Tag Archives: fairy tale

Russian Urban Legend

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Russian Armenian
Age: 21
Occupation: Student
Residence: Glendale
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/3/2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Russian, Armenian

Name: Баба Яга

Transliteration: Baba Yaga

Description: Informant describes it as an Urban Legend that became a fairytale, but presented more like a legend. It is a witch who lives in a traditional log cabin. The cabin sits on either two or one giant bird feet. She is a cannibalistic witch. Her house is decorated with the decapitated heads of her victims. She flys in the sky on a butter churner. She lures children if they are not sleeping and kidnaps them. Described as an ugly old lady with a big hook nose. People have expressed memorates of how they have seen her and how disturbing she looks.

Background Information: Russian legend whose story is told by adults to children or spread from children to children. Also spread and kept alive through memorates.

Context: The informant had originally told me this story when we were children. She recently reiterated it to me through video call. She is of Russian and Armenian descent. She was originally introduced to Baba Yaga by her cousin who was living in a small town named Stary Oskol, which is located in Russia.

Thoughts: Classic example of stranger danger. This legend is used as a lesson to children to sleep and not to wander (especially into the woods). Informant told me that Russia is very forested, so Russians try to warn children to not go into the woods because it is very dangerous. Baba Yaga is used as a cautionary tale to not go into the woods because the witch lives there. Adults need to make a fear that the children will understand instead of telling them the reality of the danger of the woods. Fantasy is more effective for children in contrast to reality.

Tale: José the Beast Slayer

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Portuguese, Mexican, American
Age: 24
Occupation: Staff
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 2/12/19
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Portuguese

I work with my friend J, whose mother is from Portugal and father is from Mexico. I asked him to tell me one of his favorite stories that he remembers hearing while growing up to try and get a folktale out of him. He told me this story while we were working, I was the only member of the audience. He said that his mother would tell it to him when he was younger as a sort of fairytale.

The story is called Jose the Beast Slayer. The story starts with a woman being trapped in a wooden home with no door by her father. She is here for years until she eventually is able to escape and fall in love with a Duke. They have a son and soon after his birth the father dies and the son quickly proves himself to be wise and strong. He takes care of his mother for a while while they live in the woods. One day Jose the beast slayer runs into a giant and kills it quickly. He returns to his mother with some gold and the great news and she tells him he should go see the King and tell him of the story. When Jose meets with the king he quickly realizes that the king is his grandfather, the one who locked up the girl in the beginning. They are reunited and they go find the woman and bring her to the kingdom. Many years later when the king passes away and Jose the beast slayer becomes the new king of the land.

This to me as many of the elements of a typical folk tale. The hero is Jose, the protagonist is the giant. There is a brief love story. There is a happy ending of a reuniting family. The protagonist shows strength and intelligence beyond his years. The story inspires happiness and unity. I was surprised that there was nothing specific in the story that related to the culture of Portugal, but I didn’t consider that a loss or odd. The start of the story reminded me a lot of Rapunzel which also doesn’t represent one culture either.

The Frog Princess

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American, Russian
Age: 26
Occupation: Hedgefund Analyst
Residence: New York, NY
Date of Performance/Collection: April 8, 2017
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Russian

The 26-year-old informant was born in Russia, but moved to the U.S. at a young age. During his undergraduate studies at Dartmouth College, he was a teaching assistant for a Russian folklore class and found these pieces of folklore to be particularly interesting or representative of Russian culture.

“So there’s this prince named Prince Ivan who has two older brothers. Their dad, the King tells them that they have to find wives and they must do so by shooting arrows in different directions to find their brides. The first two brothers shoot their arrows and they land in the houses of noble and wealthy merchants. Ivan shoots his arrow, and it lands in the mouth of a frog that lives in a swamp. Ivan gets upset and is like, “How am I supposed to marry a frog??” but the King says he must because that was the agreement and he must meet is fate.

