USC Digital Folklore Archives / Tales /märchen
Folk speech
Humor
Narrative
Proverbs
Tales /märchen

Nate the Snake

Subject: Folk Speech. Humor.

Collection: “There were two towns that ruled all of the land, and every year… similar to Thanksgiving, they would battle it out for a day. One day the Western Kingdom thought to lace the Eastern Kingdom with explosives while all the townspeople were asleep and then blow up the town the next day, ending the fight completely. The successfully laced the entire Kingdom and hooked up the explosives to a giant lever. However, in the morning the King of the East came over bearing food and gifts as a peace treaty.  The King of the West accepted the peace treaty but felt bad because of the threats to blow up the other city, so he decided to declare peace and just not say anything about the bombs.  The King decided he needed someone to guard the lever so that no radicals or youngsters would mess with it, but the guards stationed at the lever were lazy and didn’t want to be standing around the lever. They missed their families and their children, but one day a snake name Nate came up to a guard and told him that he will watch over the lever. At first the guy was skeptical, but Nate the Snake told him how there’s plenty of land around for him to live in and to catch mice and survive. So Nate became the new guardian. Nate became the hero of the town and was loved by all! People wore Nate the Snake Shirts, celebrated Nate the Snake Day, Nate became the most common name in all the land… Nate lived in this glorious state of love and pride for the work he was doing for his country. However, one night as Nate was doing his rounds at the lever, he saw a truck driving straight towards the lever. Nate thought and thought and thought of what he could do but nothing came to him. All he could do was sit helplessly watching as a truck came barreling towards the lever. At the last minute, however, the truck swerved and hit Nate the Snake. News of Nate’s death shocked the Kingdom but you know what they say… better Nate than Lever.”

Background Info: J. Ingraham is a freshman enrolled at Chapman University pursuing a Bachelor of the Fine Arts in Theater Performance. He attended Dana Hills High School and is still a permanent resident of Laguna Niguel, CA. This story entered my social sphere from a mutual friend who he and I shared performing arts classes with in high school. The first time he heard the story was backstage at a production of Fiddler on the Roof.

Context: I first heard this story in a car on a road trip to Big Bear, CA in December of 2016. It was relayed as friends jumped in to try to one up one another with their personal stories, and for general entertainment. The account of the story was given over email.

Analysis: This narrative builds up to the final punchline and is designed to allow the narrator to embellish as much or as little as they like, while remaining true to the story. I have heard telling in which the narrator went on a rant of all the different merchandise that the town people developed to celebrate Nate the Snake. Another teller gave an in-depth description of the last battle leading up to the Western kingdom lacing their enemy’s land with explosives. The goal is to make the story as absurd and intricate as possible so the simplicity of the punchline rhyming with the proverb, “Better late than never,” achieves its maximum potency.

The story features familiar troupes that locate the story securely in a Western society and one character that subverts expectations: Nate the Snake. First, the narrator locates itself as part of the Western kingdom which is painted as witty yet aggressive. The East, meanwhile, favors peace and gives the West lavish gifts from their land. This plays into ideas in classic literature of the East as languid and indulgent peoples while the West has discipline and democratic practices to keep them vigilant. Second, this was likely developed recently, since it contains references to explosives and a single trigger switch, making the references to kings and kingdoms somewhat out of place. However, I propose this is done to age the story and make it appear like a traditional piece of narrative folklore—playing off ideas of folklore as being something out of medieval Europe. One troupe that is not specific to a Western society is that of talking animals. Humanizing Nate the Snake and embedding him with intelligent thought and complex feeling causes his death to be more objectionable.

Lastly, the character of Nate the Snake is the hero of the story, which contrasts the traditional portrayal of the snake as a villain, or otherwise Satanic, in countries with histories of Abrahamic religions. This aesthetic modernizes the story as more and more people in America practice non-Abrahamic religions. I contend that Nate playing the role of protagonist comes as a surprise, since a snake is expected to be sneaky and deceptive, making the audience feel guilty for expecting Nate to be the villain and the punchline more ironic and shocking. Upon first hearing the story, I believed that the punchline was going to involve Nate betraying the Western kingdom, as snakes usually do. While snakes are animals so biases against them are not thought of as being objectionable, afterward I felt guilty for forcing my assumptions onto him. In this way, the content of Nate the Snake is built off traditional structures that then subvert to afford the joke its greatest effect.

