Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015: A year in books

According to my (religiously updated) Goodreads feed, I read 75 books in 2015 (not counting academic readings for my PhD project). Here is how the numbers break down:

Epics

2015 was the Year of Epics for me, for multiple reasons. I started out by reading 26 of them for my A to Z Blogging Challenge theme - you can read about all twenty-six of them here. In addition, I also took part in Epic Day for the first time, in February and in November, telling the opening story of the Irish Táin. Under Cathryn Fairlee's mentorship (with the help of the J. J. Reneaux Mentiorship Award from the National Storytelling Network) I developed two new storytelling performances based on the Shahnameh (Persia) and the Dietrich Cycle (Germany). As I am writing this, I am already working on my part for the next Epic Day that will feature the Tibetan Tales of the Golden Corpse.

Projects I supported

I try to put my money where my mouth is - or, in this case, where my reading is. On Kickstarter I supported (and then read my copy of) Moonshot, an indigenous comics collection (gorgeous and much needed); The Secret Loves of Geek Girls (super fun and much needed) (no really, this should be distributed to all teen girls free of charge); and The Book of Water, a volume of Irish legends by storyteller Susan Carleton (currently in the mail). I also served as an advanced reader and reviewer for storyteller Steffani Raff's The Ravenous Gowna collection of original stories that all have something to do with different concepts of beauty (read my review here).

New books in good series

A couple of sequels to series I follow have been published this year. Marissa Meyer came out with Fairest and Winter, the last two volumes in her epic sci-fi/fairy tale saga The Lunar Chronicles. They were both amazingly written, subtly re-told, full of storytelling Easter eggs, and very, very likable.
I also continued reading Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Stories series, with The Pagan Lord and The Empty Throne. Even though The Last Kingdom BBC show fell flat for me (mostly because of horrid costuming choices), the book series is still awesome.
Philippa Gregory published The Taming of the Queen, the closing book in her Tudor series, about the life of Catherine Parr. It was dark, but well written, and made a very likable character out of the woman most people only know as "the wife that survived Henry VIII."

What my friends talked me into this year

I finally got around to reading World War Z. I absolutely loved it. I am not a fan of the zombie genre, but the whole "oral history" approach was right in my wheelhouse. It was extremely well done, logical, smart, and entertaining. I wish they had made a TV show out of it instead of a movie.
A friend threw Rogue Squadron at my head, since everyone was all up in the Star Wars hype. I thought I have long outgrown the Star Wars books - but I was wrong. Right now I am on the second third volume of the X-wing series, and I am getting a great nerdy kick out of it.
A storyteller friend of mine suggested that I should read Jeanette Winterson's Sexing the Cherry, since I love adaptations of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. I did, and she was right. Apparently it is another classic that has evaded me so far, but I am happy I finally picked it up. It is quirky and lovable.
My mentor Cathryn handed me Tom O'Neill's Old Friends. It is a novel based on the Fianna legends, which made me instantly suspicious - I am very, very picky about adaptations based on my favorite stories. This was a pleasant surprise. It was more of a collection of new Fianna tales, rather than a novel - and O'Neill proved that he knows exactly what makes these heroes likable. Thumbs up. I will definitely read the sequel.
One of my favorite (and most surprising) recommendations of the year came from Hannah Givens over at Things Matter. I picked up the Sunstone graphic novel series based on the review she wrote during her A to Z blogging series. If you told me a year ago that one of my favorite reads of the year would be an erotic BDSM graphic novel series about an adorable lesbian couple... well. Waaay out of my comfort zone. But it was. Also one of the cutest. And a much better love story than most YA romances I read this year.
Talking about that...


Adventures in YA land

Every once in a while a sort of craziness seizes me and I venture into reading currently popular YA novels - either because they are based on folktales, or because they will become a movie soon. This year's experiments did not go exceedingly well. I wrote about some of them in a previous post, but here is the gist: The Wrath and the Dawn (based on Scheherazade's story) seriously hurt me in the storyteller; The Court of Thorns and Roses (based on Beauty and the Beast) was meh (although it picked up some speed at the end); Still Star-Crossed (sequel to Romeo and Juliet, soon to be a TV show) was kind of painful; the Selection ("let's see if we can re-do the Hunger Games, but with only the dressing up parts") was a painfully dull rendering of The Bachelor; Fallen was a large pile of horrible clichés... and The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly was actually fairly well done (also the darkest). Five out of these six were built on the exact same, currently popular YA cliché - Mary Sue, love triangle, revolution of some sort. People need to stop copy-pasting the Hunger Games. Seriously.

Folktales

I left this one for last because it is part of my job as a storyteller - and also my main source of reading for entertainment. Out of the 75 volumes this year, 25 were folktale collections. I read several collections of minority folktales from China, some from Southeast Asia, and also quite a few from indigenous peoples (mostly the Saami) from Siberia and Northern Europe. But since they will soon be featured in more detail on this blog, I won't list them all here. If you are interested, you can find them listed under my Goodreads challenge here.

All in all, it was a fun year with much reading. And some Christmas books are still in the mail!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

'Tis the Season for Faeries, Talking Animals, and Other Pagan Things

All this happened last week, but I am just getting around to blogging about it.

St. Al's, the local Catholic school, had a reading week just before Christmas. Since they are my adopted practice ground, they called me in to visit all the grades in one day, and share some Christmas stories. I was happy and excited for the opportunity - I already know the kids, the kids know me, and telling to them is always a fun experience. On top of that, I decided to completely re-do my holiday repertoire for this year, and gather some brand new, shiny Christmas stories.

I ended up taking 5 new stories to St. Al's for intensive testing, and all 5 worked out great. Two came from Taffy Thomas' amazing Midwinter Folk Tales collection (The Apple Tree Man and the Christmas Cat). One I discovered thanks to the amazing #FolkloreThursday people on Twitter - it is called The Faeries' Mist-Gate, and it comes from Rosalind Kerven's book. I found both Mist-Gate and Apple Tree Man in other, older collections of English folktales as well, and I enjoyed the research immensely. Apart from these three, I also crafted my own version of The Christmas Truce for the older kids, as well as a composite telling of the Little Camel, from Syria.

(Apple Tree Man image by Stephanie Law, visit the original page here)

I ended up visiting 8 classrooms in one day - every grade between Kindergarten and 8th, except for 5th (I don't know how the schedule missed them). I told for half an hour in each, which allowed me ample time to tell at least 2-3 of the stories in different combinations. In the end, I told the Apple Tree Man and the Mist-Gate 6 times each; the Christmas Cat 5 times, and the Camel and the Christmas Truce 3 times each. It was an intensive crafting experience, and I came out of it with my own, shiny new versions of all 5 of the stories.
The kids responded to all of them really well. They absolutely loved the Christmas Cat (God bless Taffy Thomas), were very touched by the Christmas Truce (although none of them studied World War I yet, so it was all like a fairy tale to them), and followed the Mist-Gate (my personal favorite) with tense excitement. The little ones were especially bouncy with holiday cheer; I got dogpiled by Kindergarten again (one of them asked if she could keep me and take me home), and a little girl almost hyperventilated when I walked into the classroom. All I had to say was "I have Christmas stories for you," and they were all ready for the magic.

