Saturday, January 21, 2023

Favorite Folktales for the Year of the Rabbit

Today marks the lunar new year, beginning the Year of the Rabbit according to the Chinese zodiac. As usual, I have collected a list of folktales and legends that feature rabbits and hares. It was a fairly easy task, since these animals often take on the role of the trickster in cultures around the world. There is an abundance of stories - I decided to cherry-pick my all-time favorites.

(Links in the titles, as usual.)

Happy New Year!

The Sisimiqui (Costa Rica)

One of my all-time favorite folktales, about a terrifying monster and a heroic little rabbit that defeats it. The rabbit in this story rides an armadillo, which makes it even better. He defeats the monster in a game of whack-a-mole (or whack-a-rabbit), popping out of tunnels that the armadillo dug, and killing the enemy with a thousand small cuts and bites. (This tale also has variants from Belize.)

Rabbit kills a dragon (St. Lucia)

Once again, a trickster character does something heroic: in this case, fights a seven-headed serpent with a knife, to rescue two girls. During the fight Rabbit occasionally loses a limb, or his head, but he always speaks magic words and sticks them back into place.

The shy quilt bird (Myanmar)

Another old time favorite of mine. In this one, the Golden Rabbit, trickster and advisor to King Lion, saves the animals from an evil serpent by teaching them how to work together as a team.

Br'er Rabbit's courtship (African-American)

I do have a soft spot for folktales where tricksters fall in love. In this case, Br'er Rabbit has a crush on the daughter of Miss Meadows. And the story has a happy ending.

Mr. Deer's Party (Cajun)

Mr. Deer announces that he'll marry his daughter to the suitor who can dance dust out of a rock. Compére Lapin, who is in love with the girl, finds a way to create an illusion and win her hand (or hoof).

The beekeeper and the bewitched hare (Scotland)

A kind-hearted young man saves a hare from a witch, with the help of his bees. In the end, it turns out the hare was not an animal at all, but an enchanted girl.

The hare and the tree spirit (Xhosa)

Trickster decides to help a young man who is in love with a mute girl. Hare manages to break the curse place on the girl by doing something so foolish and silly that she has to speak up.

Mr. Fox's funeral (USA)

In this story the rabbit-trickster is a girl: Molly Cottontail. Fox tries to outwit her by luring her to his own pretend funeral - but in the end, Molly gets the last laugh.

Hare rescues the sun (Yupik)

I did a deep dive into this story a while ago (see link). When evil beings kidnap the sun and the moon, Snowshoe Hare goes out, steals them back, and kicks them up into the sky.

How Hare got a wife for his son (Tanzania)

A fun tale about a wise hare father who helps his son win a bride. It is related to the Grimms' Queen Bee story, where the hero is kind to animals along the way and later they help him in return.

Trickster seeks endowments

This is not one tale, but rather a tale type that does not appear in the ATU catalog, and very often features Rabbit as a protagonist. It's a story type where Trickster asks God (or a supreme being) for more wits/wisdom/cleverness, and has to fulfill tasks to earn it. Usually, once the supreme being sees how cleverly Rabbit outwits anyone to reach his goal, they decide Rabbit already has more than enough wits to get by. (See a picture book version of one of these tales here.)

Honorable mention: The sea-hare (Grimm)

I am adding this as a bonus because it is alleged that "sea-hare" is a local dialect word for a rabbit, but this folktale has also been translated as "hamster" or "guinea pig". Since it features a creature that hides in a princess' hair, we can't quite be sure. But I do love this story, and it is one of the lesser known Grimms.

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Hedgehog hero (Following folktales around the world 201. - Western Sahara)

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!

Western Sahara (the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, SADR) is a non-autonomous country that has been fighting for independence from Morocco for decades. In the neighboring Algeria there are refugee camps giving shelter to thousands of Sahrawi people. When I was going through Africa with this challenge, I didn't have a book to read so I skipped it. But now I do, so I circled back for a 201st stop.

Los cuentos del erizo
Y otros cuentos de las mujeres del Sáhara
Ana Crisitna Herreros
Libros de las Malas Compañías, 2017.

The book contains 30 folktales collected from Sahrawi women in refugee camps in Tinduf, Algeria. Spanish storyteller Ana Cristina Herreros and artist Daniel Tornero visited the camps - that have been in existence for 40 years - in 2016. Ana recorded and collected folktales (in the original language, to be translated to Spanish later), and Daniel conducted workshops with children, where illustrations for the book were made. Original photos and recordings can be found on the publisher's website.
The introduction was written by the SADR's Minister of Culture.