Humor
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Story of the Trids

Subject: Narrative joke.

Collection: “Uh, so this is… um, let’s see. So, long ago… long ago in a faraway kingdom, there lived a tribe of- of these druid like people. Um… you know, it’s yore, I guess. Um, and they live- lived, it’s this agrarian society, they’re very peaceful, uh, they don’t practice warfare um li-like of any kind, not even like with sticks or anything, you know. They’re just ve- very nice people uh pacifists, no violence. If you swing a punch, like that’s your- that’ it, you’re out of the society. You know, you’re gone. Um… and uh it’s almost a utopia just because of how peaceful it is, and, uh, and sustainable and everything. Except for one thing. All of their crops- they’re separated from their crops by a river. Um, on their side of the river, it’s not suitable for their crops. Um, but on the other side uh, it is. And the thing is, uh, they weren’t the best engineers so they only really managed to build a bridge in like one place. Uh, otherwise they would have to go way, like a couple miles away to like a calmer part of the stream, I mean river. Because it’s a little bit of a wild river. So, uh, so the- they really found that one perfect spot, and then the other good spots weren’t for a few miles, like in the other directions. Um, so they only built one bridge and the thought, like why would we- we need more than one bridge. Um… so and the other thing about these crops is um they’re very, very particular. They hav- they’re very sensitive, um you have to take care of them really well. You know, the right amount of water, the right amount of food, these people actually sang to their crops. Um, because, uh it-it helped the crops grow. Um, they were very talented musically. And um, oh I forgot to mention, these people are- they’re um, let’s see… yes, they are Jewish. Um, so, and they uh, they’re very talented musically so they’ve go- they have their own fiddler on-on the roof. That’s not the joke, don’t worry. Um, and uh, and yeah, these crops and um the fiddler would go and play to the crops as well. Um, not because that actually helps the crops as much as singing, um but um, just because they’re nice. They’re nice people. And these crops needed to be harvested at a particular time, uh otherwise they were terrible. Um, it’s kind of like, like you know avocados. Like how if… you buy an avocado, an- and it’s not ripe yet. And then it’s ripe for five seconds and then suddenly it’s- you’ve got to throw it in the trash. Or compost it. You got- composting is important. That’s actually a very important part of this society. That’s one of the- the core tenets of their sustainability program… Um, and um so yeah. It’s not exactly like an avocado, like you harvest them and then they’re ripe for a small amount of time. It’s that they have to be harvested at a perfect time. Um but that’s like, the avocado was just like the closest analogy I could come up with to help you understand because the particularity of these crops is a very important part of this story. Um, it’s- it’s you know, it’s one of the main character motives for this society, this group of people. So, I really want to hit home that just like an avocado, there’s a really small window where they’re good to go. And, uh, one day it’s harvest season and they’re like, ‘let’s go, let’s go. This is the window, let’s go get these crops’. Uh so, they all prepare to cross this bridge, when from under the bridge a troll jumps out and um they’re like, ‘what, we’ve never seen this troll before, where did you come from? Uh, and who are you? Uh, will you allow us to pass’. And the troll says, ‘no, this is my bridge. And none of you will pass’… and uh, and the troll says, ‘none of you will go back either’. And they go, uh, they go, ‘No, what does tha- what? We’re going to be stuck here forever?’