So Ivan marries the frog and his brothers marry their beautiful brides, and after, the King tells his sons that he wants each of their wives to bake him some bread for the next day. Ivan is freaking out and goes home and his wife, the frog, asks him what’s wrong, so he tells her what his dad just asked of him and his brothers. The frog tells Ivan not to worry and that she’ll take care of it. She tells him “morning is wiser than the evening,” and so Ivan goes to bed. That night, the frog takes off her frog skin and turns into a beautiful maiden and bakes the bread. The next day, the King is impressed and likes the frog’s bread best.

He then asks the three wives to make him a full silk carpet, and that night, the frog does the same thing and makes the best carpet. The next day, there’s a ball at the palace and wants all the princes to come with their wives. Once again, Ivan is sad because how can he go to a ball with a frog? But the frog tells him to go to the ball alone, and when he hears thunder and the earth starts shaking, just tell the other guests not to worry and that it’s just your frog coming in a little box. Ivan does this.

At the ball, the frog performs other magical feats. One thing she does it pour some water into her left sleeve and bones into her right sleeve. So as she dances, she swings her left sleeve out and creates a lake. She swings her right sleeve out and swans appear on the lake. The other wives are understandably jealous and try to do the same thing, except since they have no magical powers,  they just spray water and bones at the King and the guests.

Meanwhile, Prince Ivan sneaks away back home and finds the frog skin lying on the ground. Since he wants his wife to stay in human form, he burns the skin. When his wife gets home, she’s like, “What did you do? If you had just been patient for one more night, I would’ve been free from this curse, but now you must find me 33 kingdoms away in the castle of Koshei the Deathless,” who’s like a major evil figure in Russian folklore.

So Ivan sets off on his quest, and he first sees an old man. He tells the old man of his misfortune, the old man says, “Why’d you burn the frog skin?” But he decideds to take pity on him and gives him a magic ball of yarn. and tells him to follow it to find the right path. Along the way he sees a bear, which he wants to kill, but the bear speaks to him and says “Don’t kill me! I’ll be useful to you in the future,” so Ivan takes pity on him.

Next, he sees a duck, and wants to kill it, but the duck also asks him to take pity, so Ivan takes pity again. Next, he sees a rabbit, and the same thing happens. Then, he comes across a fish trapped in a shallow pond, and the same thing happens.

So then, he reaches the home of a witch named Baba Yaga, who lives in a magical house on chicken legs. He tells the house to turn to face him, and it does, so he’s able to enter. Baba Yaga can be helpful or sometimes a cannibal, so she’s like, “What are you doing here, young man?” and he tells her she’s got bad manners because she’s asking a guest questions before offering a meal and a bath, which is really representative of Russian culture. So Baba Yaga then provides both, and then Ivan tells her of his dilemma.

Baba Yaga’s possibly the only creature that knows where to find Koshei’s death, which is on the tip of a needle. The needle is in an egg, and the egg is in a duck, and the duck is inside a rabbit, and the rabbit is in a big chest, chained to the top of a tall oak, which is hidden. So, Baba Yaga tells Ivan where to find the oak.

When Ivan gets there, he doesn’t know how to get to the chest. Suddenly, the bear he spared shows up and destroys the oak, and breaks the chest open. Out of the chest springs a rabbit, which runs away, but the rabbit that Ivan spared appears and kills it. Out of that rabbit, a duck flies into the sky, but the duck that Ivan spares kills it. Then, the egg with the needle falls into the sea, but the fish that Ivan saved retrieves it from the bottom of the sea. Ivan then breaks the needle, and now Koshei is mortal, so he defeats him, getting his wife back and living happily ever after.”


For another version of this fairytale, see Vasilisa the Beautiful. Dir. Vladimir Pekar. Soyuzmultfilm, 1977. Film.

The Dog Buns

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Vietnamese-American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Palo Alto, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/17/17
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Context: One of my roommates, when he heard me explaining to a friend about how stressful it was to try and find folklore from different sources, offered some of the stories he knew from his childhood.

Background: This is a tale my roommate heard  when he was a kid.

