Saturday, November 14, 2020

Writing My Own Folktale Boot

I grew up surrounded by myths and folktales I can’t say I loved. Or, at least, I couldn’t love what said tales implied. For instance, most mythological creatures in Dominican mythos are depicted as evil or tortured souls paying for some terrible deed. Our little mermaid (María la O) was cursed by some god because she defied her mother; our best-known goblin (el Bacà) wasn’t the traditional fairy being most mythologies speak of, but a demonic creature; our witches (brujas) were ugly, old women who fed on babies.

The last one was particularly problematic for me, since I was raised by people who practiced folk medicine and witchcraft (but never ate a babe). These men and women were the best people I knew: they helped the community, the land, and each other. So, I stopped caring for stories that painted them in such a terrible light, tales that turned the mysterious and unknown into something horrible and harmful and unwanted.

I have always wanted to read a collection of Dominican folktales that tells balanced stories, where mythical beings are defined by their personal actions and not by what “everybody has always known about them”. The following elfchen was inspired by those feelings (also, at the end of this month, I will share a wee retelling of the Dominican witch).


When
their glass
slipper doesn’t fit,
write your own folktale
boot.



Tiffany Aching
(one of my favorite witches in literature), by Robin Boyden
“She couldn’t be the prince, and she’d never be a princess, and she didn’t want to be a woodcutter, so she’d be the witch and know things.” ~ Terry Pratchett

 - for Poets and Storytellers United (Writers’ Pantry #46: Playing Catch Up).

- inspired by Folktale Week 2020 (on Instagram), which starts on November 23rd. These are the daily prompts: Birth, Ritual, Courtship, Solstice, Death, Harvest, Dance.

37 comments:

  1. That elfchen so nails it! And Tiffany Aching is one of my favourite witches in literature too. (Some of the others also came from the pen of Sir Terry.)

    I wonder if those particular folk tales were first told by adherents of some religion that didn't like magic?

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    1. You have excellent taste in witches. 😁

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    2. And I am convinced that religion has a lot to answer for when it comes to demonizing certain groups and myths alike.

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    3. Likely. However, the authentic folklore from some primitive cultures is grim. Early English, e.g.: lots more harbingers of death and bad luck than anything cheerful, some tales where helping a faery who seemed to be needy/deserving led to harm for the kind human...

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    4. @Priscilla, Oh, I know. Doom and gloom and fairy tales go hand in hand. I just want tales where the dealers of doom and gloom come in all forms and species, including the human animal.

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  2. Well we are the ones that are able to do just that! Whether it be witches, fairies or others mythical beings we accepted them as an explanation of the absurdities of life before an accurate reason could be found.

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    1. Thank goodness for the power of ink (and those willing to use it).

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  3. Can't believe I still haven't read any Pratchett!!! And I can't wait to read your retelling oh wickedest of witches XXX

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    1. I can't wait until you and Nanny Ogg run into each other on a page. And the witchy story is coming your way next week!

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    2. Tip: Do not read Pratchett while eating. Or in public.

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  4. Thank you for introducing me to Dominican folk tales, Magaly, which I know nothing about and will investigate as soon as possible. I’m interested in all kinds of myths and legends, but mainly know European ones, although most stories have similar threads all over the world. I too prefer stories about the warmth and caring of healers and witches. I love the poem – it’s so true. That’s what I did with my WW2 story for children.

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    1. One of the things I love most about your Joe and Nelly book is the way belief spills so seamlessly into the lives of the characters. The first time the main character saw a ghost, I worried about him, about how others would react to his discovery. I was glad to learn that he was surrounded by good people.

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  5. You know I'm giving a fist pump and shouting "Yes!" to all of this right? :D I've been making my way through the Tiffany Aching books bit by bit to savor them. I Shall Wear Midnight is currently waiting for me to check out of my library.

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    1. I can't wait for you to read The Shepherd's Crown.

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  6. Eat babies?!? YUM!!! (Just kidding)
    Your post: YUM!! (NOT kidding)
    Salute.

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  7. For whatever reason you write it, the poem is perfect! It's the kind I wish I had written. Fairy tales, which I think of as foundational to the psyche, show up a lot in my poem and re-written ways.

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    1. Thank you, Colleen. I love that about your writing, fairy tale hints are always spicing up the ink. And that is yummy.

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  8. Yes, sounds like it's time for a "revisioning" and "retelling" of those myths and fairy tales!

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  9. I smiled when I read your observations. One of my mother's favorite rhymes to recite to me was "Little Orphan Annie" whose little brother went to bed "a way upstairs" and when they went to check on him he wasn't even there. Then they wondered why children didn't want to go to bed!!

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    1. I never understand adults fixation with horrifying tales before bed, especially when the children are old enough to understand them. I suspect that they've been telling the tales for so long, that they've forgotten to actually listen.

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  10. i've always wondered if it wasn't christians who wrote the fairie tales and turned what was wonderful fairie tales into horror... to keep their pope in charge.
    love, kisses & magical wishes...
    ~*~

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    1. Christianity had (and continues to have) its hands on a lot of things, so I wouldn't be surprised.

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    2. Britain fitted a pro-faery myth into the Christian frame and kept the nice faeries, yet still, up to the 1920s, also kept horrid ones. Pre-Christian Araucanian tales were described by a researcher as all gruesome, even when the characters had comic potential. So I'd blame censorious Christians for only some distortion.

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    3. @Priscilla, That's fair--the ability to inflict inked horror is one shared by all groups.

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  11. That's wonderful! A lot of the stories seemed to be nothing but scare tactics to keep the kiddies behaving. Sorry to say, and mean no offense to others, hell serves the same purpose for adults. Being a witch and knowing things is the best way to be!

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    1. I suspect--or hope--that most of the people who use stories to scare and control children might believe they are doing it for the children's own good. That doesn't excuse them, of course, but the alternative would make said people too monstrous.

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  12. Maga, I always enjoy reading stories about your childhood. They always offer me something to learn. I find this piece particularly rich. Maybe it’s because I simply love mythology and folklore.

    Yes growing up, stories about witches were abundant. And the witch was always depicted as an ugly and old woman, who did terrible things to others. But kudos to you for not caring about stories that paint witches or any of mythological creature in bad light. Because these stories are us; an oral tradition of sharing ideas, lessons, etc., passed from generation to generation.

    I’ve long listed some of Terry Pratchett’s books on my TBR, I need to start reading his work. But how lovely it would be to read your collection of Dominican folktales! I’m looking forward to that.

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    1. A whole collection of Dominican folktales sounds like such a dream! I better start dreaming and inking them into reality.

      And I can't wait until you start enjoying Pratchett. You know, I think you might enjoy Small Gods, the 13th Discworld novel. I've reread it a few times, and still find different things to love and to ponder.

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  13. I have a sudden desire to get dressed up in my Docs.

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