. And uh the troll says, ‘No, I’m going to kick you into the river’. And they go, ‘What?’ [laughter]. And so, one by one he kicks all of them into the river. And they’re fine though. Uh, It’s a, you know, it’s a bit of a wild river, but they’re all okay, none of them have any broken bones or anything, because they just fall into the river and the river, it- it sweeps them pretty far away, you know. Because, like I said, the only good places for a bridge is where that place, and then like really far away, and they get swept all the way there. Many miles away. And they- they’re- they manage to get out of the river and they’re alright. They’re wet, they’re a little wet you know, it’s not fun… And uh, so all their clothes are cotton and cotton shrinks., is the problem. So, they’re worried about their clothes, and they’re worried about the crops, they just got sweeped down the river miles away, they’re running out of time for these very time-sensitive crops that need to be harvested. Otherwise, they won’t have any food. And they don’t know where this troll came from or why it’s there or why he’s kicking them or how to get around him. So, they go and they go, let’s try again. So, they go and they try again and the same exact thing happens. Again. Uh, and… threes are also a very important part of this story, because the rule of threes contributes very heavily to the comedic effect, um… But the other thing about the three is, uh, you know these people, they’re, uh, they’re called the Trids. Because they love the number three. And, uh, uh, uh the Trids. Um, so plenty of things are based off the number three. The fiddler, all the songs that he plays are- they’re in three. Like 1-2-3, 1-2-3. When the sing to the crops, it’s in three. Part of their sus- their sustainability program is actually a three-point program, and the composting is one of the three points. Um, and also, the- their sustainable fields are like organized into three sections. Um, so they’re big on threes… So, they go back and the second time, you know, the second time. And the third time, they’re like, ‘What can we do?’. So, they go back to the town, um, and they get the rabbi. And the rabbi, and they say, ‘Rabbi, there’s a troll on the bridge who won’t let us get to our crops’. So, he goes, ‘Oh my goodness! Uh, that’s why you guys aren’t back with the crops yet’. And they go, ‘Yeah! What do we do?’. And he goes, ‘Oh, I don’t know. I’ve never dealt with trolls before. Um, but I’ll give it a shot. I’ll try talking to this guy’. You know. And so they go back again to the bridge. This time with the rabbi at the front. And, uh, the rabbi says, uh, to the troll, ‘Uh, I am the rabbi and these are my people the Trids, please let us pass. We have these very important time-sensitive crops’. And the troll says, ‘No, I’m going to kick you again’, And he starts kicking people. And the rabbi is like, ‘hold on, hold on, hold on! Stop kicking people’. And the trolls are like, the troll is like, ‘Okay, I’ll stop for like three seconds. And the rabbi says, ‘Please just tell me why you’re doing this’. Uh and the troll’s like, ‘No’. And, uh, so he starts kicking people again and the rabbi is like, ‘Come on. Hey, stop it! Stop it’. He ju- grabs the troll and starts shaking him and he’s like, ‘Why are you doing this’. And the troll is like, ‘Get off of me old man’. And uh, you know, he shimmies out of the rabbi’s grasp, the rabbi is pretty old you know. He- he’s not very strong. It’s- it’s -it’s not an even match-up. And finally, Uh… the rabbi… um… invokes God and says, ‘In the name of God, I command you to stop and tell me why you are kicking my people off the bridge’. And, uh, and he’s like, ‘Is it, you know, tha- is it a personal thing? Like, are you guarding the crops?  Like, I don’t understand’. And the troll goes, ‘Silly Rabbi, Kicks are for Trids’.