Dialogue: It goes… There’s this Buddhist who’s, you know, vegetarian, everyone loves him, he’s very holy, um, and, the queen of the land who, I guess doesn’t really like him or wants to bring attention away from him and to herself, uh, comes up with this plan to make everyone hate the monk… So, she, um, cooks these dogs, and… puts them into meat buns… um, which could also look like vegetarian buns, and she gives all of them, uh, to the monk, and, she says, “Look! I’ve, I’ve prepared these nice, uh, veggie buns for you! Why don’t you go eat them?” Uh… She’s thinking, then she’s going to reveal they’re made of dog, and he ate them, and everyone’s gonna hate him… Um, but the monk instead digs a hole in the ground, buries the buns into the ground, puts dirt back over them, and waters them, and then the dogs come back out of the ground! And, then people realize that the evil queen put dog in the buns and now the dogs are back to life, and now they get rid of the queen, and everyone loves the monk again.

Analysis: Sort of just a cute story, really something meant for kids, like a fairy tale (and perhaps it is, and my roommate just didn’t refer to it as such). Nice little morality tale about not letting jealousy get to you, with the added iconography of the Buddhist monk instead of the traditional Western protagonist.

Masha and Natasha

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Germany/California
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/19/16
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): German

AD’s grandma is originally from Kursk, Russia, and would always tell her fables and fairytales whenever AD came to visit. She has fond memories with her cousins sitting around her grandma as she would tell these stories in a thick accent. Her grandma would always compare herself to Baba Yaga or make jokes about her, and the stories were a very important part of their relationship. This was the most memorable fable she told AD. It follows many aspects of Propp’s fairytale structure, notable the abstention of a parent, an evil stepmother, a donor (the mouse), a test, and a homecoming. This is then repeated again by the other daughter, Natasha, but unsuccessfully, serving as a moral warning against selfishness.

“Masha is a sweet, prefect girl, a Cinderella type: beautiful, smart and sweet. She lives with her mother and father on farm. It’s nice but they don’t have a lot of money. Then, her mother dies, and her father remarries. The other woman has a daughter, Natasha, but she is opposite of Masha: ugly, spoiled, rude, selfish. Her mother loves her a lot. Masha’s dad loves the mom, plus she has money, which helps. The step mother does not like Masha, and wants Natasha to have all the opportunities. One day, she’s talking to her husband and says, “We cant afford to take care of both of these girls. Masha is smart and strong, she’ll be fine. Take her out in the forest and leave her with a candle and a little kasha (porridge) and she’ll be fine!”

After hesitation he agrees, and takes Masha, puts her in the cart with a candle & kasha. He then takes her into middle of the forest and doesn’t tell her what he’s doing. He says goodbye and leaves her. She’s cold and sad, so shemakes herself some kasha heated by candle. Then a little mouse comes over (“mouth” as pronounced by grandma) and asks

“Oh I’m so hungry, will you share with me?”

“Oh but I only have a little”

“Please, I’ll help you in return”

Masha, being generous and kind, gives him some. She doesn’t know here’s a bear in the forest, but all of a sudden the bear comes over and is like “Get out of my forest”

Mash says no.

The bear says, “Okay, I’ll make a little bet with you. I’m going to throw 3 stones. You are going to run in a circle around this cave. I’m going to close my eyes so I can’t see, and throw stones. If I hit you, you’re dead. if I miss all 3 times, I will give you all the riches, jewels, gowns and wealth you could want.”

Masha looks at the mouse, and the mouse says “Do it, I’ll help you.”

She takes the deal.

The mouse takes Masha’s place and runs in the circle while Masha stands aside.

The bear throws the 1st stone.

“Did I hit you?”


He throws the 2nd stone.

“Did I hit you?”


He throws the 3rd stone.

“Did I hit you?”


The mouse runs away. The bear gives Masha her riches, servants, and a beautiful carriage. The next morning, the rooster is crowing “coocuracoo.” Natasha looks and says “is that Masha?”

stepmom says,  “No she’s dead!”

“No it’s Masha!”

It’s her, returning with all these beautiful things. She has a happy reunion with father.

The stepmom can’t stand that Masha came back with all beautiful things. She wants the same thing for her daughter, and decides to send her out to same place so she can also get riches. Of course they send her with lots of food, lots of stuff, an entire full wagon into forest. The dad drops her off. She sits down and doesn’t know what to do, so she lights a candle and starts making food. The mouse comes over and says “Oh I know you”

“You don’t know me”

“Oh you’re not Masha”

The mouse asks for food, and she refuses to give him any because she’s spoiled.

