Monday, June 29, 2020

Worlds behind the curtain (Following folktales around the world 162. - Lebanon)

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!

Abu ​Jmeel's Daughter and Other Stories
Arab Folk Tales from Palestine and Lebanon
Jamal Sleem Nuweihed
Interlink Books, 2002.

The 27 folktales in this book were written down from memory by a Lebanese lady named Jamal Sleem Nuweihed when she was 83 years old. The stories were then translated to English by her family - children, grandchildren, nieces. Jamal spent her life writing novels, poems, autobiographies and tales, but she was never allowed to enter literary life outside the home, so a lot of her work went unpublished. She learned her folktales from four women in her childhood: a Lebanese aunt, a Lebanese friend, her own Turkish mother who had an adventurous life, and a Palestinian fortune-teller. The foreword tells us about her life, while the introduction talks about the colorful details of Arab storytelling traditions. Each story comes with end notes and comments. The tales in the book were all colorful, exciting, and beautifully eloquent, reflecting the hidden life and dreams of a brilliant woman writer.


Image from here
One of the most beautiful tales in the book was the story of Amina. Eight siblings (seven girls and a boy) ran away from home from an evil stepmother, and started a new life elsewhere, supporting each other. In time their father left the stepmother and found them, and the brother married a princess. What I liked most about this story (other than the bookworm youngest daughter) was that it stated that the father knew about the cruelty of his wife, but didn't have the confidence to do something about it.
The story of Rummana was a gorgeous Snow White variant, combined with elements I knew from tales such as Little Surya Bai. The princess was not exiled here, rather she ran away into the wilderness our of curiosity and got lost. Three hunters adopted her as their sister and raised her. When eventually an evil ghoul killed her, they put her in a glass coffin on the back of a camel and set her free. A prince found her, his mother revived her and cared for her until she was healthy again.
The tale of Qamar Al-Zamaan and Shams Al-Dunya was very similar to one of the Palestinian stories, but it was a longer and more elaborate version. A prince was tricked into thinking his bride was ugly, so he ran away and hid in a garden. The bride disguised herself and befriended him; they slowly fell in love (with lots of poetry) until she revealed who she really was. The seond half of the tale, however, took a tragic turn: evil women killed the wife and her children, and the prince went through a long and dark grief process before he found love again.
Image from here
I absolutely loved the story of Hassan Al-Waqqad (I have recently worked with a different version of it for my book). A clever and brave princess was married to a beggar by her angry father as punishment, but they managed to build a life together anyway, fell in love, and found their fortune together. In another tale a man named Azzam was the most eligible bachelor of his city, but he kept divorcing his wives after the wedding night. Finally a clever girl managed to uncover his secret (he was being blackmailed by a sorceress), got rid of the villain with the help of her maid, and turned his life around. In The midwife's daughter and the bandit another clever and brave girl managed to talk herself out of danger when a bandit found his way into her house at night.


There was, once again a "women's wiles are better than men's wiles" story, although this version was definitely kinder than the ones I have read before. After Palestine, I also encountered again the tale where a poor girl was rejected by her rich cousin, only to marry a beggar - who, to the infinite regret of the cousin, turned out to be Caliph Haroun Al-Rashid himself.
Another Mediterranean tale type appeared in Sons of the rich and daughters of the poor, where a poor girl competed with her rich cousin about which one of them could start a better business. The clever girl grew rich, while the guy ran his family business into the ground.
In "Mine to use as I choose" a young man was not allowed to see his bride, so, similarly to Greek folktales, he had a golden statue made, and hid inside (it was also a beautiful story, btw.). The fawwal's daughter was an Anait-story, where the prince had to learn a trade before he could marry a girl - and his trade saved his life later on. The girl was a spirited, flirty, clever character, who reminded me of Basil Girl tales.
On top of all this, there were several familiar tale types, such as a golden-haired gardener (Clever Hasan), three gifts (Marzuoq the woodcutter), Prince Thrushbeard (Hajji Brumbock), daughter of the sun (Abu Jmeel's daughter), cat bride (Cat of cats, where the cat skin was not burnt in the end, but rather stuffed with gold and displayed as a memorabilia), three pieces of advice (Don't betray those who trust you), Basil girl who seduced her husband three times (The tailor's daughter), and Cinderella / Kind and unkind girls (The golden shoe).