Background Info: M. Takla is currently a sophomore at the University of Southern California pursuing a degree in Computer Engineering. He is from Foster City, CA.

Context: M. Takla told me this joke over dessert, sitting outside around dusk. I challenged him to a joke off, through which we both learned each other’s best narrative jokes. I then asked to record him telling this joke for my collection.

Analysis: This joke subverts the expectations for a typical punchline while employing traditional narrative elements on which the narrator is free to embellish. First, the narrator sets the story in days of “yore,” setting up the expectations that this will follow the formatting of a normal tale. Therefore, when the whole story leads to a joke, the subversion of the typical genre lends the joke its surprise and humor. Second, the story (rather openly) capitalizes on the tradition of tales to introduce an activity or patter three times before arriving at the punchline. By building to the punchline in this way, the joke comments on its dual roles as narrative and joke so that the genre of tale is mocked.

This joke also interacts with institutional and copyright culture, playing off the motto of Trix cereal brand: “Silly Rabbit, Trix are for Kids”. Therefore, it can be determined that the joke emerged Terminus Post Quem the television and network advertising. Without these commercial systems, the aesthetics of mocking brand marketing would not have emerged. Furthermore, when hearing or telling the joke, the individual recalls their experiences with the cereal, usually from childhood, locating them within a group. The combination of these factors affords the joke its immediate humor and, then communicates further mocking of childhood elements such as the tale and Trix breakfast cereal.

For Further Research: For reference to the Trix marketing and commercials that popularized the phrase in the 1970’s and 1980’s, refer to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUIYYx2n1bI.

Humor
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Three Men in A Bar

Subject: Narrative joke.

Collection: “Alright, so, uh, one night these three friends you know they’re out-they’re out being buddies, they’re out drinking, going to bars. And uh, one bar, its late at night, they’re already pretty drunk, and they find a magical beer bottle and they are totally mind-fucked. There drunk, it’s a magical beer bottle behind a bar. Why were they there? I don’t know. They were peeing, throwing up, something. So, they find the magical beer bottle and there’s a genie inside of it. And the genie has the power to fulfill three wishes. Um so since there’s three friends, each friend gets one wish. So, uh, they do they’re business meaning the whole peeing and vomiting thing, and the wish making and when they each get what they want, they enter the bar. And, um, these guys, all the other bars they walked into earlier in the night, nobody noticed them, they’re kind of losers. But when they walk into this bar, um, they’re- everyone- they’re turning heads. Um, but they don’t mind. They’re like, ‘Yeah, we’re turning heads’. So, they sit down and one of them goes up for the first round of drinks. Ans the bartender sees this guy coming up and he’s like, ‘Oh snap, this is a very, very impressive man’. Um, he’s got uh like, uh these- ya know, he’s wearing a tuxedo, he’s got a gold monocle, he’s got an ivory cane with gold inlay engraved in like swirling patterns and on top of it, this huge pink diamond. And it’s so big, it’s like- you know that one that the British people stole from Africa. Like it’s bigger than that… But, like this pink diamond, gigantic. Um, an- and the tuxedo it looks so soft, and it looks so suave. It’s perfectly tailored. It’s sleek and plush, and to top it all off, he’s got a top hat. Um, so he’s just 100%, he’s like a caricature, he’s like the monopoly man, he’s like a gazillionaire. And um, and the bartender’s like, ‘This is cool but something’s off. What’s off about this guy?’. He knows something’s off, he can’t put it together, but he’s just like, ‘Alright, whatever’. So, uh, the guy reaches him, the bartender, and the bartender’s like trying to be impressive, you know. He wants to sound smart. So, he goes, ‘I couldn’t help but notice your fine array of accouterments’. And- and he goes, ‘Can I ask, what is the secret to your success?’