Monday, March 22, 2021

Thailand, complex and fascinating (Following folktales around the world 194. - Thailand)

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!

Fascinating Folktales of Thailand
Thanapol Lamduan Chadchaidee
BooksMango, 2014.

This book is true to its title: it was one of the best ones I read for this challenge. It was written by a Thai author who personally translated the tales into English. The text is a bit strange at points (e.g. "palace police" instead of "palace guards"), but it did not take anything away from the enjoyment of the stories.
The only thing I was disappointed by is that the tales are included in a shortened, summarized version (because otherwise they would have been too long for the volume). They are mostly told in short basic sentences ("Prince and princess met. Fell in love. Married. A giant attacked the palace. The prince defeated it." etc.). But even so, they are still exciting and interesting, mostly because of their colorful complexity. I would love to read the more extensive versions...


The first story I liked was about an ungrateful man who helped a beggar and received magic powers in exchange: he could make any tree burst into flowers and fruit with his touch, in any season. He used his power to grow rich, however when he was too ashamed to admit it was given to him by a beggar, the power went away.
The story of Krai Thong was about a conflict between people and crocodiles - crocodiles could take on human forms, and their daughters even married mortal men.
By far my favorite story was the God of Three Seasons. Three deities who were very good friends wanted to be born to earth together, but a mistake was made, and they all ended up sharing one body. The body changed with the seasons - winter, summer, rain - into a man, a woman, or a giant respectively. The whole story is very long and complex, but you can always tell what season it is by what form the hero is in. They had a wife, a husband, children, and a whole lot of adventures. 
The Garuda, who
appears in multiple
There were multiple small moments in the stories that I really liked. In one, there was an assassin who could swim in earth as if it was water, and he could pop up from the ground anywhere. In another, there was a tree with colorful leaves, and each color turned the person who ate the leaf into a different animal. One story featured a hermit who walked around with his eyes bandaged because whatever he looked at way burned to ash (hello, Scott Summers). There was also an evil Christian priest, and a passive-aggressive talking cat that accompanied a persecuted princess through her adventures.
I liked it that in most stories villains were exiled or reprimanded rather than killed, saying hate can't be erased by vengeance, and karma will take care of them anyway (while killing them would have added to the hero's negative karma). Buddhist values showed up in multiple stories, for example in endings that went "everyone who committeed good deeds lived happily."


Many motifs were familiar from European tales. There was a false bride, babies exchanged for puppies, baby put into the river in a basket, princes and princesses disguised in animal skins, dead wives turning into trees, a girl born from bamboo, and even a silent princess. One story resembled Grimm's Queen Bee (here a fruit fly helped select the real princess from a crowd of identical women), another the Golden-haired twins, and the Golden-haired gardener tale type seemed especially popular in Thailand.
There was a frog bride type tale, except here it was a prince who came out of his hiding place and cleaned his family's house while they were away (we like domestic princes). There were shapeshifting demons and magic arrows I knew from the Ramakien, the Thai version of the Ramayana.
The most interesting connection was the Weaverbird story, which was made up of three parts, all three familiar from the Tibetan Tales of the Golden Corpse. One was a version of the Silent Princess, one was about a girl who remembered her previous lives, and one was the tale of the wandering (body-snatching) spirit. It was a fascinating tale with some very logical explanations.

Where to next?

No comments:

Post a Comment