Posts Tagged ‘folk tales’

About 100 years ago, a little town called Spoonville stood on the shore of Lake Michigan. Business came and went with the seasons, and times were often hard. Then a clever businessman thought of a plan to draw more tourists.

Moe Kopple was his name, and he ran a nice restaurant and bar right near the shore. When business got too slow, he would get one of his buddies to row out on the lake and then come back with outrageous stories of a water dragon! These stories would run in the local newspaper, and then in the larger papers, and soon a horde of tourists would show up to try and catch a glimpse.

Every year or three, there would be another sighting. Moe always asked a different friend to row out there, so it wouldn’t look too suspicious. Besides, the business was good for everyone, so it became the town’s secret.

One year, Moe asked his friend Sam McGeever to go lake-monster hunting, and he readily agreed. But Sam came back greatly excited. No more mysterious waves or vague shapes — Sam was full of details about the horrible lake monster. Moe scoffed at first, but Sam was totally convinced of what he’d seen. Eventually Moe went out with him to see for himself.

The two men set off in Sam’s boat, Moe teasing that this must be a hoax because everyone knew lake monsters weren’t real. Sam set off straight for a particular spot, and soon Moe saw a commotion ahead of them. To his shock, a terrifying creature erupted from the water. It was huge, with green scales, blazing red eyes, and billows of smoke from a fanged maw. The monster swam toward them. Yelling with fear, both men seized the oars and rowed back to Spoonville as fast as they could.

Now Moe was worried. He told Sam not to talk about the monster any more, for fear of the consequences. If a tourist got eaten, they might never come back again! Sam brooded angrily. He enjoyed the attention from telling his amazing stories, and wanted to show  that he wasn’t a liar. A few days later, he told a friend he was going back out to find some sort of proof. Moe rushed to the dock, trying to dissuade his friend, but it was too late. Sam had already rowed away.

Neither he nor his boat were ever seen again.


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In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, here is an Irish dragon tale.

Long ago, a great serpent lived in the sea off Ireland. They called him Master Stoorworm. Of course, such a mighty beast had a mighty appetite. He ate so much fish that the poor fishermen could hardly catch a one, but was that enough? Oh, no! Every morning, he rose up near a town and he yawned seven times. His yawn was so mighty that his tongue lashed out and seized seven things from the town. People, cattle, you name it.

The people cried out to their king for relief against Master Stoorworm. Some of them wanted to put out sacrifices, hoping to appease the monster, but the king would not hear of it. Instead, he proclaimed that anyone who could slay Master Stoorworm would be given his daughter’s hand in marriage and a prized sword as well. No fewer than thirty-six warriors took up this challenge, but alas! When they actually saw the beast, they all fled in terror.

In this town there was a young man named Jamie. He was so small that everyone laughed when he said he would take up the challenge. Undaunted, young Jamie gathered an iron pot with some coals, and some peat. He stole a boat and paddled out to the place where Master Stoorworm usually surfaced.

As soon as the creature appeared, his mighty yawn sucked poor Jamie down his gullet. Instead of trying to escape, Jamie paddled deeper until he reached the beast’s belly. Soon he saw the monster’s liver pulsing above him. The brave lad used the coals to light a peat fire. With this he set the liver on fire. Master Stoorworm writhed in agony! He lashed the sea into foam, but Jamie kept the fire burning hot.

As the sea dragon struggled, pieces of his body flew off. First some teeth fell and created the Orkney Islands. Then more teeth created the Shetland Islands. Finally he lost the rest of his teeth and created the Faroe Islands. Once the dragon’s teeth were gone, Jamie let go of the liver and paddled back out the way he came.

But Master Stoorworm had reached his end. Dying, he curled up in a ball, and his body became Iceland. Even to this day, the fire Jamie lit still burns deep under the ground in Iceland.

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A travel writer comes to a secluded island, searching for his next great story. Blessed Island is at the center of many rumors. There might be a lost Viking burial site, or perhaps a secret fountain of youth. The native orchid, Little Blessed Dragon, is either poisonous or rejuvenating depending on how it’s brewed. Eric Seven has an open mind about all of this, though perhaps he’s become jaded after visiting so many paradises-on-Earth in his career. What he actually finds is the last thing he expected: love at first sight.

Even while entranced by the lovely Merle, Eric knows there is something amiss. This paradise does seem lost, at least to technology. Electronic devices mysteriously lose charge, and there is no electricity to restore them. The residents, led by Tor, are nothing but helpful, and yet they pop up to intervene whenever he tries to research his article. Soon he begins to forget why he came, or that there was ever a life before Blessed Island.