. And you know, they guy just laughs, um and he explains that he was piss drunk, peeing in an alley, and found a magic beer bottle and wished to be the richest man in the world. And the bartender’s like, ‘Oh, alright that- that’s kind of disappointing. Um, I wanted to be rich but whatever’. Um, so the, the f-the guy takes his drinks, and you know, goes back to his table to share them with his friends. And, so the bartender is disappointed because he’s not going to be rich, but he knows he’s in for like some night, you know. And, he- he’s waiting for those other two friends to come up, because you know it’s not every day that you get three people… and um, and where was I, let’s see. He knows he’s in for a night. So, second friend, comes up. And the bartender sees, or rather doesn’t see that this other man is, also, very impressive. And what I mean by doesn’t see is that he’s just surrounded by women and the bartender cannot see him. But, like, he’s surrounded by women, that’s very impressive… Um, so the bartender just kind of like hands the three drinks into the crowd. And then somewhere from the crowd, money for three drinks comes back. And uh the bartender’s like, ‘What’s going on here?’. Um he doesn’t know what direction to talk in, so he just kind of yells and says, ‘I couldn’t help but notice the crowd’. And he doesn’t really expect the guy to hear him, and he doesn’t really expect a response, but very faintly, he hears, ‘I’m sure you have met my friend, the rich guy and that he explained what happened out back with the magical beer bottle. But did you ever wonder where all of his gold diggers were?’. And the bartender’s like ‘Ah-ha! That’s what was off about the rich guy, there were no gold diggers, like what was up with that?’. And the shouting man continues that his wish was to be the most attractive man in the world. Um, and the bartender was like, ‘Nice… Good shit’. Um, uh, so the crowd ya know starts to disperse as you know the life of the party’s going back to his seat. And the bartender’s like, ‘Alright, what a  couple wishes. Like I wonder what the third guy could’ve wished for. You know to like out do the other to. I- I hope I don’t get let down’. Um, and when the third friend finally comes up to get the third round of drinks, what the bartender saw was just nothing that anyone really could have expected. Um, you know, the bartender kind of noticed that like the first two friends, their wishes wer- were kind of obvious, you know. Like, if you dressed all rich, you wished to be rich. If you’re surrounded by women, you wished to be the most attractive man in the world. But the third guy, it- it was- not obvious at all, if you’re even in your right mind. Uh, and when the third guy comes, there’s no crowd about him, you know, but there’s this swagger in his step, as if the genie had fulfilled for him a combination of his two friends’ wishes, as if he were the richest and most attractive man in the world. Um, that was not the case. Uh, never the less, he was… still impressive. As impressive as the other guys, but not in the same way, it wa- it was kind of a negative sort of impressive, you know. The bartender’s kind of, he- he’s really appalled, but he’s also intrigued and overall, he’s just totally taken aback. He’s going, ‘I can’t even begin to imagine what had gone through this guy’s head, if he even had a head before, because now, what is this protrusion springing from his neck? I- uh, uh, it cannot be dared called a head, you know’. And the bartender decides maybe it’s best not to mention it at all until the guy reaches me which he did. And he orders his drinks, ultimately, casual like. And he’s trying to make small talk with the bartender as if there was just nothing up. It was just awkward because… he was never a cool guy to begin with. You know, when these guys found these beer bottle, they were like the three nerdiest guys, and he was the nerdiest out of all of them. So he’s just trying to chit-chat like there’s nothing up, he’s a terrible conversationalist, and he looks funny. Um, and the bartender jus- he can’t take it anymore. So, he goes, ‘Listen bub, you’re friends with those two guys who found the magical beer bottle, right’. And the guy goes, ‘Yeah, of course’. And the bartender screams, ‘Well what the hell did you wish for?!’. You know, he finally snaps, everyone in the bar turns, and looks because this bartender has lost his shit, he’s screaming at the man, um he- he’s even got a little voice crack in there It-it’s comedic, you know. This is a joke. Um, and he totally is off the wall because he cannot just, he can’t process this guy’s giant fuzzy orange head, he’s in total disbelief. Um, but you know the guy who’s being yelled at, he just totally remains calm and he says, ‘I wished for a giant fuzzy orange head, obviously’.”

