Friday, April 20, 2018

R is for Rosalia Lemonfarts, and Rosalia the Devilish (WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales)

Welcome to this year's A to Z Challenge titled WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales! You can find all other participating blogs on the A to Z Challenge main blog.

I was browsing the Hungarian Roma Storytellers' Folktale Catalog, when I came across an entry: "Rosalia Lemonfarts." Obviously, I needed to follow up on this name, so I went to the archives of the Museum of Ethnography, and dug up the neatly typed folktale manuscripts that have never been published (*shameless self-promotion* I did the same thing for my latest book).
And there it was.

Sadly, the lady wit the awesome name is not the hero of the story. The hero is a prince named Tulipán Péter (Tulip Peter). He gets his name from his miraculous conception: His father, the king, angry at not having an heir, leave his palace and orders his wife to produce a child by the time he gets home. She picks a tulip and smells it, and lo and behold, gets pregnant. BUT when the king gets home, he somehow still manages to be angry at her for having a bastard. So, after much commotion and obscenities, Peter is exiled from the kingdom.

The prince is put into a boat with his best friend (who lives in a hollowed-out watermelon, because why not), and eventually arrives to a kingdom where all offices are held by women. Except for the king. The king is in a bad mood, because every time he sits down to eat, two jackdaws show up and break his windows (King Phineus and the Harpies, anyone?). Péter helps him get rid of the birds, and in exchange he gets to marry the princess: Princess Rosalia Lemonfarts (Citromfingó Rozália). And just so that his buddy is not left a bachelor either, he gets to marry the princess' cousin, Rozsónia Lemonfarts.

That's pretty much it.

The "lemonfarts" part is never explained. My best guess is, it was a humorous way of saying that these are delicate, sophisticated noble ladies. Because, you know. They don't stink.


I promised yesterday to circle back to a girl with Death for a godfather. Her name is also Rosalia: Ördöngös Rozália. "Ördöngös" translates as "possessed" or "devilish", and is usually used for someone with abilities/powers/knowledge that are amazing and also a little scary...

We are all thinking it...
Just like the previous one, this is also a Hungarian Roma folktale. A poor man with a lot of children gets Death to be the godfather of his youngest daughter. When Rosalia is about twelve years old, she makes a bet one night to steal the boots off a hanged man. She does it (and when the corpse says "F*** you", she cheerfully says "F*** you too!"), and in addition steals a bunch of gold from twelve robbers. From this point on, most of the story is about her trying to get away from the angry robbers - usually with the help of Death, her godfather. My favorite part is when she hides in a hollow tree, and a robber stabs it with a sword to see if it comes out bloody. He does wound Rosalia in the chest, but Death appears and licks the sword clean before the robber pulls it out.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Q is for Questionable Godparents (WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales)

Welcome to this year's A to Z Challenge titled WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales! You can find all other participating blogs on the A to Z Challenge main blog.

There are several folktales an folktale types that include godparents that are... out of this world. Think Cinderella's Fairy Godmother, or Godfather Death from the Grimm collection. Sometimes they give superhuman abilities or powers to their godchildren, and sometimes they are less than beneficial. Hungarian folktales are no exception.

János Carnation-hair (Szegfűhajú János)
In this story, a magical woman from under the sea helps a poor widow deliver a baby boy, and then volunteers to be his godmother. Taking the baby to her underwater palace, she promptly chops János up, and leaves him in a bathtub for three days, before putting him back together and reviving him again. This repeats a couple of times, and each time János revives he becomes older and stronger. He eventually acquires the ability to read people's thoughts.
I included this tale in my book about superpowers in folktales.

(Last weekend I conducted a two-day retreat where storytellers got together to delve deep into this tale. There was a lot of discussion about motherhood, and whether the godmother was helping the boy, or not. Fascinating stuff.)

The Virgin Mary
In this tale, the Virgin Mary volunteers to be godmother to a poor man's daughter. She takes the girl home when she is twelve, and gives her keys to twelve rooms, but forbids her from looking into the thirteenth. Of course she does anyway, sees God himself, and her face turns golden. She refuses to tell Mary what happened - so the Virgin curses her mute, puts her in a box and abandons her in the woods. The girl is found by a prince, they get married, have children... but the children keep disappearing. Eventually the prince orders the girl to be burned at the stake for killing her own babies. Just when the pyre is lit, the Virgin Mary appears, and questions her again. This time the girl confesses that she'd seen God, and she is pardoned.

