Tips and Programs
Hippocrene Books Folktale Series: A Panel
Folk Tales From Chile
Legends and Folk Tales of Holland also offered some familiar
plots in new guises"The Shoemakers Dream" instead
of the Peddlar of Swatham, "The Haunted House" another who-dares-to-spend-the-night-here
tale, "The Poffertjes Pan" one of those last word stories.
Others tell the origin of places, tales that are more historical in
nature. They all have a nice tone and some are quite usuable. I especially
liked "The Emperors Questions" and "The Two Wishes."
There is no introduction, sources or pronunciation guide which would
help with the unfamiliar Dutch names and words. But once again we
have a source for stories from an under-represented country.
I found Ukranian Folk Tales to be the most attractive of these
three largely due to the handsome woodcuts throughout. According to
the translators brief note most of these tales are taken from
a vast collection made in 1869 and 1870 by a Ukranian ethnographier
in Kiev. This book may be an excellent example of the sin folklorists
often warn against, pulling a tale out of its cultural context.
I must confess I found most of the stories in this volume very unapproachable.
Many seemed very odd with abrupt or confusing endings, odd plot twists
and unexplained references. Perhaps some information on Ukranian culture
would have helped the stories make more sense. I found it an interesting
glimpse into a different cultural psyche, but not a very useful one.
So, what to say in general. Well, I applaud Hippocrene for publishing
this series of titles. So much of what we get from August House, the
two hundred pound gorilla of storytelling publishing, is indistinguishable.
At least these volumes offer some fresh voices and some new choices
for versions of familiar tales. I found Folk Tales from Chile
and Legends and Folk Tales of Holland to be generally similar
in tone and scope. Since they are aimed at children the language was
not always as vivid as it might have been. All three were aesthetically
pleasing. For me Legends and Folk Tales of Holland offered
more stories I felt I could or would want to tell. I guess this is
ultimately the criteria most tellers use in judging a collection.
Hopefully tellers will do their homework and look to this series as
additional source material.
Animals were the main characters of the Ukrainian stories. The view
of the world in these stories seemed to do with relationships between
the animals as an example of how to pragmatically get along in the
world. If animals (that realistically would kill or be killed by the
other-like a fox and a rooster) could co-operate, they were able to
get by, to survive, and to outwit their enemies. The world was a place
to survive. Life is about survival, and therefore about getting along.
The stories from Chile were the most interesting to me because the
culture is very different from my western scientific culture. Magic,
the occult, God, religion, etc. were all part of the woven tapestry
of life and the world. To live in the world required successfully
learning to get along in such a world. The Dutch and Ukrainian stories
had magic and magical characters in them, also. But in the Chilean
stories, the view of magic and magical characters was that they were
a normal part of reality. Being pragmatic and learning to get a long
in the world were important virtues to learn.
Standing out in the collection are several dark tales of repayment
of an evil deed. In these ("The Mermans Revenge" and
"The Rich Widow of Stavoren"), prosperous towns are brought
to ruin by greed and envy. Again, perhaps some notes would reveal
a bit more - the cities actually exist and went from good to bad at
some pointitd be nice to have the scholarship on it closer
to hand. This collection contains lots of good stories and some serviceable
variants of well-known tales, like "The Shoe makers Dream"
and "The Haunted House.""
Ukrainian Folk Tales by Marie Halun Bloch
Note: As a public librarian, I checked to see how accessible the
original collections were. There were several copies (but under five,
I think) within a country-wide system. I suspect that many more readers
will be introduced to these stories in these reissued volumes. Theyre
all broad and rich collections, waiting for the right reader, biding
their time, ready to spark...
Legends and Folk Tales of Holland proved a bit better. Here,
at least, the plots, characters, and themes were more familiar. The
stories tend to be straightforward, solid, respectable. There is not
a lot of fantasy and fancy. The dragon of Utrecht, for example, does
not dwell in some mountain cave or forest wilderness; it simply appears
one day in the basement of a tavern. (And the big problem with the
dragon is that it prevents anyone from going into the basement to
fetch beer for the customers upstairs.) When magic does come into
play, it works in a mechanical, simplistic fashion. (In at least three
of the stories, someone says, "if I am lying, let X happen."
