Sunday, December 31, 2023

290 earworms

This is the fifth year that I wrote down what music was stuck in my ear every morning when I woke up. It is becoming really fun to follow the statistics year after year.

2018: I woke up with an earworm 306 mornings, featuring 150 different songs (post here)

2019: 316 mornings, 137 songs (post here)

2020: 346 mornings, 149 songs (post here)

2021: 312 mornings, 124 songs (post here)

2022: 313 mornings, 129 songs (post here)

This year I also got to examine how parenting affects earworms :) Luckily, I ended up with fewer annoying kids' songs than expected. On the other hand, there were fewer mornings when I 1) woke up and had time to pay attention to earworms and 2) I remembered to write them down before I forgot. Thus, this year's numbers are not quite accurate, but oh well. I can say I woke up with music in my head at least 290 times, and the list contains 140 songs.

Since I had a lot less time to listen to music this year, the list contains a lot more random songs that I have not heard in years, never liked, or simply "caught" in a mall or something. There is still no correlation between what I like to listen to, and what sticks. Neither is any between whan sticks during the day, and what I wake up with.

Without further ado, here's the Top 5 of this year:

First place with 20 (!!!) mornings: 

The kid listened to this on an endless loop, and since it really is catchy (see last year), obviously it shot to the top, way ahead of all other songs. This is the highest individual number of mornings I have had so far (the previous record was 16).

Second place with 13 mornings:

Spirited is a dumb fun movie, and the soundtrack is quite catchy. This was not my favorite song from it, but for some reason this is the one that stuck the most. 

Third place with 7 mornings:

This was a four-way tie between two Disney songs - Surface pressure from Encanto, and Let it go from Frozen - courtesy of the kid, and a Monster High song (No apologies), which I don't have an excuse for :) My favorite however was the song below, from the Matilda musical. For both lyrics and choreography. 

Fourth place with 6 mornings:

Another tie - between Do a little good (Spirited again), and this song from another new favorite musical, Six. I also found myself humming the latter a lot when I was awake.

Fifth place with 5 mornings:

Another multiple tie: a Spirited song (The view from here), Ed Sheeran (Shape of you), and two more Monster High songs (Here I am, and the one below). I have to admit, Monster High is a very dumb movie series, but it is also strangely adorable.

I even made a chart this year! The majority of songs came from 7 albums I like, while 40% was completely random. The two largest slices were Disney, and the soundtrack of the & Juliet musical. Since the latter contains pop hits from the 90s and 00s, it obviously is very catchy (but since it has a lot of songs, none rose to the top list individually). I also have to note that, next to In the Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda was responsible for most of the Disney slice too.

And finally, this year's WTF pick, for obvious reasons (luckily, I only woke up with this once):

How was your year, in terms of music? Do you tend to wake up with earworms too?

Saturday, December 30, 2023

2023: The year in (good) TV shows

This year was not exactly outstanding in terms of TV shows - mostly for personal reasons, since I had limited time and focus to watch anything. My list has 66 series, but many of them I never finished, or have completely forgotten since. Still, there were a few worth mentioning.

("This year" means I watched them in 2023. When they were made is irrelevant. And the list is completely subjective. No particular order.)

New series

Gen V

We finally got The Boys spinoff, and it's the X-men on coke. I like the original series too, but Gen V ended up being especially likable (in a weird, gory, gallows humor sorta way). Seems like the creators got complete freedom in taking the "superhero school" trope and giving it a hard 18+ rating. They go the extra mile every time. The characters are all flawed, messed up, and still likable; the casting is perfect. Looking forward to the next season.

One Piece (Live Action)

After something sarcastic and gory, here is something cute and cuddly. I have to confess, I love watching anime but I never really got into One Piece, mostly because of the art style. (And the daunting episode number). The live action remake, however, turned out to be extremely likable. Casting is great, and you can tell everyone put their best bright-eyed fan energy into their role. And the visuals translated into live action without losing quirkiness. Also, this series comes with lots of awesome "behind the scenes" content.

Twisted Metal

Most underrated series of the year. It needs more attention, but at least it has been renewed. It's a video game adaptation with a crazy post-apocalyptic setting (I never played the game so it was all new for me). Anthony Mackie and Stephanie Beatriz are a perfect duo, and they carry the story with lots of humor and action. The supporting cast is similarly great, the soundtrack is strong, and the show should be nominated for a "most fun sex scene" award...  


Whoever thought Natasha Lyonne would make a great Detective Columbo was a genius. Because she does. She plays her usual character, solves weekly murders, and is surrounded by memorable characters. We love her in everything she does. Luckily, the show has already been renewed. If you liked Lie to me back in the day, you'll like this one too.

The Last of Us

Audience favorite of 2023, and honestly it deserves it. I was getting very bored of the zombie genre (abandoned Walking Dead like 5 seasons ago), but this one managed to be likable (due to the stellar actors) and also kinda fun with all the fungus special effects. And that episode. You know the one.

Returning series

The Bear (season 2)

If I had to pick "best show this year", this one would be it. Second year in a row. The Bear can make no mistakes - not in dialogue, not in plot, not in acting. Every scene is perfect, funny, deeply likable, kinda crazy. And the Fishes episode alone needs to get all the awards. Like, all of them.

Glow Up (season 5)

I don't watch a whole lot of reality TV, but this one is definitely my favorite. I can watch for hours, enthralled, as make-up artists apply colors, design looks, and demonstrate tricks of the trade. And since it's a British show, the judges are kind too.

Outgoing series

Better Call Saul

Finally said a tearful goodbye to one of the best TV shows I have ever watched. They could make no mistake, it was perfect all the way up to the last frame, and had a very appropriate, touching ending. They stayed true to the characters and the storyline. And I'll die on this hill: this show was much, much better than Breaking Bad. (One day, I'll do a TED talk about why it's not more popular).

The Great

Another great, unhinged TV show that was fun to watch. If one does alternative history, then they should do it like this... Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult were an amazing duo with good chemistry, I would have watched the whole thing for several more seasons. But at least it had an ending that feels good enough.

