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?

1 comment:

  1. Here is an excellent dragon-themed poem
    From a Mother Dragon to Her Egg