Background Info: M. Takla is currently a sophomore at the University of Southern California pursuing a degree in Computer Engineering. He is from Foster City, CA.

Context: M. Takla told me this joke over dessert, sitting outside around dusk. I challenged him to a joke off, through which we both learned each other’s best narrative jokes. I then asked to record him telling this joke for my collection.

Analysis: This joke subverts the expectations for a typical punchline while employing traditional narrative elements on which the narrator is free to embellish. The build-up for the joke appears to be growing more and more extreme, which, in many way, it is. However, the absurdity of the joke (magic beer bottles, genies, and the gaudy fulfillment of the men’s wishes) comes to a head when the man reveals he wished for the giant fuzzy orange head. In a way, the story was so absurd that an even more absurd ending, or climax, is expected. The joke mocks itself and the genre of the typical tale by casually employing elements such as the Rule of Three and magic that are found in traditional tales. The combination of these factors lends the joke its success and aesthetic pleasure.

Magic
Tales /märchen

Momotaru

Main Piece: “So there was an old woman who would go to a riverside in Japan to wash clothes. One day she found a sweet peach and wanted to take one home for her husband so he would be happy. Then  the peach just magically appeared next to the woman and the woman took it to her house. When she tried to cut the peach in half, a human boy just came out out of nowhere. They called the boy Momotaro (which means the peach boy). Momotaro grew super fast and became huge like a man. He helped the old couple with house chores. But then there were some evil devils bothering the villagers and Momotaro decided to fight against the devils on the devils’ island to repay the old couple.  He told the old woman that if she made special dumplings for him he would beat the devils because he needed fuel. So, the woman made special dumplings that can give a human being something of like 100 times their power. When he got to the island he beat a huge devil. Momotaro then gave the treasure that the devils had secretly equally to all the villagers”

Background Information: The informant learned this story through her parents who grew up in Tokyo, Japan. The main message behind this story is to always give back and be humble (for example, the peach boy giving back to the villagers after his parents had given him dumplings). The informant says that this is a very common folk story in Japan which parents tell their children.

Context: Next to a grocery store in Los Angeles

Thoughts: Peaches are significant in Japanese culture as being “Kami”, or the Mother goddess which is a symbol of fertility and magic powers. Peaches are in many other different Japan mythology and are said to have magical powers. This story seems to have a symbolic importance with the peach as good luck and not just a morally important lesson.

 

Tales /märchen

Goldilock and the Three Bears

Main Piece: “There was once three cute bears that lived together in a house in the woods. Each of the bears had their own porridge bowl, chair, and bed. One day the mama bear made porridge for breakfast but it’s was too hot to eat, so they took a nice long walk in the woods while their porridge cooled. A cute little girl with super blonde hair who was pretty naive broke into the bears house while the bears were out. She ate the Wee Bear’s porridge breaks the chair and falls asleep in the bed. Then the bears come back and find her but they don’t kill her and let her leave, I’m not sure why that is.”

Background Information: The informant learned this story when she was in nursery in Southern California. She had trouble remembering the details of the story when I asked her and says she doesn’t understand the point of this story but she was very entertained by it so much so that her parents use to tell her the story almost every night.

Context: In a grocery store (Trader Joes) in Los Angeles

Thoughts: This tale seems to be a cautionary tale to children to not wonder off into strangers home. This tale is also interesting because it does not have a “happy ending” which is different from most children stories. This might be a story to show the reality of life that not everything is always happy or good.

Legends
Protection
Tales /märchen

Boto

Main Piece: “There’s a story that a young girl lived near a river bank with family. Everyday she would go down to the river to do chores. One day as she went to collect water, she decided to cool off so she swam. As she swam, a young man appeared sitting at the edge of the river. They started to talk and she began to fall in love with him. From then on they hungout almost every day and spent each night together.  Her dad was kinda concerned so he confronted her. But the girl told him that she was in love so she wanted to marry the fisherman. The father surprisingly agreed and invited the guy to stay the night. But it was weird cuz the father noticed that the man would leave every morning coming back only in the evening. But one night, the fisherman he forgot to wake before dawn, and when the young girl woke up she found a pink dolphin in her bed. The dolphin tried to escape but the father shot it. The fisherman never came back since it was the dolphin so the poor girl began to believe that he left her and it was bad cuz she was pregnant. Nine months later, she died of giving birth and the father found that the baby was a pink dolphin. He realized then that the fisherman was the dolphin he killed. From then on all girls were warned to not talk to guys found near the river bank.”

Background Information: The informant learned this story through his cousin who has Brazilian roots when the informant was a young boy. The informant said he was scared to talk to strangers after hearing this story and had a fear of dolphins for a period of time.

Context: During a car ride with the informant

Thoughts: It is interesting that females are being warned, which hints that in the Brazillian culture woman are looked out for and protected. The boto dolphins are actually becoming very extinct and there is a cry from many Brazilians to protect them.  These pink dolphins usually live in the Amazon River
and make up the largest population of river dolphins in existence. It is interesting that an animal that was a legend in Brazilian culture is now becoming extinct, and I wonder if these stories will continue.