Ted Lasso

This show was planned as a three-season story, and it stuck the landing without effort. It was the most likable series in the past years, with a great cast of actors and characters. It is a feel-good story, doesn't put your soul through the ringer, and yet it made me cry a little at the end. If they get any spinoffs, I'll be watching those too.


Háromezer számozott darab / Three thousand numbered pieces

The best Hungarian movie of the past years, created by young Roma artists. It is about a Roma acting group (directed by a white dude) that tavels abroad to perform at an international theater festival. It is sarcastic, poignant, funny, and somewhat surreal as it deals with issues of racism, prejudice, cultural appropriation, and white privilege. I was laughing and cringing at the same time. Hungary needs a lot more movies like this. 

Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

I liked the Hunger Games back then, but I wasn't a diehard fan. I haven't read this new book, so the entire story was a surprise to me - and a pleasant one. I'd even venture to say that as a film, it was better than the originals. I kept guessing where it would go and it defied a lot of expectations, managing to completely avoid the tired "good man turns evil from heartbreak" trope. And the music was good too.

The three musketeers: D'Artagnan

I'd watch any iteration of this story anyway, but this time, it was actually good. Hellooo, Vincent Cassel and Eva Green! They twisted the story enough that it was surprising, and the fight scenes were rough and awesome. I'm looking forward to the second movie.

Guardians of the Galaxy 3

Gotta admit, I didn't like the first two movies at all. But this one was finally likable - ironically, because it was also pretty damn dark. Sam Raimi wanted to bring horror to Marvel with Doctor Strange, and then James Gunn just went "hold my beer"... and created a pet body horror movie that also turned out to be a feel-good ending to a trilogy. I didn't expect any of this, but I approve. And the soundtrack was spot on too.

Spider-Man: Across the Spiderverse

Best visuals this year. Probably this decade. It lived up to the first movie, and created an art style that is unique, expressive, detailed, and memorable. Everything has a meaning, and sound, imagery, and story all work together. Plus once again it has an epic soundtrack. And Spider-Punk is an instant favorite.

Friday, December 29, 2023

2023: The year in (good) books

Even though this year was more than chaotic for me, I still made time for reading. In fact, it was my favorite thing to do when I wanted to relax and tune out in the evenings. Because of this, I slightly overshot last year's numbers  - especially because there were a lot of short children's books on the list this year :)

I finished a total of 101 books, almost 19,000 pages. Below you can see a list of my favorites, in no particular order.


I didn't read much fiction this year, but in December one last book made the list anyway.

R. F. Kuang: Yellowface

You will especially enjoy this book if you are a writer, or if you work in publishing. It speaks in the first person, allowing us a glimpse into the messed-up mind of a woman who does serious mental gymnastics to justify her theft of someone else's manuscript. On top of that, she pretends to be of Chinese descent (for publicity), digging herself into a deeper and deeper hole. As the book turns into a bestseller, we get to watch with morbid curiosity how far her lie would stretch before it all comes crashing down. Besides being entertaining and clever, Yellowface also delivers some punches at the business of publishing and social media.


Still my favorite genre, and thanks to the Polymath Reading Challenge (and Ploymath Plus), I read a lot of it this year. Here are my new favorites:

Sabrina Imbler: How far the light reaches

I thought it would be a book about marine biology, but it turned out to be something much more complex and beautiful. It is a series of poetic essays, mixing scientific information with the author's own life, identity, and emotions. Neither eclipsed the other. Identity in itself is represented in its richness: the author is queer, part Chinese, child of an immigrant mother, and a member of a generation seeking its place and purpose. Also a sicence journalist, which shows in the attention to detail and empathy directed at marine creatures and humans alike. 

Mike Brown: How I killed Pluto and why it had it coming

If you were upse too when Pluto got demoted, this book is for you. The astronomer whose discoveries accidentally resulted in one fewer planet in our solar system explains what happened, why, and how. It is an enjoyable read. I loved the chapters detailing the painstaking process of search and discovery, looking for barely visible specks of light in the vast night sky, trying to catch a new object.

Carlo Ginzburg - Bruce Lincoln: Old Thiess, a Livonian werewolf

In 1691, during a witch trial, a witness was suddenly accused of being a werewolf. To which the old man shrugged and replied: "yeah, and?" The resulting new trial was, luckily, well documented, and that is what we get to read in this book, alongside several essays and discussions by the authors (representing two distinct points of view). Old Thiess, the werewolf, tells the judges how he is a member of a pack, and how they travel every year to the Underworld to save the crops from evil magicians. You have to admire the pluck of this old guy so long ago: when life gives you a werewolf trial, roll with it and take over the narrative...

Paulo Lemos Horta: Marvellous Thieves

Mandatory reading for all storytellers. A very cool basic concept: the author spends each chapter delving into the life and work of famous translators of the 1001 Nights. He examines how their experiences and personalities influenced the translations they produced... and how much those can actually be called "translations" at all. Antoine Galland, for example (the man credited for starting the Arabian Nights craze in Europe) is famous for adding a whole lot of random tales to a manuscript of only 200 he had, to round out the collection. Also mentioned are Edward Lane, who was a proud Egypt expert, but completely lost without his local guides (and cut women out of many of the tales), and Richard Burton, who never actually translated from the original, rather he repurposed other English translations, and created a myth of himself as an orientalist. Featured furthermore are pre-raffaelite poet John Payne, who barely spoke Arabic but wanted to add the censored saucy bits back in; and Henry Whitelock Torrens, who sadly never finished his own translation, even though he was the only one who could match the language of the tales and understood the importance of female characters. I really enjoyed this book, appreciated the detailed research and psychological insights, and learned a whole lot about the 1001 Nights.