Where to next?

Monday, June 22, 2020

Wise grandmothers and brave women (Following folktales around the world 161. - Palestine)

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!

Speak, ​Bird, Speak Again
Palestinian Arab Folktales
Ibrahim Muhawi & Sharif Kanaana
University of California Press, 1989.

The book contains 45 folktales, preceded by a long introduction about the collection, storytelling traditions, events, and styles. The stories were collected between 1978 and 1980, and out of more than two hundred texts the authors selected the most common tale types to represent the Palestinian folktale tradition.
The introduction talks about some of the seventeen storytellers (14 of whom were women); Palestinian family culture and relationships; society, cuisine, religion, and beliefs, in the light of folktales. The stories in the book are grouped into chapters thematically (individuals, society, relationships, etc.), and each chapter comes with a short Afterword analysis. Each story comes with plenty of footnotes, explaining cultural references and expressions. On top of that, at the end of the books we can find more notes for each story, a folktale motif index, and a bibliography.


My favorite in the whole book is a story cycle named "Seven leavenings" - sadly, only two of the seven have been collected. The hero is a clever old woman who, while waiting for dough to rise, walks down to the sea, gets on a random ship, and goes traveling to other cities. In each city she solves some kind of a problem (usually marital) with trickery. I would LOVE to read more of these stories.
"Sumac, you son of a wh***, sumac", the story with the best title in the book, was a pretty great version of the tale type where a girl is born a cannibalistic monster (here, a ghoul), and her brother ends up hunting her down after she eats the whole family. Here the hero was helped by two tame lions he raised. In an unexpected twist, at the end of the story he solved a riddle with the help of his sister's drops of blood (who yelled the solution at him in the above mentioned title format). Similar monster-hunting appeared in the story where an old ghoul woman stole the brides of a prince on their wedding night, until a clever lady broke the curse and sent guards to kill the ghoul. In the story of the Transjordanian ghoul mother and daughter killed the monster, while the man of the house was taking a nap.
The story of the brave young man reminded me of the devil's golden hairs - but it was not about a brave young man at all. His sole role was to go to the terrible ghoul and tell his wife the ghoul needed to die - at which point the brave and clever woman took care of the monster-killing. She was not the only interesting female hero in the book, either. The tale of Gazelle was a version of the type known to many of us as the Russian Koschei the Deathless - but here the jinn the guy accidentally released from prison (where it had been put by the heroine) didn't kidnap the wife, but rather challenged her to a fight which she accepted (saying "this time I will destroy you"), and while they fought the husband went off to find the jinn's hidden strength.
The story of Soqak-Boqak was interesting: jealous bystanders made a prince think his bride was ugly, so he ran away from his wedding. His bride disguised herself, found him, and they fell in love before she revealed that he had been lied to.


I was happy to read another version of the Saudi-Arabian tale where a woman goes into an underground kingdom out of shame for a burp. Here, a  poor woman sank underground because of a fart, and returned rich; when a rich woman tried to copy her, she returned cursed. It was especially funny to see how farts lived in the underground realm as people.
The tale of Tunjur Tunjur belonged to the funny type where a talking bowl brings gifts to its owner (here, also its mother). The story of Lady Tatar was an interesting mix of Daughter of the Sun and Daughter of the Wild Man - a heroine raised by a ghoul used her magic powers to show how she was better than all the other brides of her husband. There was also a version of the cute Middle Eastern tale type where a Cricket girl married a mouse, then fell into a puddle, and her husband heroically rescued her.
There were many familiar tale types represented in the book, for example princesses kidnapped to the underworld (Precious One and Worn-out One), treasures of the giant (Half-man), an animal brother tale (The orphans and the cow), "mother killed me, father ate me" (The green bird), Golden-haired children and the Water of Life (The little nightingale), Canary prince (The chief of birds), All-kinds-of-fur (Sackcloth), Rapunzel + magic flight (Lolabe), kind and unkind girls (Chicken eggs), tablecloth, donkey, and stick (with a Woodcutter and jinn in a well), Aladdin (Maruf the shoemaker, whose wife eventually stole the magic ring back), false fortune-teller (named Sparrow), and Seven kids (here with three kids, and a hyena disguised through a chain story). There were other chain stories in the book too; one about a cat who wanted her tail back, and another about a louse that started a mass grief chain among the animals. Dunglet was one of those stories where a monster keeps devouring everyone and getting bigger and bigger (here, it was an ever-growing piece of dung).

