USC Digital Folklore Archives / Tales /märchen
Folk Beliefs
Tales /märchen

La Descarnada

-La Descarnada (El Salvador)

Original script: “my grandfathers friend had a chilling experience with a beautiful and sensual woman who appeared in the desolate roads asking for a ride. When he asked where she was headed she said a few kilometers. Then she got in the car and began to touch and kiss him then something dreadful happened; the skin from her body fell off! He was found in a total state of confusion and a lot of people said La Descarnada is a bad spirit of a bad witch.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Her grandfather believes the woman to be the witch “La Descarnada”

Thoughts about the piece: A lot of the Myths and tales from this area of the world seem to center around women and the evil behind there seductive powers. Perhaps they serve as tales of caution not to mess around with lose women or maybe deep down they express a fear of women.


Tales /märchen

Prince story


Zack was born in Boston Massachusetts and grew up in a house in rural Norwell Massachusetts in a secular family. His father is a musician and his mother a homemaker. Zack is a photographer who works with musicians and has traveled extensively both in his childhood following his father on tour and in his current occupation.

Original script: There is a fable amongst the rock and roll world and its about prince. Prince was known even amongst the inner of inner circles that he was a puzzling guy. Story goes, a new guy gets brought on the road to be Prince’s guitar tech. If you have been hired to be princes guitar tech it mean you’re probably a great guitarist, that said everyone’s first day at work is nerve-racking. Show begins everything is going well, the guitar tech has done all the work he should’ve done, at this point of the night he hands princes his various guitars between songs. Half way through a particularly boisterous and well-lit performance of a song, prince signals off stage towards the tech to approach. The tech sheepishly crosses the stage and leaves in to prince to hear what the problem is; prince says two words, star wars. The tech retreats into the wings of the stage in a panic. He begins consulting his new colleagues about what star wars might be, is it an affect on one of his guitars, is it some sort of pyro technic happening that is coming. The guy starts freaking out. Finally a grizzled roady halts the tech in his track and asks “what’s the problem” the tech says “prince said he wants star wars, I don’t know what he means!” the roady laughs and says “oh man its ok, he just wants star wars playing on his tour bus when he gets off stage”.

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: This story is shared by roadies and other members of the crew that work for musicians. The informants work as a rock photographer places him in the situation where he hears stories like this one about the sometimes outrageous demands of rock stars.

Context of the Performance: This story is told in the close-knit circle of crew that work around and for performers.

Thoughts about the piece: The occupational folklore shared here is not focused on the artist but on the nerves experienced by the new member of the team who is a fish out of water. Prince the artist could be replaced with any over the top performer.


Tales /märchen

Big Cookie Hero


My informant is an American from Minnesota, who has ancestors from Czech republic and Sweden, back to 1880.

“My grandmother used to tell me a story of a big cookie that could roll around and have adventure.  Sometimes it was oatmeal cookie sometimes it was a chocolate chip cookie, but they would roll around have adventures, save kids…She may have the story come down from her ancestors. Sweets are big product in Sweden. She may possibly hear this from her mother. It was like a bed time story. The big cookie was the hero. He would roll down the streets and rescue a lot of stupid kids. I think the cookie did talk, say things like ‘you stupid kid, how did you stuck in the mud? how did you lock yourself in the room?'”

“My grandma, who lives in St. Paul now, she still always has a mass amount of cookies and pastry that she baked before we came. So much culture pass down through food. ”

As an animation filmmaker and teacher, Christine loves this kind of tales that she heard from her family, which has also inspired her a lot in her creation.

I think this kind of folklore tales is really playing a positive role in people’s childhood, which could make the children grow up happily and imaginatively.


Tales /märchen

Tale of a girl and his blind dad

My informant is a student who originally came from Korea, but moved with her family to Los Angeles since her middle school.

“There was a girl lived with his blind dad. There were both poor, peasants. One mean lady tried to steal money from them. That lady married with the blind dad, and then grabbed the money and left them alone. There was a superstition at that time that if you sacrificed your body into the river, you would get better weather in exchange. Then the girl decided to do that for her dad. But she didn’t tell her dad the truth, she just told him she found a way to have better harvest. Then his dad got five packs of rice, but the daughter died. Actually after that, we saw the girl dived into the water, and there was a kingdom underwater. She then married with the prince there, and told him about his dad and that she missed his dad so much. Then she was sent back up from the water and saw his dad again. Even though his dad was blind, he could still hear her voice, and then his sight magically came back. The mean lady was just gone away then. That was a happy ending.”