Then the bear comes over, and proposes same deal he made to Masha.

Natasha takes the deal.

She starts running in the circle. obviously not as fast as the mouse who refuses to help her. He kills her with the first stone.

The next day, the rooster crows “coocooracooo”

The stepmother has been waiting for her daughter to return with the riches in a carriage, but all they see is the wagon coming, carrying Natasha’s bones.”

Hans im Glück

--Informant Info--
Nationality: French
Age: 21
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 20, 2016
Primary Language: French
Other Language(s): English

The informant is a 21-year-old college student who was born in France, and continued to live there until moving to the United States at age 15. The informant’s mother is from Germany and his father is from Spain.

I asked the informant to grab a cup of coffee on campus, and questioned whether he had distinct memories of any bedtime stories that his parents told him when he was a child living in France. He described a German tale that his mother would often tell him, called “Hans im Glück.”

“The story goes that there was a guy named Hans, who was really poor. After seven years of hard work, he garnered enough wage to see his mom – a lump of gold. So he went on a journey and kept trading what started out as a lump of gold for various things he needed: a horse, then a cow, a pig, and then a grindstone. He loses the grindstone but ends up being happier after, because he’s tired of having to worry about all this trading and keeping track of things. Then he walks to finish the journey to his mother and tells her everything that happened to him.”

This German fairy tale, or märchen, does not follow the traditional story of a poor man working his way up in the world to wealth and success. Instead, it places more value on the connection that Hans has to his mother than his attachment to material items like the lump of gold that he acquires at the beginning of the story. The context within which the informant was exposed to the story, then, makes perfect sense: a mother lovingly telling a tale to her son of a son who is devoted to his mother. Knowing that this tale is of German origin, I asked the informant if he knew what book his mother had read it to him from, suspecting that it was related to the vast number of fairy tales recorded by the Grimm brothers. His response confirmed my suspicions, as he said that “Hans im Glück” came from a book of German fairy tales his mother had that mentioned the Grimm brothers, and when told in the English language it is titled “Hans in Luck.”

For the version of “Hans im Glück” published by the Grimm brothers, see the annotation below.

  • Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Hans im Glück, Kinder- und Hausmärchen, no. 83.
  • Note that while this tale was not included in the first edition of the Grimms’ collection (two volumes, 1812, 1815), it was added to the second edition (1819).
  • In the ATU categorical index, this falls under Aarne-Thompson type 1415.

The Seven Ravens

--Informant Info--
Nationality: French
Age: 21
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 20, 2016
Primary Language: French
Other Language(s): English

The informant is a 21-year-old college student who was born in France, and continued to live there until moving to the United States at age 15. The informant’s mother is from Germany and his father is from Spain.

I asked the informant to grab a cup of coffee on campus, and questioned whether he had distinct memories of any bedtime stories that his parents told him when he was a child living in France. He described a tale that his mother would often tell him, called “The Seven Ravens.”

“A girl who is very sick and weak was born among seven brothers, so their father sent the boys to get this holy water to help their sister. But on the way, the brothers get lost, and so the father gets angry and says ‘I wish they were all turned ravens’ and they all turned into ravens. The girl eventually gets over her sickness and as she gets older she sees traces that she once had brothers. She became super curious and wanting nothing else but to find them. She met a witch who would give her this wish but she had to get all these specific materials to knot a sweater for every brother. She got super close but didn’t have time to knit the arm thing on one sweater, and all her brothers came back except one still had a wing.”

