but when winter hits, wolves get hungrier as the weather gets colder, and finally one of them sniffs out her home. The girl, who is in the process of boiling lye for soap when the wolf appears, pours the whole cauldron of it on the hungry beast, scalding its fur off. Later the wolf returns with a whole pack for revenge. The girl climbs a tree to get away from them. In true cartoon fashion, the wolves stand on each other's shoulders to reach her, with the naked wolf at the bottom. When they get close enough, she screams "More boiling water!", and the naked one jumps out of the bottom of the pile. The girl has wolf furs to warm her for the rest of the winter.

Sorceress Rapunzel
Italo Calvino: Italian folktales (Mariner Books, 1992.)

Okay, so The Canary Prince is not technically the same folktale type as Rapunzel, but it does feature a girl locked in a tower. In this case, it happens to keep her out of the way of her evil stepmother. Looking out of the tower, she falls in love with a prince who is hunting in the woods, and thanks to a mysterious old woman, she acquires a book of magic. She learns how to turn the prince into a canary so that he can visit her, and how to turn him back. The stepmother eventually tries to sabotage the secret affair, and mortally wounds the prince. The girl is not deterred; she rescues herself from the tower, gains some knowledge from a group of witches in the woods, and goes off to save the prince.

Sister rescue from Bluebeard's castle
Clara Stroebe: The Danish Fairy Book (New York, 1922.)

Bluebeard is widely regarded as a cautionary tale about marrying a handsome stranger, and finding out that he has dead wives locked in his closet. In the eponymous version, the girl's brothers arrive just in time to get rid of the evil man and save their sisters. There is another tale type, however - such as the Danish tale of The Pig in the book above - which is essentially the same story, except here the youngest sister first helps her older sisters escape from the murder castle (usually by reviving them, and hiding them in luggage), and then she smuggles herself out as well. In a Hungarian variant, the evil man goes on to stalk her, until the Virgin Mary pops out of Heaven to tell him that he has no right to any woman. 

Cajun Snow White
W. B. McCarthy: Cinderella in America (University Press of Mississippi, 2007.)

Okay, so this one is more cute than badass, but here it is: In Snow Bella, the persecuted princess finds shelter in the house of two Dwarves and their adopted (human) younger brother. The evil queen tries to kill her three times; the first two she is saved by the youngest brother's quick thinking and keen eyes for detail. The poison apple thing goes the usual way, except there is no kiss: When they are taking her to be buried, one of the brothers stumbles with the coffin (probably because of the height difference), the apple bite dislodges from her throat, and she wakes up. In the end, she marries the youngest brother, because they have fallen in love over the years spent together. No questionable prince in sight. 

Moral of the story: Variants of folktales can differ a lot from each other, and there are some true gems out there for the telling. Have fun!