And since they are lying, X immediately happens.) Perhaps because
of this, I found the strongest stories to be those that avoided the
fantastic and simply told of historical events, such as "The
Ordeal of Leyden," which gives a wrenching reconstruction of
the siege of Leyden. That story suggests another trait of the book.
Hollands history as a more or less middle-class republic of
a nation definitely shapes these stories. There are very few nobles,
knights, or kings in these pages, and when they do show up, they are
inevitably the villains. Finally, the stories tend to be moralistic.
Good behavior is always rewarded, bad behavior always immediately
punished. The outcome is never in doubt, so much so that by the end
of the book I found myself rooting for one of the villains to triumph
just for a change of pace.
Folk Tales From Chile proved to be my favorite of the three.
The short preface quickly recapped Chiles history as part of
the Inca Empire conquered by the Spanish, pointing out that Chilean
folk tales come out of a blending of these two cultures. Throughout
the book, I could see the two traditions interweaving in fascinating
combinations. Several of the tales are set in early times, back in
the beginning or close to it, and involve characters who were perhaps
once Incan gods, dwindled down to folktale. Other tales followed familiar,
European plotlines, but with different emphasis and mood. Indeed,
the mood is probably what most distinguishes these tales, for they
unfold in a gentle, almost mystical fashion. There is sadness and
regret where we might expect tragedy and blood. Simple victory instead
of epic heroism, winning of a comfortable amount of riches, not vast
fortunes. Many of the conflicts end, not with victory by hero or villain,
but in reconciliation of the two. We also encounter several unusual
magical beings such as the chonchon, a sort of witch, whose head can
leave her body and go flying off (using her ears as wings) for adventures
in the night. With these stories I felt like I was truly getting a
glimpse of a different culture, a different way of looking at the
world, but, unlike with the Ukrainian tales, a glimpse that I could
understand and savor.
Reading the three books one right after another proved a delightful
experience as well, for it emphasized the differences between the
tales, not so much the different stories, for many of the actual stories
were similar from one book to another (although each book contains
unique stories as well,) but in the feel of the tales, the mood they
invoked, the way the tales unfold and resolve. Fortunately, the books
are all of a size that makes it easy to read them as a set and compare
As with all these Hippocrene Press reissues, all three are filled
with illustrations. Although all of the drawings were nice, and evocative
of the mood and tales, none really jumped out at me the way those
in other books in the series have.
And, of course, as storytellers always do, I could not help keeping
my eye out for stories I wanted to take and tell myself. The final
tally? None from the Ukrainian tales, one, maybe two from Holland,
and at least three from Chile.
I think this round of reviews has shown each of us reacting in much
the same way to these three collections. Our culture and experience
reflects how we were engaged by these stories. We each seemed to find
the stories from Holland the most approachable (not surprising since
we share a Western European heritage), the Chilean stories the most
intriguing and the Ukrainian the most alien. But whether or not one
finds that perfect story in a collection should not be the its soul
criteria for value. Who can say what subtle effect a story has on
us. As Clare says having these collections out there "biding
their time, ready to spark..." that is there true value for us
I am not able to connect well with Marie Wingers review because
of her level of knowledge and detail about specific stories. I am
not sure of her references to specific stories. But if I were more
conversant with the stories, Im sure Id appreciate her
review much more. I enjoy puzzling out for myself the cultural values
and views of the country. My sense of folk tales is that they serve
as windows into a culture, and a passing down of cultural values.
We can pick up a great deal about the values of a people by the story
itself. However, we cant pick up as much information about the
history of the country, which also informs the stories. So, Im
sure more background information would be helpful. I want to get right
to the stories; so Im more interested in the information after
Ive read the stories. (The stories whet my appetite for background
information--sort of like what the American Girl stories do, with
an historical section following the story).