On the brief adventure when he escapes surveillance, Eric stumbles into enigmatic terrain of eyes painted on rocks and the weirdly beautiful orchids. There’s a huge old house, or maybe a church, crumbling away on a headland. Inside it, a massive painting depicts the chaotic ritual sacrifice of a Neolithic king. And then things get bad…

This award-winning fantasy spins a complicated tale of love and destiny. In some parts horror, in some parts angsty YA fantasy, it moves from ancient to modern times, spiraling in a way that draws the story together slowly. The text itself is complicated. There’s no single plot arc, but a series of 7 short stories, each with multiple chapters, which weave together to reveal the mysterious connection between Eric and Merle.

Although the book has been described as horror,  I didn’t find it especially horrifying. The atmosphere is creepy rather than gory, which is appropriate for the YA audience. I did find myself questioning if this is the right audience, though. It takes a patient reader to follow the threads of this story.

The writing is really excellent. Midwinterblood won the 2014 Printz Award. It is a good read if you’re up for a challenge.


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It’s the day before Thanksgiving, and I’m deep in the ritual of Madly Cleaning House For Guests. Not to be confused with the ritual of Madly Cleaning Up After Guests, which happens on Friday. But part of me lingers in the warm and wonderful land of India.

The Indian Naga, Part 2

Much of the naga lore that comes down to us is from the Mahabharata, an epic story cycle of Vedic and Hindu culture. In particular, the Mahabharata contains origin story for the naga race.

The great sage Kasyapa had thirteen wives, who were all daughters of Daksha, a prajapati or creation god. Two of these wives were named Kadru and Vinata. Kadru wished to have many children, while Vinata wanted only a few but powerful children. Kasyapa gave each one her wish. Kadru laid 1,000 eggs, which hatched into serpents, the ancestors of the nagas. Vinata laid two eggs, which hatched the deities Garuda and Aruna. Garuda had the wings and beak of an eagle.

Although they were kinfolk, Garuda and the nagas were destined to become mortal foes. Kadru and Vinata made a bet, and they agreed that whoever lost would become a slave to the winner. Kadru enlisted her many children to help her win, but they wouldn’t do it. Furious, Kadru cursed them. Nevertheless, Kadru won the bet. Vinata, Garuda and Aruna became slaves of Kadru and the nagas.

Garuda was obedient, but his anger grew into an eternal grudge. When he asked Kadru’s children what he must do to release his mother and brother from servitude, they said he had to bring them amrita, the elixir of immortality. Garuda set off, although the odds were long. The gods guarded their previous elixir with warrior deities, a ring of fire, a machine with whirling blades, and two gigantic poisonous serpents. Somehow Garuda made it through and seized the amrita in his beak but did not swallow it.

On his way back to his mother, Garuda encountered the gods Vishnu and Indra. Vishnu promised to make Garuda immortal if he would serve as Vishnu’s flying steed, while Indra said if Garuda tricked the serpents and gave back the amrita, he would have snakes for his food ever after. Garuda agreed to both proposals.

When Garuda got back, he laid the amrita on open grass. Vinata and her sons were freed! But he told the nagas the elixir would only work if they purified themselves at a temple before they drank. While the nagas were in the temple, Indra swooped down and snatched the amrita away. Only a few drops were left.

The nagas must have been furious, but Garuda had plausible deniability, and so he remained free. The nagas tried to lick up what was left. They gained magical powers and long life, though not true immortality. Also, this split their tongues, so that all snakes now have forked tongues. From that time on, Garuda attacked and devoured any snakes he could find. Perhaps this is why the nagas eventually retreated to underground domains.

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In my previous post, I began a traditional Burmese folk tale that related the love and marriage of the Sun God with a Naga princess, Zathi. After the Sun God was called back to the Heavens, Zathi sent a snow-white crow to tell him their children were about to emerge from their eggs.

The crow, who had a vain nature, held his head high and preened his feathers to their finest. “Just think, I have been chosen to carry a message to the Heavens!” Up he flew, boasting to everyone he met about his important job.

When he reached the Sun God’s palace, the deity beamed with joy at his news. “Alas,” he said, “I cannot come down just now. It gets too hot when I am on Earth, and that is dangerous for all living things. I know my dear wife will understand.”

However, he searched among his treasures for token to show Zathi his love. He chose a huge, blood-red ruby and wrapped it in silken cloth. “Give this precious stone to my beloved Naga princess. Ask her to buy a kingdom with it. Our children will grow up to rule over that kingdom, and I will always be able to smile upon my family.”

