Tuesday, December 31, 2019

316 earworms

This time last year I blogged about how I wake up with a song stuck in my head almost every morning. For an entire year I wrote down the songs in my journal, and compiled a list. In 2019 I repeated the experiment, curious to see how the soundtrack changed this year, or whether it changed at all. It was definitely a fun thing to do!

Last year there were 306 days when I woke up to music stuck in my head. Usually they are stuck so strong that I keep humming them over and over until I listen to something else. This year there were 316 mornings like this; but while last year's list contained 150 different songs, this year only had 137. There is still no discernible system or reason for which song I wake up to which morning. Some of them I listen to a lot, others I have not heard for years. Songs I like tend to show up, but spaced out over months, rather than in a cluster.

Here is this year's Top 5. Don't judge.

First place, with 12 mornings:
(The Moana soundtrack is still in first place; I woke up to We know the way 8, You're welcome also 8, and Where you are 2 times)

Second place, 11 mornings:
(Yes, this is Scarlett Johansson as a porcupine)

Third place, 10 mornings:
(Yes, I know, the Sing soundtrack definitely stuck with me; I also woke up to I've got faith 4 times, it's one of my favorite songs to walk around the city to.)

Also third place with 10 mornings (sticking to her place on last year's list):

Fourth place, 9 mornings:
(I don't even listen to this one and it still stuck)

Fifth place, 8 mornings:

Also fifth pace, 8 mornings:
(Not counting the Moana songs again; Halsey's Castle, from last year's list, also got 8 mornigs).

+1 I listen to on repeat while walking to work, and yet I only woke up to it once, I don't get it:

I also compared this year's list to last year's. Last year's first place, Little Talks, only got 6 mornings, and the second place songs, Ed Sheeran's I see fire and Demi Lovato's Confident only got 2 mornings each.

It was also interesting to look at soundtracks. As I mentioned before, I woke up to Moana songs a total of 30 mornings this year. Next to them, I really got hooked on The Magicians soundtrack - together with Under pressure from the list above, they were the song of the day on 22 mornings (Take on me 7, Here I go again 6, One day more 1), and countless workdays. I also added some badass blues songs from new favorites Larkin Poe on 15 mornings (Look away 6, Dandelion 5, Bleach blonde bottle blues 4). Hamilton is still alive and well with 12 mornings (Wait for it 6, Alexander Hamilton 4, Someday 1, Satisfied 1).

On the other end of the list there were quite a few WTF moments this year. My "favorite" was a children's camp song aptly titled One hundred purple fake dumplings marching in the desert, which is basically a version of 99 bottles of beer on the wall, and it drives adults nuts. And also, to give a nod to subconscious childhood nostalgia, this:

Thank God I only had to wake up to it once.

I shall continue the experiment in 2020. Can't wait to see how it goes...

Do you often wake up with a song stuck in your hear? What is your experience?

Saturday, December 28, 2019

StorySpotting: Princess in the crypt (The Witcher)

StorySpotting is a weekly or kinda-weekly series about folktales, tropes, references, and story motifs that pop up in popular media, from TV shows to video games. Topics are random, depending on what I have watched/played/read recently. Also, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. Be warned!

Where was the story spotted?

The Witcher, season 1, episode 3 (Betrayer Moon)

What happens?

Pic from here
A cursed princess is turned into a striga, a terrible monster that kills people. In order to break the curse on her, Geralt has to keep her out of her coffin until the rooster crows three times in the morning. At the end of a long and brutal fight all night, he locks himself in the princess' sarcophagus, and thus keeps her out until the light of dawn. When the finally emerges, he finds a transformed princess lying naked on the floor.

What's the story?

Let's skip over the striga folklore, because that is a whole different can of worms. The rest of this plot is pretty well known to storytellers around the world: it's a folktale type known as ATU 307, The Princess in the Coffin.