Where to next?

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Returning the selkie skin: Divorce in folktales, in a positive light

I somehow ended up being the "positive divorce" storyteller on Twitter.
My parents divorced two years ago, in a friendly way, and ever since then I have been interested in traditional folktales that portray divorce in a different light. There are situations in life where divorce is absolutely the solution, even if it means a painful ending to something that had been good once.

Here are some of my favorite examples so far:

Why the Sun shines in the day and the Moon shines at night (Lithuania)

This story tell us about the mythic divorce between Sun and Moon, and how they decided to share custody of their child, the Earth. They decided Sun will keep an eye on her during the day, and Moon will do so at night. The arrangement seems to be working so far.

How Soslan married Kosher (Ossetian Nart saga)

The most famous of the Nart heroes, Soslan, fights for the hand of a lady who lives in a magic flying tower. After many adventures and some flirting, she agrees to marry him. However, eventually she grows bored of living in one place, and since Soslan won't leave the Narts, they decide it's better for them to divorce. They say goodbye, and she flies away in her tower.

The marriage of Sultan Hasan (Egypt)

A sultan is told he'll have seven years of bad luck, so he dresses as a beggar and goes into exile to keep his family from suffering. In a village he encounters a rich man who keeps divorcing and re-marrying his wife out of cruelty. According to law, after three divorces he can only marry her again if she's had another husband in between. So they marry her to the first random beggar (the sultan), hoping to divorce them the next morning. However, they take a liking to each other, and decide not to divorce. Instead, they live on in a much happier, harmonious marriage.

The selfish husband (Zambia)

During a time of famine a family moves into the wilderness. The husband finds a lot of wild honey, but doesn't give any to his wife and children. The wife sets out on her own and catches an antelope, but can't carry it home alone. People from a nearby village help her, and since she can now care for her children with the help of the community, she divorces her selfish husband.

The selkie wife (Scotland)

A fisherman who doesn't have anyone, and wears a birthmark on his face, meets a selkie. First he steals her skin so she can't return to the sea, but then he feels bad about it and gives the skin back to her. The girl decides to stay with him anyway. Fifteen years later, however, she grows homesick, and returns to the sea, telling her husband to follow in time. When their children are grown, the fisherman goes into the sea and turns into a seal as well.
(I don't know if this is divorce or separation, but it's the best selkie story I know.)

Red Roderick and the selkie (Scotland)

Also a selkie story, except here the wife steals back her own skin after the birth of three children, and walks into the sea, telling her husband not to hunt seals ever again.

Fallen men spoil virtuous women (Syria)

In this tale type that exists in East Africa and the Middle East, a man divorces his three wives because each has a character flaw. Another, kinder man decides to marry them, and discovers that "character flaws" are actually largely the result of how badly the women had been treated by their husband (e.g. the one called "gluttonous" never got enough to eat).

The man who spoke the language of animals (Eritrea)

A classic tale type, where a man can't tell his wife where he got his magic powers. However, here in the end instead of beating his wife they simply divorce over their differences - and thus divorce is introduced to the world for the first time.
(This divorce saves the man from dying, and the woman from a dishonest marriage.)

The three little eggs (Eswatini)

Not as much divorce as escape from an abusive husband, towards a better future. I wrote about this story in detail in the Feminist Folktales series (see link).

Skadi and Njörd (Norse myth)

The goddess Skadi accidentally marries Njörd, the old god of the sea. They are such an awful match, however, that they decide to separate, and Skadi goes on to fall in love with Ullr, god of archery, who is a much better match for her.

