Saturday, April 29, 2017

Why canaries are yellow (WTF - Weird Things in Folktales)

Welcome to my A to Z Challenge blog series titled WTF - Weird Things in Folktales! Find the introduction post (explaining the theme) here. Find all other participating blogs in the comments of each day's post on the main blog! You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Y is the third and final letter that has been excluded from the Motif Index. Once more, I searched for words that start with Y, and someone on Twitter suggested Yellow. I was not disappointed.

A2391.1 Why canary's eggs are yellow

First off: This is another one of Thompson's misnomers. The story actually explains why canary's feathers are yellow. It is a Flemish legend.

This one looks a little hung over
According to the story, canaries used to be white. One day, however, they went out to celebrate on a feast day, and got a little too much to drink. Instead of sitting on their eggs, they were out late into the night. When they returned home, the male canary fell into the nest and broke the eggs; his feathers were stained golden yellow from them. The female fell in too, but since the male had already soaked up most of the yolk, she did not get the same bright color.

I feel like this story was supposed to teach us something.

(Story in German here.)

Thursday, April 27, 2017

X11. Red pepper for the slow ass (WTF - Weird Things in Folktales)

Welcome to my A to Z Challenge blog series titled WTF - Weird Things in Folktales! Find the introduction post (explaining the theme) here. Find all other participating blogs in the comments of each day's post on the main blog! You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

X in the Motif Index stands for Humor. You would think it would be an endless chapter, but actually it is not all that long. It includes jokes, lies, Münchhausen tales, and the favorite practical jokes of various tricksters ("X34. - Use of itch-producing ointment"). Among them I found a story that my grandfather used to tell... as if it happened to him.

(You know you grew up in the oral tradition when you read folktales and go "But... Grandpa told me he did that!!!")

X11. Red pepper for the slow ass

To my endless surprise, this is originally a Nasreddin Hodja story (I always knew Grandpa was a professional trickster). 

The Hodja has a very stubborn donkey. He goes out to cut firewood, but the donkey refuses to move on the way home. A man rides by on a very vigorously prancing donkey, and the Hodja asks him how he made the animal move so quickly. For a small fee, the man agrees to tell the Hodja his secret.

"Once you are done loading up the firewood, buy some red pepper, and smear it on the donkey's butt. Then you'll see how fast he goes."

The Hodja does just that. The moment the red pepper starts burning, the donkey shoots down the road, running towards home. The Hodja realizes he can't keep up... so he decides to use the same trick on himself. Lo and behold, it works. The Hodja runs so fast that he overtakes the donkey, and gets home first. His wife is in the doorway, and she hears him yelling as he runs past:

"The donkey is right behind me! Please unload him while I run a couple of times around the village..."

(To be clear, my Grandpa claimed to be the other guy, not the Hodja.)

(Found the story in English here, in German here, and in Hungarian here.)

X31.2. Pig licks sleeping man’s lips: man thinks he is being kissed
X142.1. Dwarf king falls into porridge-pot at court of human king
X222. Tailor always associated with goat
X351. Music teacher charges double for those who have taken music before
X372.3. Eyedrops prescribed for stomach ache so that patient can see what he eats
X372.4.1. Man with cheeks stuffed with food operated on to remove swellings
X413. One-eyed parson in dimly lighted church joins the wrong couples
X435.3. Parson: Where was Christ when he was neither in heaven nor on earth?--He was in the willow-grove looking for a stick to beat those who ask foolish questions
X651. Battle between lice of Strassburg and of Hungary
X1280.1.1. Bumblebees imported to rout mosquitoes; the two insects crossbreed and have stingers on both ends

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

W111.2.5. Boy to see whether there is fire in the house: feels cat to see if she is warm (WTF - Weird Things in Folktales)

Welcome to my A to Z Challenge blog series titled WTF - Weird Things in Folktales! Find the introduction post (explaining the theme) here. Find all other participating blogs in the comments of each day's post on the main blog! You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

W is for Traits of Character, both favorable and unfavorable. Folktales are full of nice and less nice characters, and their personalities are represented through various actions - some more peculiar than others. Tales depicting extraordinary laziness (W111) are especially entertaining. Observe:

W111.2.5. Boy to see whether there is fire in the house: feels cat to see if she is warm 

This story, commonly known and shared around Europe in the Middle Ages, features an extraordinarily lazy servant. When his lord tells him to get up and see if it rained, the servant calls in the dog instead, to see if it is wet. When asked whether there is enough fire in the house, the servant, instead of checking the fireplace, calls in the cat and pets it, to see if it is warm. When his lord asks why the door has been open all night, the servant answers: "I knew you would ask me to open it in the morning, so I left it open the night before to save myself the trouble."