The basic story is pretty much always the same: a cursed princess crawls out of her coffin/crypt every night and kills people. Whoever wants to break the curse has to avoid being killed for three nights in a row. A young and brave soldier receives life-saving advice from an old man (in exchange for half of his bounty), and survives two nights. On the third night he locks himself in the princess' coffin, and waits until morning, thus breaking the curse, and setting her free. In some versions he marries her; in others, he gets paid in coin.
In some versions the old man who helps the young soldier is a grateful dead person himself. In some versions, as promised, they split the princess in half. (But then they put her back together).

This story is very popular in the Hungarian tradition, I have blogged about it before. You can read a Danish version (The princess in the chest) here, a French version (Jean of Bordeaux) here, a Spanish one (La hija enterrada) here, a Polish-American version (The bewitched princess) here, and a Roma version (The three girls) here. It also exists (and is listed in the ATU catalog) in most of the Baltic countries, the Netherlands, German-speaking countries, all around the Mediterranean, the Balkans, and Russia.

Fun fact: This folktale type is often attached to the end of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. After they are found out, in many variants the princesses are executed for sneaking out at night to do witchcraft. Their corpses are buried, and then they start coming back for revenge, until someone breaks the curse.


This story has been a part of my repertoire for a long time (you can watch me tell it in English here). It makes excellent Halloween telling, and teenagers love it. I was thrilled to recognize it in the show.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Familiar discoveries (Following folktales around the world 136. - Mozambique)

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!

This is the last post in the series before a short winter break. We'll be back after the holidays!

Makua Tales 
Second Series
H. W. Woodward
Bantu Studies 9/1, 1935.

Since I could not find a book for Mozambique, I dug up an article from the Bantu Studies journal. It contains 25 Makua folktales in the original language and English mirror translation. The Makua are a Bantu ethnic group who mostly live in Mozambique (and some of them are scattered in Tanzania). The end of the article also contains a series of riddles, but they are very hard to guess for someone not familiar with Makua culture (or local flora and fauna). Most of the tales in the article belonged to familiar types, but it was nice to see them again.


The story of Narikosha was simple and lovely. A handsome man decided not to pick a beautiful girl from among the ones that competed for him; instead, he picked a girl he loved, even though she was covered in sores.


I knew the story of The monkey's heart from many places (including Columbia). Here it was a catfish who got tricked by a monkey. The mutual invitation story, where neither host allowed the guest to eat at their party, here featured Tortoise and Monkey. There was a "flying turtle" tale as well, where turtle was being carried over water by his friend Falcon, but couldn't resist speaking, so he got dropped in the river - that's why turtles live in water.
I was happy to see my favorite "bystander intervention" folktale again - this time Rabbit tried to trick Dove into giving him her children, but Falcon showed up in time to tell her not to believe the empty threats, Rabbit can't actually hurt (or reach) her.
There was a short animal bride folktale featuring a civet cat that secretly turned into a woman when no one was looking, and cleaned a hunter's house..
The resident trickster is Hare, who usually tricked Hyena - for example, in the popular African tale type of going to visit relatives, and tricking his companion on the way multiple times. There was also a "deadly rock" type story; here Hare lured animals into a hollow log, and killed them when they got stuck (until Eland tricked him). In another story Hare kept scaring people, and eating their food when they ran away - until they caught him with the usual Tar Baby trick. On the other hand, it was also Hare who tricked the ungrateful Leopard back into the trap he had been saved from, saving Deer's life. And he also featured in a "silent princess" tale, where he made her speak by showing her a catfish in a cat trap, and a cat in a fish trap.

Where to next?
The Comoros!

Monday, December 16, 2019

Morals for the next generation (Following folktales around the world 135. - Malawi)

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! 

Malawi ​Folktales 1
Veronica Maele
AGLC Press, 2003.