Monday, June 15, 2020

A treasure trove of stories (Following folktales around the world 160. - Israel)

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!

The ​Power of a Tale
Stories from the Israel Folktale Archives
Haya Bar-Itzhak & Idit Pintel-Ginsberg 
Wayne State University Press, 2019.

A very special collection with a great backstory. The 53 tales in this book were selected from the Israel Folktale Archives (IFA) to celebrate its 50th anniversary - the book was published in Hebrew in 2009, and finally in English last year. The archives were founded in 1955 to gather folk narratives from people immigrating into Israel, as well as from religious and ethnic groups living in the country (actively contradicting the idea that Israel would have to be culturally homogeneous). Today the archives contain more than 24,000 texts! All the stories in this book are tales that have not been published before. They represent 26 ethnic groups; nineteen of the tellers were women, and thirty-three were men.
This book really has everything a reader-researcher can wish for: a detailed Introduction about the history of IFA and the collection projects; bibliographies, folktale types, photos of the storytellers, an index, statistics of IFA, etc. Each story comes with a full background essay, with sources and notes and bibliographies, written by folklorists in Israel and abroad. Each takes a different approach to its story: a feminist point of view, comparative folklore, story psychology, cultural anthropology, etc. They were often as fascinating to read as the stories themselves. The whole book is a rare resource and a fun read, and definitely worth the time.


My favorite story in the book was about The king who trusted the kingdom to his daughters (I blogged about it here). I love it because the heroine saves a kingdom with her kindness and empathy, turning her tears into diamonds to help people. Another story I loved a lot was titled A mother's gift is better than father's gift, in which a stepmother made her stepdaughter do chores around the house, and the girl hated her for it. When she grew up and fell on bad times, she suddenly realized she'd learned to work from her stepmother to survive. Good stepmother tales are a rare find!
Professor Dov Noy,
 founder of the IFA
The tale of The rich miser from Iraq was quite funny. He had his shoes mended so many times that they became heavy as rocks, and every time he tried to get rid of them they caused more and more trouble, until he had to admit it would have been easier to buy a new pair. The tale of Men's wisdom and women's slyness started out equally funny, but turned kind of cruel. A woman tricked a conceited man just to prove women could be sly and wise - but she did so at the expense of a crippled girl. The accompanying essay unpacked all the possible implications of the tale quite well.
Since the book focused on stories that are culturally relevant, it contained several narratives from times of pogroms and discrimination, telling of heroic sacrifices and miraculous survival. In the legend of Serah Bat Asher from Georgia, a king made fun of the Jews and made discriminatory laws against them, until one day he encountered a warrior woman, daughter of one of Joseph's brothers, who gained eternal life from God, and she convinced him to believe and revoke his laws. In a Persian story the Jews were saved when they used a magical bottomless bucket to fish the cruel king out of his palace through a well, and made him sign a document that gave them protection. In a story from Poland a boy was taken from his family and raised in Russia to be a soldier, and he found his parents later on by accident; in a story from Romania a boy was rescued from a persecuted Jewish family, and his wandering father found him years later, living as a rich man.


Recording stories (Image from here)
Of course there were also stories in the book that rang quite familiar, or belonged to international types. There was a Godfather Death tale, but with a female Death (!), and a kinder ending. Here, when the man asked for his life candle to be extended, Death kindly reminded him that he'd chosen her as godparent because she treats everyone equally. The tale of The princess in the wooden body was an All-kinds-of-fur type story, and the accompanying essay outlined the symbolism of abuse and childhood trauma quite beautifully. The six girls in the mountains was a Bluebeard tale, but here the heroine only ended up saving herself, not her sisters. The story aptly titled The measure of a woman is two, the measure of a man is one was a Basil Girl variant, complete with the part where the clever wife seduces her own husband in disguise three times in a row. The girl born from an egg was a Rapunzel story.
The tale of the cat demon was a fairy midwife tale; here the midwife did not only help with the birth, but also saved a changeling from being taken by demons. The life legend of the Polish hero Dobush started out with him being lost in the woods as a baby and being suckled by a female dog, much like Romulus and Remus. Between Sun and Moon was a Bedouin tale of a boy with a secret dream who won not one but two wives with his cleverness. I really like this type.
The queen and a fish reminded me of a story from Iraq; the queen's infidelity here was also revealed by a fish after multiple warnings by cautionary tales. From an Ethiopian source there was the tale of the Lion's whiskers, of a patient woman who learned how to approach her husband. In Muslim Arab stories I encountered the motif of a clever girl giving a drink of water to a man slowly, so that he is not harmed by it; I knew this one from Queen Anait from Georgia.

