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Mythology: Irish Folklore

Around St. Patrick’s Day, I found myself curious as the origins of the holiday and the strange figure of St. Patrick himself. However, I did not know anyone with any first-hand knowledge of Irish mythology, so I went online and conducted a search on Irish folklore surrounding St. Patrick. I found on YouTube a publication called Irish Folklore Publications, that specializes in telling short stories about Irish folklore for children. The site aims to keep Irish folklore alive by digitalizing stories that can entertain modern children of all nationalities. The format is a woman telling the story, with visuals from pages of a book. The narrator is Maureen O’Hara who works in the preservation of Irish folklore. On either side of the page is the written words of the story she reads. Interestingly, the right side has the story in Gaelic, the original language of Ireland, and then the left side is translated to English. This provides a nice added touch, as it also helps keep ancient Irish traditions alive through language. The speaker actually uses some Gaelic within her reading of the story as well. I felt that the whole presentation was well done because it made for an interesting story, but one that made sure to incorporate Gaelic elements. As such, it was not only a fun story for children to hear about, but also a learning tool about Irish culture and history. Overall, I found the piece to be informative and helped me understand why the legend of St. Patrick is so important in Irish folklore.

This particular story is about St. Patrick and how he became such a major figure in early Christian Ireland. She reads, “fado, fado, many many years ago, way back in the fifth century, a very special baby was born.” This helps provide a time period for St. Patrick’s birth and life. It also introduces the story in a very similar manner as to many other fairy tales that begin with the tradition, “a long, long time ago” style introduction. The period is in Roman Britain and explains Patrick’s upbringing and eventually his growth into adulthood. It explains his conversion to Christianity, which was still not very popular among the Celtic pagans of Ireland at the time. He became a bishop and helped guide the early Christians at the time. One day, he was confronted with hysteric villagers in Munster who claimed that a giant snake was killing their livestock. So, brave St. Patrick went to look for the snake and found him near the “Galtee Mountains.” He lifted it up with a hook and placed it in a bucket where he threw him in a lake to be kept prisoner. Thus, St. Patrick is hailed for driving out the dangerous snakes of Ireland and making the land safe for farmers and their livestock.

Source: Irish Folklore Publications. (2010). St. Patrick’s Story.

Play: Pirate Folklore

On April 13, 2018 I attended the play Peter and the Starcatcher at the Long Beach Playhouse Theaters. Written by Rick Elice, it was based on the book by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson and directed by Gregory Cohen. The play is a prequel to the iconic story of Peter Pan, providing the origins for several of the characters of the story, including Hook, Tinker Bell and Peter Pan himself. The play is set in Neverland and opens up with orphan Peter, being called Slank at the time, being sold into some kind of slavery or indentured service to the King Rundoon. This is what sets the stage for his ongoing hatred of adults that stays with him through the original story.
The main piece of folklore that I wanted to explore in depth for this assignment was a story within the larger play about Black Stache, who is reminiscent of the folklore about the infamous Black Beard. Black Stache is first introduced by the character of Smee, played by Jazzy Jones, is Captain Hook’s loyal servant. After taking the Wasp hostage, Smee tells the Captain Scott the legend of Black Stache, which is quite reminiscent of Black Beard. Smee’s monologue is meant to instill fear into the crew so that they fear the elusive figure and plays into the folklore of the figure of Black Beard.
He calls Black Stache “the prince of darkness, our satanic satanic supervisor, foul and nasty with a cloven hoof.” Smee tells the Captain that you can recognize Black Stache by his “celebrated mouth brow, that’s how.” Then, Black Stache, played by William Ardelean, arrives himself and reaffirms all the folklore that Smee has just announced about him. He calls himself “a pirate with scads of pinash wants the key to the trunk with the cash” and tells the crew the he is a “blood thirsty outlaw.”
Interestingly, the play connects this character of Black Stache to Captain Hook, as Black Stache later becomes Hook when he loses his hand later in the play. I found this incredibly interesting, as Smee is elaborate in his tale of Black Stache and the horror he inflicts on the high seas. Thus, the play is harkening back to real folklore tales and placing the story of Captain Hook into these legends as a way to further provide depth and legitimacy to his character. It is an interesting development for Captain Hook’s character and I feel an innovative spin on an old folklore legend.

Armenian Folk Story: The Golden-Headed Fish

This piece was told to me by one of my neighbors of Armenian descent. I came home one night to find my neighbors having a celebration to honor those who had died during the Armenian genocide from 1914 to 1923. Around the last few weeks of April, it is apparently a tradition to celebrate Armenian pride in honor of those who were killed. I was curious to hear more about the culture and took the opportunity to ask about some stories of Armenian folklore. I found myself talking to one of the older gentleman at the party, who was the uncle of my neighbor who lived at the house. He was very happy to indulge my curiosity about Armenian folklore and told one of his favorite stories about a fish with a golden head. It was definitely a story that many at the party had heard before, because many of them chimed in, laughing at certain parts and commenting on others.