Let's face it, we all know that person (like someone who asks the phone if it's raining instead of looking out the window). Also, most of us have been that person, from time to time. I know from experience that you sometimes only notice it's raining when the dog comes in soaking wet...

(Read the French version of the story here, the German version of the story here, and the Yiddish version of the story here.)

W11.9. Prince donates all including a tooth
W11.16. Generous king gives away his only eye
W28.4. Saint threatens to take place of homicide in hell unless soul is released.
W111.1.1.1. Man is burned to death because he is too lazy to put out spark
W111.5.13. Man weeds garden from cushioned rocking chair, using fire tongs to reach weeds
W116.7. Use of strange language to show one’s high education
W128.3. Dissatisfied rivers complain against sea
W152.3. Stingy dead woman raises her head to correct account of laundress, who is overcharging her daughter
W152.7. Spider in stingy woman‘s house grows thin
W152.12.2. Stingy farmer encourages help by promise of hot lunch. The servant discovers that the hot lunch is a mustard sandwich.
W152.14.2. Man saves sausage skins, sends them back for refilling
W212.1. Eager warriors go through tent wall

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

V49.1. Werewolves hold mass (WTF - Weird Things in Folktales)

Welcome to my A to Z Challenge blog series titled WTF - Weird Things in Folktales! Find the introduction post (explaining the theme) here. Find all other participating blogs in the comments of each day's post on the main blog! You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

V in the Index stands for Religion. It includes tales and motifs that have to do with worship and sacrifices, sins, prayers, funerals, religious festivals, saints, angels, etc., as well as some fairly familiar people: "V211. - Christ," "V250. - The Virgin Mary," and "V294. - The Pope." On a more supernatural note, there is also:

V49.1. Werewolves hold mass

Which is a legend from Gascogne in France.

According to Gascon belief, even though they don't have souls, wolves hold midnight mass every year on New Year's Eve (the night before the feast of St. Sylvester). The mass is performed by a Priest Wolf; there are also Bishop Wolves, Archbishop Wolves, and even a Pope Wolf, allegedly, but no one talks much about them.
Legend says that once there was a wheelwright, who moved away from his home town of Mauvezin when he got married. One year, seven days before the feast of St. Sylvester, a messenger came to him, bringing news that his father was gravely ill. Being too far away to travel fast, the wheelwright went to a seer and asked for help. The seer told him that the only thing that could cure his father was eating the tail of a Priest Wolf - hair, skin, bones, marrow, and all.
In order to acquire the tail, the wheelwright agreed to be turned into a wolf. He spent a week with the other wolves, roaming the woods, killing sheep, and doing other wolf things. On the night of the new year, they all gathered in the woods for the mass. The Priest Wolf was in need of a helper, so the wheelwright-turned-wolf volunteered, and helped him perform the mass from start to finish.
After the mass, the wheelwright stayed behind to help the Priest Wolf undress - and as he did, he bit off its tail and ran away back home. When he got to the seer, he was changed back to a man... except he still had wolf ears (and he was still holding the bloody tail in his mouth). The seer tore the wolf ears off, and a pair of "Christian ears" grew in their place.

I am not entirely sure why Thompson tagged this as "werewolves" - the story just calls them wolves, although they are quite sentient. They even have a Pope.

(Find the original text - in French - here.)

