Monday, July 27, 2020

From the sky fell three apples (Following folktales around the world 166. - Armenia)

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!

100 ​Armenian Tales and Their Folkloristic Relevance
Susie Hoogasian-Villa
Wayne State University Press, 1966.

The book contains a total of one hundred Armenian stories, organized into chapters by genre: fairy tales, myths, legends, humorous tales, anecdotes, and "anti-feminine" tales. The author is an American researcher of Armenian descent, who collected the stories from Armenian immigrants (including her own family) living in Delray, Detroit, in the 1940s. The texts are a part of the Wayne State University archival collection that also contributed a few tales to the book from other sources. The tales were recorded in Armenian and then translated into English, keeping close to the original wording; the collector made sure the stories came from the oral tradition, and not from books the tellers might have read. The introduction gives ample information about the Armenian community of Delray, Armenian society and family structure, history, cuisine, and other cultural elements that appear in the tales. It also gives information about Armenian folklore research, and the cultures that have the most similar tales (Russian, Greek, Turkish, Georgian, Azerbaijani, Siberian, Roma, Hungarian, Italian, Persian, Basque, Israeli, Scottish, Arabian, and Polish). These parallels from other traditions are listed in detail in the notes at the end of the book, along with tale type numbers, the names of the storytellers, and interesting additional information. This book is not only an entertaining read, but also a very useful source for researchers.

Side note: Storytellers around the world love to use "three apples fell from the sky..." as a story ending formula; it is associated with Armenian tales first and foremost. Interestingly enough, the version that keeps showing up in this book says "From the sky fell three apples: One to me, one to the storyteller, and one to the person who has entertained you." Turns out, all three apples belong to the storyteller...


The best tale in the book is the very last one: Sunset Lad is about a man who complains about the sun, so Mother of the Sun curses him. He dies at sunrise every day, and comes back to life at sunset. Eventually he sets out to find Mother of the Sun and apologize. Beautiful, symbolic story.
Nourie Hadig was a lovely Snow White variant, involving a "false bride" who became friends with the heroine, and when said heroine fell into fake death, the best friend and the prince watched over her body together. In another cute love story it was the work of the genii that made a match between a young man and a young woman; when they got separated, the woman dressed as a man and accidentally married a princess, and in the end, the three of them found happiness together. Turtle Skin was a similarly cute animal bride tale, where the hero married a very pretty turtle (who eventually turned into a lady). I liked it because of how kind and gentle he was with the turtle. Also, talking about love stories: There was one about a princess locked in a tower who eventually made herself a prince out of dough. When her father was angered by the secret affair, she took her case to court, arguing that love and companionship was "nature's way," and it should not be punished.
I loved the story of The halva-maker, in which a magical dervish did not only help a poor man start a successful pastry business which led to a meet-cute with a princess, but also came to the rescue when the angry king wanted to hang the pastry maker. Due to the dervish's magic, when they tried to hang the guy he fell to pieces, and there was nothing to put the rope on... so the king gave him permission to marry.
I liked the moral of The soul-taker: three girls found a pot full of gold and ran away screaming that it would take their soul. Six robbers heard them and laughed at their folly, taking the gold for themselves... and then then promptly killed each other for it, proving the girls right. Money also paid an important role in The test, where a beggar (who was secretly rich) asked the suitor of his daughter to go and beg for money, making sure he would be willing to do so if he ever needed to support his family that way. Talking about suitors: I was happy to see a recent favorite tale type again, about a Patient suitor who went town to town, collecting the mysterious stories of strangers to win the hand of his beloved. It took him years to collect all the embedded tales.
Among supernatural creatures the strangest was the elk, a goblin that takes out people's liver, washes it, and eats it, causing illness and death. In the story of The curse, a man stopped an elk from stealing a young woman's liver, and held on to the creature as a servant. When the elk was finally set free, it promised that the worst curse it would ever put on the family would be that their wooden spoons break easily...
Among the tales of wit my favorite Happened in the bath, where a poor man accidentally took the place of the king's jester (who looked a lot like him, and dropped dead while bathing). He used a lot of very clever tricks to find out who he was supposed to be. I also enjoyed Matching wits, where two robbers (one nighttime and one daytime robber) found out they share the same wife, and started a contest to see who  deserves her more. I don't usually like these tales, but this one was funny and not crude at all. The same goes for the story of the Robbers, where a man raised his nephew to be a good criminal. The boy outwitted the king multiple times, and in the end even managed to kidnap the Russian tsar, proving his skills on an international level.
Next to wits, justice was also an important part of the stories. In one, a young shepherd-turned-treasurer came Under suspicion for stealing diamonds, and skillfully managed to prove he had been falsely accused (and that the court officials are corrupt). In The servant at the monastery, a man with magic powers turned an annoying rich youth into a donkey. When the rich father attacked the monastery in revenge, the magician used his powers to repel the attack and save the monks.
Among the legends the most memorable was that of Lochman Hehkeem, a legendary healer who spoke the language of plants and found the secret of immortality. He managed to make his servant immortal, but when it was his turn God sent an angel to destroy his notes.

It doesn't appear in this book, but I also want to give a shout out to my favorite Armenian tale, Queen Anait.


The book contains many familiar tale types; according to the collector, most stories have parallels in other cultures, only a few of them were "typically Armenian." A few examples for types that appeared: Animal brothers-in-law (The ogre's soul), raven brothers (The seven giant brothers), magic flight (Abo Beckeer), puss in boots (The miller and the fox), the magic bird's heart, Fortunatus (The magic figs), The hunter's son, Dreamer's dream (combined with some extraordinary helpers), Aladdin (The magic ring), All-kinds-of-fur (The golden box; they executed the evil father in the end), Cinderella (with cannibal sisters), Golden-haired twins (with lots of helpful women), handless maiden (Mariam), animal-brother (Stag-brother), stolen apples (The world below, with the obligatory emerald bird), three stolen princesses (Son of the Grey Horse, a long, elaborate multi-generational tale), Rumpelstiltskin (Buzz-Buzz Aunty, where the girl got away by pretending to be crazy), Godfather Death (here with Gabriel, The soul-taking angel), poor woman and the devil (The talkative wife), "no news" cumulative tales (From bad to worse; Munuck), and a golden-haired gardener (The monster's hairs). In the latter three princesses chose their husbands by shooting arrows into a crowd of young men, and they used watermelon divination to see if they were ready for marriage.
The magic box was the tale type where a man seeks his luck (here: child) and carries many questions to God with him. On the way home he ate the magic fertility apple that made him pregnant... I also once again encountered the tale where a princess is married to a poor man, but manages to find happiness through wits and hard work, and magic pomegranate treasures Wisely spent. I also recognized The ashman's money as the tale type where someone trusts his money to a rich man who does not want to return it; a clever woman once again came to the rescue. In the end, even the rich man agreed it was a good trick.
There were multiple motifs that were similar to Greek mythology. The magic horse was a parallel to the Argonauts, with mountains smashing into each other, and a king killed by a "rejuvenating" bath. The prize bull was the story of Europe, with a prince instead of Zeus.
I once again encountered the motif of a hero striking the monster only once, because the second hit would bring it back to life.

Where to next?

1 comment:

  1. Nourie Hadig is one of my all time favorite fairy tales.