Where to next?

Monday, June 8, 2020

Heroes and prophets (Following folktales around the world 159. - Jordan)

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!

Legends of Galilee, Jordan, and Sinai
The Sacred Land III.
Zev Vilnay
The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1978.

This book is part of a series that collects the legends of the Holy Land by region; in Volume III we find stories from Galilee, Jordan, and Sinai. Among them, sixty-three legends are from the historical region of Jordan, grouped by geographical area. Not all of these areas are a part of modern day Jordan, but I read all of them anyway, and learned a lot about the region's geography. Stories are primarily from the Jewish tradition, but there were also a few Muslim and Christian legends. Sadly the volume doesn't have an introduction or foreword, but each story comes with cited sources.
I also read some more Arab legends from this book, because I was curious.


The legend of the fight between Moses and King Og was filled with wonder tale motifs. My favorite was the part where the giant king tried to throw a mountain at Moses, so God sent an army of ants to dig through the mountain, and it collapsed on his head. He tried to take it off like a hat, but God grew his teeth so he would get stuck with his head inside the mountain...
I also liked the legend of the sneezing goats, who live in the land of Moab and sneeze from the incense burning in the Temple of Jerusalem.
There were some legends about Petra in the book. One of them was an Arab tale about the Pharaoh who built Petra, and his treasure hidden in a vessel above the door of one of the buildings. Whoever can shoot the vessel and break it can keep the gold. In another Arab legend the Pharaoh's daughter, living in one of the palaces, promised her hand to whoever could bring water to the city. Two young men succeeded, but one credited his own ingenuity and the other the help of God. She chose the latter.
In the Arab legends Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet made an appearance, alongside Antar, one of my favorite epic heroes.Ali visited Antar on his journey, and then reached the legendary City of Copper. There were also tales about another black Arab hero, Zir, whose story of trial and triumph resembled the "golden-haired gardener" type fairy tales.


The origin story of Lake Ram was one of those international types where a beggar visits a village and people are rude to him, so he calls down a storm and drowns the place in water, creating a lake. I also found a version of the classic fable about the man with two wives, one of whom pulled out the white hairs from his beard, and the other pulled out the black, until he was left without any beard at all.
The tale of King Solomon's ring did not only mention his wife (who was not the Queen of Sheba) but also fell into the motif of "the ring of Polycrates", being lost and found in the belly of a fish again. The legend of Ghareisah and Zeid was a Romeo and Juliet story here the youth from two warring Bedouin tribes tried to run away together, but they were found and killed. The girl wrote her dying message on a rock, and locals see the print of her hand in the cross of a Byzantine altar stone.
I couldn't help but think of a literary parallel in the legend of the Caesarion tunnel: according to legend the Lord did not allow Moses to enter the Promised Land, no matter how he begged to cross the Jordan or the mountains. He finally asked to pass through the tunnel under the river, but God said "Thou shall not pass!" I wonder if Tolkien knew this story...

Where to next?

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Folktales of rebellion, revolution, and community

As you have seen from the previous quarantine folktale posts, I deal with current events (and pretty much any other event) through stories and storytelling. So, watching the news about the #BlackLivesMatter protests in the USA, as well as following protests in Hungary against racism and against the de-legitimization of trans people, I have been thinking of stories where communities come together to fight injustice and oppression, and create a better future.
Here are some of my favorites:

The shy quilt bird (Myanmar)

When a serpent, the evil king of the sea, wants to take over the land from the just king lion, birds and animals of the jungle all band together to chase him away. They create enough noise to make the serpent believe they are the legendary Galon bird, with the help of an unlikely (and very shy) ally.
(When I tell this tale, I usually expand it so that different groups of animals have different roles - being the voice of the bird, shaking the trees to mimic wind, stomping on the ground, etc.)