 

 

Tales /märchen

El Siblon: A Latin Tale

I discovered this tale while researching and reading about interesting Latin legends, myths, and tales. This one is titled “El Siblon,” which translates to “The Whistler.” Below is quoted material from the website, explaining the story and its few variations.

Tale:

“The story always starts with a son killing his father. One version states that this son returning home one day found his father abusing his beautiful young wife. This so angered him he killed is father. Another, more disconcerting version states this son was a “spoiled brat” whose every wish was catered to by his parents. One afternoon he demands his father hunt for a deer—his favorite meat. But when the father does not find a deer and returns empty handed his son kills him and cuts out his heart and liver. He then has his mother cook them for dinner. The mother finding this meat is tough starts to suspect something amiss. She discovers these organs are her own husband’s innards and curses her son for eternity. At this point most versions of this story become similar. The mother fetches a male relative—in most versions the grandfather—and he ties the son to a tree—he then whips him—he finishes by rubbing lemon or hot peppers into the son’s wounds. The grandfather then unleashes a vicious dog and orders it to go after the grandson. This dog pursues the son relentlessly. His mother’s curse transforms the son into a ghost. He is condemned to wander the plains carrying a sack of bones on his back. Some versions state these are the bones of his father, other state these are the bones of his victims. His ghost is described as being disproportionally skinny and extremely tall. He towers over treetops with his bag of bones slung over his back. The vicious dog chases him constantly nipping at his heels. He wears a tattered white suit and a wide brimmed hat. It is said that few people who have seen him have lived to tell about it. His ghost is known as The Whistler because of a tune he is heard whistling—the basic seven notes, do, re, me, fa, so la, ti. He whistles these notes slowly and draws each one out. A warning given is his whistle is deceptive. It is said that when people hear his tune up close they are actually safe for this means he is far away but if they hear him from afar they best beware for he is actually close by. It is often mentioned his ghost hunts down cruel men who cheat on their wives. His ghost also attacks drunks when they are fast asleep. A gruesome detail shared states his ghost uncovers their belly buttons and then sucks until the alcohol comes out of them.”

Analysis:

This tale stood out to me because it was fascinating reading of the slight variations of the story, without knowing how or why these variations came to be. It is purely a folk tale because of this multiplicity and variation, ranging from both the most specific to the broadest change in the narrative. I think it is especially important with tales, myths, and legends, to understand and take note of these variations, seeing how the story has evolved over time and hypothesizing how it came to vary and multiply.

Website Citation: For a more thorough analysis of this specific tale, go to the URL: https://seeksghosts.blogspot.com/2014/06/el-silbon-whistler.html

 

Folk speech
Holidays
Humor
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Tales /märchen

Levine Hand Strength

I’ve sat next to this girl for most of the semester, however our conversation has been limited to commonalities between the pair of us rather than old family stories. I knew she was Jewish and from the Valley. She seemed eccentric, and dressed in that way only those privy to Los Angeles beach culture – striped shirts, ripped jeans, lots of pins on backpacks and patches on shirts – can pull off. I had no idea her family came from Russia, or that they were known for their hand strength.

The following was transcribed from a recording taken in class and shared among three or four other classmates. The background buzzed with chatter from other students, but still the edge of the story shone through.

“He was an orthodox Jewish barrel-builder in Russia at the turn of the century. He started this thing in our family, ‘Levine Hand Strength’ – the firm handshake. He was coming off work one day and a Cossack soldier – these guys are usually pretty anti-Semetic – came up to him and pulled on his beard and called him a ‘Jew bastard’. Anyways, in Russian, my great grandpa said to the Cossack, ‘that was very good of you to let me shake your hand’. According to grandpa Harry, he crushed the Cossack’s hand so hard that blood came out of his finger-tips. That’s the family story that we tell at every Jewish holiday.”