She told me that the one she heard about should be the latest version, but people in Korea started talking about this story about 200 years ago; this is a very traditional one. It was in the time period that there was a big gap between rich and poor people. People told these stories with happy ending to comfort themselves. It also tell people to take care of their parents, and give people hope for living.

I think even though this kind of folk tales seems to be pretty naive in terms of its plot and causality, they do have their positive values in a society. They provide a guide of morality that is good for social stability.


Tales /märchen

La chasse-galerie

Informant KJ is a sophomore studying cinematic art at the University of Southern California. He is of French-Canadian descent from the region of Quebec. Here, he discusses traditional Canadian folklore that has been known in his family for several generations:

“La Chasse-galerie”

“The Flying Canoe”

KJ: “The Flying Canoe” is a pretty strange story if you ask me. Basically it’s a French-Canadian tale about a group of lumberjacks who make a deal with the devil so that they can visit their wives and other family members on New Year’s Eve and to celebrate with them. Oh and these lumberjacks were in isolation in Outaouais, which is a region in Quebec and it’s pretty close to the Ottawa River. So the reason why they made a deal with the devil was because they couldn’t take being in isolation any longer. They missed their families and wanted to spend the holidays with them. So then Satan comes forward and says that he will help them to get back to their families, but only under his strict conditions. Satan said they must travel by canoe and they must not say God’s name in any context. Satan also said they must not run into any church steeples while flying. If anyone in the group disobeyed his rules, their souls were going to be taken by Satan. And of course, some of the men used God’s name when they weren’t supposed to. In another incident, one of the men steered the canoe into a tree, which caused them to fall out. Now, I’ve heard that there are different versions of the ending to this tale, but the one my family has told me over the years was this: The souls of these men were taken to hell on their canoe as punishment for disobeying Satan’s rules and that you can see every New Year’s Eve their souls in the sky riding through hell on their canoe. And then there are other endings that I’ve heard where the men escape the wrath of hell unscathed, but I’m only really familiar with the ending I just told you.”

How did you learn about this old French-Canadian tale?

KJ: “Well, I’ve heard it from my grandparents and my parents growing up. It was just a story that was kind of always told at family gatherings and stuff.”

What type of context or situation would a tale like this be performed in?

KJ: “I feel like it’s a type of tale that is told around a fireplace. It can be spooky at times, especially when it’s told in much greater detail and to young children, but now being older, I find it kind of strange.”

Does this tale have any significant meaning to you?

KJ: “Um ya it does to a degree. Like it’s a tale that has been passed down throughout my family for generations and it was fun listening to my grandparents telling it to me when I was younger, but now I look at it a little differently in that I don’t get scared by it anymore, obviously because much older. But it’s still a story that is fun to tell I guess.”


This French-Canadian tale has been long known and told over the years by the informant’s family. It is interesting to see the change in the informant’s perspective of the tale now and when he was younger. The context of the tale had a greater impact on him when he was younger, but now as an adult, he interprets the story differently. It is also interesting how Christian beliefs and superstitions were present throughout this tale, as it is very common in Canadian folklore.

Tales /märchen


Informant was a 45 year old female who was born in Brazil and currently lives in Brazil. I talked to her over Skype.

Informant: Saci-Perere is like a story of a black boy that has only one leg and he always carries a pipe and a red cap that gives him magical powers. And he’s a very mischievous boy, and he loves to do mischievous things like burn food or wake people up with laughter. This was in a tv show for kids called Sitio do Pica Pau Amarelo (The Farm of the Yellow Woodpecker) that I used to watch when I was a kid.

Collector: Do you know where the story came from?

Informant: I heard that it started like an Indian story, and that was at first an Indian boy that was a curomim – a type of indian. But with the African influence, he became a black boy that lost his leg fighting capoeira, which is a mix of fight and dance typical to brazil. The red cap came from European influence, like a lot of Europeans would wear them because Brazilians wouldn’t wear it in the heat.

Collector: So you said you saw it in a TV show, did the TV show create this character or did it take the pre-existing tale and make it into a character?

