USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘story’
Narrative

Creepy Clown Story

Informant is USC sophomore born and raised in Amherst, NY.

He tells me the story of a “deranged clown” he and his friends came across in the summer of 2016.

He tells me:

“Yeah, we were walking in the forest by my house. I was going to shoot some pictures and my two friends were with me. It was like noon, a perfectly normal day.

So I was going to take some portraits and then we were going to go see a movie. It was so normal, but as we’re walking down the path in the forest— it’s behind the school, we went all the time so this was no different— I saw this color out of the corner of my eye.

And this was happening right around the time when all those clowns were showing up in videos. So my first thought was “oh god, a clown.” And so I turned and there he— it— was, a clown standing in the forest. It looked like he was holding a knife, I saw a glisten which could have been a knife, but also maybe a phone or something. A watch glistening or something, but I’m pretty sure it was a knife.

He wasn’t looking at us but immediately I had a flash back to a video I saw where a clown started chasing someone at like, full speed. So I wasted no time and we high tailed it out of there.

Usually I don’t believe in this kind of stuff. Honestly I thought those clown videos were just all faked. But when you see one yourself, and you think that somebody’s crazy enough to go stand in the forest dressed like that, you don’t care what’s faked. You get the fuck out of there!”

Personally I’m also skeptical of this “killer clown” thing. It seems a little too “Hollywood” to be true to me, it kind of taps into this scary movie fear we have as a society. I don’t know if I actually believe he saw a clown, or if he even believes he did. Part of me thinks he’s just playing off of the trend and wanted to have a creepy clown story of his own.

I also wonder about the “scary clown” thing— why is it true? What’s so scary about clowns, or as a society did we choose to make the clown scary because it’s a better narrative?

general
Narrative

Tanbouri’s Shoes

Abu Al Kasem Al Tanbouri used to live in Baghdad, and he had very old shoes, which he used to patch up every time when it breaks. The shoe became a collection of patches, and it was known for everybody. One day, his friends insisted on him to get rid of these old shoes, so he threw it in the dumpster, and he went back home. On his way home, he passed by the market, and he saw these nice, colorful glass bottles. But he thought these are too expensive and he doesn’t need them. Then he passed by a place where they sell perfumes, and he thought this expensive perfume deserves to be in one of these beautiful, colorful glasses. So he went back, and he got one glass bottle, and then he got the perfume, and put the perfume in the glass, and put it on a shelf in the house.

Meanwhile, a man was passing next to the dumpster, and he saw the patched shoes, and he recognized them. So he thought, it’s impossible for Al Tanbouri to get rid of the shoes, and I need to take it back to him. When he knocked on the door, nobody answered (because Al Tanbouri was out), and he saw an open window in the house. So he threw the patched shoes through the window, and hit the glassed perfume, which broke, and the perfume spilled out of the glass.

When Al Tanbouri came back to the house, and he recognized what happened, he cursed the shoes, and he took them angrily, and he threw them in the river. After a while, a fisherman found the shoes in his net, and he recognized them. He thought that he needed to take them back to their owner, so he went to Al Tanbouri’s house, and he told him, “I found your shoes in my net.”

Tanbouri took the shoes and put it on the roof to dry. A cat thought the shoes were a piece of meat, and started to chew on it. So Al Tanbouri followed the cat, trying to get it to leave the shoes alone, but the cat put the shoes in his mouth, and started to jump over roofs. All of a sudden, the shoes fell from the cat’s mouth, and it hit a pregnant woman, and she fell down on her back, and miscarried the baby. So her husband went to the judge, accused Al Tanbouri with killing his unborn baby, after he recognized they were Al Tanbouri’s shoes. So the judge ordered him to pay blood money.

Al Tanbouri got very angry, and he started cursing the shoes, and thought, “I need to throw it in a place where no one will find it.” So he threw them in the sewers. In two days, the sewers flooded. When the workers came to check the reason of the flood, they found the patched shoes, and they recognized who the owner is. They took him to the judge again, and the judge ordered to send him to prison.