Once again, I was amazed at the questions they asked in the end. Almost all of them wanted to know more about the fairies - why they don't like salt, why they don't like the sound of bells, and most of all, why they kidnap babies. Similarly, we talked about Christmas customs, apple trees, and the widespread belief that animals can talk on Christmas Eve (the little ones wanted to know if that was true; I suspect I might have caused some late night annoyance to some parents in town). The older grades had a lot of questions about WWI that soon turned into a pop quiz that I scrambled to answer well. In the end, I was happy I did my homework with all the stories - once again, the extra research I did in advance helped me answer all their questions.

I am very content with my new repertoire, and I had a lot of fun with the kids. It was the perfect ending to a semester, and a perfect opening for the holiday season.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Folklore Thursday: Inventing the English language

Today is Folklore Thursday on social media! If you want to find out more, follow this link, or click on the #FolkloreThursday hashtag on Twitter! Hosted by @FolkloreThursday.

So, I am aware that I am supposed to have a new theme here, but I just stumbled across a story from the Peasant Bible that I can't not share with my English-speaking readers. Because it's about the English language, you see.

The invention of the English language

In the beginning of the World, the Lord Jesus was handing out languages to people. He had a large pot full of language pieces, and people lined up to receive their share. Everyone got a ladleful of language - "You shall speak Hungarian, you shall speak German, you shall speak Turkish," and so on.
Except fro the English. They were off somewhere doing 'business,' which is what the English usually do. By the time they got around to the language line, all the languages had been handed out.

"Whatever shall I do with you?" pondered the Lord, and then he had an idea. He turned the pot upside down, and shook out all the leftover odds and ends that somehow stuck to the bottom. It made a small, mismatched pile of language, which Jesus then handed over to the English.

"I know it is not much" he said "But I shall ask everyone else to pitch in too!"

And so it happened. Everyone gave some bits and pieces of their own language to the poor English. The Germans were the nicest, they gave the most words.
Ever since then, the English language has been as it is: A mix of odds and ends.

(Note: I mashed this story up from two versions - one ends with the pot being turned upside down, and the other with everyone pitching in.)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Folklore Thursday: The limping star

Today is Folklore Thursday on social media! If you want to find out more, follow this link, or click on the #FolkloreThursday hashtag on Twitter! Hosted by @FolkloreThursday.


Following my new theme of nature and star stories, today I will tell you about one of my favorite stars on the Hungarian sky: Sánta Kata, or, as you probably know her, Sirius.
Here is what you need to know about her:

1. Sánta Kata literally translates into "Limping Kate" or "Lame Kate" - seen from Hungary, this star is usually close to the horizon enough for the atmospheric disturbance to make it look like she is blinking (a phenomenon scientifically known as "twinkle, twinkle, little star"). This gave people in the old days the impression that she was limping along.

2. The most commonly known story about her is that she was supposed to bring lunch to the three harvesters (Orion's belt) out on the field (Orion's rectangle), but as she was in a hurry, she stepped on one of the scythes lying around, and ever since then she has been lame.

3. Another, less popular tale is a lot more interesting. According to this one, Kata was an angel who loved dancing so much she never stopped, until she danced one of her feet off. But even with one foot, she kept dancing, and God sent her to Hell for it.
(Well, this took a dark turn fast...)

4. Some beliefs say she is trying to reach the Big Dipper (which we see as a cart) to get a ride, but the harvesters don't allow her close enough.

5. There are legends that claim that the Milky Way exists because Sánta Kata was taking a jug of milk out to the fields. She got distracted by admiring all the stars, tripped, and spilled the milk all over the sky.
(I always wondered which one of our ancestors looked at the brightest, prettiest star on the night sky and thought "Wow, that one sure looks like a klutz." Then again, we also named the rainbow "the sucker.")

6. A Hungarian folktale refers to someone this way: "She was an old woman, older than the roads - so old, that when she was born, the Limping Girl still had two good feet."

7. In a Hungarian version of the Seven Ravens folktale, the girl looking for her (twelve) brothers stops for a night in the house of the Mother of the Stars. The lady lists all her children and what time they leave home in the evening - Sánta Kata is the last in line, leaving at two in the morning to bring food for the others. She is also the last one to come home after dawn. The Mother of Stars notes that it is unlikely she would have noticed anything, because she keeps tripping and stumbling over ditches and hedges. Kata repeats the same claim, and the girl moves on ask help from other celestial objects.

Which star or constellation is your favorite on the night sky?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Folklore Thursday: Beware of rainbows

Today is Folklore Thursday on social media! If you want to find out more, follow this link, or click on the #FolkloreThursday hashtag on Twitter! Hosted by @FolkloreThursday.

Heads up: My book, Tales of Superhuman Powers, is $3 on Kindle within the USA this week! It contains 55 folktales that feature superpowers such as invisibility, shape-shifting, super speed, or eye beams (yes, really). Each story comes with sources, notes, and a list of popular culture connections.

***

Taking a break from the Peasant Bible, I am going to spend the next few Folklore Thursday posts to talk about legends and beliefs concerning natural phenomena, and constellations. To start us off:

Here are some things you need to know about rainbows
(According to Hungarian folklore)

1. If on spring rainbows the green is very vivid, that means the harvest will be good that year. If the red is vivid, it means the wine will be good that year. Yellow means wind (or good wheat, in some places).

2. Rainbow in Hungarian is called "szivárvány." It originates from the verb "szívni" which means "to suck" (yes, we literally named this gorgeous, rare natural phenomenon "the sucker"). It is believed that the rainbow always ends in a body of water. It comes down to drink. Alternately, it works as a gigantic straw for a mythical being in the sky who wants to drink some water. The water eventually falls down again the form of rain.

3. Occasionally, the rainbow can suck up some unsuspecting creatures along with the water. For example, if frogs or fish fall from the sky during the storm, people will say that the rainbow sucked them up into the sky and then dropped them back down.
(Apparently the rainbow is vegan)
Cattle might also be in danger.

4. Every once in a while, a human person can also be hoovered up through a rainbow into the sky. There are stories about a shepherd girl who got transported to the Moon this way, and she has been there ever since.

5. In some places, rainbow was known as "the fairy ribbon" or "fairy cloth." Fairies had the power to spirit people away (especially children) into the sky, by having them sucked up through the rainbow. Some of these children would return after 7 years, with no memory of their time spent in the fairy realm.
(Yes, reports of UFO abductions are not all that original. Supernatural got the idea right.)

6. Legend says that if you pass under a rainbow, or if you drink from the body of water that the rainbow is drinking from, you will turn into the opposite sex (male to female, or vice versa). This can happen to animals and humans alike.

There is a Transylvanian story about a young girl who happened to be drawing water from the well a rainbow was drinking from - and after that she spent her life constantly changing, female for one month, and male for the next, back and forth. She eventually got married, but her husband divorced her after the first month. [While this is a short little snippet, I would love to do a more LGBT+ friendly reworking of it. Or see any other storyteller out there do the same.]

Think of all of this next time you see a rainbow. Approach at your own risk. Have fun.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Story Saturday: What makes you pick up a folktale collection?

A while ago I announced that I want to turn my 2016 A to Z Challenge into a promotion for reading more folktales. I read a lot of amazing collections with amazing stories in them, but for me, it comes with the job - I really wish more people would pick the up for fun, and to learn about other cultures.