Merve Emre: The Personality Brokers

If you still had any doubt that the Myers-Briggs Personality Test is about as scientific as a horoscope, read this book. It is endlessly entertaining and somewhat surreal to read how it became a worldwide phenomenon while not having any solid foundations in science. The life story of the mother-daughter pair who created it is fascinating, peppered with religious fanaticism, racism, and shockingly abusive Victorian parenting techniques. Victorian mothers will literally invent a personality test and write homoerotic fan fiction of C. G. Jung instead of going to therapy...

Maria Noriega Rachwal: From kitchen to Carnegie Hall

The Montreal Women's Symphony Orchestra was the first complete all-women orchestra in North America when it was founded in 1940. Ethel Stark and Madge Bowen - two vastly different women - went against all social norms and expectations to create it. The whole story should be an HBO show, really. In the early 1900s many musical instruments were not thought to be suitable for women (string instruments you had to hold between your legs), so the founders advertised that they'll accept anyone who "could read a little music", regardless of race, age, religion, or social standing. They ended up with an amazingly diverse orchestra including students and grandmothers, heiresses and factory workers, Anglo-Saxon white women, French Catholic women, Jewish women, black women, etc. Ethel distributed used instruments and everyone learned on their own, practicing in living rooms and basements. And against all odds, naysayers and mockery, 7 years later they were performing in Carnegie Hall - the first Canadian orchestra to do so. The orchestra existed for 30 years, and in the end disbanded because it succeeded: female musicians were accepted into professional orchestras around the country along with the men. Ethel lived to be the oldest conductor in the world, and died at the age of 101.

Szvetlana Alekszijevics: Secondhand time / The unwomanly face of war

Both are very difficult reads emotionally, but much worth reading. The author created a new genre by weaving together thousands of oral history interviews to show complex, challenging pictures of World War II, and the fall of the Soviet Union. She talked to all kinds of people from all walks of life and many different ideologies and experiences. I would make her books mandatory reading in History class. Maybe fewer people would romanticize war.


In terms of comics, this was a good year. Continuing series were fun, and the ones below were freshly added to my list of favorites.

John Allison - Whitney Cogar: Giant Days

Adorable, likable, hilarious. Three college roommates with their distinct personalities and problems of epic magnitude. Sometimes it borders on magical realism, and features many memorable, quotable panels and lines. I fell in love with it at first volume. And the artwork is great too.

Simon Spurrier: Hellblazer

Spurrier can do no wrong when the extra mile needs going. Whoever decided he should write John Constantine was right on the money. Too bad it is a limited series, but at least it is a complete story; Spurrier ties it up so neatly (and so epicly) at the end that it should be taught in writing school. The visuals are just as strong and haunting as the story is. I love the way Spurrier handles magic and mythology, and makes each noir-horror episode complete in and of itself.

Kieron Gillen - Simon Spurrier - Al Ewing: Sins of Sinister

We all knew when the whole Krakoa thing started for the X-men that it was only a matter of time before it had to come crashing down. Sins of Sinister is the volume that rings in the beginning of the end, and it does so on a thousand-year alternate-future scale. It seems like the writers thoroughly enjoyed the premise of "what if mutants had no moral qualms at all"? I can't wait to see what comes after this.

Folklore and mythology

I'm not gonna list all the volumes I read this year (a lot), but I'd like to highlight some new favorites.

Oein DeBhairduin: Why the moon travels

This book is an instant classic. The stories were written down from a living Irish Traveller tradition, a whole community participated in shaping them, and the illustrations are also the work of a Traveller artists. The result is a lovely volume full of memorable, enchanting stories. I loved the respect they all show for nature, how even the animals usually portrayed as villains or pests appear as helpful and kind. Even the sad or tragic stories were beautiful; people were taught to learn from their mistakes instead of being mercilessly punished. I will return to this book again and again for moments of beauty and wisdom.

Daniel Allison: Irish mythology

This book is the perfect blend of respect for tradition, deep love for myths, and creative storytelling. This book bridges the divide between oral storytelling and written fiction with a lively style that begs to be read aloud. Epic battles, formidable heroes, powerful magic, and deep personal emotions create a mythic landscape that is vividly alive. Peeling back layers of Christian retellings, and tracing the untold inner motivations of larger-than-life characters, Daniel Allison weaves old stories into a powerful narrative. His admitted goal is to make new generations of readers fall in love with Irish mythology. Mission accomplished. If you enjoyed Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology, you will love this book.

Rakesh Khanna - J. Furcifer Bhairav: Ghosts, monsters, and demons of India

I rarely read encyclopedia style folklore books for three reasons: 1. They usually limit themselves to the most well known stories or creatures. 2. They usually don't contain the actual narratives. 3. They rarely cite their sources individually. This book, however, checks all three boxes, in more than 500 pages. I kept reading and reading, and when I thought we would surely run out to shocking ghosts, memorable monsters, and haunting demons, there was always more. And when I thought I can't be surprised by anything anymore, the book still had some unexpected creatures at Z. It is an entertaining, inspiring read, full of stories I have never heard before (and yes, stories are often included with the creatures). The authors selected from a wide range of cultures within India, and also a wide timeline from ancient textx to 21st century hauntings. There are sources, and pop culture references, and clever commentary. I don't even like dark folklore all that much, and yet I adored this book.


I have to admit I didn't read a lot of poetry this year, but in December I came across this little volume and it is worth a mention.

Kaitlin Shetler: i hope they sing christmas carols in hell

I found the poet through a viral poem on Facebook about the Virgin Mary, and I loved the look of this volume so much I had to buy it. It didn't disappoint. Christmas poetry from an atheist, and yet the poems are not about hate or spite. There is a lot of feminism, a lot of humor, and a talent for seeing deeper messages in classic Bible stories (or what they could have been). And a hope that there are Christmas carols in hell, because an atheist can love the holiday too.

Children's books

A new category this year, for obvious reasons :) Tested with the kiddo, but selected according to my own preferences. 

Kathryn Cristaldi - Kristyna Litten: I love you till the cows come home

My absolute favorite. Adorable illustrations, fun poetry, and a lovable, deeply emotional message. It made me tear up the first time.

