Monday, March 28, 2016

The Multicolored Lady's Minions of Might & Magic

The April A to Z Challenge starts next week! It is not too late to sign up yet. We have already announced our themes, and everyone is hyped and ready to roll.

Once again, I am co-hosting this year. Co-hosts would not get anything done without their minion teams, so today I'll introduce you to the wonderful, enthusiastic people who make all the blogging magic possible!

They are, in more ways than one, my very own

Minions of Might & Magic!

Erica is a lover and practitioner of Music, Meditation, and Storytelling. You might remember her from her amazing theme of Hindu mythology last year! I hear she will have something equally fascinating for this year's challenge. You can find her blog here.

Freya writes about herself thus: "Incurable Drama Queen, Mind-Vagabond, OCDed Control Freak, Innate Traveler, Proud-Softie Dog Mama, Insatiable and Irregular Blogger. I'm Freya and I live in Bangalore, India. I love to read, that's my thing. I'm a housewife and have 5 dogs who fill up my life along with the husband. Mostly that's what my blog is about too."
You can find her blog here, and you can also connect with her on Twitter or Instagram

Lancelot is 25 years old, and describes himself as "a foodie who loves to eat (not so much love in the cooking department), part-time wanderer, blogger since 2014, an A to Z survivor and basically trying to live 100% a life without regrets since 2015!" You can find his blog here, and follow him on Twitter here.

Last, but not least, the team would not be complete without our Everyday Fangirl, Patty. She is from Michigan, and lives disguised as a mild mannered data analyst for an advertising firm. You can find her blog on all things fandom here, follow her on Twitter here, or check out fandom blogs The Cantina Cast and The Bearded Trio where she also regularly posts. 

The Minions of Might & Magic will be visiting participating blogs over the course of the Challenge, helping us make sure everything is in order and everyone is having a great time.

See you all in April!

*disappears in another shower of confetti*

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Folklore Thursday: Maldives, Mangroves, and Maritime tales

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.

Once again, I am very busy with research and dissertation work, so I am recycling a post I planned for A to Z. Here is yet another amazing story collection from a little known part of the world!

Folk tales of the Maldives
Xavier Romero-Frias
Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2012.

Number of stories included: 80

Illustrations: Black and white pencil drawings by the author

Culture(s) represented: Maldivian

3 reasons to read it:
If you only know the Maldives as a tourist destination (or can't even find them on the map).
If you are interested in tropical wildlife.
If you enjoy seafaring stories.

Best stories
The skin disease
A lot of the stories in the book deal with illness, and the shunning of people with incurable conditions (such as leprosy). In this one, a sailor in love with a girl does not give up on her when she is left alone - instead, he hires a sorcerer to help him save her from the spirit of sickness.

The first tunas
An epic sailing adventure that takes a shipful of people to the edge of the world - and back. Featuring a giant Hermit Crab Queen.

Kullavah Falu Rani (Queen of the Mangrove Forest)
A surprisingly realistic take on the "wild bride" story type - a girl who grew up in the deep mangrove jungle is spirited away by an amorous young king... but things don't go exactly as planned when she turns out to be wild and crude. I liked this story for its very unique setting.

Described as a "Maldivian Odyssey" this story tells us about a sailor who gets shipwrecked on an island full of cannibals - and his luck only gets worse from there. Featuring another giant hermit crab, cannibals, and a series of vicious animals.

The - allegedly true - story of a group of Maldivian shipwrecked far south of their home, and the ingenious way they managed to send a message 500 miles across the ocean for their loved ones to find them.

Read more like it
So far this is is the only collection of Maldivian folktales I have managed to locate. Definitely the best one.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Great and Powerful A to Z Challenge Theme Reveal!

Some of you might remember that I actually announced my A to Z theme way back in October. It was all neat and tidy and it was going to feature folktale collections. I was super prepared and on top of my pile of books.

I changed my mind.

The books I read and wrote about will be re-scheduled for other times. However, I decided to address a topic that currently intrigues me more - it is something I use for my teaching work in Culture Studies, as well as a workshop I am going to present at the end of April at the Northlands Storytelling Conference. With these things in mind, here is my actual theme (for real this time!):

Tales of Many Shapes and Colors:
Representation and Diversity in Storytelling

Representation and diversity are much discussed topics in relation to movies, comic books, literature, and the media. People have been speaking up about having more stories that feature characters that have not been featured before - or if they have, only sporadically, in minor roles, or as stereotypes. Projects like We Need Diverse Books and Miss Representation have proliferated all over the Internet, and rightly so.

As I see it, there is no reason why there shouldn't be a parallel discussion in oral storytelling as well.
Here are some things I believe:

Knights of color
in shining armor?
People want stories.
People want diverse stories.
You can't be what you can't see. (Or, in our case, hear about)
People want to see themselves in the stories they hear.
People want to see their experiences and problems represented in the stories they hear.
Storytellers have a responsibility towards their audiences.