The trickster hedgehog (who is featured in the title and on the cover) sometimes did real heroic deeds in the stories. In one, he talked the animals into standing up to a tyrannical lion. When the lion tried to eat him, the hedgehog stuck in his throat, choking and pricking him to death.
The most beautiful and unique story, however, was that of the Ostrich Boy. A baby was lost in the desert and raised by ostriches. Even when he grew up and was returned to his people, ostriches still followed him around, and he could run just like them.


The resident trickster, as mentioned above, was the hedgehog. He was the protagonist of such classics as "lions stacked on top of each other" (and scaring the bottom one into running away); "top of the crop and bottom of the crop"; ungrateful animal in a trap; dividing food between lion and wolf; race between animals (him against a swallow); and even a tale where he shared meat with wolf the same way Prometheus had tricked the Greek gods out of their offerings.
Another trickster who made an appearance was Yuhaa, the Arab cousin of the Hodja, playing the classic trick of putting hot peppers on a donkey's ass to make it run faster. Another familiar tale was about a foolish king who outlawed scratching - but three clever women still found a way to scratch themselves without being punished.
Among the non-trickster tales I found a version of the goats and the wolf (The red goat and the four kids), and the cursed brothers (Sraysru Dahabu).

Sunday, January 1, 2023

2022: The best books of the year

It's the end of 2022, so it's time to make a list of my favorite books this year!

I finished a total of 92 books this year, which approximately amounts to 18,200 pages. I actually read more than this, but I am only counting the books I finished because I tend to jump around a lot. Surprisingly, only 15 of this number were folktale collections; I read more stories than that for research, obviously, but this year I was giving the genre a bit of a break. Instead, I was reading a whole lot of nonfiction, and also comics and graphic novels (more than 30 of the latter).

So, here's the list of this year's favorites, in no particular order:


Theodora Goss: The collected enchantments

I managed to get my hands on an ARC copy of this one. It contains a large selection of Theodora Goss' short stories and poetry; some I have read before, but many of them are new. She writes fairy-tale adaptations in her unique style that blends magical realism, alternative history, and mythic fiction. I love her eloquent language, richly detailed descriptions, and the game of tracing the literary and foklore references she makes. She never spells them out too much, allowing the reader to make their own discoveries. It is an all-around lovely collection; worth reading little by little, savoring the stories.


Honestly, YA is a genre that has disappointed me many times before. I only opened two YA books this year - and both proved to be a hit.

Xiran Jay Zhao: Iron Widow

Chinese mythology meets the mecha genre. In a futuristic society humanity fights evil aliens with the use of giant robots piloted by a man and a woman. Women, however, basically just function as a battery, and are deemed expendable. Until one young woman decides that she will survive a battle... The book uses mythology and history in genius ways, and subverts a lot of YA tropes. For fans of Pacific Rim the good news is, the movie adaptation is already in the works.

Natasha Bowen: Skin of the Sea

Now this is how you write a Black Little Mermaid. (*cough*Disney*cough*). The author adapts the fairy tale to 15th century West Africa, blending Yoruba mythology and the history of the slave trade: the "prince" rescued by the mermaid is a young man thrown into the sea from a slave ship. It is a beautifully eloquent, colorfully detailed book with lots of (to my mind) vividly visual elements. Definitely one of the best of the genre I have read.


Poetry made a reappearance in my life this year, and yielded two memorable reads.

Joanna Lilley: Endlings

I am so happy I came across this book. It is thoughtful and enchanting. It might seem like a depressing idea to read an entire book of poems about extinct animals, and it does have its heartbreaking moments. But as a whole, it is more about how incredible nature is, and what we lose when we don't care for it. It also has several poems about dinosaurs and other long-extinct species, and the wonder they represent. The author has deep love for each of them, and a beautiful way with words. It is a collection that inspires us to try to do better.

Rebecca Elson: A responsibility to awe 

There is something enchanting about poetry written by a scientist. What she understands deeply through her work, she eloquently puts into an artistic form to inspire the rest of us. This is the "responsibility to awe" mentioned in the title that permeates the whole volume. The first part is a poetry collection, while the second is a selection of notes, poetry fragments, and memoirs from the author.


I found a lot of new favorites this year (next to old loves returning, such as Saga and Fables).

Simon Spurrier: Coda 

Post-apocalyptic fantasy. A world where magic is dying, a grumpy bard with a golden heart, a filthy-mouthed unicorn, romance, a lot of dark humor, and the fantastic visual work of Matías Bergara. Three volumes, finished story. I adored every page of it.

