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Folktales of the World
Folktales from around the world
The Different Folktales from around the world
Every culture has produced folklore.
A study of the folklore of West Africa, Russia, Japan, or North America can provide insights into the beliefs of these peoples, their values, their lifestyles, their histories.
At the same time, a cross-cultural study of folk literature can help children discover the universal qualities of humankind.
The first folktales that most children in the United States enjoyed were of the English kind. This is because Joesph Jacobs, the folklorist who collected many of the English tales, deliberately adapted them for young children, writing them.
His collection includes, cumulative tales such as ''The Old Woman and Her Pig'' and ''Henry Penny,'' and the much loved talking-beast stories ''The Little Red Hen,'' ''The Three Bears,'' and ''The Three Little Pigs.''
James Marshall's flippant's story telling of several of these tales seldom stray in content from the ''bones'' of the originally yet are wonderfully humorous in their visual portrayals.
His Goldilocks cries ''Patooie'' as she tastes the too-hot porridge,and his cartoon is illustrations show Baby Bear's room as a mess of football pennants, books, and toys.
Marshall has also given The Three Little Pigs verbal and visual topspin.
In the original British tale ''Henny Penny'' the fox eats the accumulation of animals rushing to tell the King that the sky is falling.
However, Steven Kellogg gives Foxy Loxy his comeuppance in Chicken Little by having a police helicopter pilot-a hippopotamus-fall onto the fox's poultry track.
The helpless fox is sentenced to jail and a diet of green bean gruel, and the foolish fowl are freed.
While purists may object, these humorous treatments of well-known beast tales keep the stories alive for slightly older elementary school audiences who are familiar with the original story from having heard it in preschool, on television, or at library story hours.
An element of realism runs through some English folktales. The story of Dick Whittington and his cat has its basis in history. There was once a real Richard Whittington who was three times mayor of London, in the years 1936, 1406 and 1419.
What an exceptional mayor he must have been-enacting prison reforms, providing the first public lavatory and drinking fountain, and building a library and a wing on the hospital for unmarried mothers. It is no wonder that the common people made him the popular hero of one of their most cherished tales.
The story ''Dick and His Cat'' was found in some of the very earliest chap-books of the day.
Marcia Brown's picture storybook Dick Whittington and His Cat portrays this realistic tale with handsome linoleum block prints appropriately printed in gold and black.
A Cornish variation on the German ''Rumpelstiltskin'' is prevented in Harve Zemach's Duffy and the Devil. Illustrator Margot Zemach depicts the devil as a ''squint-eyed creature''; he dances and sings:
Tomorrow! Tomorrow!Tomorrow's the day!
I'll take her! I'll take her!'' I'll take her away!
Let her weep, let her cry, let her beg, let her pray-
She'll never guess my name is Tarraway!
However, Duffy's out writing of the devil makes all of her husband's hand spun clothes disappear!
Both the language and the pen-and-wash illustrations retain the Cornish flavor of this folklore comedy.
In the Scottish Whuppity Stoorie by Carolyn White, an evil fairy cures a poor woman's prize pig and demands her daughter Kate in return unless she can guess her name. The noble pig earns her keep by leading Kate deep into the forest where she overhears the fairy call herself ''Whuppity Stoorie.''
Two versions of this story told in the Scottish ballad ''Tamlane'' show how storytellers and illustrators give new meanings to a story.
In Jane Yolen's Tam Lin, Jennet Mackenzie has a mind of her own. ''No man would want her, even for all her beauty and her father's name. For she always spoke what she thought and what she thought was never quite proper for a fine young lady.
''On her seventeenth birthday,'' she wishes to claim her inheritance, the ancient family home of Carterhaugh stolen by the fairies many years ago and left in ruins. In the garden she plucks a rose, the only thing of beauty left, and suddenly a young man appears. Claimed by the fairies over a hundred years ago, he is Tam Lin, and if she cannot save him by Hallow's Eve, he will die.
The way she must save him is to pull him from his horse when the fairy procession passes and hold him no matter what shape he assumes. Vivid and bold illustrations by Charles Mikoolaycak depict Tam Lin's transformation from a serpent still partially clad in tartan to a lion. Jennet perseveres, outwits the fairies and wins herself a husband and a home.
In Susan Cooper's retelling, Margaret meets Tam Lin in the forest in June and must save him by Midsummer's Eve.Warwick Hutton's ethereal watercolors give this version a more dreamlike appearance, and his depiction of Tam Lin's transformation is dramatically rendered over three pages.
In The Selkie Girl, Cooper and Hutton present another legend of Scottish or Irish origin, concerning a man who he takes as his wife a Selkie, who is a gray seal in the water but a woman on land. He hides her sealskin and for many years the woman lives as his wife and mother to their five children.
When the youngest child finds his mother's sealskin, she confesses that she also has a family of five children in the sea, bids farewell to her land bound family, and disappears into the sea.
Mordical Gerstein's The Seal Mother softens the ending by having the son accompany his mother under water. Each Midsummer's Eve thereafter, the human and the Selkie branches of the family to cavort on the rocks. Children familiar with Ta Lin or selkie stories can recognize the shape-changing or transformation motif, which is found in ancient mythology as well as modern fantasy.
British folklore includes giants and was folklore but has developed relatively few of the complicated wonder tales that abound in French and Russian folklore. It is often more robust and humorous than some other European tale traditions. Its greatest contribution has been to the younger children in providing such nursery classics like the ''The Three Little Pigs'' ''Henny Penny'' ''The Little Red Hen,'' and ''Johnny-cake.''
Next in popularity to the English folktales are those of German origin.
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm spent more than twelve years collecting the tales they published in eighteen hundred and twelve, as the first volume of Kinder and Hausmarchen(Household stories).
They did not adapt their stories for children, as Joseph Jacobs did for British folktales, but were very careful to preserve without the benefits of a tape recorder, the form and content of the tales as they were told. In eighteen hundred and twenty three, to eighteen hundred and twenty six, these were then translated into English by Edgar Taylor.
Beautiful collections and single tales of the Grimms' stories continue to be published. German folklore is enlivened by elves, dwarfs and devils, rather than the fairies of other cultures. The Grimm brothers' The Elves and The Shoemaker tells of a kindly but poor shoemaker who is aided in his work by elves until he and his wife return the favor by making the elves clothes.
Then, off went the elves scamper and never to be seen again.
The Seven Ravens, seven boys are changed into ravens by their father's curse when they break a jug of water that was to used to christen their new baby sister.
When the sister is old enough to realize what has happened, she sets off for the glass mountain to find them. Coming at last to a locked door, she must cut off her finger in order to pass through: there she is able to release her brothers.
Wicked enchantments and transformations are typical of German folktales.
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© 2013 Devika Primić