(You can read my full reasoning and announcement here)

I have been asking people to suggest some recently published (post-2010) folktale collections that I could review. In addition, I also created a poll on Goodreads, asking questions about what is most likely to make people pick up a collection of folktales.
The poll just concluded, and the results are in.

41 people answered the poll.
Out of these, almost half (18) said that the theme of the collection is most likely to make them pick up the book.
The second most popular feature (9) was the culture the stories came from.
Cover art and illustrations got 8 votes (who doesn't love a gorgeously illustrated book of fairy tales?)
Supernatural creatures got 2 votes.
The rest of the categories (number of stories included, name of the collector/author, titles of the tales included, having read tales from the same culture before) all got 1 vote each.

What this tells me:
I am going to be focusing on folktale collections with themes, as much as I can.
I will be selecting books from various cultures around the world, to make my A to Z as diverse as possible. I will be making a special effort to include collections from less well known traditions.
In my posts, I will be noting whether or not the book is illustrated (and if it is, I will try to post samples)

I am still looking for suggestions - if you have any books in mind that would fit (collection of folktales, published after 2010), let me know!

Also, since so many people were interested in themes and different cultures, I am also curious - what are some cultures that you have never read stories from before, but you would like to?

Here are some that I am considering so far:
Maldives
Isle of Man
Laos
Siberian indigenous
Wales
Gambia

I'll add to the list as I go along. I appreciate all input!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Folklore Thursday: Little Jesus solves bullying with candy

Today is Folklore Thursday on social media! If you want to find out more, follow this link, or click on the #FolkloreThursday hashtag on Twitter! Hosted by @FolkloreThursday.

Today I continue the theme of the Peasant Bible, a collective term for Hungarian folktales based on biblical topics. This story comes from the popular tradition of tales about Jesus' missing childhood years. It is one of my favorites Peasant Bible folktales to tell (and, incidentally, the only one that ever got me into trouble with religious parents).

Toys and candies

The workshop of Joseph the carpenter was at the edge of the village. One day, little Jesus decided he was old enough to help his mother Mary in any small way he could, and volunteered to take Joseph's lunch to the workshop by himself. Carrying the pot very carefully, he met a group of older boys who immediately decided to beat him up. Little Jesus could not outrun them with the pot, and was not willing to fight - so, as a last resort, he leaned down, picked up a handful of dirt, and threw it at them. The dirt turned into candies and toys; the boys stopped to pick them up, and little Jesus got safely away.



This story is as adorable as it is short, and it resonates really well with children. Parents have complained before that it is not in the biblical canon (they probably missed the "folktale" part of the intro), but the way I see it, the messages of this short little tale are actually pretty applicable:

1. If little Jesus himself can get bullied, that means you don't have to do anything wrong for people to pick on you. 

2. Little Jesus could probably have called down fire and brimstone on all bullies - but he didn't.

3. It is okay to run, and it is okay to tell your parents. Also, smarts win over force.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Timeless Tales collected from Syrian refugees (book review)

I first heard about this book at the Federation for European Storytelling conference in Greece this summer, from Jack Lynch, the Irish storyteller who revised the English translation. It immediately grabbed my attention - we spent a lot of time at the conference talking about the refugee situation.

Timeless Tales is the result of a joint project between the Swedish Cultural Heritage without Borders, Fabula Storytelling, and members of the the Hakaya network (Arab Education Forum, Al Barad theatre, Arab Resource Collective for Popular Arts - Al Jana). In 2014, Syrian researchers gathered more than 250 folktales from displaced people in refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon. They selected and transcribed 21 of them, and published them in January 2015 in a high quality, English-Arabic bilingual book.
This was the book that showed up in my mailbox two weeks ago, courtesy of Peter Hagberg from Fabula Storytelling. I was going to save it for my A to Z Challenge theme in April, but recent events made it very timely, so I decided to talk about it today.

UPDATE: The book can be downloaded in a free PDF from this website.

In addition to being a very important project for the preservation of intangible cultural heritage, this book is also a very enjoyable read. It is shorter than it looks - the English half amounts to about 95 pages, with illustrations in-between - but it is very well organized. Each story is marked with the name, age, city of origin and current residence of its teller, often with footnotes explaining where the city is, and what kind of a region it belongs to. Additional notes explain names and cultural terms. The translators and editors even noted where the tales have been altered from their original format (this is how you know the book was created by professional storytellers).

The tales themselves are delightful, and run a wide range of genres. There are tricksters, wise fools, tragic lovers, man-eating ogres (which seems to be the generic term the translators used for ghouls), wise women, just kings, and camels that lay golden eggs (and then marry princesses). Some of the stories will ring familiar - there is a version of Love Like Salt, two different versions of the Animal Husband (one with a camel and one with a horse's head - this latter takes the cake in the category of "unlikely"). There is even a variation of the Three Little Pigs (without pigs, but with the addition of a ghoul). All the tales carry nuggets of wisdom and good advice - one of them is a very well-known inspirational story that has been making the rounds on the Internet, but the rest read like classic folklore.
I especially liked the stories that involved women in difficult family situations - one getting away from an abusive home by wit and luck, one saving her daughters from the jaws of a ghoul, and one giving advice to her husband on how to become wealthy. There is even a story in here about how a husband's own distrust and meanness turns his wives to erratic behavior (which he blames them for, until his own fault is pointed out). While not all the tales are kind to women, they have clearly been selected with a professional storyteller's eye to what would appeal to wider, contemporary audiences.

In the end, I was kind of sad that out of the 250 collected stories, only 21 made it into the collection - I hope to hear or read more of them in the future.

The illustrations are pretty and fun, and the entire layout of the book is clear, professional, and visually pleasing. All in all, the volume does justice to the tales, and to the people who tell them. I would like to quote the closing thoughts of its preface:

"Stories are what we are made of, and if we lose our stories we risk losing touch with our humanity and our identity. We strongly believe that through the enhancement of this thousand-year-old heritage of storytelling the Hakawati project has a potential to bridge ethnic, political and religious divides and hopefully build better understanding between people."

Strongly recommended read for all storytellers, story-loving people, and people following the news on the refugee debate.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Folklore Thursday: Archangels have problems with bureaucracy

Today is Folklore Thursday on social media! If you want to find out more, follow this link, or click on the #FolkloreThursday hashtag on Twitter! Hosted by @FolkloreThursday.

Continuing the theme of the Peasant Bible, Hungarian folktales based on biblical themes. I think this week's selection says a lot about the Hungarian mentality concerning authority, rules, and commands...
(The most often used phrase is "we'll solve this smartly" which usually means bending the rules, going outside the rules, under the counter, through family connections, etc. This seems to be the principle Adam and Eve operate on, since they were clearly Hungarian. Duh.)
This story probably also has roots in the relationships between tenants and their landlords in the last century.



The Three Archangels

Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, and God was furious. He commanded that they shall be exiled from the Garden of Eden forever. He summoned Archangel Gabriel, handed him a flaming stick, and ordered him to remove the couple from the premises.
Adam saw the archangel approaching, and panicked.

"The judgment of God is upon us! We will be exiled from the Garden!"

Eve looked up too.

"Don't fret, my love. He's Hungarian. We'll solve this smartly."

Eve quickly set about making lunch, and by the time Gabriel descended, he was greeted with a table loaded with delicacies. Eve offered him the best seat, fed him, poured him drinks, petted his hair, treated him like a beloved guest.
The archangel grew uncomfortable.