Kate Allan: I like you

I like the author for her motivational messages on social media, and the book was a resounding success at home. It is a simple little read - I like you when you are mad, when you are happy, when you are shy, when you are messy, etc. - with bright colors, and it had to be read over and over and over again. Sometimes the kid even asked for it specifically after meltdowns.

Sandra Boynton: Barnyard dance

Another illustrator I like, and a very fun book. Combining funny animals and contra dancing, what's not to love? Extra funny when my Cajun husband reads it.

Béatrice Rodriguez: Chicken thief

I have the Catalan edition, but honestly it doesn't matter because it's a silent book. The pictures speak for themselves, and they are funny and adorable. A fox steals a chicken, and as they are running from Rooster & friends, they slowly grow to like each other. This is a three-book series, each volume just as silly and likable as the next. 

Satoe Tone: Where the heart is

Gorgeous, gorgeous book. A simple yet sweet story, and beautiful imagery filling every page.

Rob Scotton: Splat the cat

A book for starting school, but it works just as well with kindergarten. Kiddo had no problems on that front, but she does love this book for the funny cat characters and entertaining story. And I enjoyed reading it too.

Friday, December 15, 2023

Warm-hearted heroes and elaborate cursing (Hungarian Roma folktales 1. - Ferenc Jóni)

This is a spinoff to Following folktales around the world. I have been collecting books of Hungarian Roma folktales, and it is time to start reading them. Hence, this new blog series. The only change is that there will be no Connections section (since most tale types are familiar).

I encountered the tales of Jóni Ferenc in the archives of the Museum of Ethnography, when I was doing research for my "feminist folktales" collection. I selected three of his stories to be included in that book, because I liked his flair for unusual twists and humorous language (e.g. he has a wonderful variant of Love like Salt, where the exiled princess is saved by a wise old witch). I recently discovered that his tales were published in one volume, and I obviously had to read it.

Jóni Ferenc (1899-1972) was a romungro (Hungarian Roma) storyteller from Ramocsaháza (Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg county). His folktales were collected by Erdész Sándor in 1960. His repertoire numbered an impressive 163 stories, and his brother and sister (Mihály and Anna) were also accomplished storytellers. This book contains 97 of his tales; the editors only selected one of several variants of each tale type. Not always the ones I liked best, but it was still a fascinating read. Since Jóni Ferenc told to adults (as the majority of traditional tellers did), and Erdész Sándor transcribed his stories literally (luckily), the texts contain a whole lot of adult language and elaborate cursing.


One of my favorite tales in the collection was The three golden apples. The hero born from an apple rescued two cursed princesses with the help of a third, and then saved his own brothers as well. I especially liked that he had to fight the princesses, carefully cutting off layers of their frog skin / armor. I also enjoyed the story of The king who did not suffer snakes in his house. It was about a clever servant, best friend of the king's son, who rescued a small snake and kept it (it turned out to be an enchanted princess, obviously). It was a classic "master maid" story, but I loved the clever, studious, kind protagonist. I was also delighted to find a version of my favorite "man hibernates with dragons over winter" folktale type in the book. Here, the dragons were runaways from a garabonciás wizard's service.

A fun twist on the "seeking immortality" tale type was The king who lived for nine hundred years and only then did he set out to seek immortality (and the storyteller still referred to him as "a handsome kid"). In the end, Death and his wife decided to split him in half, and then the queen regrew him from her half, like a starfish. Another creative take was the tale of The little swineherd, who climbed a sky-high tree and ended up in Fairyland. Fairies there spoke their own language (except for one who'd visited Hungary and knew Hungarian). The wings of the Fairy Queen were stolen not by the hero, but by her maids, who honestly were very much fed up with their mistress. By the end of the tale the queen ended up in jail for having a child out of wedlock - but once she was freed, she managed to get her lover back (despite the swineherd having married a mortal princess in the meantime). Another swineherd ended up working as a gardener in a princess' palace, and since he did not only know magic, but also had great pickup lines, he won the princess as a wife. The flirting scenes were very elaborate, and quite smooth, which is unusual for a folktale.

I was amused by the story of the cemetery guard who trapped his own haunting Misfortune inside a bone during lunch. Even though Misfortune fulfilled all his wishes, in the end he refused to let it go, and burned it to ashes instead. The classic "blacksmith and the devil" tale type ended on a twist as well: it turned out that the protagonist, while a hardened gambler, secretly used all the money he won to help widows and children, and therefore gained entry into Heaven. The most head-spinning twist, however, came in the tale of Twenty-four hairy men. In this tale, 24 brothers encountered an enchanted palace with 24 princesses, but they failed to break the enchantment. The youngest brother then got married, had 24 sons, and when his sons grew up, they managed to rescue the princesses.

I was reminded of the Thousand and One Nights by the tale of Kovács János, which was a "story within a story". The protagonist was transformed into a dog, then a bird, by his promiscuous wife. He went through many adventures (fighting wolves and witches), until a kind maidservant rescued him and helped him take revenge.

There were also several darker tales in the collection. One of my favorite tale types, "the princess in the shroud" was represented by The soldier who wanted his pay. Here, the cursed princess crawled out of her coffin every night and scorched whatever he touched. Lame and One-hand was a tale from a type I never liked much, but this version was memorable: two princes were crippled by a witch, and a kind princess decided to take care of them. When in turn a witch abused her in secret, the princes came to her rescue. In the end, they even got their limbs back. In the story of Bogdán the fisherman, the hero was ordered by a king to go visit God and invite him to dinner. His magical wife killed Bogdán, and once he was done with the otherwordly visit, she revived him. A dark realistic tale told about a woman beaten to death by her jealous abusive husband, but a series of heavenly miracles, and the scent of incense, proved that she had always been innocent. He ended up in hell.

