USC Digital Folklore Archives / Tales /märchen
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.

Tales /märchen

Little Red Riding Hood

Context: This piece is was an interview that I directly copied every word said. The participants name is Jonathan. I had asked the participate in advance over phone if he had any folklore and he asked what I meant by that. After giving a few example he said he actually did have something to share. So we met in his apartment a few hour later. We entered the kitchen and sat down at the table. Main Piece: Ok so this was a long long time ago before technology. So there was this little girl named Red Riding Hood. She was called that cuz she wore a red sweater that had a hoody and she like had the hood on all the time. So the story goes that she.. she took care of her grandmother who was really old already. Like she couldn’t really leave the house. She kinda just stayed in bed the whole day and Red Riding would go into the forest… ooh yea she live in a cabin in the middle of a large forest. So she went to the forest to scavenge for food… she would carry like a basket and fill it with apples. ( coughed to clear throat). One day she went home and went to her grandma’s bedside. She told her grandma (raised the pitch of voice) “what big hands you have”…(with the same high pitch voice) “What big feet you have”. What was the other one? Uuhh… I can’t remember but then a man jumped out of the bed and tried to kill little red riding hood. He used an axe. So red riding screamed and a wolf came to rescue her. The wolf killed the mad and ate him. The wolf then used his nose to find little red riding hood’s mother. I think they found her in the closet locked in. They then lived happily ever after.  Background: Jonathan is a 19-year-old college student whose ethnicity is half Cuban and Half Mexican. He is a sophomore attending UCLA. He learned this version from a roommate he had in college. The roommate was Brazilian. Analysis:  This collection is a different variation of the famous tale of Little Red Riding hood. It is interesting to hear of a tale that has a famous motif inverted. The wolf is a famous motif representing a villain or an antagonist. It is seen in tales such as Little Red Riding Hood, the three little pigs, and the boy who cried wolf. However, in this Tale the wolf is the hero. If you want to read a variation of this tale in which the wolf does serve as a motif for a villain you can check out the book Little Red Riding Hood by Trina Schart Hyman.

Tales /märchen


Context: This piece is was an interview that I directly copied every word said. The participants name is Jonathan. I had asked the participate in advance over phone if he had any folklore and he asked what I meant by that. After giving a few example he said he actually did have something to share. So we met in his apartment a few hour later. We entered the kitchen and sat down at the table. Background: Jonathan is a 19-year-old college student whose ethnicity is half Cuban and Half Mexican. He is a sophomore attending UCLA.  Main Piece: 

So Cinderella is a girl that has to live with her step mom and her step sisters because her dad died. She is treated really bad and is pretty much the maid of the house. She has like little animal friends that um help her clean and talk to her. It is announced that there is going to be a ball and Cinderella really wants to go to meet Prince Charming and get out of the house. Her evil step sisters and her step mom don’t want her to go so they rip her dress and lock her up. But then a fairy godmother comes and transforms a pumpkin into a like really nice carriage and gives her a new dress. But then she gives her some conditions which is that everything would go back to normal at midnight. So Cinderella goes to the ball and Prince Charming and her fall in love. But then she runs out because it’s almost midnight but when she does she leaves a slipper behind. Prince Charming is going crazy looking for her and goes around with the slipper for girls to try them on. The step mom locks Cinderella up when the prince is coming but with help of her animal friends she gets out and tries the slipper and since it was her it fits so they live happily ever after.

 Analysis: This Cinderella tale is one of the most widespread and famous tales. Alan Dundes said there must be multiplicity and variation. This story embodies multiplicity and variation. The Cinderella tale has a centralized theme that anyone could be a “princes”. It serves the purpose of demonstrating that you can become anything you want to.  I am actually shocked by how many variations there are for this tale. If you would like to read popular variations of the tale you can rea Cinderella: The Ultimate Collection by Charles Perrault. 