"This is not why I came" he protested "The Lord ordered me to exile you from Paradise immediately, for breaking his commandment."

"Come on now" Eve purred "Do you really have such a callous heart? We greeted you, we fed you we treated you well. Look at how content we are. Would you really ruin this perfect happiness?"

She talked and she talked, and finally Gabriel returned to Heaven without completing his mission.

"Is it done?" asked God.

"Oh, please Lord, don't punish me!" Gabriel pleaded "Those two are so happy and content together! They were like a pair of doves. I didn't have the heart to exile them."

God sighed.

"I see. I shall send somebody else."

He summoned a Romanian archangel, Peter, and ordered him to go and exile Adam and Eve from Paradise.
Adam saw Peter descending, and panicked again.

"The Lord is sending another archangel! What shall we do?!"

"Don't fret" Eve waved "I know exactly what to do."

Peter landed in the middle of the Garden, and Eve hurried to meet him.

"Good day, good day, Archangel Peter. What can we do for you today?"

"God commands that you leave the Garden immediately" he archangel told her "You have broken your promise, and you have no place in his Paradise anymore. He sent me to see you out."

Eve planted a hand on her hip.

"It that so? And where is the paper?"

"What paper?"

"Are you telling me you came here without a written order? How do I know you are telling the truth? We are not going anywhere until you bring written proof of God's will!"

The archangel, not sure how to argue with this request, returned to Heaven.

"Is it done?" asked God.

"No" admitted the angel "They won't leave without an order in writing. I didn't know what to do."

"That's enough" God rumbled "I will have to send Michael."

Archangel Michael, German by nationality, appeared immediately, and took the flaming stick from God's hand.

"Go and make sure Adam and Eve leave the Garden!"

Michael descended from the Heavens. Adam and Eve saw him coming. Eve immediately set about preparing a feast for him; when Michael arrived, she offered him the best seat, a choice of the best dishes, made sure his cup was always full. They spend a friendly dinner together, and Eve made sure she did everything in her power to bribe Michael into favoring them.
Once the dinner was over, Michael stood up from the table.

"Thank you for the meal. And now, please leave."

"Do we really have to?" Eve purred.

"Yes. The rules are rules. Vacate the premises immediately."

No matter what Adam and Eve offered to pay him off, Michael stayed adamant, and escorted the couple all the way to the gates of Eden.

NOTES
Obviously, this folktale is not very PC. The original text makes fun of the angels' nationalities. But ever since the first time I read it, I always thought it was much better suited for making a point about Adam and Eve trying to wiggle out of God's orders, and trying to "solve things smartly," which was the national pastime of Hungarians in the Socialist era. So I left Eve's trickery in, and toned down the stereotypes. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Guest Blog: "New Trad" Storytelling (by Danielle Bellone)

Today, for the first time in Multicolored history, we have a guest blogger!

My dear friend and former comrade in the Storytelling program, Danielle Bellone (I wrote about her fabulous Finest Hour performance on the blog), is working in the new field of "new trad" storytelling. Since it is a fascinating topic, I asked for her take on it, explaining what "new trad" is, and why it is important. 
Read it in her own lovely words!

* * *

It’s a Tuesday night. I am feverishly sorting through stacks and stacks of collections of folk and fairy tales. Calvino, Andersen, Carter, Beckwith, Ragan. I even have The Russian Secret Tales and Pissin’ in the Snow, two collections of naughty stories from Russia and the Ozarks, respectively, not meant for innocent ears.  Surely in these risqué collections I will find something close to what I’m looking for. But no! There is nothing! Not in the Gumbo Ya-Ya, not in Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry. I slam closed another book, and wail my despair up to the gods of storytelling,

WHERE ARE ALL THE GAY FOLK TALES??

My journey to new trad storytelling started when my friends Jenny and Marisa asked me to tell a story at their wedding, I searched and searched through tomes of folktales. I nearly settled on a Russian folktale called “The Magic Ring” for its ring imagery and happy ending, but I realized that in order for me to tell it comfortably, I felt the need to do a feminist rendering of the story, and it became more about politics than love. The more I searched for love stories among folk tales, the more politicized I felt, until every story I touched felt more about confronting the patriarchy than the joyous celebration of a union. And every love story I found with two same-sex characters seemed to end in suicide, gender-swap, or one of the lovers being turned into a constellation. If I wanted a lesbian love story that didn’t end in tragedy, I was going to have to make it myself. And once I did, I realized how hungrily I had been waiting for a story of women, and only women, loving and creating.

Inadvertently, I had stumbled upon the world of new trad. The term “new trad” has been in circulation in the realms of poetry and architecture for a while. It’s short for “new traditional” and refers to the practice of using traditional pieces in new ways. It’s the same in storytelling: new or original stories that are made of traditional pieces. They do not reinterpret classic or traditional tales. However, they do contain elements of traditional tales: there may be heroes, crones, dragons, enchantments, dark nights of the soul, and other familiar tropes, but it’s not just Cinderella with a cell phone.

By giving us the distancing mechanisms of folk tales, new trad allows us to storytalk about things that most folk tales don’t quite reach, either because they were culturally taboo or because they just didn’t exist yet. With new trad stories, a teller can address topics like interfaith relationships, social media, miscarriage, and massive student debt…topics that traditional folk tales usually don’t have a handle on. Or, as in my case with the lesbian wedding, we can tailor a story to an exact situation for greater relevance and authenticity. And we can do so without trampling on other cultures by wantonly changing their stories’ themes to suit our own motives.

So now, if you have the entire world of topics free for the crafting-into-stories, what would you tell? What stories have you been hungering for? 

Danielle Bellone is a storyteller, harpist, fabulist, poet, and native of Louisiana. She completed her Master’s in Storytelling at East Tennessee State University, and now makes her home in the strange hills of Austin, Texas. She was recently featured on the BYU Radio podcast "The Apple Seed," and was invited to perform at the National Storytelling Conference. Her work can be read in Indigo Ink's Modern Grimmoire, or heard in her storytelling album, Moon-Eyed Sister

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Story Saturday: What does YOUR Cinderella look like?

This is an intriguing little thing that has been rattling around in my head lately. Every time I open Facebook, there is a high chance I'll run into one of those "Disney princesses reimagined as..." memes.
In case you have missed this trend, here are some things Snow White & Co. have been re-drawn as lately:

Iconic horror movie villains
Real people
Famous people
Wearing historically accurate costumes
Having realistic hair
Characters from the Walking Dead
Velociraptors
Warriors
Hipsters
Tattoo pin-up girls
Men
Different races/cultures
Fine arts portraits
Having short hair
Each other
Twisted creatures
Pop culture heroines
College students
And finally, the ultimate spoof of the trend:
Lukewarm bowls of water

The visual cues people most often associate with folk- and fairy tale characters tend to come from illustrations they see as children. This and the memes above (especially the ones that play around with the appearance of the princesses) made me wonder how much of our mental imagery is influenced by Disney. I am not one of those storytellers who scream about the death of imagination every time someone mentions the D word... but when I ask myself how I pictured these folk- and fairy tale characters before I saw the canon Disney imagery, I have some very interesting realizations.

My Little Mermaid has never been a redhead. I grew up with the Japanese cartoon instead of the Disney one (which I didn't see until college), so the Little Mermaid in my head has always been blonde (oh, and her name was Marina and she didn't wear a bra).

