Thursday, February 7, 2019

#FolkloreThursday: Year of the Pig (Pig tales around the world)

With the lunar new year just behind us (February 5th), we are now, according to the Chinese zodiac, in the year of the (Earth) Pig.

Curly pig tail
Hungarian folktales very often begin with the same classic formula:
"Egyszer volt, hol nem volt, még az Óperenciás-tengeren is túl, még az Üveghegyen is túl, ott, ahol a kurta farkú kismalac túr..."
Which translates into:
"Once upon a time, far away, across the Óperenciás Sea, beyond the Glass Mountain, in the place where the curly-tailed piglet roots around..."
No one is exactly sure why the curly-tailed pig is such an important element, next to the mythical seas and mountains. My guess is because it rhymes. In at least one case I know, the formula goes "... in the place where they put golden shoes on the pig and floated it down the river", which is also quite the vivid image.

Whatever the case, in honor of Folklore Thursday and Year of the Pig, here are some of my favorite pig folktales from around the world:

The Ocean-Warming Pig
(Folktales from China)
A poor, bald-headed young orphan raises a pig in his hut. The pig grows large, but its skin shrivels like raisins. One day, a Muslim treasure-hunter offers to buy it for a large sum of money; Baldhead demands to know why the wrinkly pig is so valuable. He finds out that his pet is a so-called rare Ocean-Warming Pig: If you boil it in a cauldron on the beach, the sea will boil with it, and when all the water from the cauldron evaporates, so does the sea, leaving all its treasures uncovered. Baldhead immediately puts theory to practice; the sea boils down to such low levels that the Dragon King sends panicked messengers, asking him to stop. Baldhead gets to visit the Dragon King's underwater palace, and eventually wins the youngest dragon princess' hand.
(We never find out what happened to the wrinkly pig, though.)

The Red Pig
(Hungarian Folktales)
In this popular Hungarian folktale type, a poor couple wishes for a child. One day, a piglet is born to them (or, in some versions, comes down the chimney). They raise the pig as their own, and when she is old enough, send her to school. The piglet (occasionally named Malac Julcsa, Pig Julie, or Malacka Zsuzsi, Piglet Susie) proves to be a good student, and goes out to pick berries in the forest with her classmates after school. When no one is looking, she sheds the pig skin, and turns into a beautiful girl. Eventually, a guy sees her do this, falls in love with her, and marries her, despite the scandal and mockery of the entire town. On the wedding day, the pig turns into a beautiful girl forever.
Another, related version is very similar to my favorite Cinderella type (read about it here). In this one, instead of berry-picking, the pig makes her way into the king's garden to steal golden plums (first, with the help of a woodpecker, and second, with the help of a mole-rat). The prince spies a pretty girl climbing the golden plum tree, and tries three days in a row to catch her (the third day, she literally runs out of the garden between his legs). Eventually, he tracks the fleeing pig to her house, where he proposes to court her, they fall in love, and the rest is history.

Source and more info here
St. Anthony's Pig
(Italian folktales)
In this genius folktale from Sardinia, St. Anthony wows to steal fire from Hell, to keep people warm. He goes downstairs with his trusty pig companion, and asks to be let in. He is refused, but as he is talking through the cracked door with the devils, the pig sneaks in, and... well, raises hell inside Hell. It roots around, chews things, knocks thing over, pees on things... eventually, St. Anthony is let in to get the pig out. He takes with him a fennel staff, and when the staff touches the flames of Hell, its spongy inside starts to burn. Pig in one hand and staff in the other, Anthony says goodbye to Hell, and brings the stolen fire to our world.

Black Pig Dyke
(Armagh Folktales)
In this delightful folktale, a teacher who likes to torture students by turning them into various animals and making them hunt each other (how is that for the Hunger Games?) is punished by outraged parents by being turned into a large black pig. The pig ravages the countryside, tearing a deep ditch into the ground, but at least it can never turn back into a teacher again...

Bluebeard Pig
(Danish Fairy Book)
In this favorite Bluebeard variant of mine, a girl and her two sisters are kidnapped by a pig, who turns out to be a handsome but evil serial wife murderer. The youngest girl is smart enough to rescue her two sisters from captivity, and finally trick the pig-man into letting her go as well. This tale type exists with a lot of different villains (devil-man, dragon-man, male witch, etc.), but always has a smart female lead.

Beauty and the Pig
There are several variants of the Beauty and the Beast folktale type where the Beast is a pig. In some Hungarian versions I have blogged about before, he can even be extra special, such as a magical gardener pig, or a green pig.

Flying Pigs
(Dancing on Blades)
I have blogged about this charming story, and the "extreme pig herding" motif before here. A young swineherd has to keep the king's pigs together, while they repeatedly try to get away by burrowing into the ground, jumping into the river, or flying up into the air like balloons. Each time, they are retrieved by helpful animal companions.

Talking Pigs That Are Secretly Wizards And Also Have Military Training
Yes, this is also Hungarian folktale. I blogged about it here.

Happy Year of the Pig, everyone!


  1. Thanks for sharing the stories and putting a smile on my face. <3

  2. All these tales - especially the Irish one - reminds me of the Welsh All Hallow's Eve legend of the frightening Hwch Ddu gwta, a tail-less black sow that terrorises people on that night.