Virginia L. H. Weeber:
I like the Ukrainian folk tales probably because I couldnt
"figure them out" very easily. I probably miss a lot of
what was going on in the stories because of not knowing much about
Ukrainian history or culture. I am fascinated by the use of animals
and how differently they act in the stories in comparison to fairy/folk
tales Ive read. Again, I think it is helpful to consider what
the stories reveal to us of the values of the culture. It would be
nice to have an expert handy to answer our questions about Ukrainian
history and culture. After reading some of the stories, I did find
myself thinking, "Huh?" Part of the interest in reading
them is in analyzing them for this review. I might feel differently
about them if I read them purely for pleasure.
Once again, much of the pleasure in reading these stories is in reading
them one after another. I recommend reading all of them, back to back.
And thank you to the other reviewers for your insight into the stories.
So, lets start with Folk Tales From Chile. Clair and I were both struck by the blending of traditions, the blending of native and Spanish. But while Clair found this annoying, I found this the most intriguing aspect of the stories. Clair makes the analogy to the loss of the tales of Borneo (and other such cultures) happening now, but I dont think that is exactly fair. The wholesale extinction of cultures that we see happening today, when indigenous cultures suddnely come into contact with modern industrial/media culture represents the extreme of what happens when cultures come into contact, not the norm. Culture is never fixed and permanent. Any culture is always shifting and changing, the old ways always giving way or adapting to the new. Nor are cultures usually "pure," untainted by elements from anywhere or anyone else. People have always borrowed, stolen, adapted ideas, concepts, even stories from other cultures. These stories give us a glimpse of this process, of the Spanish and native cultures blending, each shifting and changing, leading to something new. It is the same process that created most of modern Latin American culture; Latin American music, for example, is a blending of European, native American, and African musical traditions. In particular, what we see in these tales is often familiar European plotlines infused with, even softened by a different sensibility, one accepting of magic and of the otherness of the world. Much of the harshness of the western stories is replaced by a gentleness. I think this is what Ginger is reacting to in the stories. I agree with her that these stories take us into a very different world than we are used to seeing.
In Legends and Folk Tales of Holland, Ginger saw a world based on order and virtue. I agree with her, but found that world too moralistic in a simplistic way. There was no room for ambiguity, for the grey areas of acts and motives. Everything was either completely good or completely bad, and reward or punishment followed automatically and immediately. I had a hard time entering into, or believing in, such a mechanical morality.
I found Gingers comments on the Ukrainian tales quite helpful, however. After reading her take on the stories, they made a lot more sense to me. We find such basic, pragmatic values running through many Eastern European cultures. The book would be much improved, however, by providing the reader with information on the culture, the values, the history of the Ukraine as Marie suggests. Such an introduction would provide the context to allow us to see the values that are driving the stories. (But even with Gingers clarification on what is going on in these stories, I still did not like them all that much.)
Finally, Maries comment that these collections are aimed at children caught my attention. While reading these tales, they never struck me as being particularly for children, nor did I think the books were necessarily childrens books. After reading Maries comments, however, I double checked, and, sure enough, each book is clearly labeled ages seven and up. Why? Nothing in the content struck me as being aimed more for that audience. (While most of the stories are suitable for children, many struck me as aimed at adults - as most folktales originally were.) I checked the other books recently issued by Hippocrene Press, and found a range of recommendations, some seven and up, some nine and up, some twelve and up. And while I have not yet read all of the books, of those I have read, I would be hard pressed to come up with anything in the content that distinguishes the seven and up from the twelve and up books. One distinction I do see is that the books for older readers tend to be longer, and contain some longer stories. The three books we are reviewing here are all short (I was able to read each book cover to cover in about an hour apiece,) with stories that range from two-four pages in length. Perhaps that is what earns them the seven and up designation.
published in WIP Winter 2000.
Why I Hate Lady Ragnell Alan Irvine's article and the rebuttal it engendered.