Talking about blondes: My Cinderella has always been a brunette. I don't remember where I got that idea; she just always sounded like a brunette to me. I also imagined her as very tiny. The dresses, however, I very clearly remember coming from a Hungarian picture book. There were three of them (duh), one pink, one blue, and one green and gold.
Some of my other iconic early fairy tale images came from the same book series. The princess of the Frog King was blonde, round-faced and curly-haired; the Nixie in the millpond was black-haired and rosy cheeked.

My Sleeping Beauty, on the other hand, was definitely a redhead (kind of a dark, coppery red) with freckles. I usually imagined her in a matching yellow dress. Since in Hungarian, her name is Csipkerózsika (Little Briar Rose), I always imagined her castle as tangled in thorny vines, but also covered in pale pink dog-rose flowers.

Snow White is pretty much a given, except in my head she has a long black braid, and doesn't wear yellow-and-blue.

Images definitely get more random once we get to stories that have never really been put to the iconic big screen. But now I am wondering: How many children get to make their own mental images of these classic characters before popular media teaches them what they should look like?

So here is the question:

Do you remember any folk- or fairy tale characters that lived in your head before you saw canonized pictures of them? What did they look like? Why did you like imagining them like that?

I would love to hear from you! :)

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Folklore Thursday: Why toddlers exist

Today is Folklore Thursday on social media! If you want to find out more, follow this link, or click on the #FolkloreThursday hashtag on Twitter! Hosted by @FolkloreThursday.

I am still polling people on what makes them pick up a folktale collection. You can vote here.

I am also still looking for suggestions for folktale collections that I should read and review for A to Z.

As you can see from the posts below, I had a very busy weekend telling epics, so I will keep this short(ish). Once again, I am posting a story from the Peasant Bible, a collection of Hungarian folktales based on biblical themes.

Why toddlers exist

When God was done creating all the animals plus Adam and Eve, he gathered them all at the center of Paradise for a Sunday meeting. He wanted to give them all the gift of independence - allowing their young to take care of themselves as soon as they were born.
Said God to the Mare:
"Let your colt go, let it run!"
And the colt immediately stood on shaky legs and ran to the pasture to graze.
Said God to the Hen:
"Let you chicks go, let them run!"
And the chicklets all followed the hen to scratch int he dirt and look for food.
Finally, God turned to Eve, who was nursing her child.
"Let your child go, let him run!"
But Eve did not like the idea.
"Let him go?! He'll fall and break his leg! He'll trip and hit his head on something. I'm not letting him go!"
God, being ever so polite, repeated the request. Eve shook her head stubbornly.
"Dear God, dear Lord, how could I let my baby go? His bones are so fragile, he is not ready to run yet!"
God finally lost his patience.
"Well, since you wouldn't let him go, then you'll have to carry him for en entire year - and even after that, it will take time for him to run!"
And so it happened. Ever since then, human babies need an entire year to stand and walk, and even then they are as wobbly as newborn colts.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Epic-Lovers Unite!

This was the title of the house concert Cathryn organized for the two of us for the day after Epic Day - because you can never have enough epics! I have been working with her under the J.J. Reneaux mentorship grant, and this gave me a great occasion to present the first performance that resulted from our work - a piece from the Persian Book of Kings.
Cathryn's house concerts are famous, and rightly so. We had 28 people show up, buy tickets, and bring plenty of food for the occasion. The storytelling took place in the Great Room of the house, a cozy setting with couches, folding chairs, carpets, and mood lighting. The room was filled to capacity.
I told first. My piece was titled The demon's daughter and the white-haired prince, and I told the story of Zal and Rudabeh, from Zal's birth to Rostam's birth, in about 40 minutes. It was the first time, since I came across this story back in high school, that I got to tell the whole, unabridged version, with no rush and no reduction. We had an all-adult audience, so I could just present the story as it was, with all the emotional weight and the brilliant imagery. Since this is my all-time favorite love story, the whole experience was a reward in itself.
People seemed to enjoy it immensely. They were very vocal during the show, and after the end they had a lot of interesting questions. I especially enjoyed the Q&A because I got to talk about some of the background research I have done that did not make the final cut, but was essential to my understanding of the story. For example, I got to tell people about all the mountaineer blogs I sifted through for first-person accounts on climbing Mount Damavand.
I got quite a few very precious compliments. Apparently, I made someone cry; also, a lady told me that she would be a fan of epics if more of them would be told like this. But by far my favorite moment was one of the guests asking where she can find and read the original story. That is always a very honest compliment.

After a short break and some snacks, I got to settle down on the carpet with some lemonade and a pile of nectarines, and listen to Cathryn tell her piece. She told a 40-minute story from the Oguz epic Dede Korkut (an epic named after a storyteller, how cool is that?). It was enchanting. Cathryn tells with a lot of humor and a lot of empathy. In addition, she added songs to the story, based on Turkic melodies, and a call-and-response game that we all enjoyed immensely. The whole experience was exciting, funny, interactive, and all-around engaging.

It is very rare to get an audience that is willing and eager to sit through long traditional stories - or a venue that supports that kind of storytelling. I feel incredibly lucky and honored that I got to do this show with Cathryn, and share one of my all-time favorite stories with such a friendly and supportive audience.

Epic-Lovers Unite!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Story Saturday: Epic Day - Táin bó Cúailnge, Take 2

Back in March I participated in Epic Day for the first time, telling a piece of the Irish story Táin bó Cúailnge together with a great group of storytellers in California. This weekend, I flew out to the West Coast once again for a repeat performance - Epic Day always happens twice a year, in the spring and in the fall. The idea behind it is the first time is a test run, where all the pieces fall into place and we hear the whole thing for the first time; the second iteration is a new and improved event, with much more practice behind it.
It ended up being pretty spectacular.

This time around we had 22 storytellers (myself included) and quite a few guests. It took us 8 hours to get through the whole story - including bathroom breaks and dinner, so the storytelling itself probably lasted about 6.5 hours. The lineup was slightly different (some people could not make it, and others took on their parts), and some parts of the story that we skipped last time made it into this iteration (Deirdre of the Sorrows, for example). This made the experience familiar, but also new and exciting in many ways. There were all the favorite parts we have all been looking forward to; but all the thought and work people have put into their parts since February also showed quite clearly.
For the sake of comparison, once again I kept a tally of the casualties. I only counted the deaths that happened "on screen" and were quantified. The final figures amounted to 2390 men, 3 women, 2 bulls 1 dog (that got killed twice, since we accidentally had Cú Chulainn's boyhood told on two separate occasions), and 2 pillows that burst from the furious wiggling of angered heroes.
(No joke, read the book)

As last time, the whole event was filled with dramatic high points, great battles, moments of hilarious exaggerations, and also scenes of drama and deep emotions. Once again we learned that this story works much better - in fact works incredibly well - in oral telling. There is nothing like seeing elegant Erika Lann-Clark bat her eyelashes and sweetly tell Queen Medb's husband "You are a kept man," or Tim Ereneta say "I shall stand over your like a cat's tail erect" with a completely straight face and a thunderous voice.