There was a fascinating, unusual tale about a princess turned into a wolf. She tried to trap and eat a prince, but he decided to try and save her anyway (along with her people, who were all turned into wolves). He had to fight her first husband, a fearsome wolf, and defeat him to break the curse. The curse, by the way, had been placed on them by the princess' "treacherous, vile father", because she chose to marry without permission. At the end of the tale, since the king showed no remorse, the young couple told him off and cut ties with the royal family. Interestingly, this tale appeared in two different versions in the book, once as a fairy tale and once as a legend. It was also not the only fascinating animal story. In another one, a hunter found a boy raised by bears. When he grew up, the boy won a princess through several tasks set for him by her twelve giant brothers. She tied strands of her hair around his body to make him stronger. There was a lovely moment where the boy encountered a bear again, and cried, reminded of his foster-mother.

Among the more "adult" themed stories, the ones I enjoyed the most featured soldiers. In one of them, a poor man's son wandered into the lair of robbers at night, and encountered another traveler (the king in disguise). They managed to overcome the robbers, with a lot of heavy cursing as encouregement on the poor boy's part; later on, he found out in an unexpected twist who the other traveler really was. Another amusing and uncensored tale was that of King Matthias and the soldier - the king in disguise encountered a veteran, who spoke in a very rough way, but had a kind heart, and ended up saving the king's life.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Folktales about adoptive fathers (International Father's Day)

It's father's day, and I felt like making another post, so here it is. 

(Everybody calm down, this is a stock photo)

We are celebrating fathers - and father figures - all around the world today. I already posted about the importance of caring fathers in folklore a few years ago. Today I decided that I want to highlight stories about adoptive fathers - because adoption is a topic near and dear to my heart, and because it is often represented in a negative way in folklore.

So, let's hear it for great adoptive fathers, both in folklore and in the real world!

(Links in the titles, as usual.)

The Flying Horse of Earthdom (Scottish Traveller tale)

One of Duncan Williamson's tales. A king's son is born with a hump on his back, and the king orders the baby to be abandoned in the woods. He is adopted by an old hunchbacked man who takes him to a secret place called Earthdom, populated by people shunned by society. The boy is raised there, and since his adoptive father teachers him archery, his back straightens by the time he grows up. He returns to court to win a series of contests. When the king finds out the young man is his son, he wants to take him back - but the boy refuses him, and returns to Earthom to the kind people who raised him.

The Wild Man's Daughter (Greece)

A king's daughter sees a dream that foretells her father bowing before her. The king grows so angry that he orders her to be abandoned in the wilderness. She ends up in the house of a Wild Man, who adopts her and cares for her, and helps her grow in confidence and find a worthy husband. Even after his death, he leaves her some magic to ensure her happiness.

Heimer and Aslaug (Iceland)

This is a sequel to the epic story of Sigurd and Brynhildr. The tragic couple has a daughter, Aslaug. After the death of her parents she is saved and spirited away by Heimer, who becomes her foster-father. He hides the baby girl inside a harp and travels with her to faraway places, disguised as a wandering musician. Eventually he is killed, but he manages to save Aslaug's life.

N'oun Doaré (Brittany)

The hero of this story (whose name means "I don't know") is found as a small child by the Marquis of Coat-Squiriou. The kind marquis adopts him and raises him. When N'oun Doaré grows up, he goes through a series of adventures, supported by his parents. Eventually he even finds out about his own origins - however, when asked, he still names the marquis and his wife as his true parents.

Boris Son o' Three (Ukraine)

A boy is kidnapped by an eagle and lost in the woods. He is found by three brothers who decide to raise the baby together; they christen him Boris Son o' Three. When he grows up, the fathers gift him a magic foal, and he goes on to amazing adventures.

The Wild Cat of the Forest (Austria)

A charcoal burner encounters a large man in the forest and invites him to baptize his newborn child. The godfather names the boy Wild Cat. Growing up, the boy keeps getting into trouble and his parents abuse him, so one night he runs away and goes to live with his godfather. The wild man teaches him a useful trade and cares for him, until Wild Cat runs away again to other adventures.

There are more stories, but this is all I had time for today. I hope I managed to demonstrate that kind adoptive fathers do exist in folklore :) 

Happy father's day!

Monday, May 15, 2023

Myths, Vikings, nostalgia: International Storytelling Festival in Budapest

The 10th International Theater Olympics is currently happening in Budapest, and as part of the event series, Karinthy Theater decided to put on a storytelling festival! I attended as part of the audience, and immediately felt at home: I got to hear some of my favorite storytellers, and after 11 years, we had a mini-reunion with tellers from the second Holnemvolt Festival, Berecz András and the Paramythokores trio. For three days, the theater created a friendly community of tellers, listeners, and a dedicated organizing staff.

On Friday, I was reunited with my three lovely Greek friends the Talemaidens (Paramythokores), whom I had last seen in Athens for the MythOff we did together. We took a boat trip on the Danube, ate some Hungarian street food, and caught up, enjoying each other's company despite the pouring rain. In the afternoon, I returned to the theater to attend Tom Muir's show of folktales from Orkney. I have met Tom at the Scottish International Storytelling Festival in Edinburgh last year, and it was great to hear him tell old stories about sea serpents, fairy hills, Viking battles and hidden islands. The performance had a Hungarian interpreter (all of them did) who did a great job of translating the tales' language into eloquent and expressive Hungarian. (You can buy Tom's book of Orkney tales here!)

On Saturday, the Greek ladies of Paramythokores told the Greek myths of Europa, Semele, and Athene, with their usual humor and brilliance, and a lot of music. Their interpreter, Edit, was an especially good choice; she found herself in the stories, and made an entertaining addition to the trio. After Greek mythology, Berecz András did his linguistically elaborate, hilariously funny performance of Hungarian folk humor, wisdom, and eloquence that had us in tears of laughter for ninety minutes straight. He is the greatest master of Hungarian storytelling; he is near impossible to translate, but you can trust me on this. I especially loved that he opened his show with the myth of Momus. Very fitting. The last performer of the day was Piret Päär from Estonia. She is a graceful, soft-spoken teller, who can bring out the magic in old folktales with a single smiling look. She connected the tales with stories from her own life, stringing them one after the other, and especially enjoyed showing us the wisdom of tradition. After the story of The happy man's shirt, she asked the audience to come up with new endings to the tale, and had a lovely conversation with us.