This German fairy tale, which describes a sister on a quest to find long lost members of her family, seems to closely follow the syntagmatic structure that the folklorist Vladimir Propp established for all folk tales. It follows a hero, the girl, who is sent on a long quest to fulfill a set of tasks that will satisfy her initial desire to piece together the traces of her brothers and ultimately bring them back into her life. Knowing that this tale is of German origin, I asked the informant if he knew what book his mother had read it to him from, suspecting that it was related to the vast number of fairy tales recorded by the Grimm brothers. His response confirmed my suspicions, as he said that “The Seven Ravens” came from a book of German fairy tales his mother had that mentioned the Grimm brothers. This märchen functioned as a source of entertainment for the informant, and provided his mother a fun and suspenseful story to tell her child while allowing him to settle down for bed. The informant’s mother and father were separated, which may help to explain why his mother was not worried about telling a story that did not shed a positive light on the hero’s father figure. Despite the father’s wrath in the tale, “The Seven Ravens” places importance on themes of family unity and persistence, and in turn functions to encourage young audience members to care for and support their family members and to never give up when faced with a difficult task.


For the version of “The Seven Ravens” first published by the Grimm brothers, see the annotation below.

  • Die Sieben Raben, Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales — Grimms’ Fairy Tales), final edition (1857), no. 25.
  • In the ATU categorical index, this falls under Aarne-Thompson type 451, The Brothers Who Were Turned into Birds. Tales of this type are found throughout Europe.

Ungus, Bungus, Tipopi

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Pakistani
Age: 60s
Occupation: Homemaker
Residence: Pakistan
Date of Performance/Collection: 2/22/14
Primary Language:
Other Language(s): Urdu, Farsi, Punjabi, English

Context: The informant is a grandmother of 8 whose parents were originally from Afghanistan but settled in Pakistan. She also lived in Saudi Arabia for many years and has a working knowledge of Farsi, Arabic, and Punjabi along with her native Urdu. This story is a popular one among her grandchildren; here it is transcribed in English, though it was originally told in Urdu.

“Once in a house near the jungle there lived a goat with her three kids. Their names were Ungus, Bungus, and Tipopi. One day, the mom goat had to go out, maybe to get groceries, but she told her children: lock the doors and don’t let anyone in except me. I will say, Ungus, Bungus, Tipopi, open the door! And only when I say that do you let me in. So the kids said, ok Mama, and she walked out and locked the door and she went.

Now in the jungle next to the house there lived a big scary wolf: he had long hair and big eyes and hungry and he saw the mom goat leave, and he heard what she told her babies, and he said to himself, I think I’m going to go eat those delicious goats.

So he went up to the house and he knocked on the door and he said, Ungus, Bungus, Tipopi, open the door! And Ungus and Bungus ran to open the door, but Tipopi said to them, wait! This is not out mom! Our mom’s voice is light and sweet, and this voice is heavy and ugly. So Tipopi said to the wolf, You’re not our mother! You’re the wolf that lives in the jungle! Go away and don’t come back!

And the wolf was very mad but he had to leave.

And now when the mother goat came back and she opened the door and her babies rushed to tell her what happened, and she was so relieved that they were all safe.

Then the next day, she had to go out again, but was so worried and scared that she said, now when i come home, I will say to you, Ungus, Bungus, Tipopi, open the door! And you ask to see my hand, and i will show you my hand. And only then do you open the door. And her kids said, Ok, Mama. So she went out the door and locked it and went.

Now the wolf had seen the mother go out again, and he wanted to try again to eat the kids; but this time he ate a whole spoonful of honey before he went, to make his voice light and sweet, and went up to the door and said, Ungus, Bungus, Tipopi, open the door! And the kids heard a light, sweet voice so they rushed to the door and asked, Mama, show us your hand! And the wolf showed his paw, and it was big and black and hairy and ugly, and Tipopi said, This is not our mother! Our mother’s hand is small and white and pretty. This hand is big and hairy and black! And he said to the wolf, You are not out mother! You are the wolf that lives in the jungle! Go away and don’t come back!

So what could the wolf do? He left.

And again the mother goat came home and the kids rushed to tell her what happened, and again she was so happy they were all safe.

And when she had to go out again the next day, she was very worried and scared so she said, this time when i come home, i will say, Ungus, Bungus, Tipopi, open the door! And you will ask me to see my hand, and I will show you my hand. Then you ask me to show you my foot, and I will show you my foot. And only then will you open the door. And the kids said, Ok Mama. So she went out and locked the door and she left.

