Sunday, March 31, 2024

A is for Arranged Marriage (Romance Tropes in Folklore)

This year, my A to Z Blogging Challenge theme is Romance Tropes in Folklore! For each letter, I will pick a popular trope from romcom movies and romance novels, and see if I can find the same trope in folktales and legends. Because it's fun. Here we go.


Arranged Marriage in romance means a story where the protagonists are married before they fall in love (or even meet). They usually do end up falling in love, in a "slow burn" way, as they get to know each other. Forced marriage (where one party is forced into the marriage, rather than being an even match) is a subset of this trope.

(Yes, I am learning these as I go along.)


This one might seem like a low hanging fruit for folklore, since for centuries arranged marriage was the norm, rather than the exception. Traditional tales are teeming with princesses being doled out by their parents willy-nilly. But I was trying to aim higher, looking for stories where love and romance are an important component within the arranged marriage story.


The pasha's daughter (Arab folktale)

This story begins with a pasha who has a clever and brave daughter, Uns-ul-Juloos. She refuses to marry anyone she does not love. When she rejects a very high profile suitor, her father grows furious, and decides to teach her a lesson by marrying her to the most wretched person in the city. His servants dig up a drunk, dirty and poor man, and Uns-ul-Juloos is married to him immediately. However, even when she is moved from palace to dingy hovel, she doesn't despair. She soon learns that her husband is actually a kind person, and he grows to love her so much that he puts in the effort to give her a good life. They slowly grow to love each other and build a life together. Then one day he takes a job traveling with a caravan, and encounters a jinn who grants him some magic pomegranates. With the use of the fruit, Uns-ul-Juloos and her husband become wealthy, and manage to prove to the pasha that a good relationship with a good person is much better than a rich suitor would have been.

Sultan Hasan (Egyptian folktale)

A sultan has to go into exile and live in disguise to avoid a family curse. On his travels, he encounters a man who keeps abusing his wife, divorcing and re-marrying her again and again. Eventually, by law, she has to be married to someone else before he can have her again. So they arrange for her to marry some random beggar for one day only. The beggar happens to be the sultan in disguise - and the woman decides that he is a much better husband. They refuse to divorce after the one day is up.

Mongan and Dubh-Lacha (Irish legend)

Mongan is an Irish hero born to Manannan Mac Lir, lord of the Land of Promise, and a mortal woman. The woman's husband, Fiachna the Fair, offers his wife to Manannan in exchange for the deity saving him in a battle against venomous sheep (yes, really). When the child of this one-night stand is born, Manannan takes the baby away to be raised in his world. But before that, baby Mongan is engaged to the daughter of Fiachna the Fair's co-king, Fiachna the Black. While Mongan is away, Fiachna the Balck kills Fiachna the Fair, and takes over the kingdom. When sixteen-year-old Prince Mongan returns by popular demand, he makes peace with his (foster) father's killer, and marries his daughter Dubh-Lacha (Black Duck). So, this is not only an arranged marriage, but also a political union between enemies. Mongan eventually does kill Fiachna the Black, and becomes sole king.

Despite this fact, Mongan and Dubh-Lacha prove to be a fitting couple. Later on, Mongan makes a mistake, promising his friend the King of Leinster "whatever he wishes for" in his kingdom. The king demands Dubh-Lacha, and to preserve his honor, Mongan has to give her up. However, he soon decides to use his magic powers (earned in the Land of Promise) to get her back. With his foster brother Mac An Daimh at his side (who is married to Dubh-Lacha's foster sister), he sets out, and goes through a series of tricks and adventures until he rescues his wife. And to prove that she is very happy with this development, and one point he disguises himself as a priest just to take her confession - which promptly turns into sex.

Do you have favorite romance stories that feature this trope?

Can you see these folktale versions as blurbs for novels?

Don't forget to leave a link in the comments so I can visit you back!

Happy A to Z!

Sunday, March 10, 2024

The 2024 A to Z Blogging Challenge Theme Reveal


Oh crap, the A to Z Blogging Challenge is approaching again! I almost ran out of time for this theme reveal.