V1.10.1. Man worships a cake which from time to time he eats
V5.2. Negligent priests buried under bags filled with words omitted from service
V5.3. Devils cause monk to perspire and stay away from church service
V30.1.1. Flesh of Artemis eaten as quail or bear
V34.2. Princess sick because toad has swallowed her consecrated wafer
V41.1. Imprisoned miner kept alive by masses performed by his wife
V61.3.0.3. Man buried upright beneath kitchen stairway in order that he may watch his family
V143. Saint’s bones for lack of worship remove themselves from church
V211.1.6. A “crown of thorns” among gifts given by the shepherds to Joseph, husband of Virgin Mary.
V211.1.8.2. Christ in form of an infant fondled by nuns
V224.4. Performing fox accidentally killed miraculously replaced for saint
V229.2.2. Saintly babe disgorges unclean food
V229.2.3.1. Saint as baby refuses to take mother’s breast on Wednesdays and Fridays.
V229.14. Saint in anger shows strength: wall broken by his kick
V261.2. Virgin pardons man who repented for cheating in election
V346. Skeptic kicked by sacrificial animal
V523. The only king ever saved in spite of himself

Monday, April 24, 2017

U114. Mountain in labor brings forth a mouse (WTF - Weird Things in Folktales)

Welcome to my A to Z Challenge blog series titled WTF - Weird Things in Folktales! Find the introduction post (explaining the theme) here. Find all other participating blogs in the comments of each day's post on the main blog! You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

U in the Motif Index stands for the (rather short) category of The Nature of Life. It includes stories about injustices and inequalities, and wisdoms about how life is. It includes such entertaining tidbits as "U115. - The skeleton in the closet," or

U114. Mountain in labor brings forth a mouse 

This fable from Aesop is so short, I'm just going to copy and paste it.

"One day people noticed a Mountain in labor; smoke coming out of its summit, the earth quaking at their feet, trees crashing, and huge rocks tumbling. They felt sure something horrible was going to happen. They all gathered together to see what terrible thing this could be. They waited and they waited, but nothing came. Suddenly there was a still more violent earthquake, and a huge gap appeared in the side of the Mountain. The people all fell down upon their knees and waited. At last, a teeny mouse poked its little head and bristles out of the gap and came running down towards them."

Moral of the story: "Don't make much ado about nothing."
Moral of the story according to Phaedrus: "Some people make loud threats but don't deliver."

Read a bunch of versions of the Aseop's fable here. Read the Phaedrus translation here.

U11.1.1.1. Animals confess sins to lion holding court
U11.2. He who steals much called king; he who steals little called robber
U15.0.1. Dwarf king (fairy) laughs at the absurdities he sees about him
U21.1. Hen complains that man eats her, but she eats ant
U67. Jester takes cow and tells king people have plenty of milk, for “he who is warm thinks everyone else is.”
U68. Optimist becomes pessimist when his money is stolen
U112. Beard on she-goats do not make a male
U119.5. Stories to show that one’s name does not alter his condition
U137. Mill horse when taken to war keeps going in a circle, as he has learned in the mill

Sunday, April 23, 2017

T543.4. Birth from fungus (WTF - Weird Things in Folktales)

Welcome to my A to Z Challenge blog series titled WTF - Weird Things in Folktales! Find the introduction post (explaining the theme) here. Find all other participating blogs in the comments of each day's post on the main blog! You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

T is the Motif Index stands for Sex (I'll never understand why he could not just make the initials line up...). Also, love ("T92.1. - The triangle plot and its solutions"). Marriage. Chastity. Incest. But no actual sex acts, so if you were hoping for something dirty, you are out of luck. What we do have, however, is all kinds of miraculous births and conceptions. For example:

T543.4. Birth from fungus

This tale from the Ekoi people in Nigeria and Cameroon is called The Fungus Daughter. It starts with a classic folktale motif: A childless couple wishes for a child.
The husband goes out into the bush and searches for a child. Instead, he finds a giant "ebbuya ball" (a sort of puff fungus), and, hoping it would turn into a child, carries it home in his bag. And lo and behold, the fungus indeed turns into a lovely daughter.
When the girl is old enough, she is sent to the fatting-house (a place of seclusion where she is supposed to fatten up to be healthy and attractive). A slave girl is supposed to care for her, but she refuses: "You are not the proper daughter of those whom you call parents. You are nothing but an ebbuya ball!"
Hearing these unkind words, the fungus girl returns to the bush, and turns back into a puffball. Her parents find out from a servant boy what happened, and the father goes out to search the bush for ebbuya balls again - but none of them turns into a child ever again. The story claims that if she had not been hurt by unkind words, people could still get children from puffballs.

