Monday, February 26, 2018

Dragons are people too (Following folktales around the world 60. - Moldova)

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 under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Moldavian Folk-tales
Grigore Botezatu
Literatura Artistika, 1986.

If you don't like your folktale collections peppered with short anecdotes, local legends, and weird little folk narratives, then you will love this book: Almost all of the 34 stories included are classic, long, elaborate, complex fairy tales. Towards the middle of the volume it almost got a little tedious to work through them, but they are so full of interesting details that it was definitely worth the read (and there are some refreshing shorter tales at the end). Sadly, the book doesn't offer any sources or additional information on the stories, and the introduction is fairly short too. In addition, the print book is riddled with errors: There are typos, editing mistakes, and several pages were out of order, so I had to flip back and forth (which was not always easy to notice, given the repetitive nature of fairy tales). Still, the stories were exciting and intriguing, so they mostly made up for the frustration.


The most interesting story in the book was The Gold Crown. In it, a dragon threatened to devour a lad on his way to his wedding; the lad prayed to the Sun, Wind, and Earth, to save him - but none of them did. They each explained why they can't go out of the natural order just to save one mortal. The Earth even said that dragons are creatures of the earth too, their life can't be cut short to save a human. Boom. (The lad was eventually saved by his mother).
Another, simple yet stunning story was that of the Old Hazelnut Tree. A tree begged a squirrel to save some of the nuts so that new trees could grow, but the squirrel refused. Then, suddenly a fox ate the squirrel, and then a dog ate the fox... and things cascaded from there in a chain until the tree fell down and the whole forest burned down... and from the ashes, new trees started growing. I have never seen a chain tale this dark.
The book ends with the short but witty tale of The Earned Ducat. In it, a father gets his son to learn the value of money before he can get married.
There were several stories that belonged to familiar types, but contained details that caught my attention anyway. In The tale of Aliman, the Green King's son, a princess simply slapped the false princes pretending to be her true love. In the same story, said true prince didn't kill his enemies - rather, he cut them into good parts and bad parts with a sword, and then revived the good parts again. In Dragan-the-Bold, the hero who ventured into the underworld returned via the magic apple tree of Grandfather Valerian. The Nameless Warrior (one of those Mulan-type stories) ended with an unexpected twist: The girl escaped from an evil dragon suitor, and turned into a swallow; the new bride also escaped, and turned into a cat. They lived happily ever after as friends.
I was a little disturbed that the magical helper in Break-of-Day was not a wolf or a fox (as usual, see Ivan Tsarevits, etc.), but a "Black Arab" with magical powers (such as killing off a princess' poisonous garden). The story had a lovely moment though, when the "hero" was totally willing to hand the rescued princess off to an underworld demon king that "ordered" her - the helper, seeing the girl in distress, figured out a way to save her anyway.


I was very happy to find yet another variant of that tale type where the clever girl saves herself and her two sisters from a monster (Laurel the Monster and the Three Princesses). I have encountered this in the Scandinavian countries.
The Evening Star and the Morning Star was a lovely variant of the tale of the Prince who was looking for immortality (combined with some magical hide-and-seek). In the end, since Death and the princess could not decide who should get him, they set him in the sky, and his wife joined him - they both became stars. Similarly beautiful was the story of Alistar, a version of the Treasures of the Giant with a shapeshifting hero, who was guided along by a princess who had been cursed into a candle, always burning, but never giving warmth.
The Feather-king was a version of Puss in Boots - with an unexpected ending where Puss set the castle of the ungrateful lad on fire, and walked away to live as a feral cat in the woods (gritty remake, anyone?...). The shepherd's clever daughter was a nice and elaborate version of the common folktale type, combining all the usual trials and elements, while the aptly titled He who thinks pie will fall from the sky won't rise very high was a variant of one of my favorite tale types where the foolish man was actually devoured by the wolf at the end.
I also fount the Moldavian counterpart of the Ukrainian Poor Danilo - named John the Poor. In this case, he did not only have a series of misfortunes, but he also got to take revenge for them on Frost, birds, wolves, and other natural disasters in the end.

Where to next?

Monday, February 19, 2018

Giants, vampires, lady foxes (Following folktales around the world 59. - Ukraine)

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 under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Ukrainian Folk Tales
Anatole Bilenko
Dnipro Publishers, 1974.

This English-language volume, published in the Soviet era, contains twenty folktales from the Ukraine. Some have origins specified by region ("Transcarpathian folktale", "Bukovinian folktale"), but other than those, we don't learn much about their backgrounds. The text sometimes reads odd, like something not translated by a native English speaker, using phrases that are amusingly out of context for the tales. The book is illustrated in black-white-gold drawings. Entertaining read, but other than a few footnotes, not very useful for further research.