This is my 12th year participating. Even when I am scrambling for time and attention span, I really love being part of the A to Z community. And I enjoy the challenge itself. In the past 11 years I've always had a theme:

Weird Princesses (2013)
Tales with Colors (2014)
Epics A to Z (2015)
Diversity A to Z (2016)
WTF - Weird Things in Folktales (2017)
WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales (2018)
Fruit Folktales (2019)
Folktales of Endangered Species (2020)
Tarot Tales (2021)
Gemstone Folklore (2022)
Body Folktales (2023)

I think this year (maybe due to being a new mom) it was especially, wildly difficult for me to settle on a theme. I made lists. Lots of lists. I always do "Mythology and Folklore" topics, as you see above, but I just didn't feel inspired by any of the ideas. 

I considered folktales about

- Emotions (I actually wrote 3 posts for this one and then got bored)

- Constellations (I am slowly assembling this one but it's not ready yet)

- Trees (Takes more research than I have time for)

- Natural disasters (Felt too depressing)

- Queer identities (Couldn't quite fill all the letters AND find tales for them)

- StorySpotting (Didn't want this to make watching TV feel like a chore)

- Music (Didn't wanna argue about interpreting songs)

I was about ready to give up trying to get inspired. I polled people on Mastodon and Facebook. I talked to blogger friends. Everyone had opinions on which ones would be fun to read... but nothing sat quite right. And then, finally, I remembered last year's big takeaway:


I don't need this blog series to be useful. Or neat. Or meaningful.

I just want it to be fun to research, and fun to share.

And then, finally, inspiration struck.

So, without further ado, let me present to you my theme for the 2024 April A to Z Blogging Challenge:


A bit of context:

I don't read a lot of romance. It's not really my genre. I do appreciate romantic plots, but usually incorporated into other, larger stories. And romance tropes often feature into role-paying games, which I play and also extensively researched.

Also, I love discussing romance tropes with fellow writers and gamers. And spotting them in movies and TV shows. And I recently had a discussion with a folklorist friend about how romance clichés are not all that different from folktale motifs: they pop up again and again because people just enjoy them. We can argue till the cows come home about whether a romance trope is hurtful or elegant or overdone or cringe. But in the end, folktales are highly formulaic too, and no one accuses them of being unoriginal.

So, here is my own challenge this year: I am going to look up popular romance (novel, movie, game, etc.) tropes, and find folktales that match them. That's it.

Are you participating this year? 

Are you doing a theme reveal? 

Leave a link in your comments so I can visit back!

Friday, March 8, 2024

Folktales about women who save themselves (International Women's Day)

It's International Women's Day again, and it has become tradition for me to post a list of folktales on this day. In previous years I have done lists of women who slay monsters, women in war, woman healers, women helping women, and badass grandmas.

Strange Craft by Josephine Wall

This year, today also marks the premiere of the much-anticipated Damsel movie. The whole media hype about "this is not a fairy tale" and "this princess saves herself" just rubs me the wrong way - once again, major outlets are making the sweeping assumption that in folktales, these things don't happen. Since I have already posted last year about women who slay dragons, this year I wanted to make a list of folktales where women save themselves. With or without a sword.

Links in the titles, as usual.

Old Rinkrank (Grimm)

A princess tries to help her beloved prince complete an imposisble task, and she ends up being swallowed up by the Glass Mountain, trapped by a gnome named Old Rinkrank. She grows old waiting for the prince to rescue her - when nothing happens, she comes up with a plan to break free and save herself.

The ring (Spain)

A female "Odysseus and the Cyclops" story. A girl is captured by a one-eyed giant, and escapes the same way Odysseus did. When the giant's ring gets stuck on her finger and keeps calling out to the giant, the girl cuts off her own finger and tosses it into a river, successfully getting away. The blind giant, following the ring's call, drowns.

The old woman who lost her dumplings (Japan)

A funny old woman drops a rice dumpling, and it rolls into a hole in the ground. She follows, and plummets into the underworld. She encounters a group of fearsome oni monsters who capture her and make her cook for them. Eventually she runs away. When the oni pursue her, she deters them by flashing them and making them laugh.

