Monday, March 23, 2020

More folktales for a time of quarantine

Since a lot of people found my previous post useful, I have collected some more tales that might be a good fit for storytelling these days.
As usual, stay safe, stay connected!

Fire on the mountain (Ethiopia)
A folktale type known in various countries from Bosnia to the Comoros Islands. A slave wants to win his freedom by making a bet with his master: he will survive one night alone, cold and naked on top of a mountain. A friend helps him by kindling a fire on the neighboring mountain top, so that the distant light signals there is someone out there thinking of him and cheering him on. The slave survives the night and wins the bet - but when the master finds out about the fire, he claims he cheated. A wise man comes to the rescue, proving to the master that a distant fire cannot warm anyone's body (but it does warm their soul).
Let's keep our fires burning for each other!

The noisy house (Jewish folktale)
I wrote a blog post about this one in StorySpotting recently, you can find the sources there.
A well-known folktale in which a man is annoyed by all the noise going on in his tiny house. He turns to a wise rabbi for advice, and the rabbi tells him to bring the animals inside - gradually, he has the goat, the cow, the chickens, etc. in his living room, and things get exponentially worse. Eventually the rabbi tells him to take the animals outside again - and lo and behold, the house seems blessedly peaceful.

The mermaid of Gob Ny Ooyl (Isle of Man)
A fisherman makes friends with a mermaid, who fills his nets with fish in exchange for "land eggs" (apples). Their friendship continues until the young man decides to go on a journey and see the world. Before he leaves, he plants apple trees along a stream, so that the apples can float down to the sea for the mermaid, even when he is not there.
Let's keep our apples floating along to each other, even from a distance!

Watermelon Island (Vietnam)
After a storm a boy is found on the seashore, and adopted by a king. When he grows up he marries one of the king's daughters, and lives happily - until jealous people tell the king the young man is not grateful for his gifts. The king exiles him, his wife, and two servants to a deserted island to see how they survive on their own. The four people settle in really well for the long haul; they make a new home, discover watermelons, and build a wealthy community on the island over time.

Filling the house (Various)
A man gives a challenge to his three children: fill an entire house (or barn) with one coin's worth of something. The two eldest try filling it with straw, feathers, sand, etc. The youngest lights a candle, and fills the house with light. In other stories, s/he buys a flute and fills the house with music, and/or laughter.
It does not require much money to fill the house with joy.

The skull (Tyrol)
An orphan girl is chased away from home by her aunt, and wanders in the forest until she finds an enchanted castle. The castle's only inhabitant is a female skull. The girl befriends the skull, and they get along well. However, there is a headless skeleton that keeps trying to steal the skull; the girl keeps her safe by hugging her to her chest and holding on all night. With her perseverance and kindness she breaks the curse on the skull lady, and inherits the castle.

Sister of the Birds (Roma tale)
I can't quite tell if this is a folktale or not (I found it in the Introduction of a folktale collection), but it's a lovely story. It's about a girl who can talk to birds, and call on them with the colors of her clothes. When she is kidnapped an held captive by a witch, the birds all get together, contribute their feathers, and slowly she builds herself wings from the feathers in the tower, until one day she can fly away.
Let's keep collecting feathers for the next time we can fly!

The cooper and the dragons (Switzerland)
A nice local legend about a man who gets lost in the mountains in the fall, and ends up hibernating in a cave with two friendly dragons. In the spring the dragons go flying, and he makes his way home.
(In the original legend he dies shortly after, because he got used to dragon food. I don't usually tell it that way, though.)

Why Bear sleeps in the winter (African-American folktale)
Bear is causing a lot of trouble to the smaller animals, so one day, when they find him sleeping inside a hollow log, they decide to trap him inside. The trick succeeds so well that Bear likes his cozy new shelter, and spends the entire winter snoozing. In fact, he has been doing so ever since.

The son of Gobhaun Saor shortens the road (Ireland)
A young man figures out that the best way to shorten a long journey is through storytelling, because stories make the time fly.
Keep the stories going! :)


  1. A terrific collection! I shall forward it to Voices (remember us? DC, VA) thanks

  2. Thank you! I am building a fire on my mountain!