The best story in the book was The Poor Man and His Sons, in which a boy, chased away from home by his father, was raised by a wise giant, and sent out on quests to defeat vampires and save kingdoms. I also liked The Poor Man and the Raven Czar, a tale of haunting imagery, in which a poor man did not unwittingly promise his son away, and the magic mill did not end up sinking into the ocean.
The most amusing of the animal tales was The Goat and the Ram - a smart but small goat, and a strong but cowardly ram ran away together, and managed to outwit a bunch of wolves. I could almost see the Pixar movie...
The tale of Oh was essentially that of the Sorcerer's Apprentice, with some really nice embellishments. A lazy boy was trained by the dwarf king Oh in an underground kingdom, burned and revived multiple times until he turned into a shapeshifting hero. Ilya Muromets and the Nightingale Robber were already familiar to me; I included that story in my own book, because of the robber's unique ability to create a sonic blast with his whistle.
I also liked Boris Son O'Three for his name: The abandoned boy was raised by three brothers who all loved him like a son, so they named him "Son of Three [Fathers]". Yay for non-traditional family models!


In a very amusing variant of the Fox and the Wolf, a vixen named Foxy-Loxy outwitted a (male) wolf in several classic ways (tail trapped in the ice, etc.), in order to punish him for breaking the sledge she had made herself. She also featured into the story of Pan Kotsky, the tomcat that became the ruler of the forest by scaring the wits out of all animals (after shacking up with the vixen). And it was also the clever fox-girl who ended up devouring the runaway Kolobok the Johnnycake (a Ukrainian version of the gingerbread boy). I am not entirely sure what was translated into English as johnnycake, though.

Where to next?

Monday, February 12, 2018

A basketful of Belarusian folktales (Following folktales around the world 58. - Belarus)

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 under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

For the second time over the course of this challenge, I have run into a country where I could not locate a folktale collection in any of the languages I speak. As a result, I tracked down several Belarusian folktales from various sources, and I am presenting all of them below. Some were in Hungarian, and some in English.

The gifts of the storm
Belarusian version for the common folktale type of the magical tablecloth and the gold-pooping sheep, except this time it is not God who gives them to the poor man, but rather the Storm, who feels guilty for scattering the poor man's flour.

The peasant and the nobleman
Another classic folktale, about the poor man that brings a gift to the king and the noble only lets him in if he promises to share the king's rewards with him. So the peasant asks for a hundred lashes, and generously shares them with the noble (to the king's great amusement).

The wicked wizard's servant
A variant of the Magic Flight, with a boy unwittingly promised to an evil wizard, and ultimately rescued by the handmaid who works for the same evil master.

The fox. the wold, and the bell
The fox receives a bell from a man, the wolf borrows the bell and loses it. Man is so angry that his gift was disrespected that he chases the animals into the woods, and they have been afraid of the sound of bells ever since. Reverse Pavlov...

The piece of gold
A clever peasant pretends that he has a valuable piece of gold, and tricks the landlord into treating him as a noble guest.

The wolf and the she-wolf

She-wolf claims that she is invisible to humans - they only see wolf (the male). To prove her point she runs out of the woods, and people stat screaming "wolf! wolf!" I am assuming this tale got lost in translation, and it originally played on wolf and she-wold being two different words, and people not being able to tell make from female.

The redhead and the bald man
A man is cheated by a red-headed innkeeper, but a bald man helps him trick the innkeeper to give the money back. Once again, a play on language: The bald man asks the innkeeper "How much does your flank cost?" and when he gets the price, he proceeds to try to cut the flank off the innkeeper.

Wits over strenght
A woodcutter tricks a bear into putting his paw in the wedge of a tree, therefore proving that he can defeat the beast without having to wrestle it.

The spotted hen
Chain story in which the hen's eggs break, therefore all other animals succumb to mass hysteria, and eventually the bear loses his tail.

How hen saved rooster
Chain story in which hen saves rooster from a bean he choked on by starting a chain reaction and getting him some water.

Fox and heron
Classic animal fable: Fox feeds Heron from a plate, Heron feeds Fox from a bottle, they both go hungry in the end.

Where to next?

Monday, February 5, 2018

Mythic marriage, mythic divorce (Following folktales around the world 57. - Lithuania)

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 under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

A csodamalom
Balti népmesék
Bojtár Endre, Bojtár Anna, Nagy Ilona
Akadémiai Kiadó, 1989.