The Tale of the Sun (Saami)

People kept in darkness and poverty by evil brothers find out that the Sun exists somewhere far away. Initially they don't believe the news, but a brave young man manages to pull everyone together, so they rebel against their overlords, and bring the Sun up to the sky together.

The cock's kraal (Eswatini)

A greedy king's soldiers come across a rich city inhabited only by roosters and hens. They find out that the fowl used to be people, but they were cursed by an evil king, and the curse only be broken if they defeat an enemy stronger than themselves. The greedy king orders his soldiers to attack the city, thinking it will be easy pickings - but the roosters and hens, under the encouragement of their king the Golden Rooster, close ranks, stand up for themselves, and defeat the invading army, breaking the curse.

The dragon and the golden bird (Nakhi)

When an evil serpent threatens the entire world, four women - Thinker, Doer, Seer, and Wisdom - band together and come up with a plan to trick the serpent into a fight with the powerful Golden Wings.

The Theft of Fire (Native American & Ilocano)

When giants, spirits, or other greedy creatures keep all the fire to themselves, a trickster figure organizes all the animals into an epic heist / relay race to bring light and warmth to the rest of the world.

Three valiant lads (English)

When a dragon threatens the countryside, three young men commission a blacksmith to make them a giant sword, and come up with a plan that involves everyone else in town. The repeating phrase of the story is "maybe one can't, but three of us can!" People together chase the dragon away, and it burrows underground, turning into the rare fluorite stone of the Blue John mines.

The king who trusted his kingdom to his daughters (Jewish)

Alright, I know I mention this tale a lot, but I love it, and in the end kindness and empathy makes people rise up and defend their kingdom.

The dragon in the swamp (Hungary)

When a dragon starts eating people from the villages around its swamp, a young Roma man figures out a way to gather information about the monster. Once he knows enough, he organizes the people of the villages, teaches them how to fight, comes up with a strategy, and all of them together defeat the dragon.

The battle of the trees (Wales)

When monsters attack the land, the famous magician Gwydion calls upon the forest to protect it. All the trees come to life, with their different personalities, and go into epic battle.
(By the way a few years ago Mark Williams wrote an epic "fakelore" version of this, and it is totally tellable.)

Just to be clear, this post is NOT advocating violence. It is advocating telling stories that show, in a symbolic way, that communities can stand up to toxic ideas and oppressive systems together, and change things for the better.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

The three little eggs (Feminist Folktales 19.)

Another Thursday, another post for Feminist Folktales! It's a series of traditional stories from around the world that display motifs that reflect feminist values. I am not changing any of the stories, merely researching and compiling them, and posting them here as food for thought. You can find the list of posts here.

Origin: Eswatini (Swaziland)

The story

A woman is beaten and abused by her husband regularly until she decides to run away. She takes her two small children and escapes into the wilderness. By a river they find a nest with three little eggs in it, and they carry it safely with them. For the rest of the journey the little eggs whisper advice to the woman about which road to take, where to find shelter. She has to face and defeat various monsters, keeping her children safe in the wild. In the end she breaks a curse on a kingdom, she is elected their queen, finds true love (in a prince who had been transformed into an egg), and lives happily ever after.

What makes it a feminist story?

I loudly support any folktale where the abusive partner is not "saved" or "fixed" but rather escaped and left behind (there are not many of these). This story highlights the fact that the abusive, violent husband is bad for the wife, and the best solution for her is to leave him.
However, the story also clearly shows that such an escape is very hard and full of danger. Sometimes the travelers find shelter that turns out to be a den of monsters; sometimes they get lost in the woods and the only way through is forward. The mother cares for her children, feeds them, sings to them, helps them climb trees to be safe. She is not a "selfish woman" who "destroyed her family" (women fleeing abuse are often told by people that they should have "tried harder, for the sake of the children", which is, frankly, bullshit). We see a brave and caring mother who literally faces man-eating monsters to make the life of her children (and herself) better and safer.
It is also important to note that the mother needs help and encouragement on this road, which she gets from the eggs. This symbolism can be explained in many ways, as internal or external help. At the end of the story we find out that the eggs were princes under an enchantment. But whether the help comes from without or within, it is important to see that the brave hero needed encouragement, advice, help - as in real life survivors of abuse also need a lot of these things to escape a bad situation, especially with children. At the end of the story the hero becomes queen, a queen who has the power to help others. Getting help from others does not diminish her heroism. Quite the opposite.