Here is the thing: First and foremost, I work with traditional stories. Myths, epics, folktales, fairy tales, legends, that kinda stuff. And people have been pointing out that there are many things that you don't see represented in these stories - simply because they were written down in times when these issues and identities were not talked about (or have been erased since).
This does NOT mean that:
- stories like that should not exist
- stories like that have never existed (you just have to dig for them)

I want this A to Z to be a resource for storytellers and people interested in stories. Each day, I will pick a topic that has been questioned in relation to traditional stories, such as:

How about female knights?
Why are stepmothers always evil? Are there any kind ones out there?
Can you name any folktales that feature female friendships?
Why are there so few traditional tales with LGBT+ representation?
Are there any stories where a male and a female hero fights side by side?
What about legends where heroes of different religions coexist?

And I will take a closer look at traditional stories to see what I can come up with. Of course, there will be topics that are truly hard to fill with any folktale or myth (this is why we need New Trad, as my colleague and guest blogger Danielle Bellone so eloquently explained). But it can often be surprising what you can find when you scratch below the surface.

Happy A to Z!

(My other theme, on the MopDog, will be Crazy Hungarian Cartoons! Check it out here)

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Folklore Thursday: Siberia, the Saami, and the Sun Maiden

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, this was going to be an A to Z Challenge post, but I recently changed my theme for this year. Also, I am super busy with my dissertation, and I decided to recycle this post for Folklore Thursday.
Enjoy! :)

The Sun Maiden and the Crescent Moon
Siberian folktales
James Riordan
New York: Interlink Books, 1991.

Number of stories included: 43
Illustrations: None

Culture(s) represented: Siberian indigenous peoples (Saami, Nenets, Eskimo, Ket, Chukchi, Nanai, Nivkh, Mansi, Ulchi, Itelmen, Nganasan, Even, Yakut, Khanty, Tofalar, Evenk, Udegei, Dolgan, Selkup, Aleutian, Yukagir)

3 reasons to read it:
If the list of peoples above made you go "huh?!"
If you are interested in shamanistic traditions.
If you liked Frozen.

Best stories
Akanidi the Bright Sunbeam / How happiness came 
A really gorgeous pair of Saami stories open the book. Stunning imagery involving the Sun and his daughters; witches, miracles, shiny beads and berries, and emotions ranging from jealousy to happiness.

Daughter of the Moon, Son of the Sun
Similarly to the opening pair, the closing story of the book is also Saami and it is also beautiful. The mischievous and kind-hearted Daughter of the Moon, pursued by the greedy and demanding Son of the Sun, takes shelter in a little house where the Northern Lights live. One of my favorite Northern Lights legends.

Father of Sickness 
There is a twist in this story that I have never seen in a folktale before, and caught me completely off guard. Also, features a very wise young (!) shaman.

Greedy Mogus and the Orphans
This is essentially the folktale original of Home Alone. A pair of orphans protect their home from a man-eating giant by setting a series of ingenious traps.

Read more like it
Far North Tales is also a great collection.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

What would the Hungarian wizarding school look like?

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.

J.K. Rowling released the first part of her History of Magic in North America series yesterday, and once again threw the Internet into a frenzy - the Potter-fandom was more excited than a ball pit full of ferrets, while indigenous activists spoke out about the problematic cultural elements in the story.
(Yes, that's an actual video of a ball pit full of ferrets. Go ahead, click, I'll wait)

Ever since Harry Potter first became big, people have been miles and miles ahead of Rowling's canon, designing wizarding schools for their own respective countries/cultures. Several ripoff book series were also published set in very similar "original" magical schools. Harry Potter camps, with their own Schools and Houses, licensed and otherwise, sprung up like mushrooms in an unsanctioned Herbology project.

As a Hungarian person, I have repeatedly been assumed to be an automatic Durmstrang alumna - mostly because many foreigners can't differentiate between Hungary and Bulgaria. Other than having a generically Eastern European school in our immediate vicinity, Hungary's only claim to fame in the Potterverse so far has been this badass dragon. (Not as badass as our actual dragons, but nice try, Rowling). Rowling has been unveiling new schools in various countries of the Harry Potter universe, but still no Hungary. So I asked myself: What would a Hungarian wizarding school even look like? And if I had to build one, as a bona fide Hungarian storyteller and folklore nerd, what would I build it on?

Right off the bat: There is no way our school would be PG-13.