After he was done with his sentence, they gave back the shoes to him. Again, he cursed the shoes, and he thought, “I need to bury it in a deep place.” When he started to dig, the neighbors thought that thieves were digging through the fence, so they went to the police, and the police came and took him to the judge. Al Tanbouri asked the judge to write a document that he has nothing to do with the shoes anymore, and no matter what trouble they are causing, he has no connection to it.

Al Tanbouri’s shoes were famous for their bad luck.

Background information: The informant learned this from a friend of hers and thought it was entertaining and funny. It is a Middle Eastern story.

Context: The informant told me this in a conversation about folklore.

Thoughts: I thought this was a funny story – the fact that a pair of beaten-up shoes, nothing really important, can have serious ramifications on Al Tanbouri’s life is pure comedy, as well as the fact that the shoes inadvertently followed him everywhere. He tried so hard to get rid of them following well-meaning advice from his friends, and they caused so much trouble for him. I don’t recall any stories I’ve heard that are similar to this, so it was quite interesting and entertaining to listen to.

For another version of this story, see The Tanbouri Shoes (My Auntie’s Stories), published by Asalah (2008). ISBN-10: 9953488851.

folk metaphor
Folk speech
Narrative

Juha’s Nail

Juha had a house he liked very much. But, he needed some money so he had to sell it. For him, to keep a connection to his house, he put in the contract that he is selling all of the house, except a nail on one of the walls. After a week, Juha knocked the door, and when the new owners opened, he told him “Excuse me, I am here to check on my nail.” And he kept doing this almost every day and especially during lunch or dinner time, to be able to share the owner’s meals. After a while, the owner was so tired of Juha’s visits, he left the keys with him and departed. The phrase “Juha’s Nail” stayed as a expression for when you use an excuse to keep coming back for something you are attached to.

Background information: This is a piece of folklore read about in school in the Middle East. The informant found the story for the phrase, “Juha’s Nail,” particularly funny. Juha is a recurring character in many Middle Eastern stories.

Context: The informant told me about this story in a conversation about folklore.

Thoughts: I think it’s so cool and interesting to have a metaphor used in language that started as a story/joke. I have not learned about Arabic metaphors, so it’s fascinating to learn about the origins of one of them.

Humor
Narrative

Juha and His Sheep

Juha had a white, cute, chubby sheep, and he used to love him a lot. Juha’s friends wanted to trick him, and to slaughter that sheep for them for dinner. They told him that the end of the world will be tomorrow, and there is no point of keeping his sheep, and that they should their last picnic and enjoy the meat next to the river. So Juha slaughtered the sheep, and he started a fire to grill it. His friends went to swim in the river, and they were laughing and joking about him. He got upset, and he threw all their clothes in the fire. When they came back, they were upset at him, and he told them: “Why do you need their clothes if tomorrow is the end of the world?”

Background information: This is a traditional story heard throughout the Middle East. Juha is like Charlie Chaplin in a sense – he always does funny stuff and gets into funny situations, and is a recurring character.

Context: The informant told me this story in a conversation about folklore.

Thoughts: It’s interesting to see the amount of stories and jokes that revolve around this Juha character. To have one main character seems to make it easier to relay jokes and stories – no background information or context is needed, since it is always Juha. He gets into funny situations all the time, so it makes sense that these things happen to him. I feel bad for the sheep, though – getting it killed for something to laugh about is a cruel joke! Juha definitely and rightfully got back at his friends.

Narrative

Panchatantra = Indian comic book

Main piece:

“Panchatantra is a folktale comic book for kids created to teach morals and important life lessons. In one of the stories, there is a god/deity, who is disguised as a poor female street beggar. She goes to a rich family household and asks for food and money. They say no, so then she moves on to the village and goes to a poor couple’s house. The couple has like no food or anything but she asks for food and water. They give her one roti (which is like tortilla/bread) and water even though they had none for themselves. So then when the rich family and poor couple wake up, their lives are switched.

Background information (Why does the informant know or like this piece? Where or who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them?):

Informant said she got her Panchatantra from her aunt on her 4th birthday as a gift but it was very common and every kid owned it. Informant said that the story shows that no matter how much you have- a lot or a little- you should share with people. It teaches people to not be selfish and greedy.