This book is the fist publication that contained Lithuanian folktales translated into Hungarian. It also has some Latvian stories, but I already read a separate book for that, so in this one, I focused on the 44 Lithuanian folktales included. The volume contains an afterword about Lithuanian (and Latvian) history an culture, a glossary, and a tale type index, so it is a fairly informative book to read. The stories themselves did not really enchant me as a whole, but there were, of course, some wonderful highlights that made it worth the read.
(For English speakers, I recommend this book, or this one)


The most intriguing story in the book, that of Perkunas and the Prince, is a Beauty and the Beast variant - except the youngest daughter is given away to Perkunas, the God of Thunder himself. When the father changes his mind, the god destroys his lands, and all around behaves like a storm deity could be expected to behave. He did reconcile with his wandering wife in the end. On the other hand, the theme was definitely divorce in Why the Sun shines during the day and the Moon at night, in which the celestial couple decided to separate, but they had to agree on custody for their daughter - the Earth. That is why half the time one watches over her, and half the other.
The Magic Duck combined two of my favorite tale types: That of the boys who can spit gold (I included a Mongolian version of that in my book, because it's such a unique superpower), and that of Fortunatus, where magic fruit grows antlers on the mean princess' head. Similarly complex and fascinating was the tale of The youth and the snake, in which an enchanted snake-princess trained the wandering hero in swordsmanship (and also civilized behavior, because he was "like a bear"). After the youth was almost murdered by a princess they forced to marry him, he returned to marry the snake girl instead.
I loved the tale of Death deceived for its unique characters. It is a classic story about trapping Death in a water skin - except Death in this case was a "large woman," and she also had a sister, who determined people's fate in the hour of their birth (I'm assuming she was Destiny). I have seen someone like her in an Irish tale before, called the Queen of the Planets.


The tale of The enchanted girl and the dragon was a reverse Cupid and Psyche: It was the girl who visited her husband in secret at night, until he spied on her - at which point she threw him out the window. He had to defeat a dragon to get back into her good graces. Bonus points to the story because the death of the dragon dried up the sea, and that is how America was born. (Yup, it says so in the story).
The tale of Unlucky Jonas was mostly the same as the Devil's three golden hairs, and the Merciful son combined two popular tale types about respecting the elders - it was a story in which old people were ordered to die, but one man hid his old father, and managed to help the king following his sage advice.
Because we are still in the Baltic countries, of course there was a Magic Mill, explaining why the sea is salty.

Where to next?

Thursday, February 1, 2018

NEW BOOK! Dancing on Blades: Rare and Exquisite Folktales from the Carpathian Mountains

This Folklore Thursday's theme is "Your favorite folk and fairy tales" - and I am in the very lucky position that I have many of mine in one place. On a related note: My new folktale collection is out!

Dancing on Blades
Rare and Exquisite Folktales from the Carpathian Mountains
Csenge Virág Zalka
Parkhurst Brothers Publishers, 2018.
Find it on Amazon, find it on Bookdepository

This book contains 30 folktales from my favorite traditional storyteller, Anna Pályuk (nicknamed Anica, 1858-1951?). She was a Rusyn woman who married into a Hungarian family, and told her tales in Hungarian. In her stories, the magical world of the Carpathians mingles with her own boundless creativity, and eye for natural beauty. I have been telling these stories from ten years, and I am absolutely in love with them.

Here are my five favorite folklorific details about the book:

The subtitle
I was having trouble trying to encompass the "ethnic identity" of these tales. They are included in the Hungarian folktale catalog, but Anica herself was Rusyn. At the time of the collecting, the village where she lived belonged to 5 different countries within the span of 20 years, so it would have been hard to assign just one country of origin. The historic region, Transcarpathia, is too obscure to be written on a cover... In the end, I stuck with what describes the tales best: The mountains of Anica's childhood, and the backdrop of many of her tales, the Carpathians.

The cover art
The image for the cover was created by Katalin Jámbor. She hid some symbols in the skirt and the backdrop that directly relate to stories in the book.

The archives
Out of the 100 folktales recorded from Anica, only about 35 have ever been published before (and none in English). I went digging in the archives of the Hungarian Museum of Ethnography for the thick folder of hand-typed papers that contained the rest. Half of the stories in this book have never appeared in print before, either in Hungarian or in any other language. Which baffles me, because some of my favorites are among them.

The fan favorites 
I put "rare and exquisite" in the title, and I mean it. Among many others, you'll find in this book...
... a variant of Rumpelstiltskin (The Cheerful Prince) that features a compassionate female helper, a gentle and loving prince, and a smart, strong, kind mother-in-law.
... a variant of the Dancing Princesses tale type (The Shoe-shredding Princesses) which contains a slowly budding love story between the youngest princess and the shepherd boy.
... a variant of the False Bride tale type where the false bride is respected and loved (The Maiden with the Red-Gold Hair)
... a love story between a jaded mortal man, and a Fairy Queen who keeps forgetting about things (The Dream of the Fairy Queen)
... a tale about a princess who can't walk, but becomes Queen of the Cloud Kingdom in the end (The Daughter of the Táltos King), and a corresponding story about The Boy Who Wanted to Walk on the Clouds.

The permissions
I really want to see these tales known and appreciated by more people. I want them to travel and take new shapes and be a part of the international storytelling tradition. So, the book contains a blanket permission for the telling of these tales (while the publisher still holds the rights for recording or printing). My secret dream is that eventually, one day, I'll run into someone telling one of them at an event.