This is my “M” contribution to the “A to Z Challenge.”
I’m not quite sure when it started, but I’ve always had a fascination with mythology, tall tales, folklore, legends and fairy tales.
I think a lot of it started when I was in elementary school and I got a book about Gods and Goddesses – it compared the Roman vs. Greek versions and since then I found it all very fascinating.
As a child, I was also drawn to stories of the Coyote from Native American folklore. A favorite book was Coyote Stories for Children: Tales from Native America by Susan Strauss.
When we would go to visit my grandparents in Manning, IA, they had a couple books that I was quite fond of (and still have): The Sunken City and Other Tales from Round the World by James McNeill and Arrow Book of Spooky Stories edited by Edna Mitchell Preston.
Later on, in high school, my German teacher gifted me with the book Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales by Nelson Doubleday. I still have it and love reading some of the original stories that are quite horrifying if you read them as they were initially told – not the Disney versions.
When I traveled to the UK and Ireland the summer I was 16, I picked up a book called Celtic Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs (I haven’t finished it all yet) and a four-leaf clover bookmark because why not, right?
In college, I found Hinduism and the variety of gods/goddesses that they worship fascinating, so I ended up purchasing the book The Little Book of Hindu Deities by Sanjay Patel – the illustrations are awesome.
Now that I live in the land of Paul Bunyan and Babe, I find that tall tales are everywhere. But no matter what I read or who wrote it, each tale or myth or deity rings with a grain of the same simple truth: to seek to explain that which is unknown or scary or new.
Perhaps that’s why storytelling has always been such an important part of our human existence – to seek to explain the world around us, sometimes in terms that are easier for us to understand than others.
I find it a tad bit ironic that I’m writing this post on Easter – the day that is most commonly associated with a giant bipedal rabbit that brings goodies to children in the form of hidden plastic eggs. But I digress…
What are some of your favorite stories/myths/legends/folk tales? I’ll share a couple real quick before I close this out:
- In The Sunken City, there is a short story called The Haunted Forest that originated in Lithuania. In the story, a young girl named Elspeth ventured into a forest that has been deemed haunted due to the fact that when woodsmen try to chop down the trees, they scream and bleed (which is pretty messed up). Once inside the forest, she comes upon a little girl named Kiisike who takes her home to her magic mother, who has a golem fashioned after Elspeth to take her place in the village (spoiler alert, it has a poisonous black snake inside and when her “evil” stepmother beats the golem too much it eventually breaks out and kills her). Naturally, she lived with the magic family until she became “of age” to go out into the world on her own, at which point she was turned into a bird and flew away from the crystal house in which she had been living until her wing was pierced by a prince’s arrow and she fell down to the Earth, turning once again into a beautiful maiden. And natch’ she married the guy that shot her and they lived happily ever after.
- In Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales, there is the story of The Goose Girl, which is actually PRETTY, well, grim, so prepare yourself. It starts out with a Princess being sent off on a journey to her betrothed with her handmaiden, who is a REAL piece of work. The handmaiden hates the Princess and ends up tricking her into trading places so that the handmaiden rides in on Falada, the Princess’ steed. When they arrive at the King’s kingdom, the handmaiden went off with the King and the real Princess was put to work helping the little boy that tends to the geese. To add insult to injury, the handmaiden has the head of Falada cut off and mounted on the archway into the village so that it couldn’t tell anyone about how the handmaiden had threatened the Princess and made her switch spots with her. The Princess would walk under the archway every day, and each time she would talk to the head of her dead horse, and it would talk back because apparently, it was a magic dead horse, and the goose boy would hear how it called her its Queen. The Princess could also control the wind with a simple spell that would blow the goose boys hat away every time he tried to pull out some of her shiny blonde hair, and after a day he went to the King and was like “dude, there’s something wrong with that goose girl,” and he told him exactly what had been happening. Wanting to make sure that the goose boy hadn’t just gotten into the wine, he followed them the next day, overheard the conversation with the dead horse, watched her summon the wind to blow the boy’s hat away, and then approached her when they came back to ask what was up. She said she couldn’t tell, because, you know, the handmaiden threatened to kill her, so the King tricks the Princess into confessing to an iron stove and hides by the pipe where he hears the whole thing. He then dresses her up in finery befitting a Princess and has her sit next to him at dinner, while the blindfolded handmaiden sits on his other side. After dinner, the King asks the handmaiden what she would do if she caught someone impersonating someone above their station, to which she replied “have them stripped naked and thrown into a barrel that’s studded inside with pointed nails and have it harnessed to two white horses that will drag it through the street until they are dead.” And that’s totes what they did to her before the King and the Princess got hitched.
Now that you’re totally traumatized, I’ll leave you to it.