And the wolf was watching and he saw her leave, this time before he went to their house, he ate a whole spoonful of honey to make his voice sweet and light, and he covered his whole paw in flour to make it look pretty and white, and he went up to the door and said Ungus, Bungus, Tipopi, open the door! And the kids rushed up to the door and asked, Mama, show us your hand! And this time, the wolf showed them only one finger, and his one finger was as big as the Mama goat’s whole hand! And the kids said, Mama, show us your foot! And the wolf showed them his foot, and it was huge, and black, and it had long claws–this long claws! [holding hands about a foot apart] And Tipopi said, this is not out mother! Our mother wears pretty shoes and her feet are small and white. This foot is big and black and hairy. This is the wolf that lives in jungle! Go away, Wolf! Don’t come back!

And the wolf was so angry, and he was so hungry, but what could he do? So he left.

And when the Mama goat got home, her kids rushed to tell her what happened.

And the next day she had to leave again, and she said, now when i come back today, and i say Ungus, Bungus, Tipopi, open the door! Just do what you did yesterday, and you will be safe.

And the wolf was waiting for her to leave again, and this time he ate a whole spoonful of honey to make his voice sweet and light, and he covered his whole paw in flour to make it look pretty and white, and he covered his feet in flour too, and we put tiny beautiful shoes on his big toes–just one big toe fit into the whole shoe, can you imagine that?

And the wolf went up to the door and said Ungus, Bungus, Tipopi, open the door! And the kids rushed up to the door and asked, Mama, show us your hand! And the wolf showed them only one white finger, and the kids said, Mama, show us your foot! And the wolf showed them his one toe covered in flour in the pretty shoe, and the kids rushed to open the door…

And there he was…standing in the doorway…his big big eyes…and his long long hair…and his drool dripping off his teeth…it was the wolf! And the kids ran screaming into the house, and the wolf came chasing after them, and he swallowed up Ungus and Bungus in one gulp. But Tipopi hid inside the milk jug, and wolf looked everywhere, but he couldn’t find him. So he left.

And when the Mom goat came home, she saw the open door…and she went in and she saw the ripped curtains, and the broken tables and chairs…and she started calling, Ungus, Bungus, Tipopi, where are you? Ungus, Bungus, Tipopi, come out! Ungus, Bungus, Tipopi, your mom is home!

And Tipopi heard her and he peeked out of the milk jug and there was his Mom, and he leapt out and hugged his mom and started crying and he said, Mama the wolf came and ate my brother and sister! And the Mom goat was very sad and very scared and angry, but she said, Tipopi, go get my sewing kit. And Tipopi ran and found his mother’s sewing kit and the Mom said, You stay here, and I will go find the wolf.

And she went out into the jungle and she walked and walked, and then she came to a river, and it was warm and sunny, and there was the wolf, lying against a tree asleep. The mom goat crept up to the wolf and began to cut his belly open, and when she opened it, there was Ungus, and there was Bungus, and they were scared and they started crying, but the Mom goat went, Shh! Shh! [puts finger to her lips and makes a “come on” gesture with one hand] and she got them out of his belly. And then she went down to the river and found two huge stones, one for Ungus and one for Bungus, and she carried them all the way up to the wolf, and she put the stones in his belly, and then she sewed it up, and it was so fine you couldn’t even tell it was there. And then she took her kids home, and then they were safe and together at last.

And when the wolf woke up he felt so thirsty, so went down to the river to drink some water, and he was so heavy the he just tipped [tilts her whole body to the side] over and he fell into the river and drowned.”

Analysis: This story can be examined through multiple facets. It’s a simple fairy-tale, along the lines of the Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood. The wolf here could be symbolic of nature/the wild, and how it is dangerous to people living in villages where the border between the wild and the domestic is very thin. It is notable that it is not just any herbivore that is attacked in this story, but goats, domestic animals which are an important source of sustenance and incomes in some of the more rural areas, as they provide milk, meat, and hides. So in that respect the story is a simple study of the dichotomy of village/jungle and civilization/wild, and how it is dangerous, but nevertheless not uncommon, for the two to meet or mix.