All in all, Epic Day once again lived up to its name. We are in the process of picking the new epic for next year. I can't wait to see what it is going to be!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Folklore Thursday: A magic battle done right

Today is Folklore Thursday on social media! If you want to find out more, follow this link, or click on the #FolkloreThursday hashtag on Twitter! Hosted by @FolkloreThursday.

You thought the Battle of Hogwarts was how a magic fight goes down.

Let me introduce you to yet another Hungarian folktale:
The Gooseherd Girl and the Magic Mare

It was collected in 1943 in Csíkszentdomonkos (Romania), and published in a collection of Hungarian folktales in 1960 by famous folklorist Gyula Ortutay.

The gist:
A little girl is baptized by the fairy queen Tündér Erzsébet. Said queen pretty much just swoops in one day, dunks the baby in a crystal vat of magic water, blesses her with seven kinds of beauty and seven kinds of magical arts, ages her up to seven years old, takes her mother, and leaves the newly christened Tündér Juliska by the side of the road.
Now there's a Fairy Godmother hit-and-run if you have ever seen one.
(In addition, the girl was born to a virgin mother, from a "warm wind" the fairy queen had sent her way. Ahem.)

Aaaaanyhow. Fast forward: Juliska learns to use her magical abilities and lives as a goose herd until she is eighteen. She has a magical, seven-legged mare (formerly also a goose). She falls in love with a prince - the only man to lay eyes on her and not turn blind, and also the only man who rides a magic horse that matches hers (because FEMINISM). However, said prince was raised by an evil witch who would much rather marry him to her evil daughter. She follows the prince on his way to Juliska, and that is where things get interesting.

The fight:
The witch picks up a handful of dust, blows on it, and it makes all of Juliska's geese fly up in a panic.
Juliska's magic horse transforms into a wasp and stings the witch all over.
The witch picks up another half handful of dirt, blows on it, and tries to send it Juliska's way.
The magic wasp transforms into a lion and lunges at the witch.
The dust hits the lion, and tames it so it can't attack the witch.
Juliska pulls out her copper snake wand (yup) and breaks the spell on the lion. The lion turns back into a mare and returns to her side.
The witch transforms into a storm cloud and rains down lightning at Juliska and the prince.
Juliska uses her snake copper wand to block the lightning.
The witch creates an earthquake.
Juliska uses the wand to create a magic circle that keeps the earth under them from crumbling.
The witch turns into a giant eagle and starts hunting the flying geese down.
Juliska uses the wand to gently float the geese to the ground (FEATHER FALL, witches.)

Seeing that she can't win, the witch makes a temporary retreat, allowing the couple to marry. Once they return to the palace, she manages to dust all the flowers in the garden with a sleeping spell. While Juliska is asleep, she takes her wand and her magic horse, and abandons her in a remote place.

Of course all is well in the end; Juliska and the prince find each other, the horse comes back to life, and tramples the witch to pieces. Ta-da.
There is, of course, a lot more to this story, including Juliska flying to the Morning Star to bathe in a silver whirlpool, and eventually giving birth to the Sun, the Moon, and various other celestial objects. The whole story is very mythical and shamanistic and colorful and confusing and fun.

I kinda want to see that magic duel in a D&D campaign setting, though.


Sunday, November 1, 2015

Fright Hike in the woods = Halloween done right

I was an NPC for Halloween.

The Rieck Center, a nature preserve belonging to the University of Findlay, organized a Fright Hike on Halloween night as a charity event for Syrian refugees. They were recruiting volunteer storytellers, and since I did not have a program for Halloween yet, I was more than happy to participate.
It was a fun night.

The event took place in the forest around the center; there were four stations with four storytellers. Every fifteen minutes, they sent out a group of ten visitors from the building, guided by volunteers to minimize the number of people lost forever in the shrubbery. Each storytelling station was lit by a torch, except for mine, which had a full, blazing campfire going with logs around it. I was grateful for this, because I am a lizard, and despite the balmy night temperature I was wearing five different layers of clothing (one of them was a Jack Frost hoodie).
It was very mood-appropriate to be out in the forest at night. There were no lights near or far other than the campfire; the trees whispered, the pond made splashing noises, and the laughter and screams of people echoed around in the darkness. It was a great setting for telling some chilling tales. In-between groups, sitting by the fire with the two guys accompanying me, I imagined myself as an adventurer in a story, spending a night in the deep, dark woods... however, I soon realized, that sitting by a fire, waiting for a bunch of people to show up and ask for a story doesn't exactly make anyone an adventurer. It makes them an NPC.
Oh well.
Either-or, the event was great fun. We had five groups come through (and a lot more people than we expected). I told the Burning of Tara (I always feel like I must tell that story at least once on Halloween), the Princess in the Shroud, and Marie Jolie (this latter two I told twice each). I had great fun, telling these tales by the fire (as all tales should be told), and the audiences seemed to appreciate them too - even when it started raining.
I followed the last group through the rest of the hike. At the other stations people told the tale of Teig O'Kane and the Corpse, Hoichi the Earless, and Bloody Mary. By the time we all made it back to the center, it was raining pretty hard, so we resorted to eating raw s'mores like a bunch of savages. Also, there was cider.

It was a great Halloween event, at the perfect intersection of excited people, good stories, and a spooky atmosphere. I hope they will do it again next year!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Story Saturday: Tale of Tales (Film Review)

And THIS is how you do a fairy tale adaptation.
Or three.

Tale of Tales (Il racconto dei racconti) is an Italian-French-British film based on stories from Giambattista Basile's 1634 fairy tale collection, the Pentamerone. It is categorized as "fantasy-horror" - which is pretty much the same as saying "fairy tale adaptation."
The movie re-tells and intertwines three stories from the collection:
The Flea (one of my favorites)
The Enchanted Doe (a version of "the golden-haired twins")
The Old Woman Discovered (which was new for me although I do know the story type)

I have a personal connection to the Pentamerone: When I first started working as a storyteller, these fairy tales were a huge part of my repertoire (since I performed with a Renaissance group). Ever since I first saw the trailer, I have been waiting with excitement to see the film:


I was not disappointed.

First off, in good European film fashion, this movie pulls no punches. There is no fake prudishness, no sugarcoating, and while everything you see on seen is gorgeous, nothing is ever "pretty" or neat. The film has the surreal, unreal, startling beauty of fairy tales; it visually represents the elaborate, flowery language of Basile's stories, while revealing the darkness that operates their plot.
And there is definitely darkness. I knew all three stories before I saw the movie; I knew what was supposed to happen, but I kept wondering if they would actually go there

They did, and then some.

(Mild spoiler-ish things ahead)

I was surprised at how strong the emotional reactions were that this film got out of me at every turn. I was literally biting my nails (or rather, my fist). They took the fairy tale stories, and added the raw emotions to every character - what would a princess feel when she is given away to a stranger as a wife? What would a queen behave like when she gets a child after years of longing? What would a woman feel when her sister leaves her behind? The emotional roller-coaster takes us through all that and more, from horrible fight to tearful relief to bitter pity. The whole thing is wonderfully constructed, exciting - and emotionally exhausting in a good way.

The acting is stellar. Bebe Cave, in the role of The Flea's Princess Violet, deserves an array of awards for her work. She had moments that I had to replay multiple times. Shirley Henderson (whom I didn't even recognize until I looked at the credits) brings a heartbreaking performance. Salma Hayek is a perfect queen, and Toby Jones is everything a slightly crazy fairy tale king needs to be.

