Saturday, February 1, 2020

Don't stop believing, just keep swimming: Folktales for dark times

2020 is off to a globally crap start. Fire, epidemic, climate crisis, fascism on continued rise, general seasonal depression, pick your favorites. Panicking is not a good reaction, but neither is the opposite. As a storyteller, I am often asked what stories one can tell to give a glimmer of hope, to inspire kids and adults to try and make a difference. Since dear friend Laura Packer asked again recently, I made a list of some of my favorite tales for the occasion.

Here is your Storytelling Global Crisis starter kit:
(Sources in the links)

The Tale of the Sun (Saami)
In a land plunged into eternal darkness a young boy inspires people to try to rebel against the shadows and bring back the light together.

Journey to the Sun (China)
When the Sun is stolen by a demon king a young man sets out to find it in the depths of a distant ocean. He is helped along the way by communities who clothe him and feed him, and braves frozen rivers and man-eating demons.

The shy quilt bird (Burma)
When a terrible water serpent threatens Lion's kingdom, Lion, with the help of his friends and advisers, comes up with a plan that needs everyone to succeed. (Kinda like in Bug's Life).

How the women saved Guam (Guam)
When people anger the spirits of nature and a giant fish starts eating their island, men fail to fight the enemy with force, but women come up with a way to work together and set a trap.

The Black Kitty (USA)
In this story the hero saves a cursed black kitten by holding on to her for three nights through all kinds of horrors, telling her everything will be okay.

Mouse Deer and the Owl (Indonesia)
Mouse Deer has to protect Owl and her nest from humans for ten days, until they are strong enough to flee. Mouse Deer is pissed and tired and not sure he can do this, but tries anyway.

The brave little parrot (Jataka)
Rafe Martin's retelling of this Jataka tale inspires you to keep doing the tiny things you can, even when all seems lost.

The magic garden (Kazakhstan)
The birds help a kind-hearted boy plant a magic garden for anyone who is in need; when the khan tries to claim it for himself, the garden protects itself.

The flying lion (South Africa)
The terrifying flying lion seems undefeatable, but Bullfrog discovers it can be slowly weakened by breaking the leftover bones of his victims one by one.

The serpent and the golden bird (Nakhi)
When the world is terrorized by a great evil serpent four women - Thinker, Doer, Seer, and Wisdom - get together and make a plan to get rid of it once and for all.

Aoxingbe (Oroqen)
In this story the hero, trapped in the underworld, carries 9999 buckets of water up 9999 steps to free a dragon that can restore him to the world of light.

Ice lanterns (Manchu)
In order to defeat a terrible monster people have to warm magic stones between their hands, passing them on to each other until they gain enough light to shine brightly and blind the monster.

More story suggestions are welcome in the comments!


  1. Your description of the day is perfect. The stories do sound hopeful.

  2. Thanks for this great resource. I've linked to this from my blog:

  3. Hi Csenge! I'm looking for the story of Mouse Deer and Owl. Your link goes to a huge book, but I'm not sure where that specific story is. Or do I need to read the whole book? Thanks.

  4. Never mind, in my search I found your video and with a bit more knowledge of the story, I figured out which one it was in the book. Thanks!