Informant: This was something that was in our folklore and Sitio do Pica Pau Amarelo used the story and I knew it through Sitio do Pica Pau Amarelo. Sitio do Pica Pau Amarelo was a story, not a soap opera, but was a story of a boy and a girl. And this girl had a doll called Emilia, who was a talking doll. They lived with their grandmother in this farm, and they had lots of stories that was placed in the country side of Brazil. So in the show it happened a lot of things that kids usually play in the country side. Another character was Cuca, who was like a monster like an alligator and all the kids used to be afraid of and had other characters from folklore. Cuca was the villain, and every time Saci-Perere came he was funny, and we used to laugh.

Collector: Why do you like this particular piece of folklore?

Informant: I liked Saci-Perere because he was fun, and everytime he came on the show he would make funny things and we used to laugh. It was a very big part of my childhood, we would talk about it a lot at school.

I personally like the story of Saci-Perere because I remember from my childhood in Brazil watching the same show that my mother watched “Sitio do Pica Pau Amarelo,” and seeing him in it. As a young child, I never really registered who he was or thought about the reasons why he was the way that he was. He was just a form of comic relief, and I very much enjoyed watching him on the show. I think it’s interesting that the true story of Saci-Perere came from a mixture of a lot of Brazil’s cultural history, such as the original indian tribes and the slavery of African Americans and capoeira, which is really famous in Brazil.

Tales /märchen

The Windmill in Wawasee

Informant is a 19 year old female who was born in Chicago and currently lives in Los Angeles. She is my roommate.

Informant: We have a lake house in Wawasee, Indiana, and, behind our house, there’s this big like green kind of forest and it drops down into a creek. And there’s a property right next to it, where there’s this big wide patch of green with a windmill in the middle of it, and behind it is this creek, and the place where it drops off into a creek is hard to see, and so the area is not safe around the windmill, and nobody wanted their kids playing there. So this windmill, I could only see inside the windows if I was on my tiptoes. So when I was younger, it was very mysterious to me, and my parents didn’t want me and my cousin playing near the creek because they thought we would fall in. So they told us that there was a witch that lived inside of the windmill. The legend that they told us was that during the day, she wouldn’t live in the windmill, and that was why you couldn’t see her during the day, but at night, she would live in there. And if there were children around at night and she saw them, she would take them and she would eat them. So me and my cousins would go up to the windmill and dare each other to go look in it, and we would take our dogs for a walk and when we would like walk past the windmill, we would have to run by it because we were just so scared. And it wasn’t just our parents that told us, but it was like a thing in the neighborhood, like all of the kids knew that there was this witch that lived in this windmill, and still to this day it’s still there, like the property has never been bought. Nobody knows who owns the property or how the windmill got there, but its been there since before my mom lived there, and like her parents told her about the witch too, and it’s been passed down from her since her childhood. And the older kids would tell me that they would see the witch in the windmill, and when I was older I would tell the little kids. And not until I was older did I realize that the whole point was to protect us from going near this creek at night and falling in.

Collector: Does this story have any special significance to you?

Informant: I think the significance is that even today when I walk past it, I always think of the legend, and when I look at the windmill now, I still get scared. It’s just like stuck with me all of this time.

This story isn’t a well-known national story, it’s just a story that people would tell their children in this small like place in Indiana. In a way, I think that that makes this story even more interesting because it’s cool to see how folklore can be created from mystery and warnings. It’s cool to note how the parents would tell their kids this story to keep them from adventuring into the creek at night, and drowning without anyone to help them. The kids, however, never realized this, and until they were older, it just served as a mysterious story for them. In that way, folklore serves two different purposes: to protect and to entertain.

Tales /märchen

The Scorpion and the Toad (Tale)

My informant is Courtney. Courtney is white female 19-year-old student at USC. She grew up in Alamo, California. She is of Irish and English descent.


Courtney: “So there was this tale about the scorpion and the toad, um so there was a scorpion and a toad and they were on one side of the river and a storm was coming. A really bad storm. And the only way they could survive was to get to the other side of the river. But the scorpion couldn’t get to the other side of the river because he’s a scorpion and cannot swim. However, the toad can swim and could get him across easily so the scorpion asks the toad if he could help him get across and save his life. The toad says “Why would I ever help you get across you’ve been killing my family members and my friends my whole life and why would I help you now?” And the scorpion was like, “I’ll give you my word if you help me across I wont ever kill any of your family members or friends or you again I will live a good life of honesty and kindness. We will become friends.” The toad is still not trusting him and says that he can’t trust him after all he’s done. The scorpion then begs, “Please take me to the other side! I will owe you my life. I’ll do anything if you help me survive I promise I will be good and wont harm anyone again”. The toad finally accepts this and asks the scorpion for his word and the scorpion gives him his word. So the toad helps him get to the other side and they survive this storm and as soon as the toad turned his back the scorpion stabbed him and killed him with his scorpion tail.