Folk Beliefs
Tales /märchen


Main Piece:


Lee: The story of the leprechaun goes that they are little old men who wear green coats. They are like super mischievous. They are like little trouble makers. They work at making shoes and sell it for gold coins. The leprecoins (making a tongue twisted noise) the leprechauns all worked together for a really long time hid their gold coins in a pot. They then hid that pot at the end of the rainbow. The leprechauns hid the gold at the end of the rainbow so they could find it.That’s why people say follow the rain and at the end you’ll find a pot of gold.



This piece of folklore was collected in a Taco Bell I work at. I asked my fellow employee if there were any sayings or proverbs that he knew. He gave me one and then after when we both took our breaks he told me this proverb. This time we were sitting down at a table in the dining area and eating.



Lee is a third generation American. However, his ancestral roots originate in South Korea. Lee is unaware of who he learned this folk belief from. He said he learned this tale from a book his mom used to read him when he would go to sleep. This tale hold sentiment to him for this reason.


My thoughts:


This particular tale also incorporates a bit of variation and a common folk belief. In different variations of this tale, the pot of gold created the rainbow. The folk belief incorporated is that there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.


It is also interesting to see different folk beliefs for certain objects. For example, a rainbow is also believed to be a symbol from God saying that he will no longer flood the earth. It is a belied tied to Christian belief that Earth was flooded and the only survivors were those on Noah’s Arc.

Tales /märchen

German Märchen: Struwwelpeter

Interviewer: Do you know any German fairy tales or lullabies that you were told when you were younger or when you’ve visited Germany over the years?


Informant: My grandfather used to read out of this story book when I was little and it was compiled of German folktales that centered around this one character, Struwwel Peter.  It is like really well known in Germany and it follows this guy who is like supposed to teach children life lessons in the form of tales. They are more like warnings, like if you do “this” then “something” will happen to you I guess.


Interviewer: Do you remember one of the stories or an example of the stories or lessons?


Informant: Well there was one that was told to me about Struwwelpeter when I was younger and it was that there were these children that were really young and still sucked on their thumbs.  And the parents or the group that was around them was trying to get them to stop or get them to grow up so basically Struwwelpeter turned into a “scissor man”.  I know it sounds really weird but that’s what it was about and it really freaked me out.  And the tale goes that if you were sucking your thumb then he would come and try to cut off your thumb as a punishment.  So he was basically like chasing kids who miss behaved or disobeyed their parents in some way.


Interviewer: Was it meant to be a scary story?


Informant: I don’t think so but German tales and stories really don’t mess around, like there is no beating around the bush with certain images or details. It’s all kind of very graphic and upfront.  But I didn’t really grasp how scary and graphic the stories were when I was little until I got older and thought about what they were actually saying and the concepts kind of started to freak me out.


Interviewer: Yeah just by you telling me the story I got freaked out and I can’t even imagine telling that to children but I guess different cultures and time frames use different folklore.


Informant: It was also really serious because my grandfather is really German and the rest of my cousins still live there so I knew he wasn’t messing around.


Interview: Well thanks for sharing!


Background: The informant is a sophomore in college student Linguistics with an emphasis in German.  Her extended family lives in Germany and she visits them every two to three years.  She has also spent time teaching English and learning German over the summer at a children’s day school in rural Germany.  To her, this piece is very characteristics of things she has learned and experienced through this particular culture.  Even upon this interview she asked first if I knew who the Grimms were and the stories they collected.  Tales for her are a signifying point.


Context: This interview took place while on visit to see the informant.  The informant first heard or experienced this piece from her grandfather who not only knew the tales by heart but had gotten her a book compiled of a collection of these stories that her family still has.


Analysis: This interview was extremely special because it was the first time I had asked someone for cultural products or folklore and they knew exactly what I meant.  It was also cool to see examples of things we had discussed in class and to meet someone who knew exactly what märchen were and the history of their culture, including the Grimms.  In hearing the piece I was also struck by the reality of it and the exclusion of filters for different audiences depending on age, but given the course, it makes sense that these tales would not be edited for children of the time if childhood was not an established concept.  The coming together of these different examples and theories is a really interesting process that has brought tangibility to the study of folklore.