Noelle Stevenson - Grace Ellis - Shannon Watters: Lumberjanes

I'm late to the party, but a total fan now. It's the kind of random WTF humor, lovable cast of characters, and fun artwork that is near and dear to my heart. Scout camp with Greek gods, Velociraptors, inter-dimensional travel, and punny badges. What's not to love?

Emily McGovern: Bloodlust and Bonnets

If you love the Background Slytherin webcomics, you definitely want to get your hands on the author's full-length graphic novel, where a Regency era heroine battles vampires alongside an idiotic Lord Byron. It's like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but a lot funnier. It never ceases to amaze me how McGovern can deliver a punchline with two strokes of a pencil on a stylized face.

Hubert & Zanzim: A man's skin

A gorgeous graphic novel. It weighs like 3 pounds, but worth picking up. The story is about a girl in Renaissance Italy who inherits a man's skin from her aunt - and with it the ability to transform into a man and go around town experiencing life from a different point of view. And since it's a French book, it's not overly prudish about the consequences. Elegant, beautiful, funny, and thought-provoking.


Nicholas Jubber: The fairy tellers 

This is a book storytellers and fairy tale enthusiasts alike should definitely own. It puts "old stories" in a whole new perspective, illustrating the many ways their collectors and/or authors left their personal mark on texts that romantics like to label "universal." I have been deeply immersed in storytelling for almost two decades now, but this book could introduce me to new literary figures, and even told me a whole lot of fun new details about the lives of some whom I've read whole books about. The author dug deep into history, literature, primary sources, contemporary authors, modern experts, and even personal travel experience. The result is a book that gets the facts right, but presents them with the lively humor and twinkle-eyed excitement of personal telling. "You'll never guess what I just found out about Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve!" And I am ready to listen, every time.

I also participated this year in a (Hungarian) reading challenge called Polymath Training: every year, it appoints twelve topics you have to read nonfiction books about. I love this challenge, because it always brings a lot of fascinating reads into my life. Here are this year's highlights:

Alexandra Horowitz: On looking

The author took a walk around a city block with ten different experts, from geologist to typographer, and talked about the details they noticed - to prove that we all see the world through our own individual lens.

Anita Anand: Sophia

The biography of a Punjabi princess born and raised in Victorian England, and how she turned into an important member of the suffragist movement. The book also gives ample context about the history and colonization of the Punjab, through the story of Sophia Duleep Singh's family.

Joe Starita: A warrior of the people

The biography of Susan la Flesche Picotte, the first Native American woman who earned a western medical degree and became a practicing doctor, and a pillar of her community. Within the context of colonial history in the 19th century, and many important personalities in the indigenous rights movement.

Dan R. Lynch - Julie A. Kirsch: Crystal healing

A geologist and psychologist take on the concept of "crystal healing" - and basically pick it apart. A very enjoyable book that also taught me a lot about the international trade of minerals, the workings of the placebo effect, and geology in general.

Victoria Finlay: Jewels

The author delves into the stones of the Mohs scale, and presents a wealth of fascinating information about them. The book is a blend of history, folklore, geology and science, and personal travel journal - as she makes a point of visiting a site connected to each of the minerals, and talking to people whose lives are intertwined with the jewels.

Douglas Wolk: All of the Marvels

This dude read all of the Marvel comics (about 27,000 of them), and then wrote a book about the experience. It's a love letter to Marvel, and a fantastic adventure for more casual Marvel readers like myself.

Margaret Bourke-White: Portrait of myself

The autobiography of an incredible woman who was personally present at many important milestones of the 20th century, with camera in hand. I never thought someone could make the history of industrial photography exciting to me, but she did. She was also a war correspondent in WWII, world traveler, and all-around adventurer.

Eric Robbins - Donald Legge: Animal Dunkirk

The story of Operation Noah, a last-minute scrambling to save wild animals at the birth of Lake Kariba. Colonial authorities didn't realize that there would be a need for this until the water was already rising, so a small and ragtag group of rangers decided to go out and rescue elephants, honeybadgers, aardvarks, antelopes, monkeys, and even venomous snakes from the flood. Often by swimming in and dragging them to safety by the tail. Incredible read.

Note: in case you're interested, this year's Polymath topics are: Animation, Hungarian poetry, Baltic countries, Saints, Money, Dictatorships, Nature conservation, Solar system, Secrets and hoaxes, 20th century classical music, History of science. + 1 individual random topic from Wikipedia.

What did you enjoy reading in 2022? What are you looking forward to in 2023? :)