It is also notable that, while in the Western version of Little Red Riding Hood it is a little girl who is sent by herself into the wild and disobeys her mother and therefore gets into trouble; in this version it is three siblings of mixed genders who are attacked in their own home while trying to obey their mother. This would seem to squarely place villainhood on the wolf’s shoulders, and none of the blame on the innocent(s); while Little Red Riding Hood is often blamed for what happens to her by pointing out that she shouldn’t have disobeyed her mother. As such the message  in Little Red Riding Hood seems to be, listen to your parents and if you don’t it’s your fault if something bad happens to you. Whereas  the moral  in this story seems to be that bad things happen even when you’re good and smart and listen to your parents, and it’s nobody’s fault but the bad people who hurt others.

It’s also interesting that, in some versions of Little Red Riding Hood, the girl and her grandmother are eventually rescued by a father figure, the woodcutter; but in this story, the kids are rescued by their very brave and clever mother. I think this reflects the fact that in the informant’s family and culture, the bond between mothers and their children are usually very strong, whereas the relationship between father and children depends on each individual family: some fathers are strict and distant, others indulgent and doting. The informant’s own father, she reports, was strict but loving, but her relationship with her mother, and especially the relationships between her younger sisters and her mother, were very very close. Contrast this with the heroicizing of the father figure in Western culture, where any time the child is in trouble, it is the big strong dad that comes to the rescue, and perhaps the mother figure comforts the children afterward (for instance, The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, the character of Wolverine).

And finally, the reasons it appeals to so many kids of different generations are pretty obvious: especially when there is a good storyteller, who knows her audience and how to get the reactions from them. The description of the wolf is something the informant says she usually embellishes to get the kids really frightened, and then making gestures to go along with the story (for instance, imitating the mother goat’s small, pretty white hand) is always part of the act of storytelling too.The fact that there is a happy ending for the kids (with whom the children usually identify) and that the wolf gets what he deserves also makes it a popular story in the informant’s repertoire.

Folktale: Chinese Folktale

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American-Malaysian, Chinese, Asian
Age: 28
Occupation: Graduate Student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: April 25, 2013
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Japanese, Mandarian, Chinese, Cantonese, Korean

This is a Chinese folk tale that the informant mother told her. It’s a story explaining why Chinese names are so short.

A long time ago there people would give their children long grandiose names. (The informant couldn’t remember what the names were). There was one family, the original family, with a mother, a father, a son, and a daughter. They were very proud of their son who had a long beautiful name. One day the son was playing and fell down a well. He was hanging on to the inside and starts yelling his family’s names so they could save him. But he starts to get tired because their names are really long. The daughter walks by the well but she only hears part of her name so she walks away. The father walks by the well but he only hears part of his name so he walks away. The mother walks by the well only hears part of her name but she recognizes her son’s voice. She tries to save her son but when she reaches for his hand he begins to fall further into the well. So she grabs his hair and holds tight to try to pull him up. But she couldn’t do it by herself so she calls for her husband by his really long name. She gets tired calling for him but finally her hears and goes to help. But they can’t pull him up by themselves so they call for the daughter by her really long name. They get tired yelling her name but she finally hears them. They pull the son out of well. The family decides to shorten their names to avoid this problem in the future. So that is why Chinese people have short names and why they have lines on their hands, from pulling the boy’s hair.

My informant said that she first heard this tale in elementary school. She still remembers. She also says that she thinks a lot of Chinese folklore tries to explain why things are the way they are.

I noticed that despite being a Chinese folktale there are a few similarities to European folktales. This tale has examples of the rule of three, it uses repetition, and no more than two actors in one scene. Also, the folktale has some slight mythic qualities; the story refers to the original family so the story takes place at the beginning of the world. It’s not sacred though, at least the informant didn’t consider it sacred. I think the reason for that is that this tale is very similar to Tikki Tikki Tempo by Rudyard Kipling. I looked this tale up because I forgot to ask the informant for the title and this book came up. It is also a story about a kid with a long name that falls into a well. However, the story the informant gave me has different characters in it and the tale also explains why people have marks on their hands. Maybe this is case of authored works becoming folklore because the person telling it didn’t know it was copyrighted. The story the informant told me is slightly different from the book. Does authored work turn into folklore when the teller makes changes to the tale?