Annotation: Documented versions of this piece can be found in Heinrich Hoffman’s book, Struwwelpeter: Merry Tales and Funny Pictures.

Hoffman, Heinrich. Struwwelpeter. G. Routledge & Sons, Ltd., 1909.

Tales /märchen

German Märchen: Snow White

Interviewer: Do you know any German fairy tales or lullabies that you were told when you were younger or when you’ve visited Germany over the years?


Informant: I know a similar version to the Grimms of Snow White.  I think it’s really popular for people who are German or those who live in Germany to know stories that come from Grimms.  A lot of other stories are based of that collection.


Interviewer: Do you have one that sticks out for you?


Informant: Yeah there’s one called Sneewittchen which is German for Snow White or what we know as Snow White.


Interviewer: How does it go?


Informant: So there’s Snow White and the Evil Queen in the beginning and then Snow White escapes to live with the seven dwarves.  But after the Evil Queen asks the mirror, who’s the fairest of them all and it says Snow White, she sends the Huntsman out to go and kill Snow White.  But instead of killing her, he kills a boar and brings back the heart as a way to trick the Evil Queen into thinking that Snow White is dead.  So time goes by, and then the Evil Queen asks the mirror again who the is the fairest of them all and it says Snow White again.  That’s how the queen finds out that Snow White is still alive and decides to go out and look for her.  So when she finds her, she tricks her into eating the apple and she actually dies for a short time and they place her in a glass casket.  The Prince is out hunting in the woods, when he discovers Snow White in the glass and kisses her.  She comes back to life and as they are planning to get married, the Prince realizes that the Evil Queen is the one who was trying to kill her.  So he captures the Queen and forces her to wear these pair of burning hot shoes while she dances in front of the whole court.  And the Prince makes her dance until she is eventually consumed by the heat and essentially burned alive. The Queen dies and Snow White and the Prince get married and that’s the end.


Interviewer:  That is a very interesting version and a really awful way to die if you were the Queen.


Informant: Yeah, a lot of the stories that everyone knows, especially the Disney version don’t include those kinds of details but the earlier version aren’t as censured.


Background: The informant is a college student studying Linguistics with an emphasis in German.  She has a large extended family that still lives in Germany and she visits every two to three years.  She has also spent time in rural Germany teaching English at a children’s day school as well as learning to better her German.  This piece represents a lot of similar stories she heard as a child and was unaware until she was older that other children were learning the same stories in different ways.

Context: This interview took place when the informant was visiting with the interviewer.  For the informant, this piece is something that she not only heard when she was little but also studied again in school when taking an upper level German course.


Analysis: With this piece, the informant and I talked a lot about the history of the story and the role the Grimms played in distributing the stories that circulated a lot in German culture.  For the informant, the Grimms were almost a form of national pride and I found that really interesting.  Despite, that to an outsider like me, these stories seem gruesome and dark, to her it is an identifying mark of the history of her culture. It also brought to mind some ideas that we discussed around tourism and the way that the visited culture can be both proud and somewhat embarrassed by the things that make them stand out to other people and for me the Grimms tales seemed like a prime example for this informant.


Annotation: Other versions of this story and other like it can be found in

Grimm, Jacob, and Wilhelm Grimm. Kinder- Und Hausmarchen. G. Weise, 1860.