Context (When or where would this be performed? Under what circumstance?):

It is read by kids as a comic book in India.

Personal Analysis:

The Panchatantra is like Aesop’s fables. It is a good way to combine something fun and educational. It is not education in a literal or academic sense, but it is one way that India teaches kids how to be generous. It shows the values of the nation that cares about giving rather than receiving.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Proud Eagle

“This is a story about an eagle and the issue of pride that has been, uhh… told generations after generations to caution the young generations about not to be too proud of themselves and be humble. I’ll say this story in Farsi first, and then translate it in English. [Tells story in Farsi]

Now translate in English, the story about a proud, extremely proud eagle. And as he was flying, I… says to himself, ‘I’m so proud of myself, and my power, and how I can see things, and I’m the strongerest, the strongest eagle on Earth, and anything down there, if it moves, I can tell, I can sense it.’

As he was flying, a hunter down below, using bow and arrow, aimed at her… uhh… and sh… sh…, you know, aimed an arrow at her. Uhh… so causes the eagle to start falling. As… he was, uhh… I’m sorry, I changed my pronouns! You know, I went from he and she; can we redo that?”

No, it’s fine, you can keep going!

“[Laughs] Okay. As he was falling down, uhh, he was looking at the arrow that caused him to fall, and noticed that the, uhh, the important thing that was guiding the arrow was a feather of another eagle. That caused his fall. And eventually his demise.

So the story goes to explain that, uhh, most of the things that are happening to us, are as a result of some of the things we’re doing, uhh, due to our neglect, due to our incompetence, that’s happening to us.”

 

Analysis: This story is very similar to tales and proverbs in other parts of the world relating to pride. I am reminded of the English phrase, “Pride comes before the fall,” which is itself derived from the Bible. It seems to be a very common belief that excess pride often results in one’s own misfortune, but it is interesting to note that in this case, the story is told from the perspective of the Eagle. Not only this, but the hunter is not seen as good or evil, he is instead a merely neutral actor. This places all of the responsibility for wrongdoing on the Eagle’s pride, instead of the entity that caused the Eagle direct harm.

Narrative

Mullah Nasreddin and Growing Older

“Okay, umm… I’m gonna tell you about the Mullah Nasreddin. He was a wi- wiseguy, and he was always say things that sound like stupid, but really it had a lot of meaning. Uhh… Mullah Nasreddin, umm… he… one day he was walking in the street, and the guy, friend, came and he says, ‘How old are you, Mullah?’

And Mullah says that, ‘I’m 40 years old.’

‘Oh, okay. I thought you told me that 10 years ago you’re 40 years old. What happened, you’re not getting old… older?’

He says, ‘No, even if you come hundred years from now ask me, I’m still gonna be 40 years old.’

And he says, ‘Why?

He says, ‘Because a man doesn’t change his mind. He is always what he says and what he’s gonna be.’

So, umm… Gonna tell you the Farsi. [Tells story in Farsi].

So, is just telling about how stubborn mens are [laughs].”

Analysis: Mullah Nasreddin stories are very common in Persian culture because they are a humorous way to impart life lessons, especially on children. Mullah was famous for playing the fool, but always having a bit of hidden meaning or wisdom in what he was saying or doing, as is present here. This story comments on how pointlessly stubborn many people can be, to the point of ignoring facts, and how humorously childish it is to do so rather than embrace reality.

general
Myths

The Polish Eagle

Informant IT is a sophomore studying Computer Science and Business Administration at the University of Southern California. She is of Polish descent and has lived in many parts of the world. She is fluent in several languages including Polish, English, and Mandarin, and she considers herself very good at learning languages. In this piece, she tells the interviewer (AK), about a Polish myth concerning the founding of Poland.