The three sisters (Georgia)

This is a classic "golden haired children" folktale, but I enjoy the beginning: three sisters fall into a pit, and are abandoned by their father. The two oldest want to eat the youngest girl, but she prays so fervently that her hands turn into a shovel and a pickaxe, and she literally digs her way out of the hole into freedom.

The legend of the Rosstrappe (Harz Mountains)

The beautiful princess Brünhilda is promised to a giant by her father. She comes up with a plan of escape: she secretly learns to ride one of the giant's terrible horses, and escapes on horseback the night before the wedding. The giant pursues her, but when she jumps the horse across a wide valley, the giant can't follow her, and he crashes to his death.

Mr. Fox and Molly Cottontail (African-American)

Molly Cottontail is a trickster rabbit, the female equivalent of Br'er Rabbit. When Mr. Fox pretends to be dead, and organizes his own funeral, to lure Molly out of hiding, Molly appears at the funeral and steals the show. She manages to uncover the deception, and gets away scot free.

Rübezahl (Giant Mountains)

Rübezahl, the gnome king of the mountains, kidnaps a princess and keeps her captive in his underground realm. She first figures out a way to stall the wedding, and then to send messages to her beloved prince above. Finally, she tricks the gnome into counting turnips in a field, long enough for her to saddle a horse and ride away to safety.

The tortoise husband (Italy)

A mysterious man courts three sisters, but the two older girls reject him because he is only ever seen at night. The youngest agrees to the marriage, and finds out her husband is under a spell: he is a tortoise during the day, and a man at night. He has to travel around the world to break the spell. She stays home to wait for him. In the meantime, three men keep trying to seduce her. She uses her wits, and a bit of magic, to give them their comeuppance.

Sister Lace (Miao people)

I mentioned it recently, but it's worth repeating. A girl is famous for making lace that she can even bring to life. When an evil emperor kidnaps her and forces her to create fantastic creatures, she eventually makes a dragon out of lace, and uses it to break out of captivity. 

The pirate princess (Jewish)

A princess is separated from her beloved and kidnapped by a merchant. She manages to save herself... and then does it two more times, once by getting a bunch of pirates drunk and sailing away with an all-female crew. Finally she becomes a king (disguised as a man) and finds her true love again.

Eternal friendship (Taiwan)

This story mostly revolves around the friendship of two men, but at one point we encounter a girl who climbs out of a window to run away with her lover. The lover, however, doesn't show. She decides to leave her home anyway, and go see the world in the company of one of the protagonists.

The ghouleh of Trans-Jordan (Palestine)

A ghoul tricks a man into thinking she is his aunt. Even when his wife and daughter warn him, the man refuses to see the truth, and is eventually devoured by the monster. When the ghoul comes for the women, mother and daughter find a way to kill it.

The three little eggs (Eswatini)

A woman leaves her abusive husband, taking her two childen with her. She even defeats some monsters along the way, and finally becomes a queen.

Thabaton (India)

A girl is left home alone by her seven brothers. An old woman gives her up to a demon, and the demon kidnaps her, keeping her captive for years. Her brothers eventually return and find her, but they can't seem to rescue her. Instead, Thabaton comes up with a plan to save herself, and take revenge on the monster and the old woman.

The canary prince (Italy)

A girl is locked in a tower, but falls in love with a prince who can visit her in the form of a canary. The princess' evil stepmother wounds the canary, and it never returns. The princess makes rope out of her bedding and escpaes from the tower to go cure the prince.

The girl and the wolves (Hungary)

This is a variant of Little Red Riding Hood, with a different ending. A girl first scalds the wolf with water, and then finds a way to outwit a whole pack of them in a very painful way. After that, they leave her alone.

The clever maiden and the robbers 

This is an entire folktale type, ATU 956B. A girl is alone at home when 12 (or 13) robbers try to sneak into her house. She quickly and mercilessly kills all of them, except their leader, whom she wounds. He later returns in disguise and asks for her hand in marriage. Eventually the girl recognizes who her suitor is, and finds a way to escape, and have the robber (and his new companions) arrested and executed.

Honestly, I could keep going, but I used up a lot of stories about women saving themselves in the previous years' posts (especially where they also slay monsters), and I don't want to repeat myself. Look them up through the links at the top if you are curious!