Tales /märchen

Sunday Drives

Main Piece: CR: Grandpa worked 6 days a week and Sunday was his only day off. It was important for him to connect with his family. If you stay at home, I’m off playing with a friend or watching TV, or grandma is asking him to clean the garage, so all four of us would load up in the car and we would drive. And we would just go. Sometimes we’d drive to the desert, sometimes to the mountains. But it wasn’t about the destination. Sometime we’d stop and get a meal, sometimes a soda, look at something interesting, but we weren’t driving for the sake of going somewhere, we were driving for the sake of four people in a car, sharing space and talking. And I hated it, because I’d rather be playing with my friend!  But now as a parent, I can see why they did that That was his way of keeping connected with his family every week. When you and I would go visit Aunt A, that was important, because it waa just the two of us, talking and laughing. And then also, your first year of college! I know i would come pick you up and you were always normally not feeling good, and then when we’d be sitting in traffic for 2 ½ hours sitting that we would have some time together. I think those times in cars as being time to connect. I will extrapolate more even! When you were a baby you would talk and talk and talk, and in the backseat, and I’d have to say to you, “no talking in the car because I’m driving, no talking in the car.” And then I did have a point where I thought to myself, “I have to stop saying that because i don’t want you to think there’s no talking in the car because isolated car time is perfect time for interactions!”


Context: Sunday Drives were taken every Sunday, in both CR’s childhood and in her daughter’s childhood.


Background: Sunday Drives were an important part of CR’s relationship with her parents as she was growing up, and so when she grew her own family she knew that this tradition was just as important to her as it was to her father.


Analysis: Sunday Drives are a typical thing in the American culture; the housewife has been home cleaning all week, her husband has been working 9-5 Monday through Friday, and Sunday is his last day off before he goes to work, before the kids go back to school, etc. Across families, this tradition of taking a family trip to nowhere in particular, or driving just for the sake of driving, is a huge piece of folklore in America. For CR’s family, both as she was growing up and as she was raising her own daughter, these regular drives were so important, as they were time when you were sort of forced to be with your family, you were supposed to bond and have conversations and laugh, and you got to spend a whole day together without any distractions.


For another version of this tradition, see CBS News.


Old age
Tales /märchen

Grandpa and the Friendly Ghost

Main Piece: CR: So, I’m not sure if the ghost came with the house in Winchester because after I finally told Grandpa about the ghost he then told me that the house I grew up in also had a ghost, so I don’t know if its a new ghost or like a continual ghost, but um, yeah there was the two specific things that happened! So we had bookcases in the den, built in bookcases that had books and knick knacks, so one day sitting in the living room I can see the den, out of the blue one of the knick knacks, a little fairy, literally falls off the bookcase on to the ground. No animal had walked by, nothing had happened. So I went to pick it up, and I put it back and I thought “well, maybe it was just learning funny, maybe it got bumped and finally fell off” so I put it back. I sat back down. Within a couple of minutes, from that same area on the bookcase, a book fell off and hit the ground. That’s the one that freaked me out because there’s no way a books just gonna fall off and hit the ground from the same area that that fairy was! In addition, things would go missing forever, we’d look and look and look for something, and a week later bam it’s just sitting there where we had looked 47 times, and I also would notice little peripheral lights in certain areas, and i’d look and it would go. So that’s when I made a deal with the ghost, I said “you can stay, but you cannot freak me out!.” and so I feel that when we moved to the first condo, I feel it came with us, because I still had the lights and things would still go missing, BUT when we moved to the second condo was within a few months of grandpa dying, and I have had very little issues at the new condo, so I don’t know if Grandpa is running interference with us with this ghost.


Context: These ghost sightings were noticed years ago, in an old house which happened to live in a city with a lot of Native American culture.


Background: CR tends to believe in these things: she meditates, she collects healing crystals, and she firmly believes that this ghost was real. She just as firmly believes that her father, after he died, has sent signs to her and has possibly protected her from this ghost.


Analysis: Ghosts are always interesting, especially when dealt with from the perspective of someone who firmly believes in ghosts. It seems difficult to find any sort of logical explanation for CR’s items falling off of her shelf other than a ghost, as books flying off shelves just isn’t something that regularly happens. The most interesting part of this story, however, is when CR mentions her father; it is definitely worth noting that her father died around the same time that her ghost stopped making problems for her– perhaps the ghost was tied to her father, since he mentioned that they definitely had a ghost in her childhood house. Perhaps the ghost was helping her recently deceased father get situated. Or perhaps, as she said, her father is out there, protecting her from this ghost that just wants to knock things off of shelves. Her firm belief in the presence of this ghost, and the relationship of the ghost to her father, is what makes this story truly unique.