Yeh-Shen, A Chinese Cinderella

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Chinese-American
Age: N/A
Occupation: Teacher
Residence: Los Angeles, California
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/29/13
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Chinese

My informant was a kindergarten teacher for a Chinese school me that she has presented this story many times before. It was therefore very rehearsed and unusually eloquent.

Informant: “Yeh-Shen was born to Chief Wu and his wife. However soon a sickness overtook them both, so she was reared by her stepmother. The stepmother didn’t like Yeh-Shen for she was more beautiful and kinder than her own daughter so she treated her poorly by giving her the worst chores.

She only had one friend at that was a fish with golden eyes in the pond. Each day the fish came out of the water onto the bank to be fed by Yeh-Shen. Yen-Shen had little food for herself but she still shared with the fish. Her stepmother hearing about the fish put on Yeh-Shen’s coat and went to the pond. The fish swam up thinking it was to be fed, and she stabbed it with a dagger, and cooked the fish for dinner.

Yeh-Shen was upset over the death of the fish and sat crying next to the river. Suddenly and old spirit appeared and told her that the bones of the fish were filled with a powerful spirit, and that when she was in serious need she was to kneel before the bones and wish on them with her heart’s desires. Yeh-Shen retrieved the bones and hid them.

Spring came and with it, the spring festival. Yeh-Shen was forbidden from going to the spring festival. After the stepmother and sister left, she went to the bones wishing for clothes to wear to the festival. She got a beautiful gown and cloak and golden slippers with a pattern of scaled fish. She went to the festival and everyone was dazzled by her beauty. However her stepmom and sister moved closer and she feared being caught, so she ran, leaving behind one slipper. When she arrived home she was dressed again in her rags. She spoke again to the bones, but they were now silent. Saddened she put the one golden slipper in her bedstraw. After a time a merchant found the lost slipper, and seeing the value in the golden slipper sold it to the King.

The king wanted to find the owner of this tiny beautiful slipper. He sent his people to search the kingdom but no ones foot would fit in the tiny golden slipper. He put it on display in an area near where it was found. All the women came to try on the shoe but it didn’t fit. Until one night Yeh-Shen slipped quietly across the pavilion, took the tiny golden slipper and turned to leave, but the king’s men rushed out and arrested her. She was taken to the king who was furious for he couldn’t believe that any one in rags could possibly own a golden slipper. As he looked closer at her face he was struck by her beauty and he noticed she had the tiniest feet.

The king and his men returned home with her where she produced the other slipper. As she slipped on the two slippers her rags turned into the beautiful gown and cloak she had worn to the festival. The king realized that she was the one for him. They married and lived happily ever after. However, the stepmother and daughter were never allowed to visit Yeh-Shen and were forced to continue to live in their cave.

Informant: “It’s my favorite story. I know it by heart and I’ve told it so many times I can’t count.”

Me: “What do you think the moral of the story is?”

Informant: “Be a kind-hearted soul and you’ll be rewarded! I mean, fish are lucky symbols in China, and there’s the whole Buddhist thing too about not taking another life.”

Analysis: This story is a variation of what was thought to be the original Cinderella story. My informant was correct when she assumed that the story had certain Buddhist influences – it is against the religion to take another life, regardless of what it is. Thus the stepmother is ultimately punished for killing the fish.

In Chinese culture, there will often be more fish symbols around Chinese New Year. That’s because the word for fish “Yu” sounds like the word for ‘extra’. Fish are therefore a symbol of wealth and prosperity, so we can see that this cultural aspect was included as a symbol within the story.

The motif of the tiny golden slipper relates to the Chinese tradition of foot-binding, and how women with smaller feet are thought to be more attractive. As we can see, the King is eager to find the owner of the slipper, but he has not met her beforehand. All he knows is the size of her foot.

The Grimm tale had the evil stepsister chop off a part of her foot to try to fit it into the small glass slipper, so it is interesting to note that this very unique cultural part of the tale (tiny feet equivalent to beauty) made it into the Western adaptations of Cinderella.

Annotation: Cinderella, Grimm Brothers