Looking at Hungarian lore, and following the Potter canon's house-system, the Hungarian school would more likely have 4 very distinct divisions. No sorting, though. And here is why:

They are wizards who learn their trade. 13 of them form one class, and their education consists of 13 "schools" or stages - at the end of which they have to sit on a Wheel of Fortune, and the first one to fall of inevitably dies. The remaining twelve are granted some serious powers, including the summoning and riding of dragons. In Rowlingspeak, their specialties would be:
Care of Magical Creatures (or, How to Train Your Dragon)
Apparition (they can use their books to teleport, see the story included in my book)
Defense Against the Dark Arts (they often break witches' curses)
Flying (dragons and/or books, rather than brooms)
*NOTE: garabonciás are, technically, not magically inclined until they finish their studies. This means that Hungarian Hogwarts would take Muggles too...*

They are wizards/shamans who are born with their abilities. Táltos beliefs are held to be the remnants of Hungary's pre-Christian shamanic faith, but they survived well into the 20th century as folklore. The sign of being a táltos is usually being born with teeth or extra fingers. Specialties:
Divination (they can see the future, as well as find hidden treasures)
Transfiguration (táltos often turn into bulls and fight each other)

Hungary's folklore is chuck full of witchcraft - it is by far the most popular type of lore we have (what that says about us as a culture is another story). Witches either inherit their powers from a dying witch, or gain them through a series of ritualistic trials (standing at the crossroads at night in a magic circle and resisting all kinds of threatening visions, swallowing a wasp, etc.). Witches can be men or women.


Transfiguration (witches can take on the shape of frogs, ravens, dogs, geese, or cats)
Charms (or curses - witches are both known to heal and curse)

Known as "seers" or "knowers," they are men and women with innate abilities to see things others can't. They can communicate with the spirits of the dead, see into the future, and see things at large geographical distances. Their main activities revolve around healing and divination. Their abilities are mostly innate, although in some cases they can be handed down from a dying seer. Specialties:
Residential ghost wrangling?...
In the Potterverse, they would probably be magically inclined students who are picked out and trained by mentors until they can inherit someone's powers. They would also be the house ghosts' best friends.

The most common Patronus and Animagus forms in Hungary (based on folktales and legends) would probably be birds of prey (falcons, hawks), deer and stags, horses, and foxes. Magical creatures most likely encountered would be fairies, dragons, pet blood-sucking chickens, and the occasional giant or dwarf.

As for the school itself: There are a couple of fitting locations that could serve as a wizarding school. One would be any of the several castle ruins we have around the country - most of them just stand in the woods with no guides or museums attached. If we wanted to play off of folktales, the castle would be mounted and spinning on a duck's leg (kacsalábon forgó vár), which is one of the staple motifs of our fairy tales. It might even have different floors or levels: Copper, Silver, Gold, and Diamond, which is also familiar (celestial) imagery to all people raised on Hungarian stories.

Alternately, the school could also be located in the marshes and waterlands of the Danube known as Szigetköz, which has a long history of being considered a magical region where the Fairy Queen had her palace. The fairies, lore claims, have left the Earth, so an abandoned fairy castle could easily double as a magic school.

So. Who wants to get an invitation to study at a Hungarian wizarding school (possibly delivered by an owl with a copper ****)?
(As I said. Not PG13.)

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Folklore Thursday: What's missing from fairy tales?

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 have a question, instead of a story.
(I totally did not slack off on posting, nope)

I once had a guy come up to me after a storytelling gig and ask why the "rich guy" in folktales is always evil. Kind-hearted royalty, sure - but generous rich man? It made me do a double take.

I have heard stepmothers and adoptive mothers complain time and time again about how badly stepmothers fare in fairy tales. Is there such a thing as a kind stepmother in tradition?...

Recently my good friend (and fabulous storyteller colleague) Danielle Bellone did a guest post on this blog, talking about creating "new trad" fairy tales in the face of the lack of LGBT+ representation in traditional stories.

Last month's discussion over at the Fairy Tale Lobby revolved around whether there are any female-to-female friendships (not sisterhoods) in folk stories. We found precious few.

All of these (and more) experiences made me muse a lot recently about tradition - since I primarily work with traditional stories as a storyteller - and representation.

Here is the thing:

1. Yes, fairy tales are symbolic, and folktales are often simplified and streamlined, smoothed by centuries of telling.

2. Many tellers will claim that you are supposed to absorb these stories on an instinctive, spiritual level, and not take them literally - e.g. every princess is "beautiful" because it represents their inner beauty.

3. The fact that audiences do complain, however, does mean that something is up. You can't simply blame your listeners for not "absorbing" properly.

4. A lot of "missing" things are actually there - but few and far between, or only in certain cultural traditions (or in other genres, such as epics or legends). They exist, but they are not well known.

5. "Tradition" is an ongoing thing.

Okay okay, I'm getting to the question:

What is it that YOU would like to see (more of) in traditional storytelling? 
Is there something you think is missing? Or something that we would need more of? 
Something that you thought was weird when you listened to stories as a child?
Something that is not accurately represented?
Something that could do with more diversity?

I'm curious to hear from you!