Did he say why the scorpion killed the toad?

Courtney: “Nope he’s just a scorpion and that’s how the story goes”

Is there a lesson?

Courtney: “I guess the lesson is whatever you want it to be like don’t trust scorpions”

When was the first time you heard this?

Courtney: “I heard a long time ago from my Dad and had forgotten about it but then he told the story again a couple of weeks ago”

Does this story have any meaning to you or anything?

Courtney: “I don’t know I haven’t thought about it; I guess only trust the people you are close to”


This is a weird tale. I think Courtney is missing the part at the end where she explained the morale of the story but maybe this is how she heard it and it is definitely how she remembers it. It it typical of a tale with talking animals and a plight they have to overcome. Courtney reveals she first heard this when she was a young girl and it is an ominous tale. One distrusts the other then finally trusts him but should have continued to distrust him. Is it a teaching of a tiger never changes his stripes? Or maybe do not give second chances? What this story means to me is to trust your instinct and to look out for yourself because if the toad had he would still be alive.

Tales /märchen

Dont hit your elders

The informant, C, is an 18 raised in South Central Los Angeles, California. His parents are both Mexican and he considers himself Mexican as well. He is studying Astronautical Engineering.


C-“Ok so once long ago in a small town, like a rancho, there were these two kids who would always mess with their grandpa and like f***K with him essentially. And these two kids were one day playing after school and they decided to be funny to throw rocks at the grandpa who was sitting at the porch. And so these kids do end up throwing rocks, and they find it hilarious and they are laughing and as the grandpa angrily yells at them, they run away. But you know, they live in this desert so they are pretty much running to the horizon, and then this great earthquake occurs and the floor opens up and swallows the two kids so the gap that was once created by the earthquake swallows the kids and closes again. And so the moral of the story is that you know don’t hit your elders because the earth may open up and consume you. And punish you for hitting your elders. “

Where did you first hear this?

C-“So my mom told me this when I was younger, because I was a trouble maker and would sometimes hit her”

Have you heard this story other times from other people?

C-“I have heard different alterations of the story but it’s pretty much the same moral of don’t hit your elders”

Analysis- The story can be seen as a representation of how the informant’s culture behaves. It is a culture that respects its elders and that shows there will be consequences for bad behavior. By having the characters getting punished be children, the elders are able to teach the values of the culture early on. The story is also set on a place that is known to many people of the same Mexican background, a ranch and a desert. The earthquake, as stated by the informant, is also evidence that it is nature that will punish and not the elders, which gives the story greater validity

Folk Beliefs
Tales /märchen

La Llorona

The informant, K, is 19 years old. She was born in Long Beach, California but was raised in Los Angeles. Her dad is from Guadalajara, Mexico (Southern Mexico) but moved to the United States when he was 2. Her mom was born in Obregon, Sonora (Northern Mexico) but grew in Mexicali (a US-Mexico border town), and she moved to the United States when she was 18. She is majoring in Applied Mathematics with a Computer Science Minor. She considers herself Mexican-American (or Chicana).


K-“Ok so we were told the story of La llorona, and for us it was basically like uh the background was that this woman this beautiful woman in this indigenous pueblo uh she fell in love with the Spanish conquistador and had children but then the conquistador left her for like another woman. Because she was in love with this man so much, every time she saw him in them, the children. And that’s the whole reason she drowned them in a like. After she drowned them, she like mourned them so she would go around at night saying ‘oh mis ninos’ (my children) and supposedly she kidnaps kids at night if they’re near the lake. And she is still a ghost that haunts that area where she used to live”

When did you first hear this story?

K-“Um I heard it in elementary school I think I was in 4th grade”

Have you heard this story from other people as well?

K-“Yup, I heard it from my family and the kids at school. Kind of all the same, all the same versions”

Did you use to live near a body of water or some forested area?


Analysis- This version of the story is seen as a way to ensure the proper behavior of children. The legend is specifically aimed to children, as it is the children that get drowned and the children that get kidnapped. The fact that she did not live near a body of water, which is where according to the legend is where the ghost appears, proves that this is a story told by the adults to make children behave. The legend is also given credibility by introducing some history into it in the form of the conquistador and the traditional Mexican woman. This legend would, therefore, not be easily accepted and used in other cultures.