Fungus children are children too.

(Read the story here.)

T10.3. Girl continually falling in love
T11.4.4. Love through seeing marks of lady’s teeth in fruit which she has bitten
T76. Princess calls her suitors ugly names
T85.3. The Pot of Basil. Mistress keeps murdered lover‘s skull in flower-pot
T99.1. Death from excess of women
T117.5. Marriage with a tree
T126.2. Marriage of mountain and cockle-shell
T146.2. Woman requires thirty men
T322.1. Woman kicks lecherous monk down the stairs
T333.5. Hero cuts off head and wraps it in napkin so he will not be tempted by sight of virgins
T511.3.2. Conception from eating spinach
T511.8.3. Conception from eating mess of fairy pottage
T511.8.5. Woman impregnated after accidentally partaking of crane‘s dung
T515.1. Impregnation through lustful glance
T517.3. Conception through ear
T525.2. Impregnation by a comet
T532.1.3. Impregnation by leaf of lettuce
T532.10. Conception from hiss of cobra
T552.2.1. Child born bearing lizard in each hand
T581.2.2. Blind wives fall into a pool where they give birth to children
T583.1.1. Pains of woman in childbirth repeated in person of the man
T586.5.1. Woman bears child every month
T589.1. Co-operative birth. Each of two wives bears a half-boy. They are placed together and form a real boy

Tricksters and fairy tales (Following folktales around the world 22. - Ecuador)

Today I continue new 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!

Cuentos folklóricos de la costa del Ecuador
26 registros de la tradición oral ecuatoriana
Paulo de Carvalho-Neto
Instituto Panamericano de Geografía e Historia, 1976.

This book was not an easy read, and took me forever to get through. It is a folklore collection, which means it comes with notes on tale types - but it also means that the stories have been transcribed from the oral telling word for word, including repeated fillers such as "said" and "then," and that many words were written down phonetically, missing parts or letters. My Spanish struggled to keep up with the omissions, and I had to sound a lot of the paragraphs out loud. I realize that this was supposed to give us a better understanding of what these stories sounded like when told - but it also made reading them a very painful process.
The stories themselves were mostly local versions of well-known types. They had some fascinating details, but none of them really captivated me as a whole.


I loved the version of the Dragonslayer folktale type (here named The orphan boy) where the hero was helped by three hounds, who were really angels in disguise, named Santa María, Ligero (Light) and Pesado (Heavy). I also enjoyed The one-eyed king as the Moorish queen, where an old king lost an eye to the queen in battle, and his three sons set out to bring it back (later turned out the queen had been holding the eyeball in her mouth...). The quest was interwoven with the Animal Bride tale type, where the youngest prince married a toad, and she helped him bring the eye back. It was extra fun that the older brothers experimented with getting away with fake eyes, and the king did not even notice that he had been wearing the eye of a cat until his youngest returned...
It was also interesting to see a novel solution to the "Four Skillful Brothers" story. Here, four brothers - a thief, a musician, a marksman, and a carpenter - rescued a princess, and then could not decide who should marry her as a reward. In the end, they gave her as a wife to their father - since it had been the father that helped them start out in learning their professions...


Most tales in the book were Ecuadorian versions of well-known folktale types such as the Three kidnapped princesses (Juan del Oso, Mama Leche la Burra), or the Magic Flight (Bella Flor Blanca).
There were some trickster tales with African connections: Tío Conejo asking God to be large and menacing fell into the "Trickster asks for endowments" story type. God gave the rabbit all kinds of impossible tasks that Tío Conejo fulfilled easily - so well, in fact, that God began to worry what would happen if the wily little creature was also large and strong. Therefore, he only made the ears bigger. Tío Conejo had some classic adventures in these tales (including an encounter with the infamous Tar Doll). And while the rabbit had African connections, from Europe we had Pedro the trickster visiting - in this case, his last name was Imala (as opposed to Urdemalas or Malasartes, see earlier).
And finally, there is no folktale collection without animals running a race. This time it was Toad vs. Deer, and the Toad (family) won.

Where to next?