Almost as timeless as time itself, stories of Jews overcoming their oppressors never fail to entertain. Fitting in with movies like “Inglorious Basterds”or “Life is Beautiful”, this story further illustrates the pride Jews feel in keeping a positive spirit while facing constant prejudice and oppression. Additionally, it celebrates the familial trait of strength, both physical and mental, by being retold multiple times throughout the year.

 

Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Legends
Magic
Narrative
Signs
Tales /märchen

Fireball Ghosts

After college, my mom lived in Japan 7 years. She taught English to get by and apprenticed as a potter to gain experience. Growing up, she told me tons and tons of stories from her time there. I was always particularly interested in their spiritual beliefs. Specifically, those regarding ghosts.

Driving home from lunch one sunny afternoon, I ask her and my dad if they have any stories about the inexplicable that I could use for my folklore project. My mom starts:

In Japan in graveyards – because it’s… because everybody’s cremated it’s very common during typhoon season to see fireballs and whatnot. And that’s really because of the seepage of the rainwater into burial urns combining with the phosphorous of the bones and creating fireballs. But some people believe that they’re spirits and that the graveyards are haunted. So, yeah I guess. Some people believe it’s the spirits and other people believe it’s the phosphorous in the bones with the rainwater. It’s also very easy to imagine … you sort of feel different presences in Japan. Especially in subways in Tokyo. Because they’re very old, you can feel lots of spirits.”

This anecdote is particularly interesting, as it includes scientific explanation for a supernatural occurrence. Imagine walking home late one rainy night when you see fireball after fireball erupt out of a graveyard. That would be absolutely terrifying. Thankfully, my mother never told me this story as a kid, as it would have almost undoubtedly caused innumerable nightmares and late nights for her. Though she explains the fireballs, she still admits to feeling a very strong spiritual presence across the country as a whole. A presence no one can account for outright. Though some ghosts are easily explained, others are not.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Story of the Inked Boys

Interviewer: Got any other German fairytales?

Informant: I do, actually. This one is one of my favorites – it’s interesting because it shows a tolerance that Germans seemed to have forgotten at some later points in our history.

Three boys are laughing and playing in a field outside of their village, near a road. As they play, a Moor, a black man, comes down the hill, carrying a green umbrella. The Moor is quiet and polite as he makes his way down the road, but when the boys notice him, they grab all of their things and rush over and start insulting the Moor. The boys sing songs and make fun of the Moor’s dark skin and how its so black it’s as black as ink.

St. Nicholas, who lived nearby, heard the boys and what they were doing, and he shouted at them to stop. But, the boys didn’t listen. They kept laughing and shouting at the Moor, continuing to make fun of his skin color.

St. Nicholas is pissed at this point, so he takes his huge ink pot that he used for his quill and grabs the three boys. Then, he goes and takes each one of them… and dunks each one into the black ink until all of them are just as dark as the Moor. Then, he takes them out and puts them next to the Moor, who is laughing super hard at this point. St. Nicholas taught them a lesson about harassing people who look different from themselves.

Context: This informant is a nineteen year old college student, attending school in the US. However, he lives abroad in a small town in Germany, where he has access to a wide range of German folklore. He also speaks German fluently, which offers him greater understanding of German culture as well.

Background: My informant heard this story from one of his neighbors from his village in Germany. He has a personal love for this tale, as it was one of the first to be told to him in his childhood, but also because of the general message it sends – one of punishment against not only intolerance, but xenophobia. The children make fun of the Moor due to his difference. My informant points out that St.Nicholas places the children into the Moor’s shoes not only to punish them, but also to make them experience life from the point of view of their victim.

Analysis: I believe my informants tale outlines a curious societal quirk inherent in whatever communities it originated from. It appears to be poised against intolerance towards foreigners, especially of African descent, at a time when such intolerance was widely acceptable. It makes a point to not only punish rude children, but also to make them experience life from the point of view of those they wronged. From a more objective lens, one might also point out the motif of threes at play here as well. Three boys are present in the tale, rather than a single one.

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