Things to consider

This story can be triggering to some audiences (esp. survivors of abuse). The storyteller should consider carefully the context of the telling, and make sure there will be time and space to deal with the feelings that might surface.


E. J. Bourhill & J. B. Drake: Fairy tales from South Africa (MacMillan, 1908.)


I included this story in my upcoming book (in Hungarian), about "non-traditional" families.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Plot twists and a flying mermaid (Following folktales around the world 158. - Iraq)

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!

Folk-tales from Iraq
Middle East Book Review
Books & Books, 1995.

The book contains twenty-two folktales from Iraq, collected from the oral tradition. The introduction talks about the storytelling tradition, opening and closing formulas, and the most common Iraqi words in the stories. The layout was a bit hard to follow, but it was a very exciting read!


The Mosul market in the 1930s
My favorite story in the book was that of The porter and the thieves. A poor man was abused by his wife, who wanted him to bring her the jewels of the Wazir's wife. The man eventually apprenticed him to a group of thieves, but every time they went to rob a house he did something out of the kindness of his heart, and blew the whole plan. Eventually, through a series of accidents, he did get the jewels, though.
The story of The young sultan was an interesting combination of the Glass Mountain and the Animal Suitors tale types. The boy guarding his father's grave fought demons and took their horses and armor. Instead of having to jump up to the mountaintop for the princess, suitors had to pull her out of a deep pit. In the end, the hero rescued his kidnapped wife by flying up to her tower on the back of a flying mermaid. (?!)
In a more realistic tale, a rich and a poor brother got into some family drama over their children marrying. The poor man's fortunes turned when his daughter married a mystery suitor; when envious relatives dragged them in front of the sultan, the sultan turned out to be the mystery husband.
I was amused by the tale of the man who sent his donkey to the market, and when it didn't come back, he went searching for it. People kept directing him along as a prank, until someone told him his donkey was a judge in Baghdad. The man tried to take the judge home, enticing him with oats and threatening with a stick, until the pranksters took pity on him and gave him the price of the animal. In another amusing tale a man made his stingy neighbor believe that his pots and pans could have offspring.
I was fascinated by the story of Shamshum aj-Jabbar, which was a mix of the Biblical legend of Samson and a few folktale tropes. It had a sad and pensive ending.


Magic lamp in Baghdad
The book had quite a few stories of well-known types: fool tales (here with Kurds... ugh), golden-haired twins (The fisherman's son), animal husbands (here with a pumpkin), Canary prince (with a djinn named Leelu). Se we are in the Middle East here, there was also an Aladdin-type story with a magic lamp.
The tale of the magician's wife was that of the fake fortune-teller who gets lucky. The brave prince was a very well detailed golden-haired gardener tale, with demons chewing gum and magic lion milk. In this one, they divined whether princesses were ready for marriage by watermelon, a motif which I have last seen in a Roma tale from Transylvania...
There was also a magic bird type tale, where two brothers ate the head and the heart of the bird and gained magic powers; their mother and stepfather chased them for a long time, trying to get the heart and head back, but they managed to get away. The story of The laughing fish combined various folktale elements: the story of the faithful falcon and the faithful dog, for example. It was a fascinating story, but had a pretty dark ending. The tailor's daughter was a Clever Maiden tale, with the addition of the story where a woman seduces her own husband three times in disguise; The djinn in the well was a "doctor and the devil" story, where the doctor used his shrew of a wife to chase the djinn away.
There were also some Harun al-Rashid tales of wit and wisdom.

Where to next?