On Sunday the featured tellers had a roundtable meeting with the audience where they spoke about their work and experiences. They talked about difficult situations where stories won the day; turning points in their lives, memorable audience feedback, and strange places where they had performed. It was a fun, fascinating conversation that inspired a lot of questions from the listeners. After the roundtable, I went out for lunch with the Greek group, and then ran back to the theater to catch Berecz András' second show. I was drenched in the rain and arrived like a drowned rat, but it was worth it.

The last show of the festival was The golden tree by the Paramythokores. It is an hour-long enchanting Greek fairy tale with singing, music, and a lot of deep emotions. I have been looking forward to hearing it because we worked on the same folktale type parallel to each other (Paramythokores for this show, and me for my book last year), and Vasileia and I talked a lot about it at the time. It was absolutely brilliant: it took us on a journey were time ceased to exist, and words came alive. Even the interpreter was swept along, adding her own voice to the story. It was a perfect closing event for the festival. We applauded so much that we even got an encore story at the end!

Image from here

It was great to see international storytellers on a Budapest stage again. The organization of the festival was smooth, the staff was welcoming and friendly, and the program was just enough to fill our ears and hearts for three days. I really hope they will do it again next year!

Monday, May 1, 2023

A to Z Challenge Reflections: Body Folktales



I am usually a very organized A to Z participant. In the past several years, I have had all my posts scheduled before the start of April, so I could spend my time going around and visiting other people. This year, things unexpectedly piled up. The Internet went out for days, my phone died, I went on a spring break trip and work crashed down on me after... I started April with A-M scheduled, and then worked ahead, but I still ended up pantsing the last five letters day to day. It was a close call, but I managed to crawl across the finish line!

With that said, I absolutely loved this year's theme. Every time I began researching a new body part, fun, weird, and fascinating folktales jumped out at me left and right. It was probably the most entertaining research binge I have ever done, and it added a lot of cool new stories to my repertoire!

The sad part is, I barely had any time to go visiting. So many of you had such wonderful themes, and you were all kind enough to come visit me every day! I am planning on catching up over the course of the next weeks. I love the visiting part of A to Z, so it will be like an extension of the challenge experience :) Thank you all for sticking around and leaving comments!

As for statistics: I am very surprised that the most popular post of the month was not one of the adult-themed body parts... but ELBOWS! By a wide margin. All y'all really like elbows. Go figure.

Thank you all, and congratulations on another fun Challenge year!

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Z is for the Zygomatic bone (Body Folktales)

This year, my A to Z Challenge theme is Body Folktales. Enjoy! 

The zygomatic bone is your cheekbone; it's part of the skull. Since I have already done cheeks this month, I'm going to look at folktales about skulls.

Sosruquo and the giant's skull (Abkhaz legend)

One of my favorite tales among the Nart sagas of the Caucasus. The heroes encounter a huge skull, and decide to bring its owner back to life, to ask some questions just out of curiosity. They revive the giant, who tells them of his life long ago. (In other versions, they mistake the skull for a cave, and sleep in it first.) As an archaeologist, I'd love to have this power.

Ottilia and the skull (Tyrol)

A poor girl is chased away from home by her cruel stepmother, and seeks shelter in a castle in the woods. Turns out the castle is inhabited by a talking skull, who turns out to be quite friendly. Ottilia carries it in her apron and cooks food for the both of them. At night, a skeleton appears, threatening the girl, but she holds out without fleeing, and thus breaks the curse that had turned the castle's mistress into a skull. (You can read a friendlier retelling here.)

Céatach (Ireland)

A long hero story featuring an apprentice magician who saves a girl from a giant named Steel Skull. he giant is undefeatable, because when his head is cut off, it rejoins his body and he becomes stronger. Céatach, however, finds a way to cut off the head and kick it far away, finally defeating the giant.

The wicked mendicant (India)

A prince is promised to a sinister mendicant before he is born. When he turns twelve, the mendicant comes to claim him, and takes him into the woods to a shine of Kali, to sacrifice him. The boy, however, finds a pile of skulls by the shine (the previous victims) and the skulls tell him how to survive. After he kills the mendicant, the brings the other victims back to life.

The laughing skull (India)

A banker gives out loans to people, agreeing to get repaid in the next life. Some ruffians borrow money from him with no intention of paying, and spend it on sweets. However, on the way they encounter a human skull that tells them his story: he didn't believe in next-life payments either, and yet he still could not rest in peace before his debts. The ruffians reconsider the loan.

The talking skull (Nigeria)

A hunter encounters a skull in the wilderness, and wonders how it ended up there. The skull speaks: "Taking got me here!" The hunter runs to the king, claiming he's found a talking skull. The king doesn't believe it, so he follows the hunter into the bush. The skull, however, remains silent. The king, angered by the wasted trip, orders the hunter to be beheaded. Once his head is left alone with the skull, the skull speaks: "What brought you here?" "Talking got me here!"... This motif (K1162) is typically African, and also appears in African traditions across the Atlantic.

The girl who married a skull (Efik people, Nigeria)

A girl decides to only marry a perfect man. A skull from the spirit world borrows body parts from various spirits, and turns himself into a dream husband. However, when he takes his smitten wife back home, he returns the body parts too, and she realizes too late she's married a skull spirit. Luckily, an old woman helps her escape and go back home. She even gets her a spider hairdresser. (I really like this folktale type for some reason, it has many exciting variants.)

Whew! That's the last letter done! Thank you all so much for following along, see you all tomorrow for Reflections! :)

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Y is for Yoke (Body Folktales)

This year, my A to Z Challenge theme is Body Folktales. Enjoy! 

