folktalkes

Book Reflection: Yiddish Folktales

I loved this book. It’s a compendium of Ashkenazi Jewish folktalkes collected by a dedicated team of ethnographers in the early 20th century. For a lot of these stories, it’s the first time they’ve been translated into English or printed. It was an enlightening look into a culture that was tragically destroyed by the Nazis. It’s divided into sections of allegorical tales, children’s tales, wonder tales (the Yiddish term for fairy tales), pious tales (which had an explicitly religious message), humorous tales, legends, and supernatural tales featuring characters such as dybbuks and demons.

As I mentioned, it was like a window into a culture that is sadly no longer with us. I loved being able to imagine what life would have been like for my ancestors whose culture this was, but it was always tempered with the sadness that terrible things were in store for these tale tellers in the future.

My favourite section was probably the pious tales, as they had the most explicitly and recognisably Jewish setting, themes, and characters. One of them went like this (although obviously with more detail):

There was a pious man with a beautiful garden, and one day a hole appeared in the garden, and he went to fill it before remembering it was the Sabbath and work was forbidden, so he left it until the following day. When he went outside to fill it the next day, a miracle had occurred: a huge tree had grown in the hole bearing enough fruit to nourish his whole family.

The tale ended with the line: ‘Now, it was hakodesh borekh hu, the Holy One, blessed be He, who did this for the pious man because he had not violated the Sabbath’.

I never said they were subtle.

Do you have a favourite story or tale you were told as a child, or a favourite book of them?

THE FROG PRINCE II: FROG PRINCESS

A KING HAS THREE SONS. TO STOP THEM FROM FIGHTING, HE TELLS THEM EACH TO THROW A STONE AS FAR AS POSSIBLE, AND TO FIND A WIFE WHERE THE STONE LANDS.

THEY THROW THEIR STONES AND GO OUT LOOKING FOR LADIES. THE ELDEST SON FINDS A BEAUTIFUL GIRL. SO DOES THE MIDDLE SON. THE YOUNGEST DOESN’T. INSTEAD, HE FINDS A BEAUTIFUL FROG. HE’S PRETTY FUCKING DISAPPOINTED.

THEN THE KING GIVES EACH SON A PILE OF HEMP AND TELLS THEM TO GET THEIR GIRLS TO SPIN IT INTO CLOTH. OBVIOUSLY, THE YOUNGEST DOESN’T HAVE MUCH HOPE HERE. HE DUMPS THE HEMP ON HIS NEW FROG GIRLFRIEND AND FUCKS OFF. THE NEXT DAY, SHE GIVES HIM A WALNUT. SEEMINGLY FROGS ARE PRETTY FUCKING SHIT AT SEWING AND DON’T REALLY UNDERSTAND THE INSTRUCTIONS.

FORTUNATELY, THE WALNUT IS FULL OF FANCY-AS-FUCK SPARKLY CLOTH. THAT FROG IS SNEAKY AS HELL. IT’S THE BEST CLOTH, SO THE KING HAS NO CHOICE BUT TO DECLARE THE SEXY FROG THE NEW QUEEN. FORTUNATELY, ON MARRYING THE PRINCE, SHE TURNS INTO A BEAUTIFUL GIRL. IT WAS STILL A REALLY FUCKING AWKWARD COURTSHIP THOUGH. 

PARROT TO THE RESCUE

A KING FALLS IN LOVE WITH A MERCHANT’S DAUGHTER. UNFORTUNATELY HE’S A FUCKING CREEP. HE WAITS FOR THE MERCHANT TO GO ON HOLIDAY, AND ENLISTS A BUNCH OF EVIL OLD LADIES TO HELP HIM ABDUCT THE GIRL.

FORTUNATELY FOR HER, THE GIRL PERSUADES HER FATHER TO BUY HER A PARROT BEFORE HE LEAVES. HE DOES SO, AND WHEN HE LEAVES THE PARROT BEGINS TO TELL THE GIRL A STORY.

VARIOUS EVIL OLD LADIES SHOW UP AT THE DOOR, AND THE GIRL TELLS THEM ALL TO FUCK RIGHT OFF UNTIL THE PARROT HAS FINISHED ITS STORY.

BY THE TIME THE STORY IS FINALLY OVER, THE MERCHANT HAS COME HOME AND TELLS THE OLD LADIES TO FUCK RIGHT OFF AND NEVER COME BACK. AT THIS POINT, THE PARROT TURNS INTO A SEXY PRINCE, WHO EXPLAINS THAT ACTUALLY HE WAS JUST CREEPING ON THE GIRL. NATURALLY, SHE MARRIES THE CREEPY PARROT PRINCE. AT THAT POINT THE KING GETS SO ANGRY HE FUCKING EXPLODES, AND EVERYONE ELSE IS HAPPY.