The book contains fifteen folktales, collected by the author from her own older relatives. The goal of the book, according to the introduction, was to offer traditional stories to the next generation from their own culture, teaching them through morals that have not been passed through because of social changes between generations. To support this goal, the book has an educational chapter at the end, with questions and teaching help. There are also some black-and-white illustrations.


I really enjoyed the story of Kilapo and the witches. Kilapo was a sick boy (probably with leprosy), whom his own family wanted to exile into the wilderness, but he had one loyal friend who spent time with him even when he was not supposed to. He invited Kilapo along on a trip with other children, even though Kilapo waked slowly, and all the other kids made fun of them. The group ended up in a cave of witches, and, of course, it was Kilapo who saved everyone in the end.
The story of The woodcutter and the bird was also beautiful. The woodcutter found a beautiful rich forest, but every time he cut down some trees, the clearing disappeared by the next day. He eventually managed to catch a glimpse of a magic bird that flew in, and revived the trees with its song. The woodcutter gave up and moved elsewhere.
I also liked the story in which a kind bird gave wings to the grasshoppers so that they would not have to hop everywhere. Another pourquoi story explained why frogs look the way they do - and not the way they used to, back in the old days, when they had pretty horns and luscious white fur.


I was surprised to find a variant of the Ant and the Grasshopper - the moral was the same (gather food for hard times), but in the end the neighboring mouse took pity on the grasshopper, and gave him enough food to survive the winter.

The story of the red mangoes was similar to all the folktales about stolen golden apples, except here the youngest boy was very kind to the bird, and when his brothers wanted to take it from him, a wizard appeared out of nowhere, and chastised them. There was also a "kind and unkind girls" story.
I was reminded of a West African Anansi story by the tale of Lizard and his three wives. He won them by guessing their secret names - but in the end they ran away with other men, and Lizard was okay with it, as long as he could visit sometimes, which is why you tend to find lizards inside the house.
There was yet another "tricky invitation" tale where Tortoise and Monkey invited each other for lunch, but didn't actually get to eat any food; and also an ungrateful lion, tricked back into the trap by a clever Hare to help a medicine man.

Where to next?

Saturday, December 14, 2019

StorySpotting: Fae vs. Human (Maleficent: Mistress of Evil)

StorySpotting is a weekly or kinda-weekly series about folktales, tropes, references, and story motifs that pop up in popular media, from TV shows to video games. Topics are random, depending on what I have watched/played/read recently. Also, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. Be warned!

I am not a fan of Disney's recent "live action" phase, but Maleficent is the one exception because it actually manages to create a new story instead of just CGI-ing the crap out of a cartoon.

Where was the story spotted?

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (aka Maleficent 2)

What happens?

Humans decide to start a war to get rid of those pesky fae creatures in the Enchanted Forest once and for all. The whole story culminates in an epic battle scene, and a bunch of fae locked in a church, being turned into flowers and plants by poison gas (yeah, I know.).

What's the story?

Sure, fairies and humans have their differences in various tales and legends, but all-out war and genocide? Really?


Illustration (Castle Sirok)
For starters, there is a Hungarian legend about Castle Backa in Transylvania. It claims that the castle was built by fairies, who lived at a distance from, but in general peace with, the humans - that is, until we started to build churches with bell towers. The fairies repeatedly warned humans the sound of the bells bothered them, and when that didn't work, they raised an army, attacked the human villages, and destroyed all churches. Some time later water disappeared from their castle. Dying of thirst they came to the humans to beg for water, but the humans, remembering the destruction, denied their pleas. The fairies left, and no one ever heard from them again.

Another tale, from Transcarpathia, takes an even darker turn. It's titled Where have all the fairies gone?, and it was recorded from storyteller Pályuk Anna about 100 years ago (I published it in English in by book Dancing on Blades). It is told in first person by a girl who sets out to investigate why all fairies are gone. A mysterious man tells her the story: one time human children started to die in great numbers, and someone claimed they were being killed by fairies - so humans set out and systematically hunted the fairies all down. Or so the mysterious man claims... and then he disappears.