Alright fine, this letter was hard. Yoke is a term used in body building for the neck, trapezius muscles and deltoids together. So, I basically just went with neck. Sue me.

Edao plays hide and seek (Marshall Islands)

Edao is the resident trickster of Marshallese folklore, famous for dirty jokes and shapeshifting abilities. There is one story where he repeatedly tricks his brother Jemaluit by transforming into various things (such as into a tree which lets Jemaluit fall when he climbs it). Finally, he bends over and transforms himself into a palm tree, with his anus serving as a water hole in the tree. Jemaluit, feeling thirsty while walking in the woods, sticks his head in the water hole to drink... at which point Edao clamps down on his neck. He eventually lets go and they both laugh - but people's necks have been narrower than their head ever since. Just so you know.

The guru and his disciple (Mauritius)

A guru and his disciple visit a foreign country where the king is doing justice all wrong. He first wants to punish an old woman because her house accidentally falls on some thieves breaking in, and then changes his mind and wants to punish the builder of the house. However, the builder's neck is too thin for the hangman's noose, so the king orders his men to find someone whose neck fits the noose and hang them instead. They arrest the guru's disciple - but the two clever men manage to find a way to survive, and trick the cruel king into being hanged instead.

Rokurokubi (Japan)

Rokurokubi is the name of a female yokai who can stretch her neck to great length, allowing her head to wander around freely at night (sometimes without the woman realizing this while awake). Sometimes the head hunts animals, sometimes it licks the oil out of lanterns, and sometimes it just scares people.

Jacob and Esau (Bible)

The story of Jacob and Esau in the Book of Genesis is a story of sibling rivalry. After Jacob cheats Esau out of their father's blessing, the brothers part ways for several years before they meet again. Their reunion is described as a preparation for battle that turns amicable when Esau runs to Jacob to embrace and kiss him. However, Talmudic sources have a different explanation for the same moment: they claim that Esau tried to bite his brother in the neck and suck his blood. In a moment of miracle, Jacob's neck turned "hard as ivory" or marble, making Esau's teeth "melt like wax." Instead of weeping for joy, they wept in anger and pain. (I am sure there is vampire fan fiction about this somewhere.)

Friday, April 28, 2023

X is for the Xiphoid process (Body Folktales)

 This year, my A to Z Challenge theme is Body Folktales. Enjoy! 

The xiphoid process is a small projection on the bottom of your sternum. It's not exactly a popular folktale topic, but I did rustle up some stories featuring breastbones in general.

The singing breastbone (Scotland)

A princess' lover is seduced by her younger sister, so she drowns the girl out of jealousy. A harper finds the body of the drowned princess, and he makes a harp out of her breastbone, strung with her golden hair. At a banquet at the royal court he plays the harp, and it sings the true story of the murder.

The Old Man of the Cliff (Iceland)

A king is sailing on his ship with his men when an old man calls to them from a cliff. The king asks how many men he has in his household, to which the stranger answers with a riddle. While the king is trying to work out the riddle, the old man's troll magic is pulling the ship dangerously close to the cliff. A sailor named Thorgeir sees this, and braces the ship's sailyard pole against the rocks and against his own chest. He pushes against the magic, snapping his breastbone and his ribs with the effort, but manages to heroically save the ship from the enchantment.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

W is for Wax (Body Folktales)

This year, my A to Z Challenge theme is Body Folktales. Enjoy! 

In case you ever wondered: yes, there are stories about ear wax.

Why mosquitoes buzz in people's ears (Gabon)

Ear and Mosquito go bathing together, and ear begins to treat his skin with oil (wax) after. Mosquito ask for oil and Ear promises to lend some, but never fulfills his promise. He just puts the rest of the oil back inside the ear and walks away. Ever since then, mosquitoes have been buzzing in people's ears, asking for the promised wax.

Why mosquitoes buzz (Garifuna people, Saint Vincent)

Wax and Mosquito are friends. Wax goes bankrupt, and borrows some money from Mosquito, but never pays it back. Eventually, trying to avoid his creditor, Wax hides in a human's ear, and has been hiding ever since. Mosquito, on his part, has been angrily buzzing, demanding payment.

Madhu and Kaitabha (India)

In Hindu mythology Madhu and Kaitabha are two beings born from the ear wax of the god Vishnu. One of them is soft and one of them is hard. They gain the power to only die with their own consent, from the goddess Mahadevi, and use it to challenge the gods to a fight. Eventually, Vishnu defeats them with deception.

Next time you hear a mosquito, I hope these stories will come to mind...

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

V is for Vertebrae (Body Folktales)

This year, my A to Z Challenge theme is Body Folktales. Enjoy! 

This one was more difficult than expected on a short amount of time, but I did rustle up one interesting story.

The vertebra (Iceland)

A farmer sees a ghost come into his backyard, and in fright he tosses away his pitchfork and runs. Later he returns, and finds a single vertebra pinned on the point of the pitchfork. He realizes that the ghost had been made by magic, using a single human bone - and hitting that one bone with an iron point (by lucky accident) dispelled the ghost.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

U is for Underarm (Body Folktales)

This year, my A to Z Challenge theme is Body Folktales. Enjoy! 

I was having a hard time with this letter, and none of the uvula stories were particularly exciting, so I ended up looking for armpit stories.

The sun and the children (/Xam, South Africa)

In this myth the Sun is an old man who hides light in his armpit. There is only light when he lifts his arm in his sleep, and even then only around his house. Two women send their children to lift him and (politely) throw him into the sky where he turns into the Sun and shares his light with all. (See a longer version here.)

The merchant's slandered daughter (Russia)

A king wants to marry a merchant's daughter, but a jealous general tells him she is immodest, and he has already slept with her multiple times. When the king asks for proof, the general pays a crafty old woman to find out what special mark the girl has. Turns out she has a single golden hair under one armpit. This almost ends the whole issue, except the clever girl finds a way to prove that the accusation was false.