There is also a tale about a girl whose godfather was Death himself... but more about her tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

P is for the Pelican King (WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales)

Welcome to this year's A to Z Challenge titled WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales! You can find all other participating blogs on the A to Z Challenge main blog.

In the folktale titled The Pelican King, a princess insists that she will only marry a person who brings her the feathers... of the Pelican King. Our hero (who is incidentally called Peter) sets out to complete the impossible task. On his way he encounters various kings who have their own problems, and ask Peter to convey their questions to the all-knowing Pelican King, and beg for solutions.

When Peter finally arrives to the house of the Pelican King, he only finds the wife at home. The old woman promises to help, and hides Peter. When the King comes home, she lays him down to preen his feathers, and "accidentally" plucks three of them. The feathers shine with a brilliant diamond light. The old woman also manages to sneakily ask the questions Peter hand, and sends the hero on his way with the feathers and the answers.

I have two comments to add to this:

1. In folktales, having someone lie on your lap and "preening them" ("looking into their head", "checking them for lice", etc.) is symbolic for having sex. Yup. Re-think all those medieval illustrations.

2. The pelican in the middle ages was a symbolic bird, because people believed that it fed its young with its own blood. The church usually treated this as a symbol for Jesus, and people often referred to it as a symbol for motherhood. So, in this case, the Pelican King is some kind of a wise and radiant higher being, who knows all the answers to everything.

Basically, God is a pelican.

(I'm sure some of my SCA friends will be happy with this)

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

O is for the One-eyed Old Woman and the Death Horse (WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales)

Welcome to this year's A to Z Challenge titled WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales! You can find all other participating blogs on the A to Z Challenge main blog.

Remember the prince with the castle built on a single straw? The same guy who visited the Kingdom  of Mice?
Well, that story still has some elements worth mentioning.

The tale kicks off with a prince exiled from his kingdom - for losing his sisters. He asks his father, the king, to allow them to take a walk, and the moment the princesses set foot outside, the Sun, the Moon, and the Wind pick them up and spirit them away. The king takes his anger out on his son, and the prince has to make his own way in the world.
On his journey, the prince arrives to the mouth of a cave. He walks in, and keeps walking inside the cave for twelve days, until he finds a stone house, and in the stone house twelve candles. In the light of the candles he sees an old woman, who has only one eye and a lush beard.


She first tries to eat the prince, but he begs her not to. She then also convinces her twelve sons (who are bandits) not to hurt the guest. The next day, after some breakfast, she gives the prince directions: Since they recently ate the king's gardener (ahem), the prince should go and apply for the job. In order to get out of the underground kingdom faster, the one-eyed bearded lady gives the prince a Death Horse and a Wind Lamp. He rides the horse to the exit, and then sends it back home with the lamp around its neck.

We never find out what a Death Horse is, or what the Wind Lamp is for. Your guess is as good as mine. I do like the cyclops lady a lot, though.

Monday, April 16, 2018

N is for Noses (WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales)

Welcome to this year's A to Z Challenge titled WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales! You can find all other participating blogs on the A to Z Challenge main blog.

There is a thing about witches and their noses in Hungarian folktales.

Child masquerading as an iron-nosed
witch, from a cartoon
The most common way we refer to a hag or a witch is "Vasorrú Bába", which translates into "Iron-Nosed Witch." This is as common as saying "prince charming", or any other stock fairy tale character. The whole iron nose thing comes from old shamanistic traditions (wooden spirit-dolls had a metal plate on the face so they could be smeared with offerings without rotting), and also exists in Russian tales. There are other theories about where the idea might come from; in some parts of Hungary, since "bába" also means midwife, it is used to refer to midwives who performed (illegal) abortions. In fairy tales, however, the figure transformed into an evil, supernatural witch-creature with an actual, pointy iron nose. And then in modern folklore it turned into a joke (as in, "I'll headbutt you like the iron-nosed witch headbutts a magnetic table").
I wrote about this figure in detail in my new book, in relation to our strange Rapunzel variant titled The Daughter of the Iron-Nosed Witch.

The other nosy witch I wanted to mention comes from Gaal György's collection, from a story titled The Pelican King (more about him later; see yesterday's post about the collection). In this story, the hero has to cross over the sea to reach his destination. On the beach he encounters an old woman with an eight feet long iron nose. She ferries people over on her nose, swimming, but apparently is tired of doing so, and wants to know how much longer she has to do it. The hero brings her the answer on his way back: She has already drowned ninety-nine people, she will have to drown one more. And because the hero is clever, he only tells her this after she ferried him back.
Not your usual marine transportation.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

M is for Mouseworld (WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales)

Welcome to this year's A to Z Challenge titled WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales! You can find all other participating blogs on the A to Z Challenge main blog.