There is a local legend in Ireland's County Leitrim about two neighboring cairns, Sigh Mor and Sigh Beg. It claims that under the piles of stones two warriors are buried who fell in a battle fighting each other. Since both sides in the battle had fairy allies, the fairies continued fighting long after the humans were gone, and they continued their battles for centuries.

Also, moving away from fairies to other mythical creatures, there is the legend of King Laurin's Rose Garden, one of my favorite medieval stories. In this one, humans accuse Dwarf King Laurin of kidnapping their princess, and set out to take revenge. In truth, the princess ran away with the Dwarf king out of love, but her family refuses to believe that. Even when they manage to start some diplomatic talks with the help of legendary King Dietrich of Bern, civility soon breaks down, and the human knights kidnap the Dwarf king. He manages to get a message to a relative of his, King Walberan, ruler of the Dwarfs and Giants of the Caucasus, and he shows up with an entire army to save Laurin and level Dietrich's human kingdom. The battle is averted in the last minute, and eventually Dwarfs and Humans manage to make peace.
(I have a full-hour storytelling show of this legend, called Roses in the Mountains)

Last but not least: Irish leprechauns are officially a protected species under the E. U. Habitats Directive. A man who met a leprechaun was told that there were only 236 of them left, and since no one can prove or disprove their existence, their habitat was declared protected.


I feel like we need to remember all these stories, and see what we can learn from them about acceptance, coexistence, cultural diplomacy, and other important topics.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Tales, word for word (Following folktales around the world 134. - Zambia)

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!

Folktales ​from Zambia
Texts In Six African Languages And In English
Dorothea Lehmann
Dietrich Reimer, 1983.

The book contains nineteen folktales, collected in the 1960s by a German linguist who was researching the languages of the newly independent country. The introduction tells us about the types and language of the stories, the context of collecting them, and the way they were transcribed from the original by students who spoke the native languages. There was also a lot of information about the storytelling tradition - for example, a taboo against telling stories in daylight (otherwise the teller's father turns into a monkey, and their mother into porridge).
The story texts appear on the same page, one column in the original language and the other in English, in very punctual mirror translation. The book also contains a bibliography and a map.


I have seen the story of the selfish husband before, but I really liked the version in this book. During a famine a family moved into the bush. The husband found lots of honey, but hid it, and refused to share with his children, even when they begged. Finally the mother went out to hunt, and killed a large animal, but could not drag it home. The village came to her help, gave her flour and corn, and now that she had support, she divorced her selfish husband.
There was also a classic shapeshifting story about a hunter who turned into a lion. There really is not much happening in the story, other than a hunter turning into a lion, and his companions pissing themselves in fear. The lion didn't hurt anyone, though, and eventually changed back.


The magic ring was an Aladdin-story, but here it was the mother-in-law who stole the ring, and an eagle and a rat helped to get it back. I have already seen a tale similar to The hornbill and the hare once; here, the bird threatened the hare into working for him, claiming his beak was red hot and dangerous. Once he fell asleep, however, the hare found out the truth about the beak being harmless.

Where to next?

Saturday, December 7, 2019

StorySpotting: Skin and bones (Terminator: Dark Fate)

StorySpotting is a weekly or kinda-weekly series about folktales, tropes, references, and story motifs that pop up in popular media, from TV shows to video games. Topics are random, depending on what I have watched/played/read recently. Also, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. Be warned!

I really wanted to do a Terminator post about strong women and female warriors and whatnot, but then this random tidbit was so funny that the post just wrote itself. Sorry.

Where was the story spotted?

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

What happens?

In this movie we see a new type of terminator, the REV-9, which is designed as an infiltrator. As Wikipedia so eloquently put it: the REV-9's "primary feature is the ability to split its mimetic polyalloy exterior and endoskeleton into two separate units." Basically, its skin separates from its (carbon-based) bones, and goes walking around separately, taking on other people's form.