Even more important than this: The creators understood fairy tales. They knew that they have not endured for hundreds of years because of the dresses, sunshine, and cuteness (*cough*LiveActionCinderella*cough*). They were not afraid to go into the emotions behind the symbols, while still keeping the magic intact. And as they did, they managed to open up new ways of understanding these stories - they turned envy to longing, desire to greed, desperation to power (you'll get it when you see it). The movie is an exercise in doing the "what if" kind of fairy-tale re-tellings with grace, empathy, and subtlety

This movie is probably the best fairy tale adaptation I have seen in a very long time.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Folklore Thursday: Why only women have periods

Today is Folklore Thursday on social media! If you want to find out more, follow this link, or click on the #FolkloreThursday hashtag on Twitter! Hosted by @FolkloreThursday.

On a related note: I am currently running a Goodreads poll on what makes people pick up a folktale collection. I am curious, and also it will hopefully help me select the books I will feature in my A to Z theme, come April. I appreciate all input! If you have favorite folktale collections, comment away :)

In the meantime, I am continuing the running theme of the Peasant Bible, Hungarian folktales that feature biblical elements.
There will be blood.

Why only women have periods

(I was happy to find this particular text, because it tells me that this question has been bugging people for a very long time.)

According to the folktale, when God created people, both men and women had periods.
The story goes there was a carpenter who worked while menstruating, and there was blood everywhere in the workshop, staining the floor and the wood chips lying around. His wife came in, saw the mess, and ordered him to clean it up. The husband pushed the bloody wood chips around a bit, but nothing got significantly cleaner. Because she couldn't watch the mess getting messier, she started cleaning up after him as he went about his work, bleeding away in a carefree manner.
God looked down and saw all this. He thought about it for a full two minutes before he declared that from that day on only women will bleed, because they are the only ones sensible enough to know how to keep the mess in check.
And so it has been ever since.

(Side note: Sadly, some people are still trying to make it damn hard to keep said mess in check.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Hungarian folktales on Westeros

Going to a Game of Thrones themed library event with an SCA group to tell a Hungarian folktale definitely punched out all the remaining holes on my Nerd Card.
Not that I'm complaining.

We were invited to the Way Public Library in Perrysburg to do an SCA demo, and bring some medieval shinies and goodies to show off. I also volunteered to tell a story, and I was especially looking forward to it because it was an adults-only event (duh).
Got to give it to the organizers: The setup was pretty amazing. There was a table of books on Game of Thrones as well as its medieval inspirations, and another table for snacks. This latter one was a treat: Lemon cakes, bread and salt, a horse's heart made out of red jello, ice-blue punch, and little bowls with candy matching some of the major houses. For example, House Martell had a bowl full of gummy eyeballs. (Too soon?)
We set up our tables to display arts and crafts, as well as armor and weaponry. One end of the room was for presentations; on the other end there was a whiteboard where you could match the Houses' words with their sigils, or pin a braid on Khal Drogo. All in all, it was a nice setup for a themed event.

The librarians also earned brownie points in my eyes when, before the start of the event, they closed all the doors and started playing the Rains of Castamere.
(We all very quickly located the exists)

As for the entertainment: First there was a presentation about international relations theory, and how it relates to Game of Thrones. The professor who did it even ventured to guess what is going to happen in upcoming seasons/books. I didn't agree with all he said (that's the beauty of fandom) but there were some really interesting predictions. We'll see if he was right when we get there.
After the presentation, there was a hair-braiding demo done by ladies from a local salon; they made some very impressive braids on their model in almost no time at all. With that done, it was time for some storytelling.
I have been pondering what to tell in my 20 minutes; the choice was between a Hungarian folktale (to represent nomadic shamanistic cultures - let's face it, if we are anywhere on the map of Westeros, we are the Dothraki)  and the saga of Herraud and Bosi (for the little princess raising a dragon). I briefly even considered telling both of them in drastically shortened versions; but once I took the stage, the story took on its own life, and I went with it. I ended up telling a spot-on 20 minute version of the Son of the White Horse. I haven't told this story in ages, and I was not only happy to dust it off again, but also enjoyed seeing the audience's reactions. As well known as the tale is in Hungary (we pretty much all grow up with it), it is definitely a trip for foreigners. The audience was great, and followed through all the way.
Once again, the meeting of pop culture and traditional storytelling was a very enjoyable one. I wish I had gigs like this more often.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Folklore Thursday: The real reason women do the dishes

Today is Folklore Thursday on social media! If you want to find out more, follow this link, or click on the #FolkloreThursday hashtag on Twitter! Hosted by @FolkloreThursday.

Continuing my #FolkloreThursday series of selections from the Peasant Bible (Hungarian folktales based on biblical themes). This week I will let you in on a secret: The real reason why women have to do the dishes in the household.
(Shhhh... I'm a feminist too... just keep reading)

Adam and Eve make a bet

Adam and Eve had a fight about who was supposed to do the dishes. Adam did not like it one bit; he was supposed to be the head of the household, and felt like his manliness would the tarnished by doing menial chores around the house. (Cave?). Therefore, he did what any red-blooded man would do when he can't agree with his wife: He went to tell on her to God.
"Please God, I can't deal with her anymore. Take her back."
God took Eve away from Adam. Three days later, Adam showed up again.
"Please God, give her back! I miss her!"
"First you want her gone, then you want her back? Which is it?" asked the Lord.
"I don't know!" Adam wailed.
"You can have her back" God concluded "But next time you have a fight, don't come to me!"
Adam and Eve returned home, and went a whole week without argument. Then the dishes piled up, and the yelling started once again.
Finally, when they were both frustrated and exhausted, the couple made a bet to solve a problem: Whoever speaks first will do the dishes for all eternity (clearly they were not aware of the weight of their actions). They went for quite a few days without either of them speaking a word. Or doing any dishes.
One evening they were both by the fire; Adam was fast asleep, and Eve was just kind of sitting around (probably wishing for books to be invented). They had a cat that was also playing nearby.
Since this is the Time Before the Apple, when no clothes were necessary, all Adam was covered with was a sizable fig leaf (obviously). Well, as he was lying on his back, no doubt dreaming some very appealing dreams, the fig leaf began to twitch.

Cat.
+
Twitching thing

You do the math.
Eve observed what was happening. The cat froze, large, luminous eyes following the leaf's every movement. As the leaf began to rise up, the cat began to crouch down, tail sweeping from side to side. Ready to pounce.
And then
In the last possible moment
Before the cat pounced
With claws out
At the fig leaf
Eve swatted it away and yelled
"NO! THAT'S MINE! BAD CAT!"

And that is why women have to do the dishes.
You'd think men would be willing to take this chore over, given what we saved them from.
Cat people will understand.

(If you would like to read about other things we can blame Adam and Eve for, here is an earlier post.)

Saturday, October 17, 2015

A to Z Challenge Early Theme Special: Do you know any good folktale collections?

This is a Story Saturday post, in which I reveal my 2016 A to Z Challenge theme early,
AND ask for your input.

I have been getting increasingly frustrated about folktale collections.
It's not them, it's me.

I spend a lot of time reading book blogs, following book tweets, and procrastinating on Goodreads. It didn't take long to figure it out that my reading activities fall into a very narrow niche: I love to read traditional stories. I get incredibly excited about upcoming folktale collections, and I go to great lengths to track down the ones that are hard to find. I have quite a few favorites, but I am always on the lookout for more - especially from cultures that I am not very familiar with.