IT: So, this is the story of the Polish Eagle, and how Poland is set to be founded. So the three brothers Lef, Czech, and Bruce were living in small villages. But it came to the point where the villages were just too small to live comfortably. So they set out with some troops and they started going through mountains and rivers and they couldn’t find anyone. And it had gotten to the point where they got to the top of a mountain top and they decided to go 3 separate ways. Lef went straight ahead, Czech went left, and Bruce went right. And Lef went down the mountain and went over another valley, and at the top of another mountain, he saw an eagle flying in the sunset and the light apparently fell very beautifully. Uhh on the head of the crown of the eagle head. That’s why it has a crown on its head on the Polish flag. And he decided that this is where they would settle and they brought all the people there, and they called themselves the Polonians. Which means “The people of the fields”. Yeah, that’s the story of the Polish Eagle and how Poland was founded.

AK: So would you say this is more of a legend, or is it almost accepted as fact of how Poland was created?

IT:  I don’t know if I would say it’s accepted as fact, but every single Polish person knows this story, like there’s movies and games and comics about this.

AK: But it’s just been passed down through generations?

IT: Yeah, yeah and they had flown the flag with the eagle on it and the eagle with the crown on its head when they had founded it way back then. And it’s definitely accepted by everyone now.

I really enjoyed listening to this Polish myth about its creation. It definitely invoked a sense of nationalism and pride in my informant and she even mentioned that every Polish person has definitely heard this story. This is one of the aspects of it that makes it into a myth. It has a sacred truth value since everyone knows the story and has accepted it. I knew just about nothing about Polish culture, so it was really interesting to learn a bit through this piece.

general
Tales /märchen

Ganesh and his brother Kartikeya

Informant KM is a sophomore studying Chemical Engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is of Indian descent and moved to America at a very young age; however, she is very proud of her Indian heritage and considers herself to be very knowledgeable in regards to Indian mythology and religion. She is also fluent in two Indian languages, Hindi and Marathi. This piece of folklore is her recitation of a very well-known Hindu folktale to me (AK) about the two brothers of very renowned Hindu Gods.

KM: Ganesh rides a rat and Kartikeya rides a peacock. Anyway, Shivji and Parvati are their parents and they tell them to prove which one is stronger or smarter. Kartikeya says he has a ton of strength cause he can ride around this world 3 times and come back to you faster than anyone. And Ganesh said the same thing, but like it sounded dumb because Ganesh was riding a rat. So they had a fight and they challenged each other to ride around the world 3 times. So Kartikeya went off to go ride around the world… but Ganesh was really cunning and all and he just rode around Shivji and Parvathi 3 times. He just said that “you guys are my world” and so he won.

AK: What kind of story is this? Why did you tell me this one?

KM: Haha… I just think this funny is story cause it shows a child being a kissass. And It shows the child being super cunning but also aware of his flaws. He knew he couldn’t beat Kartikeya, but instead of being sad about it, he was just smarter.

AK: Who did you learn it from and what does it mean to you?

KM: I learnt it from my parents, and I think it’s funny that I learned it from them cause that’s how they were telling me that I should respect them — cause they were like “haha” we should be your world!

In my opinion, this folktale just represents a clever play on words and not much more. I don’t think there is any serious meaning that can be derived from this story. Instead, the folktale just seems like it was created solely for the purpose of entertainment. This is refreshing to see, and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about this folktale.

Legends
Narrative

Connecticut Ghost Story

Informant EM is 18 years old and a freshman at the University of Southern California. Her major is cinema and media stories. Here, she discusses her ghostly experience as a freshman in high school in Connecticut:

EM: “For my freshman year of high school, I went to boarding school in the middle of nowhere in Connecticut. It was kind of an isolated community so we had to tell each other stories to keep us entertained for the most part and a lot of those stories involve the founding of the school and the legacy of the people who founded the school. So I got the luck of moving into the oldest dorm on campus that had been around since the 1800’s and it was a scary place. It was drafty, it was cold, it was falling apart, so naturally we had a bunch of ghost stories about it. The most memorable one was the story of the ghost of Maria Bissell Hotchkiss who was the founder of the school. Legend had it that if you went out at night to the hallway and you went to the back staircase of the dormitory, which was named after her by the way, you would see a woman dressed in white in a Victorian costume, like very old fashioned clothing, walking back and forth throughout the hallway and she would go down the stairs and if you tried to follow her, she would disappear. A lot of this has to do with the fact that back part of the dorm used to be her home when the school was originally founded. It’s kind of like the idea that she is looking out for the students. She’s been known to be a benevolent ghost, nothing really scary about her, but it was still creepy and there were definitely tons of sightings. I remember in particular when we had a blackout, because we were snowed in, there was this horrible blizzard. I actually feel like I might have seen something. I like to think that there is a rational explanation because like again it’s an old building, but I heard footsteps out in the hallway and I had the room closest to the back staircase and there wasn’t anyone with me. My roommate was back in my room but she heard the footsteps too, but she didn’t see what I saw. I saw someone in the dark who was dressed in white and this figure was opening the back door to the staircase and going in and you know there could be many explanations obviously, but it definitely made me think and it was kind of a fun story to tell other people after.”

How did people react to your experience?               

EM: “Well there was this girl who was a daughter of a teacher and she lived in the house adjacent to the dorms, and she said that all throughout her childhood before even knowing who Maria Bissell was, she had actually seen the ghost in one of the rooms, which when we later went upstairs to look at it, it turned out to be my room because it is the closest to the back. So we were thinking that maybe this used to be Maria Bissell’s room when it was a house, so maybe that explains why she keeps going there. But the girl said she wasn’t scared of her as a young child. She said that she got the impression that this spirit was kind to children. She started a school so maybe she is still around just to keep looking out for her students to make sure that they are OK.”

How or from whom did you learn about your school’s history?

EM: “Well before I saw it with my own eyes, I had the background because it was a popular story to hear around Halloween from the older students. It was kind of like an initiation thing like I would hear it from like the girls who were proctors and were seniors and you would hear it from the faculty. But I remember that they would make this little ritual out of it on Halloween where they would take us to a graveyard. They would take us out on Halloween night to the grave of Maria Bissell. It was just to scare us and it was part of the initiation process. It was a big part of the school culture and especially the women who are a part of the school. The boys never heard about this kind of stuff that went on, only the girls were involved.”

Did any of the girls ever share this with the boys?

EM: “Never. No, actually it was very exclusive. I don’t know if it had to do with that the dorm was a girls dorm, but it was definitely women who passed it on to other women.”

Does your experience have any meaning to you?

EM: “Well I’m not sure, but I like to keep my mind open. I like to think of it more as a lucky encounter or a positive thing, almost like a good luck charm more than it would be like something that is very scary because it was a way in connecting with the history of the place and also it’s nice for a change to have like a mascot ghost that isn’t out to get you. It was definitely a positive experience.”

What context would you share your experience in?

EM: “Well it makes a great story for stuff like Halloween, but I feel like it’s probably easier to explain to people from my same background. So if I were to meet another girl who went to Hotchkiss, I would probably ask her if she heard about Maria Bissell and ask her of she experienced anything similar. Everyone has their own story on Maria Bissell, which kind of defines your belonging to group of Hotchkiss girls. It would definitely be a bonding thing.”

Analysis:

EM’s experience with the ghost of Maria Bissell Hotchkiss is a large part of the schools initiation process and part of the tradition of passing those experiences onto the new class of girls who are coming in. It represents belonging within the community and the spirit of Marie Bissell Hotchkiss is portrayed as a benevolent spirit who is a reminder that the girls of this community a part of a tradition that was upheld for decades. The shared experiences and stories brought the community together. It solidified the bond between the girls of the school. It also established a sense of identity for the girls who went to Hotchkiss. Many girls came from all over the U.S. and the world to earn an education at this school and through the many experiences of encountering Maria Bissell over generations brought a sense of community and a shared belief system that all the girls could relate to and understand.

 

For another version of this legend, check out this article written by Stephanie Thomas:

http://www.hotchkiss.org/abouthotchkiss/hotchkiss-today/last-bissell-halloween-walk/index.aspx

Citation:

Thomas, Stephanie. “Origins of the Bissell Halloween Walk.” The Hotchkiss School. N.p., 2014. Web. Apr. 2016.

 

 

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