What's the story?

The first one that came to mind was a folktale from Palau, titled Budel and Iuesel. They were brothers, the children of the same woman; Budel was just an empty skin, and Iuesel was a skeleton. Iuesel went fishing every day, but one time Budel wanted to go too. The skeleton carried his skin-brother down to the seashore, where he could sit on a rock and spear fish. However, suddenly they saw an enemy war canoe coming in. They had to run back to their village, but as Iuesel ran, Budel kept flapping behind him like a cape. Eventually, to make things easier, the skeleton slipped his brother on himself like a sweater - and skeletons have been wearing skin ever since.
(Find the story here.)
Taking off your skin and putting it back on is a surprisingly common thing in folktales. In a folktale from Liberia, titled Tola and the Sea Monster, a girl declares that she will only ever marry a man with perfect skin. A sea monster, hearing this, borrows the smooth, perfect skin of a sea goddess, puts it on, and seduces the girl, carrying her away into the underwater realms. (She is eventually rescued by her brother). There are also many stories in the Central American and Caribbean region about people (especially women) who take their skin off, and go flying around at night. In many cases someone (often the husband) eventually finds out, and rubs the empty skin's inside with salt and/or chili peppers, so when the person comes back, they can't put the skin on anymore. There are many variants of this story in Elsie Clews Parson's collections, and I also found some from Nicaragua and Belize.

Don't try this at home, kids.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Pig noses and exotic birds (Following folktales around the world 133. - Zimbabwe)

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!

Shangani ​Folk Tales
A collection of Shangani folk stories
C. Stockil & M. Dalton
Longman Zimbabwe, 1987.

The book contains thirty folktales from the Shangani (Tsonga) people of Zimbabwe. There are no notes or comments accompanying the stories, but there are a few black-and-white illustrations. The majority of the Shangani (a Bantu people) are located in Mozambique and South Africa, but a few thousand of them live in Zimbabwe, where the collection was published.


The hero (or anti-hero) of many stories was Nwapfundhla, the Hare - a true Trickster character. He did some very questionable things in some stories, while other were simply funny and entertaining. I enjoyed the story about The waterhole that the animals dug without Hare's help; when he kept stealing water from it anyway, Chibodze, the Tortoise, used his own shell as a tar baby trap to capture the thief. Trickster vs Trickster at its best.

There was an adorable story explaining why the warthog has a short nose, why the elephant shrew has a long nose, and why the nightjar has a wide mouth - the warthog fell off a tree and landed on his nose, which made the bird laugh and the shrew snort, and all of then acquired permanent new features that way. According to another tale Khumba, the pig has a short nose because he tried to imitate the lilac-breasted roller (see picture) who flies up high and then drops, only pulling up a hair's breadth before hitting the ground. Back then, pigs could fly but Khumba was not very good at it, so he hit the ground nose first, and has been too embarrassed to fly ever since. I also adored the story about how the warthog got his tail - God made tails for all the animals to pick from, but Elephant picked two, one for the back and one for the front, and the warthog was left out. In his shame, he dug up a root and stuck it to his back, and his tail has been sticking up ever since.


I have heard the story of Nganga, the python from storytellers before. A sick man needed a python-healer, but all his sons who went to fetch the serpent ran away in fear. Only the youngest child (already used to everyone being larger than him) was brave enough to carry the python around his shoulders.

The birds once again chose their own king; this time Eagle was bested by the tiny Fork-tailed drongo who flew higher on his back.
The resident trickster, as I mentioned, was Nwapfundhla the Hare. He featured into the story of the mutual dinner invitations with Baboon where neither let the other one eat. He also ran a race with Tortoise (and lost), and made Elephant and Hippo play tug-o-war. He also solved the problem when Baboon kept inviting animals to meet his in-laws, and then tricked them out of eating.

Where to next?