“I will guard it with my life!” cawed the crow. “You have chosen your messenger wisely. No other could be a more trustworthy servant.”

Down he flew, with the parcel in his beak. But as he flew over the Burmese countryside, he spotted a merchant’s caravan bumping along the mountain roads. The cart was loaded with sacks of rice, and bits dribbled out as it jolted over the ruts. Noisy birds swooped in, chattering as they grabbed bits of grain. Despite his best intentions, the crow’s nature took hold of him.

“I am tired and hungry,” he said to himself. “I deserve a reward for my hard work.” So the crow landed in some bushes and hid his precious bundle there before darting off. Soon he was thick among the birds, cawing and snatching up the rice.

While the crow was gone, one of the merchants passed those bushes. He spied a gleam of silken fabric and went to see what it was. Under the bushes, he gasped to see the magnificent ruby folded into the cloth.

“What luck!” the merchant cried. Looking around to see that no one was watching, he tucked the gem into his belt. Then he took a piece of dried dung from the ground, wrapped it in the cloth, and returned it to its hiding place. The merchant strolled off as if nothing had happened.

Uh-oh! Check back on Tuesday for the final chapter.

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Mt. Pilatus rises among the Swiss Alps, not far from the city of Lucerne. From ancient times, local people have believed this peak was an abode of dragons. Climbing it was forbidden, both for the dangerous climb and the fear of provoking an attack on the city below.

But one fall day, it is told, a young cooper* set out to collect wood for his trade. It was so beautiful on the slopes of Mr. Pilatus that he lost track of where he was. At dusk, he discovered to his dismay that he had climbed all the way to the summit! He turned to hurry down, but his heavy load made him stumble. Down, down, down he fell, thinking each moment would be his last, until suddenly he plunged into darkness.

When he regained his senses, the cooper had a huge lump on his head but otherwise he was unhurt. Alas, that was the extent of his good news. He had fallen into a deep cavern. Only a small patch of sky showed high above him. He was trapped!

Worse, he heard strange noises behind him. The cooper was horrified to find two great, scaly dragons sharing his prison. With fiery eyes and snorting sparks, they approached. Once again the cooper thought he must be doomed, but the dragons merely sniffed him over and turned away. Farther back, the cooper spied a vein of moonmilk** oozing from the cracks. The dragons lapped at it hungrily. Once they had eaten their fill, the cooper tried it himself. The moonmilk was soft, like cream cheese, and he ate to his heart’s content.

Days turned into weeks, and winter snows covered the cavern entrance. The cooper snuggled up with his tolerant dragon friends and passed a warm, comfortable winter. Eventually, spring sun melted the snows and bird songs echoed down into the dragons’ lair. The great beasts stirred and stretched their wings. One of them took off, soaring easily through the exit far above.

Then the cooper was afraid, for he still could not escape. But the second dragon nudged him and offered its tail. The cooper held on for dear life as the dragon carried him out of his prison. He whooped and laughed as they soared through the sky, until at last the dragon glided into a meadow of flowers. The cooper dropped off and the dragon flew on its way.

After he spent some time rolling in the grass and smelling the flowers, the cooper returned to the city of Lucerne. His family and friends were overjoyed, since he had been thought dead. Over and over, the cooper told the tale of his miraculous rescue by the dragons on Mt. Pilatus. Now the people knew the dragons were kindly rather than fierce. Seeing one became a mark of good luck. However, they still stayed off the mountain out of respect for their good deeds.

*A cooper is a barrel-maker.

**Moonmilk is a real thing found in caves. Since it’s mostly calcium, it probably wouldn’t be a nutritious food, but this is a folk story.

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This anthology caught my eye with its juxtaposition of modern (Steampunk) with ancient (folk tales). Traditional stories have a way of drawing new authors and artists to re-create and re-examine, so it’s no surprise an editor would give them a Steampunk twist. The combination could have been almost too cute, but these stories worked for me.

Of particular interest is David Lee Summers’ “The Steam-Powered Dragon,” which adapts one of the less known Grim Brothers stories, “The Devil and His Grandmother.” Summers brings the deserting soldiers to life with gently pointed humor, and succeeds in convincing us that even a steam-powered monstrosity can still love its Grandma.

I also enjoyed “From the Horse’s Mouth,” by Bernie Mojzes, which is based on “The Goose Girl,” and “The Clockwork Nightingale” by Jean-Marie Ward, inspired by Andersen’s “The Nightingale.”

If you like a good fairy tale and a swashbuckling Steampunk good time, you’ll enjoy Gaslight & Grimm.

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