Galngam and Hangsai (Vaiphei / Gangte, India)

In this series of tales the hero Galngam visits the land of Keichalpu, a lion shapeshifter and his people. When his brother Hangsai wants to follow in his footsteps, the villagers kill him and distribute his body parts among themselves. Galngam goes looking, and when they find out the victim was his brother, they put Hangsai's body back together. However, one of his armpits is missing, because an old woman already ate her share of the meat. Galngam fixes up the hole with a bat's wings. However, when Hangsai revives and finds out his armpit was fixed with a bat, he scratches at it, and the wound kills him again. (Read another version here.)

There were also some other legends about heroes being born from a mother's armpit, or only being vulnerable in their armpit. Go figure.

Monday, April 24, 2023

T is for Tongues (Body Folktales)

This year, my A to Z Challenge theme is Body Folktales. Enjoy! 

Meat of the tongue (Swahili)

A king's wife is sad and bored, and he doesn't know how to help her. He seeks advice from a poor man whose wife is happy. The poor man says the secret is "meat of the tongue." The king starts feeding tongue meat to his wife, and yet she doesn't improve, so he decides to exchange wives with the poor man. After a few weeks, the queen appears happy and healthy. It turns out, "meat of the tongue" was metaphor for having conversations, sharing stories, and communicating. (And no, that's not where my mind went at first either, but that just gives the story an extra kick when you tell it.)

The yam farm and the problem tongue (Ghana)

Anansi the Spider works on a yam field for mysterious people whose names he can't find out. Eventually manages to outwit them, and when they are called by their true name they die. Anansi, not content with winning the yam field, also eats the people, and his tongue swells up. So, being the trickster he is, he convinces everyone to take out their tongues when they go swimming in the sea - and he steals a new one for himself.

The mallet of wealth (Korea)

A boy spies on a group of goblins, and wins a mallet from them that can perform miracles and summon wealth. When a selfish boy tries to do the same, the goblins catch him, and stretch his tongue a hundred feet long. Shamed, the boy decides to make up for his selfishness by using his tongue as a bridge over the river for others. When he eventually falls into the water, the other boy shows up with his mallet, saves him, and fixes his tongue.

The origin on wasps (Dagomba, Togo)

A girl calls her mother a witch, and the old woman starts chasing her, trying to eat her. Various animals offer protection but they all bail at the sight of the witch. Eventually the wasp decides to help. He swallows the old woman head first, and tells his sons to tie his waist, so she can't go forward or backward through him. This is why wasps have a tiny waist - and this is why they have a stinger, which used to be the witch's sharp tongue.

The great debate (Jewish story)

This is another version of the "arguing body parts" tale type we started the challenge with back at A. Here, the tongue claims to be the most powerful. When the other body parts don't agree, tongue intentionally misspeaks and gets its owner into mortal danger... then immediately finds the words to get him out of it. Proving the tongue is indeed the most powerful.

Do you know other stories where speaking gets someone into trouble? Or where tongues play an important part? :)

Saturday, April 22, 2023

S is for Saliva (Body Folktales)

 This year, my A to Z Challenge theme is Body Folktales. Enjoy! 

NOTE: I am sorry I have not been visiting back. I really miss seeing all your posts! I was traveling, my phone died, and then the Internet went down at home. I will catch up as soon as I can!

I could not find a single image that was not gross,
so here's a puppy.

CW: These stories will get gross.

Spitting and saliva have long featured into all kinds of customs and folklore. This book has a long list of them. I also blogged about a Japanese legend earlier about a samurai killing a giant centipede with arrows he'd spat on. Here are some other interesting tales I found:

In this 5th century legend a saint slays a dragon by spitting into its mouth. The trick works, says the notes, because there was a long-standing belief that human saliva is scalding to serpents. In another 13th century text, people trap and kill a dragon by fasting and then spitting a circle around it.
(This is a whole D&D adventure waiting to happen...)

Juan and the Princess (Philippines)

A poor boy is challenged by a king to find his hidden daughter. He succeeds, but the king still doesn't want to keep his promise and marry him to the princess. Juan receives help from some birds, who give him a pen-point but no ink, telling him to use his saliva. Whatever the king makes him write turns to gold, proving that the boy is special.

Kvasir (Norse mythology)

In Norse mythology there is a wise being named Kvasir, who was born from a bowl of spit. The Aesir and Vanir gods once had a fight, and decided to make peace by spitting into a bowl together (try this next time you have a family fight). Thus, Kvasir was born, blessed with all kinds of knowledge. Later, two Dwarves killed him, and from his blood they made the Mead of Poetry.

Chasing a monster that has been stealing apples from the garden, the hero of this story ends up in the depths of the underworld. There, he meets a woman who is making dough with her own saliva instead of water, for her six children. She tells the hero that there is no water in their realm because a monster is guarding the well. Of course the hero manages to defeat the monster, and bring water back.

Glaucus (Greece)

Glaucus, son of King Minos of Crete, dies, and the seer Polydius brings him back to life. Against his will, Minos forces the seer to teach Glaucus the art of divination. However, when Polydius is finally allowed to leave, he asks Glaucus to spit into his mouth, and the boy forgets everything he'd learned.

The fairy midwife (Guernsey)

This is a common tale type I have blogged about before, where a woman acts as midwife to the fairies, and accidentally gets something in her eye that allows her to see through enchantments later on. In a version from Guernsey, that something is the saliva of the newborn fairy baby.

Talking spit

This is a folktale motif, rather than an individual tale. There are many stories around the world where someone escapes captivity of witches / ogres / devils / abusive parents / etc., and spits on the floor on the way out. Later on, the spit answers in their name, delaying the discovery that they'd escaped. (D1611: Magic spittle impersonates fugitives)
In the tale of Dhon Cholecha from Nepal, a girl escapes from demons by leaving spittle behind and putting charcoal in it. The motif is especially common in Blancaflor tales from Spain and Latin America (see here, here and here).

Would you tell any of these stories to your audiences?