Tales /märchen

A Little More than a Prank

Main Piece: SR: In high school, there was another girl that was in band… and we used to toilet paper everyone’s houses, but she didn’t have any trees in her front yard, so we went and stole a tree out of the ground, and went to her front yard and dug a hole and planted her tree, and then toilet papered the tree! And today, you can drive by and the tree is still in her front yard. We then wanted everyone to see the new tree, so her best friend lived across the street and had a circular driveway, and then we toilet papered their house and thought it would be super fun if everyone had to drive through her driveway to get to school to see it! So we spent the night driving around stealing traffic cones and detour signs and then made it so that every road going to school was blocked off, and anyone who wanted to get to high school that morning had to drive through her driveway.

CR (wife): I can attest to this, because I didn’t even know him and I remember having to drive through her driveway to get to school! I remember when he told me this story the first time, I said “That was you!”


Context: This practical joke, alongside many others, was done while SR was in high school.


Background: SR was a huge prankster in high school: he did this, he stole street signs, he painted someone’s car without them knowing… SR has always loved jokes and pranks, and even in retelling this story he was cracking up.


Analysis: Toilet papering someone’s house is a widespread high school tradition throughout America. Everyone has either toilet papered or been toilet papered. SR’s version gets much more unique, because not only did he literally plant a fully grown tree in someone’s yard, but in order to have people see his handiwork, he toilet papered a neighboring house and forced everyone at their high school to drive past it. This practical joke is a large variation on the standard joke of toilet papering, but in SR’s family this story in itself has become a tale– SR has told it, his wife has told it, even his daughter has told it to friends whenever pranks come up.


Tales /märchen

Mary Queen of Scotts is in my House!

Main Piece: KC: So basically… (looks at phone), my grandparents live in this house called Hipper Hall in this tiny tiny town called Holymoorside in England and its the main farmhouse, it has one tiny town hall thats just one room and then there used to be the village post office and the local village shop and a local school, but my grandparents house was the farm house– it has barns and fields and a slaughterhouse and a pigsty all made out of stone. Growing up… my family is completely logical and doesn’t believe in ghost stories, we’re very scientific, but it was always known that there were two things to look out for: bats that were in the barn, but apparently you could only hear them until you were 14… I remember my grandfather asking if i could still hear the bats, but basically there was always a story my grandfather told me that I believe was passed down from previous owners and there’s a ghost! There’s also supposedly a tunnel between our house and the biggest house of the neighboring village. She’s apparently a female ghost and is very friendly, and even my grandfather has seen her which freaks me out the most bc he’s a normal straight-shooting guy. She comes out on the full moon of November which is close to my birthday! She just kinda closes doors and stuff but only on this once specific night… I don’t think I’ve actually been there during this night but it has been a source of horror in my childhood. (looks up Hipper Hall Ghost on google) It’s on the internet! People have reported seeing hooded figures walk through barbed fences and a woman disappearing out of nowhere– oh yeah here it is! The supposed ghost of Mary Queen of Scotts has been reportedly seen at the barn door of Hipper Hall! Love my life. Wow.


Context: This story has been passed down her family for years– she has always known about the Hipper Hall ghost.


Background: KC’s family is very logical and scientific, to where they have so few superstitions and folk practices that it was difficult to collect form her. The fact that her entire family believes in this ghost helps make it more real for her.


Analysis: This was such a cool story! KC was doing research on her computer as she was telling me about the ghost, and at the end she found two articles online about this ghost in her grandparents’ house. It’s super interesting, because this is her family home, not just some random place or some famous home in Hollywood, but there is so much information done by other people on this topic that it makes it real. KC was also so skeptical about it at first, playing it off as just a family legend, but when she started doing more research and found other people who were talking about it, she became scared and even said “I can’t imagine my literal grandfather just hanging around with his ghost buddy, Mary of Scotts.”