The story he told was about “an old Egyptian king who went blind and was expected to die.” Physician after physician was brought in to see if they could help the “old king,” as my informant continued to call him. Apparently, one of them claimed that there was a fish with a golden head somewhere in the ocean that could provide a cure if caught. The physician said he would wait for 100 days to see if the fish could be caught, so the “old king’s” young princely son brought many men with him to find the fish. However, “after many and many fish were caught, they thought they would never find the one with the golden head.” Just at the 100 days, the young prince caught the golden fish, but at that point it was too late because the physician said he was going to leave. At that moment, the fish also looked up at him, scared for its life. Since the prince new that the special cure was only the secret of the one physicians, he decided to let the fish live. When the king heard what his son had done, he summoned an executioner. However, the queen intervened and rescued her son, and gave him the advice to take on servants who served out of charity and not money. This servant introduced the prince to another king who offered them the prize of his daughter if they could kill a monster. However, the princess was actually a monster herself that was looking to eat the prince, but the prince’s servant cut off her head and the prince was “married to another of the king’s daughters—he had many.” That night, the prince heard that his father had died and so he returned to Egypt. The servant then told the new king that he must go, but the young king was upset because he had saved his life. It was then that the servant revealed he was actually the fish with the gold head, who had come in human form to save the life of the young prince in gratitude for his kindness earlier on.

The story itself is an interesting one. I admit, it was a little long and confusing, but that might have also been because the informant had been drinking throughout the party. Still, there is a clear moral message that I find shares a theme with other folk stories from other cultures. It promotes acts of kindness and benevolence, for these behaviors will help ensure that others will be kind to you. I also found it interesting that the story was set in Egypt and the Middle East, which is quite far from Armenia. I asked the informant if he knew where the story came from and he said it had always been told in Armenia. This may have been brought to the region by foreigners, or the story was just set in a seemingly far-off and mysterious place to add to the excitement.

Source: Garen Bedrossian

Armenian Folk Story: The Wandering Wizard

This piece was told to me by one of my neighbors of Armenian descent. I came home one night to find my neighbors having a celebration to honor those who had died during the Armenian genocide from 1914 to 1923. Around the last few weeks of April, it is apparently a tradition to celebrate Armenian pride in honor of those who were killed. I was curious to hear more about the culture and took the opportunity to ask about some stories of Armenian folklore. I found myself talking to one of the older gentleman at the party, who was the uncle of my neighbor who lived at the house. He was very happy to indulge my curiosity about Armenian folklore and told one a second tale that he remembers hearing from an early age.

This story is about a traveling wizard who goes on a vacation around the countryside. My informant stated that “he was old, and bored, and wanted an adventure…so one day he got up and just left!” The old wizard met a number of people of his journey who he helped for their kindness. There was a woman who shared water with him and invited him to spend the night in her home for shelter. The wizard repaid them “with food plenty!” They woke up the next morning with full cabinets. He met a shepherd that was having a hard time making a living and magically made his flock larger. Then, a farmer, whose vines were not producing. The wizard magically made his vines full of grapes. “A year had gone by and the wizard wanted home again,” my informant said. On the way back, he met each person he had helped along the way, but in the time he was gone they had forgotten that his kindness was the reason for their success. The shepherd said he had to pay for meat and the farmer refused to spare him any produce because he hadn’t worked for it. Only the kind woman who had given him water welcomed him back into her home. “For that, she was repaid with a full bag of gold under her cabinet every day!”

Clearly, the folk tale is one to teach about the moral obligations of charity, kindness, and respecting those who help one out. To me, it was interesting that the wizard in the story needed so much help all of the time, which when I asked my informant he laughed and shrugged the question off. I am assuming it was because the folk tale wants to present the wizard as a humble person who is grateful for the kindness of others. The woman who is the kindest to him is rewarded the most, bot with food and money at the end of the story. This also demonstrates how gifts are not always monetary, as they can be food and help with one’s business. Still, the gift of the gold is the highest prized within the story, as it is only the woman who acts out of kindness twice that receives that.

Source: Garen Bedrossian

Film: American Folklore

The 2003 film Big Fish was an amalgam of a number of different American folktales. Directed by Tim Burton, the film uses innovative imagery and cinematography to give new life to old legends. It aims to connect some of the most widely loved folk stories of the United States in a compelling, but realistic story about a man’s life.   The plot centers around the life of Edward Bloom, a traveling salesman known for his tall tales. At the end of his life, he recounts some of the biggest tall tales to his son, which allows his son to connect with him on a deeper level. The film is a series of flashbacks as Bloom tells his son his outrageous stories, and this is where the audience gets an on-depth look at some of America’s most iconic folk stories.

The story I want to discuss here is the one that starts the film and the one that Bloom has told many times to his family and friends. This is the one about how he caught the biggest catfish in history with his wedding ring on the day that his son was born. It was a giant “uncatchable” catfish that had become a legend at the local lake for decades. According to Bloom, the catfish is what kept him from being there for his son’s birth, as it took him hours to reel it in. But at the very last moment, the catfish got off the line and Bloom lost the biggest potential catch of his life. The story opens the film as Bloom tells it to his new daughter in law, as well as ends it, as the one of the last scenes is the giant cat fish spitting out a wedding ring.

This story is reminiscent of folklore found in fishing and outdoors culture across the United States. Nearly every fishing town or major lake that attracts anglers has its own “Larry the Lunker,” a giant fish that outsmarts everyone who tries to catch it. The fish is so old and experienced, it can outwit even the most capable anglers. Yet, fisherman talk about how they almost catch it or see it often in the lakes like it is some sort of Loch Ness Monster. The film pays homage to this image with Bloom almost catching it but then loosing it at the last second. However, the catfish seems to represent more than just an angler folk legend. It comes to represent the excitement and story-telling aspect that folk tales play. They aim to help provide moral lessons, but most importantly that aim to entertain. That is exactly what Tim Burton achieves in the iconic film thanks to figures like the giant catfish.




Burton, Tim. (2003). Big Fish. Columbia Pictures.