I have a soft spot for folktales with mouse helpers, and especially tales where animals get their own kingdoms. But by far the most creative, most colorful version of this is from a story I found recently (while looking for something else entirely).

Gaal György's folktale collection was the very first that had been published in Hungarian (sometime in the 1840s); he recorded long and elaborate fairy tales from the Hungarian hussars stationed in Vienna. Among them in a tale called The Straw King.

This is concept art for Moana, but close enough (from here)

The story itself is very similar to the Aladdin type: With the help of a spirit that lives in a magic object, a prince achieves happiness with a wife and a magic castle... until the object is stolen, along with the castle and the wife, and he has to set out to find them. On his journey he encounters his brothers-in-law: The Sun, the Moon, and the Wind. The latter gives him a flying horse to carry him across the ocean, and a golden want that opens everything it touches.

On the 75th island of the ocean (specifically), the prince finds a rock so high he can't see the top, wrapped in strings of diamonds. He touches the surface with the wand, and a passage opens. It leads to the 30th World, the Country of Mice (take that, Nine Realms). The royal castle in the middle of the kingdom is entirely built of bacon and pig feet, and the doorknob is a piece of sausage. The prince wants to go inside, but accidentally breaks the sausage off. The mice guards run panicked to the Mouse King, who eventually emerges. In exchange for five years' worth of grain, he helps he hero retrieve the magic object.

I just really like the idea that somewhere on an island, inside a diamond-studded rock, there is a Mouse World where palaces are made of bacon and sausages. Sounds like a happy place. :D

Friday, April 13, 2018

L is for the Lead Monk (WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales)

Welcome to this year's A to Z Challenge titled WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales! You can find all other participating blogs on the A to Z Challenge main blog.

The Lead Monk* (lead, as in the metal) is another one of those weird folktale characters that keep popping up in different stories. It is referred to as the Lead Monk, Lead-head Monk, or (my personal favorite) Snotty Lead Monk. (The snot is never explained).

*In Hungarian, we use the same word for "friend" and "monk." In this case, in context, "friend" would not make much sense, so I went with the other translation.

Trees encased in ice
The Lead Monk Who Covered the Forest in Lead, and the Old Hag
In this tale, collected from Ámi Lajos, the Lead Monk has the ability to cover everything in lead just by blowing/breathing on them. He covers forests and makes tree branches break off; covers corn fields and the corn cobs all fall down. Eventually he runs into a powerful old hag who (after flashing him her lady parts) tricks him into telling her where he keeps his power. She then proceeds to destroy the monk and scatter him on the field as fertilizer (storyteller even comments that this is how artificial fertilizers were invented). The rest of the story tells about the sons of the Lead Monk who set out to revive their father.
(I sense a winter/frost analogy here somehow)

The King and the Forster-Son
In this story, collected by Ipolyi Arnold, a prince and his friend set out to rescue a princess. On the way home the Lead Monk shows up, claiming that she was his fiance, and revealing things that will threaten the heroes - but also warns the foster brother than if he tells anyone, he will turn to stone (not lead, duh). One of the threats is Flame-headed Men jumping the couple on their wedding night... Of course the foster brother saves the princes and the princess, and then turns to stone, and then is rescued, as usual.

The Lead Monk
In this folktale, a hero named Kiss Miklós sets out to bring back the Sun and the Moon that had been stolen. On the way he is chased by the Mother of Dragons, whose terrible jaws stretch from heaven to earth (not as sexy as in Game of Thrones, huh). The hero flees into the house of the Lead Monk, who happens to have several gallons of boiling lead, which they pour down the dragon's throat, killing her. Right after, the Monk also demands to fight the hero. He has  superhuman strength, and turns out to also have the Sun and the Moon... which he is only willing to give back if the hero brings him the Green Princess. Once delivered, the princess finds out the secret of where the Monk keeps his strength (in a wasp inside an egg inside a rabbit), and helps the hero defeat him.

So, common elements of the Lead Monk:
1. Superhuman Strength
2. Strength/life placed outside the body
3. Ability to freeze/petrify things and people
4. A strong connection to lead.

I feel like this is a D&D villain in the making.