And herein lies the problem:
Folktale collections get very little publicity, and almost no excitement.

Yeah yeah, I know, there are many storytellers and story-lovers out there who share my feelings. But let's face it: Compared to the hype around YA fiction and supernatural romance (for instance), "folktale collections" is not exactly a hopping topic.

But they should be!

In order to promote reading folktales, exploring other cultures, and dusting off some little known volumes full of magic, my 2016 theme for April A to Z will be:

BADASS FOLKTALE COLLECTIONS

Here is the plan:

1. I want to read a folktale collection for every letter of the alphabet.
2. I want all the books I read to be new for me too (otherwise, where is the fun?)
3. I want the collections to represent as many different cultures and traditions as possible.
4. I want as many as possible to be new or recent editions, raising awareness of the genre and its latest developments.

5. I want to write all my A to Z posts as if I was pitching these books to a wider audience. I want to write posts that highlight all that is exciting, unique, and magical about them. I want to make people want to read them, discover new tales, new worlds to get lost in, and broaden their horizons way beyond the "classics." (If I see one more Cinderella/Snow White/Riding Hood adaptation, I'll scream).

And here is where I need your help.

If you know of any good folktale collections recently published (in the past 1-2 years) or coming out soon (before April 2016), let me know here in the comments, on Twitter, or through my website. I can't promise to fit all suggestions into the final list, but I would nevertheless like to hear about as many as possible! (Yes, it is okay to suggest your own work!)
(I am also happy to read in Spanish)
*Note* If it's your own work, you don't actually have to send me copies. I am happy if you do, but I am also happy to support publishing by buying the books that make the final list.
*Second note* I am probably going to post a full list of the suggested books, regardless of whether they are on the A to Z list.

Let the reading commence!
#ReadFolktales

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Folklore Thursday: Jesus Christ is a Showoff

Today is Folklore Thursday on social media! If you want to find out more, follow this link, or click on the #FolkloreThursday hashtag on Twitter! Hosted by @FolkloreThursday.

Continuing our weekly selections from the Peasant Bible, a collection of Hungarian folk legends featuring biblical themes. This short little story comes from Ortutay's collection of Hungarian folktales. I personally like this one for two reasons: One, my great-grandfather was a blacksmith, so it is close to home, and two, Jesus is kind of a showoff in this one.

The Master of Masters

In the days when Jesus Christ walked the earth, he once came upon a blacksmith's workshop. The sign above the door said in big bold letters:

THE MASTER OF MASTERS

Jesus smirked quietly, then walked in, and got himself hired as an apprentice.
Soon after, a rich man stopped by to have his horse shod. The blacksmith ordered Jesus to do the job. Jesus went outside, cut a leg off the horse, took it inside the workshop, nailed the horseshoe on it comfortably, and then put the leg back on the horse. He did the same thing with the other three legs, and the rich man rode away, satisfied with the work.
Three days later, Jesus left his apprenticeship and moved on. Just after he left, another rich man stopped by to get his horse shod. The blacksmith thought "if an apprentice could do it, so can I," and cut a leg off the horse, nailed the horseshoe on it, and then tried to put it back... but no matter how he tried, it could not be reattached. Scared that the rich man would have him punished for hurting the horse, he sent a boy running after Jesus, begging him to come back and fix things. Jesus returned, reattached the leg in one swift move, then turned to his former master:

"And now" he said, smiling "Please take down that sign that says 'Master of Masters,' and put up one that says 'Blacksmith.'"

And then he probably dropped the mic.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Storytelling Pet Peeves

If you thought storytellers were docile, merry, peaceful individuals who spend their time frolicking in meadows and consorting with fairies... you have clearly never met a storyteller. Believe me, we can be quite terrifying. Especially when someone hits the right buttons.

Every storyteller has their own, story-related pet peeves. These are mine:

1. Excalibur and the Sword in the Stone ARE NOT THE SAME SWORD. Not in most stories, anyway. Arthur pulls one sword from the stone (AND ANVIL), and gets the second one from the Lady of the Lake. This second one is the one usually named Excalibur.

2. Morgan le Fay is NOT Mordred's mother. That's Morgause. Wrong sister.

3. Pandora's box HAS ALREADY BEEN OPENED. It is not some mystical chest full of evils. The only thing left inside it is Hope.

4. Dionysus is NOT an old fat drunk man. He is a youth. In fact, he is one of the most attractive of the Greek gods.

5. Andersen stories are not "Danish folktales." In fact, they are not even "Danish fairy tales." They are Andersen stories.

6. And while we are at it, Peter Pan, Alice, or the Wizard of Oz are also not folktales.

7. Rapunzel doesn't get RESCUED from the tower by the prince. He just visits her and gets her pregnant, and then the witch throws her out.

8. Snow White was persecuted by her BIOLOGICAL MOTHER. At least in the original first edition of the Grimm tales. Stop blaming stepmoms for this one.

9. Stop with the "if the shoe fit perfectly, why did it fall off?" memes. Cinderella lost her shoe because the prince smeared pitch on the stairs. Read the story.

10. It's "the 1001 Nights," not "the Arabian Nights."


Whew! I feel so much lighter now.
Back to frolicking.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Folklore Thursday: 12 things you didn't know about German dwarfs

Today is Folklore Thursday on social media! If you want to find out more, follow this link, or click on the #FolkloreThursday hashtag on Twitter! Hosted by @FolkloreThursday.

This is both my Folklore Thursday and my Dietrich Cycle post this week, because I am taking PhD prelim exams and this is all I have energy for. So.

I am reading a PhD dissertation from 1976, written by George Hans Heide, titled Dwarfs in German Folk Legend: An Inquiry into the Human Quality of these Creatures. It is a well done study; the author marked and labeled all the German dwarf legends he could find (in English and in German), and summarized all he found out about Dwarf society thematically (Appearance; Habitation; Society; Possessions; Skills and Occupations; Amusements; etc.) I am about halfway through the book, and I have found some very exciting little tidbits that I wanted to share:


1. In some occasions dwarfs might dress up in clothes that imitate the colors of songbirds. (How awesome an image is that?!)

2. Dwarfs can have a variety of skin colors, from snow white to black (take that, Tolkien fandom).

3. Dwarfs pee. (It's documented)

4. Female dwarfs ("dwarfesses," according to Heide) are pregnant for 9 days. (Good for them?...)

5. Dwarfs in German legend are a lot smaller than you think: Most often they stand about 3 spans (27 inches = app. 69 cm) or 2'4" tall - although some stories make them somewhat taller, the height of a child. They can also be a lot smaller, the size of a fir cone. Newborn baby dwarfs are the size of a human thumb.

6. There is at least one documented legend about a human nobleman cheating on his wife with a beautiful dwarfess.

7. Dwarfs can have queens!!! (This is important to me for the Dietrich research)

8. Dwarf children ("dwarflings") can play with human children, and sometimes they contract lice.

9. Dwarfs like to eat peas, grapes and raisins.

10. Female dwarf musicians play cheerful music; male dwarf musicians play solemn music.

11. Dwarfs enjoy nine-pin bowling.

12. Dwarfs enjoy storytelling. (I knew I liked them for a reason)